Nevada

There is a state in America that is so mysterious and otherworldly, that a visit will have you believing you’ve traveled to a faraway land. You can take the loneliest road trip of your life or trek through a land of sandstone masterpieces formed during the age of dinosaurs. Here, you can tune in to extraterrestrial activity, descend into wildly decorated caves and soak your bones in the healing waters of more than 300 hot springs.

You want different? Nevada’s got it, and so very much more, that even a lifetime wouldn’t be long enough to explore it.  This is Richard’s video guide to Nevada.

ROAD TRIP  |  EXPLORE  |  EAT  |  DRINK  |  SLEEP 


OVERVIEW

This is a land of 10,000 tales, the driest and the most mountainous state. In five days, I set out on a road trip of a lifetime through the backroads of Nevada, from Las Vegas to Reno. Yes you could fly this connection in minutes. You could drive the freeway in a day. But, I took a week to scrawl through one of the least known, but most incredible passages in the world. Off I went, seeking stories from the road.



ROAD TRIP THROUGH NEVADA

Day 1: Las Vegas to Caliente

Come along for the ride on our 5-day road trip across Nevada. We start in Las Vegas and head away from the neon lights down backroads and into unfamiliar places.

Highlights:

Read more about Day 1 of our road trip here.

Day 2: Pioche to Baker

Nevada is definitely the place to get lost. On Day 2, we leave the major highway and take a road less traveled, making our way north up the backbone of eastern Nevada.

Highlights:

Read more about Day 2 of our road trip here.

Day 3: Great Basin National Park to Ely

On Day 3, we head up towards Great Basin National Park, the only national park in Nevada.

Highlights:

Read more about Day 3 of our road trip here.

Day 4: Ely to Kingston

With the morning still crisp on Day 4, we head down Route 50 to Eureka, another town defined in ways by what is not there. The town boasts itself as “the loneliest town on the loneliest road in America.”

 Highlights:

Read more about Day 4 of our road trip here.

Day 5: Kingston to Reno

On the final day of our road trip, we head to Austin, a town with a population of 300, near the geographical center of Nevada.

Highlights:

Read more about Day 5 of our road trip here. 


WHAT TO DO

Get Your Official Highway 50 Survival Guide and Passport. 

Famously nicknamed the “Loneliest Road in the America,” you might not see a car or another soul for many miles on the open road of Highway 50. But you’ll see the Wild West as it’s meant to be seen: untamed, mountainous, mystic. Embrace the spirit of solitude and pick up a Survival Guide to the road and your very own Highway 50 passport at the start of your journey. If you collect enough stamps on your road trip, the governor of Nevada will even send you a certificate of completion.

Explore Valley of Fire State Park.

The Valley of Fire, Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, is still just a fragment of the over two million acres of designated wilderness in Nevada. It erupts from the land like a big pot of calcified soapsuds. The 150 million-year-old rock is mostly blazing red Aztec sandstone, eroded into phantasmagoric lumps and wedges. Steve Santee, a ranger who lives in the park, hands me a passport, as though he’s recruiting me for some sort of escape. (I came for the waters…. I was misinformed). Turns out the passport is the centerpiece of a program designed to encourage visitation to Nevada’s 23 state parks, some of which are distinguished for their lack of callers. Steve explains that once passport holders have their booklets stamped at 15 different parks, they earn one free annual pass to all Nevada State Parks.

Venture down ET Highway.

In 1996 State Route 375 was renamed the “Extraterrestrial Highway,” for the many UFO sightings along this naked stretch of road. The highway is adjacent to Area 51, the super-secret Air Force test facility, whose existence the U.S. Government didn’t even officially acknowledge until recently, and which many believe is holding a ménage of little green intergalactic pilots and their downed spacecraft. Be sure to pop into to a little shop called ET Fresh Jerky for some supernatural snacks. See my “What to Eat” section for more details.

Visit the town of Caliente. 

We stopped at Caliente, named for the hot springs in a cave at the base of the surrounding mountains. It was once the center of a railroad war, as it is the half-way point between Salt Lake and Los Angeles and rival barons wanted to own the tracks. When steam engines were replaced by diesel locomotives in the 1940’s, the division point moved to Las Vegas. Now Caliente seems the backside of an idea, more wish than reality, a semi-ghost town with about 1000 residents.

Take an old train ride in Boulder City. 

We made a stop at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City, which harbors the train that carried the supplies to build the biggest dam in the world at the time: Hoover Dam. Here I met John, a retired engineer in full railroad costume, who offered to take me on a little ride in his engine. The restored train doesn’t go far, about four miles, but it’s a neat and historical fascinating experience.

Explore Cathedral Gorge State Park

A long, narrow valley where erosion has carved stagy spires and basilicas in the soft bentonite clay. It looks like the maria of the moon.

Visit Pioche, once the baddest town in the West.

This place was badder than Tombstone, Deadwood or Dodge City. In 1873, the Nevada State Mineralogist reported to the State Legislature “About one-half of the community are thieves, scoundrels and murderers.” In its heyday as a silver mining center it had 10,000 residents, 100 bars, and 100 whore houses. Now it’s another living ghost town filled with stories from the past.

Stroll through Boot Hill Cemetery

A walk through a cemetery might not be your idea of sightseeing, but local historian and amateur gunfighter Jim Kelly might change your mind. He told us the story of his grandfather’s murdered and offered to show us the Boot Hill Cemetery, where, in its boom years, 72 people died of lead poisoning, croaked with their boots on, before anyone died of natural causes. There’s even a section of the cemetery called Murder’s Row, with markers for over 100 murderers notorious in the Old West.

Stretch your legs at Great Basin National Park.

The only National Park in Nevada and one of the park system’s least-crowded. If you’re feeling ambitious, climb Wheeler Peak, the second tallest in the state. The park is home to the oldest trees in the world. Take a tour of Lehman Caves, one the country’s most richly decorated caverns.

Take a detour to the Ward Charcoal Ovens

Down a gravel road, you’ll find the Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park, featuring a series of six 30’-high beehives built in 1876 to burn locally-harvested timber for use in smelters at a nearby mine. As usual throughout the trip, we were the only ones here, and we stepped in and out of the giant charcoal kilns, took a break from the road, and then set out on our journey again.

Take a trip to the past at McGill Drugstore Museum.

In the little community of McGill we stopped at the Rexall Drugstore, but it’s not like my neighborhood Walgreens. Stepping inside is like stepping through a time-warp, as though half a century ago the owner went out for a cigarette and never came back. Daniel Braddock, dressed like my grandfather’s pharmacist in bowtie and white paper hat, greets with “Good afternoon. Welcome to the Past.”

The shelves are lined with faded products dating back to the 1950s, from the once popular Dippity-do styling gel to Ipana toothpaste. Daniel, an irenic soul who makes peace with the past, gives an archeological tour down the memory lanes, finally showing off the space in the back where home remedies and prescriptions were mixed in-store, next to stacks of original invoices, dating back to 1915. Before we leave he dollops double scoops of ice cream at the old fashioned soda fountain, and hands them to us to lick vanilla memories.​


WHAT & WHERE TO EAT

Supernatural Snacks at ET Fresh Jerky.

The lone shop at a lonely intersection on the ET Highway, ET Fresh Jerky has a large sign out front: “DROP YOUR TOXIC WASTE IN THE CLEANEST RESTROOMS IN AREA 51. FREE SAMPLES.” Who could resist? We parked, and walked in, and we didn’t regret it.

The snacks on offer are tempting, if not solely for their outlandish packaging and names.  Some of my purchases included Toxic Waste Hazardously Sour Candy, Turkey Terrestrial Teriyaki Jerky and Beef Time Travel Teriyaki Jerky. Spend some time talking with manager Dixie Scabro; She’s quite friendly, but don’t expect her to leak any secrets about the mysteries of Area 51.

The Gunslinger at Cell Block Steak House.

At the Cell Block Steak House, diners sit in jail cells and are served behind bars by waiters with sheriff badges. The Gunslinger New York steak is to die for. If this is the grub in jails here, I confess to shooting Jim Kelly back in Pioche. Lock me up.

A Monster Burger at Old Middlegate Station.

We pulled into Old Middlegate Station, the actual “Middle of Nowhere,” population 17, home of the Monster Burger. Fredda Stevenson, owner with husband Russ, tells us how she created the triple-decker pounder, which has assumed the status of legend, and draws burger slayers from around the world. She recalls that when a regular client complained her patties were too small, she decided to go all out and create something that would more that sate the hungry man.

Fredda has rules for consuming the Monster Burger, which earns a t-shirt (“I Ate the Monster”) if a challenger can finish it within her rules (you can’t leave the table once you sit down, and you have to eat the mound of fries and fixings). I accept the dare, and, she sets down a jacked stack of beef as big as my head…it’s the LaRon Landry of burgers. After an hour, I’m shaking in defeat. Fredda struts over to my table and plants a white flag in my remaining meat. “Richard, you’re not the first guy I made a wus out of. The monster got ya!”

Breakfast at the Silver Cafe. 

Home-style cooking. Classic, friendly, and delicious. You can’t beat the Silver Cafe!


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​WHAT & WHERE TO DRINK

Icky IPAs  at Zach’s Lucky Spur Saloon.

Don’t be put off by the name of the beer. The “icky” comes from Nevada’s official state fossil, the Ichthyosaur. Plus, this place was named “Best Bar in the middle of nowhere.” After talking with eccentric owner Mike Zacharias and discovering his penchant for collecting, well, everything, you won’t want to leave. The place is packed with a ludic array of cowboy photos and art, including over 100 spurs.

A picon punch at Owl Club Casino and Restaurant. 

At Owl Club Casino, bartender Scooter ordered me a picon punch, a concoction that includes grenadine, club soda, a float of brandy, and Amer Picon, a bittersweet aperitif made in France with herbs and burnt orange peel. It’s apparently a Basque-American concoction, without antecedent in the old country, and is now the unofficial state drink. It’s tart, a little aggressive. With the glass empty, I’m reeling… “Like a woman’s breast, one is not enough; three, too many,” says Scooter, as he pushes another in front of me. I pass. I am supposed to drive the next section of our road trip, but I buckle into the back seat with new admiration for the Basques.

A glass of gin at Frey Ranch Distillery Tasting Room. 

Here we met Colby Frey, who is making high-end, high-tech spirits at Nevada’s first legal commercial distillery. Colby is a fifth generation farm boy. His ancestors owned some of the first deeded property in Nevada. Now, he’s using the 1200-acre family plot for 21st century liquid innovation. He’s crafting vodka, gin, brandy, grappa, bourbon, absinthe and single malt whiskeys, all from grains and ingredients grown on the farm; all mashed, fermented, distilled, filtered, barreled and bottled just feet from where they were harvested. Even Whole Foods can’t claim such an integrated, micro-localized, grain-to-glass operation.

In the understated, wood-trimmed tasting room, we sampled some of the signature spirits. Colby pours a glass of gin, made, he says, from sagebrush, coriander, Angelia root, cardamom pod, lemon peel, orange peel, and, of course, juniper berries. He asks me to whiff the bouquet before a sip. “Smells like a rainy day in Nevada,” he says.


WHERE TO STAY

Las Vegas

Downtown Grand Las Vegas
Downtown Grand Hotel in Las Vegas is just footsteps from the action of Fremont Street, and a half-block from a celebration of the city’s notorious roots at The Mob Museum.

Pioche

Overland Hotel & Saloon
Historic and haunted in one of the baddest towns in the West. Atmosphere is reminiscent of a old Western saloon. A stay here is a step back in time and rare glimpse of the Wild West the way it used to be.

Baker

Border Inn Casino
On the border of Nevada and Utah, make sure you triple check your alarm clock before getting a good night’s sleep. Unbeatably convenient location if you’re planning on visiting Great Basin National Park.

Alamo

Windmill Ridge
Located along the scenic Great Basin Highway, Windmill Ridge is the perfect place for a pit stop. Complete with Southwestern-themed rooms, a little restaurant and inviting bakery.

Ely

Hotel Nevada
In the heart of downtown Ely, founded during the Prohibition era and, at 6-stories tall, was deemed the tallest building in the entire state for many years in the past. This place boasts a gambling hall, a 24-hour restaurant, and even their own little walk of fame out front. There are stars in the sidewalk for Pat Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, and when I ask the receptionist why the stars, he replies they are for celebrities who stayed at the hotel.

Kingston

The Miles End B&B
Miles End B&B (owned by John and Ann Miles, and their dog Zee) is a fetching wilderness retreat with a stone lodge (called “Valhalla”), a patch of grass and a wood-burning barrel hot tub, where I soaked for a spell under a sky plush with a million points of light.

Reno

Whitney Peak Hotel
Surrounded by the stunning Sierra Nevada Mountains, Whitney Peak Hotel is next to the famous Reno Arch sign, and a living temple to the evolution of consciousness in Nevada. This was once Fitzgeralds Casino-Hotel, and the location is prime, but it is now a luxury boutique non-smoking, non-gambling full service hotel, themed around a giant climbing wall, the tallest in the world.