I admit it—I never gave Nevada more than a passing thought before George requested a birthday geocaching adventure back in 2012. With that trip, limited to the southern part of the Silver State, I had no idea the breadth of what Nevada has to offer. At least until beginning to explore it in earnest a couple of years later. Since then, I’ve criss-crossed the state exploring via car and motorcycle.
And now I’m a resident of the 36th state. As a new Nevadan, and having discovered the virtues of the landscape here, hearing Nevada referred to as “flyover country” is my cue to explain what you’re missing. As much as I love my former home state of Georgia, the vastness to explore here is entirely different. I’m still just scratching the surface here but what I have discovered so far leaves me wanting more.
The Nature of Nevada
Most of the state falls within the basin and range province which is characterized by narrow north-south trending mountain ranges with flat valleys in between. This is a result of tectonic extension, pulling the earth’s crust apart. Pretty cool, huh? Even if you’re not a former geologist.
What that geologic activity does for the landscape is create dramatic contrasts in what is the most mountainous state in the lower 48. The elevation in Nevada ranges from 481 feet above sea level to over 13,000. Most of the state falls within the “Great Basin,” the largest desert in North America. In addition to the Great Basin, a small southern portion of Nevada falls within the Mojave desert and the western portion of the state is bounded by the Sierra Nevada mountains, including Lake Tahoe. That means you have everything from alpine ecosystems to pinion-juniper and sagebrush steppe within its massive 110,000 square miles, making it the 7th largest state in the U.S.
In spite of being the driest state in the U.S., Nevada has a multitude of lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Those, combined with the variety of ecosystems means Nevada is filled with wildlife, from antelope to mountain lions, desert tortoise to western diamondbacks, red-tail hawks to sage grouse, as well as wild horses. The list goes on. Of course, much of Nevada is desert and to the casual observer, it might seem a barren wasteland. Hardly! Much of our wildlife lives in the “sagebrush sea,” which is amazingly green in the spring.
Doesn’t sound like a land of desolation, does it?
Nevada has an eclectic history. The Nevada Territory was carved from the Utah Territory, its statehood coming a few years later as a result of the building tensions over slavery. Nevada’s slogan, “Battle Born,” reflects its birth during the Civil War.
While the Civil War spurred Nevada’s statehood, its history spans the breadth of our understanding of human existence in North America. In fact, the oldest petroglyphs in North America are found in Nevada. And before that, it was home to creatures like mammoths and ichthyosaurs.
Mining is what put Nevada on the map in modern times, though. And along with that boom came the characters who became legends of the wild west, including the likes of Mark Twain and the Pony Express. Not long after that sudden influx followed the railroads needed to serve the demands of mining. That connection cemented Nevada’s place in U.S. history. Sadly, the inevitable busts that accompany mining booms left once-vibrant hubs to fade into the lore of our many ghost towns.
In recent decades, Nevada has become more known for its entertainment and casinos. Yet most of the state is still largely viewed as a wasteland. That perception led others to deem it an ideal location to test powerful weapons. In my mind, that aspect of Nevada’s history was the turning point into the modern wild west. One in which atomic bomb testing, casinos, and brothels co-exist alongside cattle ranching, wild horses, and vast wilderness.
Over 80 percent of Nevada is public land, largely under the care of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It’s an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. The landscape is highly variable, more so than most people realize. Which is why Nevada gets so overlooked as an adventure destination. For those who embrace Nevada, there are lots of different ways to get your adventure on.
The wide range of elevation, landscapes, and ecosystems provide the framework for every type of outdoor pursuit. You name it, you can likely do it in Nevada. Hiking, climbing, camping, snow sports, water sports, cycling, wildlife viewing, hunting, fishing, off-roading, and motorcycling, of course. All of that with spectacular views.
While we have our portion of Lake Tahoe and the adventures that can be had in an alpine setting, adventuring in Nevada does mean embracing the desert. Keep in mind this is high desert or “cold” desert which means nights are surprisingly chilly. Not to worry, we’ve got a multitude of hot springs for you to warm up in, thanks to the geology here.
We do have one national park to claim as our own, Great Basin. The ecosystem and landscape diversity in the park is nothing short of astonishing. And yet it’s the least-visited park in the U.S. in spite of having peaks reaching over 13,000 feet, caves, and a surprising variety of wildlife. The advantage of its remoteness is that we have a breathtaking park without the crowds.
Add in Nevada’s growing state parks system and the opportunity for outdoor adventure of all kinds awaits. Personally, as I’ve gotten to know Nevada, I’ve found the weather to be more volatile than any place I’ve experienced to date. That makes for challenging adventures that make you think ahead.
People and Places
The people of Nevada are fiercely independent. But in a measured way; not with the bluster like Texans proclaiming their superiority. It’s a quiet confidence and friendliness with no need to posture. Maybe it’s the wide open spaces and ruggedness of the state that breeds independence in Nevadans. Living here requires self reliance.
With only a couple of large urban areas and the vastness of the landscape, towns can be pretty sparse in Nevada. That creates a unique and quirky mix of places to embrace history and culture. Explorers, adventurers, and sight-seers have access to an array of experiences: rural ghost towns to top-notch museums, spectacular shows to hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and events spanning the range of the Cowboy Poetry Festival to motorcop competitions and Burning Man to camel races. It’s that kind of breadth that makes Nevada difficult to define. Throw in oddities like the E.T. Highway and Rhyolite and you’ll realize that a sense of humor is alive and well in Nevada.
Find out more
If you didn’t already notice, I’m quite smitten with Nevada and what it has to offer. I’ve learned the Nevada is a land of extremes and is truly no place for wimps when it comes to the outdoors. When you embrace the ruggedness of this state, you are rewarded with amazing adventures. I hope I’ve convinced you this is no fly-over country.
Having only discovered the wonders of Nevada in recent years, I’m hardly the go-to expert, though. To find out more, head over to the Travel Nevada website. Lots of info from the folks who know where the good stuff is.
Adventure on, friends!
Until next time, here’s some more Nevada for you.