Nevada is one of this writer's favourite states. There is so much to see and do here, with almost bewildering contrast. You can be in the incredible, remote Death Valley in the morning, and Las Vegas by nightfall. All in one dry, hot, geographically stunning state. You've got the empty, wide highways and stunning landscapes, with the entertainment centre of the world suddenly appearing out of the desert. Get spooked by Area 51 and the thought of alien encounters. Drive from pristine lakes to the high desert and see some of the best national parks in the south.
1. Las Vegas
The world's playground emerges suddenly from the desert as you descend from the hills on Highway 95 ... incongruous in the barren landscape. Suddenly, the neon lights up the empty desert and it's a wonder Las Vegas was ever built here. Head straight for the strip and your eyes boggle! There is simply no place like this mecca for gambling and entertainment anywhere else on earth. Here along the strip, there is more neon than you can shake a stick at. The brave will take to the tables at world-renowned casino hotels such as the Bellagio, the Mirage, the MGM, the Dunes, Caesar's Palace the Golden Nugget - there are 62,000 hotel rooms here, and you will never be short of entertainment, whether boxing, theme parks, circus, dancing girls or pop legends are your thing. World-class entertainers flock here for entire seasons ... Celine Dion, Tom Jones, Cirque du Soleil, Elton John ... as Elvis said, "viva Las Vegas”! Love it or hate it, Las Vegas simply has to be done and overwhelms your senses.
2. Lake Tahoe
After Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe is literally a breath of fresh air. Here on the border with California - some 25 miles from Reno - is perhaps the most beautiful lake in Nevada, sitting at almost 1,900 metres above sea level. It's one of the deepest lakes in the USA and is utterly beautiful all year round. Enjoy snow and wintersports in one season, and stunning beaches in the summer. The lake is some 22 miles long and up to 12 miles wide, with shores in California as well as Nevada. The mountains around climb to over three kilometres above sea level and there are lush forests all around. This is a great place to enjoy the water in whichever way pleases you ... boating, fishing for salmon, swimming, hiking, wildlife spotting or just enjoying a steamer cruise. There are hundreds of secret coves and beaches, scenic drives and ... this being Nevada ... casinos at Stateline, Incline Village and Crystal Bay. But really, this is all about the great waterside outdoors.
3. Great Basin National Park
Between the Wasatch Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, under 300 miles north of Las Vegas is a dry, mountain land called the great basin. Here under Wheeler Peak (over 13,000 foot high) you can camp in remote, sometimes desolate countryside: with over sixty species of mammal and over 230 types of bird. You may be lucky enough to spot mountain lions, marmots and coyotes, bobcats and deer. As one of the darkest places in the USA, you will certainly be seeing the stars at night at there is a thriving astronomy programme. It really is a spectacular place, with caves and lakes, cliffs and plains. There are over 77,000 acres to explore with twelve hiking trails and a good visitors' centre, open except for the major winter holidays. This is unspoilt Nevada, with just 80,000 visitors typically in a year. The Lehman Caves, made of marble, are well worth a visit and guided tours are available almost every day, including candlelit tours.
4. Valley Of Fire State Park
Within an hour's drive north east of Las Vegas is a totally different kind of landscape. Here, in Nevada's oldest protected park, there are eerie scenes with all shades of red sandstone rocks, in strange formations, and petroglyphs created by Native Americans over 3000 years ago dotted throughout the park. Formed from ancient sand dunes, the rock structures often look like they are on fire in the sunshine, hence the name of the park. It's a hot, hot place ... sometimes reaching 120 degrees fahrenheit and you can drive through it on a scenic byway. You can camp and park your RV year round ... make sure you're prepared and have plenty of water!
5. Hoover Dam
Easily accessed from Las Vegas, just thirty miles east along Highway 93, is the massive, world-famous Hoover Dam. This is the biggest concrete arch dam in the US, 221 metres high and 379 metres long at its crest. It was the highest dam in the world for over two decades. It stoppers the Colorado River to create Lake Mead, which is divided by the stateline of Nevada and Arizona. This enormous dam was built in the middle of the Great Depression of the early Thirties and continues to power much of Nevada through hydroelectricity. It's thanks to the Hoover Dam that the desert blooms and Las Vegas can exist. You can drive right over the top of the dam, and almost a million people a year do just that. You can also take tours on the ground or even fly over in a helicopter. It's a very impressive monument to man's ingenuity and triumph over the desert.
6. Death Valley National Park
Theres no place like Death Valley on earth. Here in the Mojave Desert, near the Californian border, you can figuratively and literally lose yourself in one of the driest, hottest, lowest and most hostile environments on our planet. Always prepare well for your visit: this is a place that is inhospitable to man and must be treated with respect. Here you'll find incredible moon-like landscapes, scorpions, snakes and stinkbugs. Massive dried lakes of salt see temperatures high enough to fry an egg on. During the gold rush of the 1840s, a train of wagons stumbled accidentally into the valley and were lost here for a year. Incredibly, most survived, but they named this desolate place Death Valley in memory of those who did not make it. Make sure you visit the Devil's Golf Course and Badwater Lake ... the visitor's centre and the incredible shifting rocks. There are a few campsites within the park borders and two hotels. Be prepared for not only one of the most stunning landscapes on earth.
7. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Within half an hour's drive to the west of the strip is one of the best natural spectacles in Nevada ... possible the whole of the south. Red Rocks is a narrow valley amidst - unsurprisingly - red sandstone rocks. You can drive through some thirteen miles, gazing in awe at the towering cliffs and mountains ... up to three thousand feet above you. There is huge diversity of wildlife here, with over 200 species of mammals making this area their home, including mountain lions, horses and golden eagles. There are trails and horse bridleways, climbs and cycle tracks. Whoever would have thought that such a peaceful, staggeringly beautiful place was within such easy reach of downtown Las Vegas?
8. Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park
A quarter of an hour north of Las Vegas is the state zoo, also known as Las Vegas Zoo. Here, 150 species thrive in excellent grounds. The only family of Barbary Apes in North America live here, along with fossas from Madagascar, lions, wallabies, chimpanzees and tigers. The zoo is open every day, for a very reasonable entrance fee. There are education and enrichment programmes, and hands-on encounters. Everyone in the family is going to love the zoo!
Reno prides itself on being the biggest little city in the world, with well under a quarter of a million residents. It has a history of being liberal, throwing caution to the wind, embracing gambling and was once regarded by a lot of the States as a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. Now? It's fun and funky, with a more relaxed, less frenetic vibe that Las Vegas, great countryside around, museums, galleries, opera and of course baseball to enjoy. Find the city right up in the north west of Nevada, just over the stateline from California.
10. Area 51
The name alone conjures up images of conspiracy theories and alien landings. Visitors flock to catch a glimpse of this top secret, enormous military area, about three hours north of Las Vegas and Death Valley near the town of Rachel. Officially designed for decades, Area 51 is an airbase that is still off limits to the public. It's shrouded in secrecy and has a definite mystique: so many people drive along the perimeter to get their picture with the warning signs to keep out - or face deadly force. Whether alien encounters or experiments took place here will never be known, but Area 51 has an irresistible draw for those visiting Nevada.
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