NEVADA, the Silver State

What to see

Interstate 15 From St George, UT to Mesquite, NV
Boulder City the Hoover Dam - Lake Mead
Las Vegas The Strip - Fremont Street
Valley of Fire National Park
Reno City Tour
Verdi Boomtown Casino - Keno
Lake Tahoe Lake & casinos
Incline Village Ponderosa Ranch
Virginia City the Comstock Lode
Carson City the capital
Article The American Flag
Other pages other states | articles

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This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: West Mountain - Part 2

In the travel series View America, West Mountain - Part 2 covers Idaho, Nevada and Utah. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 150 full-sized photos.

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NEVADA is known as the Silver State, because of its many silver mines, the Sagebrush State, for its abundant Sagebrush plants, and the Battle Born State, because of its joining the US during the Civil War. This joining came at an accelerated pace because of the large silver discovery in Nevada, and the huge federal income attached to it...

The name Nevada comes from the Spanish language, and it means covered with snow. In 1864 Nevada joined the US as the 36th state. Its capital is Carson City, and its largest city is Las Vegas. Nevada has about 2.2 million inhabitants, with a density of seven per km2, of which 1.5 million live in the Las Vegas area.

Its surface is 286,000 km2, and approximately 14% of the territory is forested, but only on the mountain slopes. The state is rather inhospitable and barren, with snow peaks on the mountains and sparsely populated plains, a portion of the Mojave desert, and mountain peaks to up to 4,000 m high. Nevada receives the least rainfall of all states, with an average of just 230 mm per year. The federal government owns 83% of the territory, which remains a sore point up to this day.

The mining industry forms the backbone of the economy, and the second place is occupied by livestock. In 1859, the Comstock Lode was discovered, an enormously rich silver deposit. Nevada is the leading producer of gold, mercury and silver. In 1931 gambling was legalized, which led to the creation of casinos and tourism, that has become the main industry.

Nevada is world famous for the casinos in Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe, which also is a ski resort. US Highway 50 is called "the Loneliest Road in America", since it runs through practically unpopulated area's. There are also several Ghost Towns, such as Virginia City, which at its peak had 20,000 inhabitants, of which now only 900 remain.

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Boulder City

Hoover Dam - (March 2003)

After the terrorist attack of 11 September 2001 all American dams were closed to the public, except for the Hoover Dam. The reason for the exception was its very large number of tourists and visitors, but also the fact that more than 25,000 vehicles cross the dam every day. Therefore in all haste a new bridge was built, that became operational by late 2010. The Hoover Dam Visitor Center provided an interesting and commented slide show about the construction of the dam.

This area only receives rainfall during three months out of the year, after the mountain snow, and the subsequent drought lasts for nine months. The Reclamation Commission therefore sought a solution to stabilize the water supply and fertilize large land areas.

The dam is 725 feet (221 m) high, and it took more than 3.4 million cubic yards (2.6 million cubic meters) of concrete to fill up its length of 1,245 feet (380 m). Which is enough concrete to pour a 17 feet wide road (5.18 m) from Orlando to Las Vegas... The dam is 45 feet (13.7 m) thick at the top, but an incredible 656 feet (200 m) thick at the base! The water is 500 feet (152 m) deep at the dam, with a water pressure of about 2.845 PSI (2,000 kg/m2). Officially only 96 workers were killed during the construction, but unofficially that number quickly increases to 250.

California receives 56% of the generated electricity, Nevada receives 25% and Arizona gets the remaining 19%. The mystique of the Hoover Dam brings more than one million visitors every year, although since then higher dams have been built, that deliver more electricity.

Boulder City : Hoover dam 1Another fascinating story is the foundation of Boulder City in 1930, which only served to house the workers of the Hoover Dam. The nearby village Las Vegas was at that time just an outlet for these workers, where gambling and prostitution was legal! For many years, thousands of workers spent their wages in Las Vegas, which brought about an extraordinary development. Our guide told us dryly, if mathematically impossible, that the workers spent all their money on booze and women, and gambled away the rest...

There are two power stations. One is located in Arizona, and the other one is located in Nevada. The Arizona station can be visited, and it houses eight giant turbines, out of a total of seventeen. It takes a water flow of forty thousand liters per second to get just one of these one-hundred-ton monsters going, and their normal work flow is eighty thousand liters per second... However, not all turbines operate continuously.

Every day, a careful calculation determines the volume of water that may be used, and according to these calculations, more or fewer turbines are put in operation. An interesting detail : the loss of water right through the rock is about sixty thousand liters per hour...

The new bypass was finished in November 2010. The story of its construction is fascinating, and can be followed on

Boulder City : Hoover dam 2 Boulder City : Hoover dam 3
Boulder City : Hoover dam 4 Boulder City : Hoover dam 5

Lake Mead

Not far from Boulder City, beautiful pictures can be made of Lake Mead, the largest artificial lake in North America !

The lake was named after Elwood Mead, the commissioner of the Water Agency, during the planning and construction of the Boulder Canyon Project.

For the mathematically inclined : this lake contains about thirty six trillion liters of water, or about twice the average annual throughput of the river... The lake is one hundred and seventy-seven kilometers long, and it has become a flourishing recreation resort, with over nine million visitors per year...

Boulder City : Lake Mead

Las Vegas

The Strip in 1989

When we first visited Las Vegas in 1989, it was composed of downtown Las Vegas and the Strip, but today even the hills around the city are filled with homes. The city center has developed extensively and almost everything has been completely renewed. By 2003 there were 515,000 residents, but Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in the US and by 2010, the population of the Las Vegas metropolitan area had exploded to 1,951,269. Here are some old pictures, dating from 1989.

Las Vegas in 1989 - 1 Las Vegas in 1989 - 2
Las Vegas in 1989
Las Vegas in 2003 - 1 Las Vegas in 2003 - 2
Las Vegas in 2003

In 2002 McCarran Airport saw some 35 million visitors come through, and the amounts invested in construction on the Strip are simply phenomenal. The most recent complex under construction at that time, Le Rêve, cost more than two billion dollars! The price of the land on the Strip was extremely high, even by American standards, with around $55,000 per square foot or 400,000 € per square meter.

But after 11 September 2001 tax revenues fell sharply in Nevada, and the local government had to search diligently for more than one billion dollars in new revenue. Most companies paid a tax of $ 100 per year and per employee, and the proposal was to raise this tax to $ 300. This new proposal would increase the taxes from the three largest conglomerates from 5.7 to 22.5 million dollars, because MGM/Mirage employed 35.600, Park Place Entertainment employed 20.000 and Mandelay Bay Group employed 19,000 employees.

Another interesting anecdote is that there are Wedding Chapels all over the Strip, where people can get married in less than half an hour, and they can even choose a wedding theme. Furthermore there is even a Drive-Thru Wedding Chapel, so that the couple doesn't even have to come out of the car! The consummation of this super-quick-marriage can take place immediately, in the nearby rooms. Divorce is still a tad more difficult (and more expensive...), because they haven't come up with anything faster yet than the Quicky Six Week Divorce Plan...

Las Vegas 1 Las Vegas 2
Las Vegas 3 Las Vegas 4

The Strip in 2003

Las Vegas, also known as the Entertainment Capital of the World, is a city of superlatives. It is no coincidence that it houses 18 of the 20 largest hotels. Las Vegas offers an infinite and 24-hour per day variety of shows, spectacles, gambling, shopping and dining, dotted throughout the city.

Comp dollars, known and accepted everywhere, are electronic "compatible" dollars, so that no one actually needs cash. There is more neon light in Las Vegas than in any other city in the world, and the world famous Strip contains attractions galore, such as pirate ships, volcanoes, roller coasters, laser-light and water shows!

There are theme-hotels about Egypt, France, Italy, New York, Paris, Rome, Venice, Monte Carlo, and even an old castle and various tropical paradises. World-famous performers give the finest performances, and during our visit, Celine Dion stole the show, with seats being sold out for the coming three months, and the price of tickets rising above 1.100 $ on the black market...

Las Vegas 5 Las Vegas 6
Las Vegas 7 Las Vegas 8

Valley of Fire : National Park

The entrance to the Valley of Fire National Park is located in an Indian reservation, and smokers like to visit the Moape Indian shop of the Paiute tribe to buy some tax-free cigarettes.

From the Interstate, the beauty of the valley's panoramas is not visible, as the park is located in a rather remote spot. Some two hundred million years ago this valley was covered with 3,000 feet thick (1 km) sand-dunes, brought in by strong winds. Through high pressure and climatic conditions these sand dunes turned to stone. Erosion by wind, water and ice playfully cut out fantastic figures, in every imaginable color variation from yellow over red to white. The magnitude of this vast landscape is simply extraordinary, and impossible not to admire. An aboslute must for nature lovers!

Valley of Fire NP 1 Valley of Fire NP 2


Reno presents considerably less glitter than Las Vegas, and only the hotel-casinos are richly decorated. There is no "Strip" like the one in Las Vegas, where all the casinos are grouped together. Nevertheless all the big names are present, such as Circus Circus, Atlantis, Harrah's, Hilton, Nugget, Sands Regency, etc.

The city is far more conventional than Las Vegas, and it is far less crowded. One of the reasons for this is the climate. Whereas Las Vegas enjoys a warm climate throughout the entire year, Reno is located a lot higher in the mountains and during the winter it is cold, with lots of snow.

McCarran Avenue runs around Reno in a ring. Along the eastern edge of nearby Lake Tahoe (the Nevada part), there are more casinos such as Caesar's, Hyatt Regency, Harrah's and Biltmore, just to name a few.

Reno 1 : McCarran Avenue Reno 2

Lake Tahoe : lake & casinos

Highway 431 leads from Reno over a steep and winding to Mount Rose. Though the Mount Rose Pass only goes up to an elevation of 8,860 feet (2,700 m), the mountain itself peaks at 10,170 feet (3,100 m). The equally steep descent toward Lake Tahoe presents multiple occasions to shoot breathtaking pictures of Lake Tahoe's exquisite panoramas in the valley.

Lake Tahoe is situated for two thirds in California and for one third in Nevada. It is the highest lake in the U.S., located at an altitude of 6,230 feet (1,900 m). It measures approximately 22 by 12 miles (35 by 19 km), and has a maximum depth of 1,650 feet (500 m). Every day some 1.4 million tons of water evaporate, which only reduces its level by a mere tenth of an inch (2.5 mm)!

The lake never freezes, even during the fiercest winters, because of the constant movement of water from the bottom to the surface. The Truckee River is the only river that drains Lake Tahoe, while on the other hand 63 rivers flow into the lake. However, Lake Tahoe's water does not reach the ocean, but it ends up in Pyramid Lake in Nevada.

In the early 20th century almost all of the land surrounding the lake was owned by a few wealthy magnates, but today it has completely been parceled. Homes have been built next to and even over each other, so that every possible square inch could generate more revenue.

South Lake Tahoe City contains several large hotels and casinos, such as Caesar's, Cal-Neva, Horizon, Harrah's, Harvey's, Tahoe Biltmore, etc. The crowding is immense, and one can practically walk over the heads. Traffic progresses only at a walking pace, and the ten miles to the California State Line took us more than one and a half hours...

Inspiration Point Vista is a viewpoint that offers tremendous views over the Emerald Bay, a beautiful cove. The only problem being that it is almost impossible to find a parking spot to shoot any pictures in the first place... In Meeks Bay and Chamber's Landing the focus lies on water sports.

Lake Tahoe 1 Lake Tahoe 2
Lake Tahoe 3 Lake Tahoe 4

Incline Village : Ponderosa ranch (2003)

Highway 28 leads to Incline Village, which owes its name to a railroad that was built on the steep banks of the Truckee River and Lake Tahoe. It was used to bring in timber, coal and workers and to return the ore from the mines.

A few miles ahead lays the Ponderosa Ranch, where the TV-series Bonanza used to be filmed. It is an amusing anecdote that this series were actually launched by RCA on 12 September 1959 as a publicity stunt, to sell more of their color TV's. However, during the first two years the show was not really an overwhelming success. When it was moved to Prime Time on Sunday night, it immediately started to break records.

Lorne Greene (Ben Cartwright), Dan Blocker (Hoss), Michael Landon (Little Joe), and Pernell Roberts (Adam) continued to put down excellent results over the next 13 years and 431 shows, even if Roberts left the show prematurely in an apparently misjudged change to another career.

This theme park was owned by the Andersen family, who were major collectors of antiques, but also of old mining and ghost towns. There are many picturesque ancient buildings, dozens of Old-Timers, an old but still working smithy, many old steam engines, and ancient tractors, carts, wagons, stagecoaches, and an old Saloon, complete with one-armed-bandits. There is even a Wedding Chapel!

We visited the Cartwright Ranch, which we immediately recognized from TV, skewed "dangerously" in the Mystery Mine with its topsy-turvy room, and (of course) bought the inevitable souvenirs from the unforgettable series "Bonanza"! Unfortunately the land and the ranch were sold in 2004, as another victim of soaring land prices.

Incline Village : Ponderosa ranch 1 Incline Village : Ponderosa ranch 2
Incline Village : Ponderosa ranch 3 Incline Village : Ponderosa ranch 4

Virginia City and the Comstock Lode

During the 1880's Virginia City became the richest city in the U.S., thanks to the discovery of the Comstock Lode silver mine in 1859. In a few months time the tent camp of Virginia City became a full-blown city of 20,000 inhabitants. In twenty years time more than four hundred million dollars worth of silver and gold ore was excavated, which would now compare to more than fifty billion dollars!

This immense wealth and the many miners turned Virginia City into a famous, but also a notorious city. Saloons, brothels with Soiled Doves, restaurants, hotels, literally everything could be found, at least if one had the money to pay for it. The city of San Francisco was built with the money from these silver and gold discoveries.The tax revenues and the generous donations from large financial empires helped finance the Civil War.

The silver discoveries were so enormous that the hills around Virginia City, Silver City and Gold Hill were excavated in every which way. Many new techniques had to be developed for this, but money was no object. Almost every wealthy citizen had his own mine, although obviously not every mine was profitable. After twenty years the main vein was exhausted, and though several companies still threw themselves nostalgically onto the less profitable silver veins, in 1938 the candle finally burnt out. From 20,000 inhabitants, the population was reduced to a mere 900.

The city is actually no more than a single main street, in which dozens of restaurants, shops, museums and saloons compete and try to woo the public. An interesting detail ; there are several picturesque old saloons with magnificent oak bars, but most, if not all of them contain Jackpots. It would seem that the name of one-armed bandit stems from those days. The first gaming machines in Virginia City were modeled after a one-armed cowboy, whose remaining arm was used to get the machine up and running!

Virginia City  1 Virginia City  2
Virginia City  3 Virginia City  4

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