Nevada is located in the Southwestern part of the USA. It is situated directly east of California, north of Arizona and west of Colorado. These are the great desert lands in the rain shadow of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. They are known, geologically, as the “basin and range country.” The Nevada landscape is wrinkled by hundreds of mountain ranges arrayed in north to south parallel lines. Between those ranges are nestled thousands of silt filled valleys known as basins or salt flats.
The mountains are mostly desolate piles of rocks rising from a few hundred feet up to several thousand feet above the valley floors. Their slopes are adorned with a mere scattering of shrub, grass and cactus. Only the highest peaks and ridges receive enough moisture to support trees or forests.
© Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Lake Mead is a popular water sport destination.
Barren Mountain Ranges and Salt Flats
The valleys are dishes of sand and gravel eroded from the surrounding mountains. They form giant flat platters with salt flats at the central low points and rocky desert plains that gently slope up to the skirts of the mountains. Dry shrubs and scattered desert plants are the only vegetation supported by the scant moisture that reaches these hot arid valleys.
In the northeastern parts of the state, high desert plains between the mountains receive a bit more moisture than the lower deserts. This supports grasslands and trees, which make it suitable for ranching. This is the Nevada cowboy country.
Nevada is sparsely populated with only a few cities and some widely scattered villages. The rural communities are typically located near sources of water or near mines that exploit its mineral resources. There are only two significant population centers in the entire state.
World’s Greatest Adult Tourist Attraction
Las Vegas is at the southern tip of the state near the plentiful supply of water and electricity from Boulder Dam and Lake Mead. It began as a tiny desert crossroads that offered legal gambling and entertainment to visitors from surrounding states. Over the years, it grew into the largest gambling and entertainment complex in the world. Today, Las Vegas offers over one hundred thousand hotel rooms, thousands of restaurants, hundreds of entertainment venues and dozens of gigantic casino complexes. It is the most popular tourist destination and the fastest growing city in the USA.
Reno and Carson City are located along the western border of Nevada near the major mountain pass where interstate 80 crosses from California. They are at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains not far from beautiful Lake Tahoe. Reno provides gambling and entertainment, but on a much smaller scale than Las Vegas. It is located near skiing, boating and beautiful mountain scenery.
The desert climate tends to be very hot in the summer months, very comfortable in the spring and fall and only mildly cool during the winter. Tourists visiting Las Vegas during mid summer tend to spend most of their time in air conditioned casinos or in the artificially chilled waters of their swimming pools. Outdoor activities in mid summer are typically restricted to early mornings or after dark.
The best times to visit Nevada are in the spring or fall when outdoor temperatures are typically very warm during the daytime but cool in the evenings. Winter is the best time to find bargain accommodations in Las Vegas or Reno. The winter daytime temperatures can be quite pleasant with chilly evenings and nights. This is the only season when the outdoor swimming pools are closed at the casino hotels. In some higher elevations, winter weather can be cold with rain or even snow.
© Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Cabins near the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort at Mount Charleston, northeast of Las Vegas
Activities in Nevada
Las Vegas hosts many conventions, shows and other entertainment events. Two particularly famous events are the International Rodeo Championship held every December and the Las Vegas Grand Prix held every April.
One of the strangest events in the USA is held in Nevada every September. An improvised city rises out of the barren wasteland of Black Rock Desert north of Reno to host the Burning Man Festival. This is one of the largest counter-culture events to be found anywhere.
Nevada is the only state in the USA that has legalized prostitution. There are state sanctioned brothels like “The Mustang Ranch” and “The Bunny Patch” located in various locations throughout the state. Prostitution is not legal in Las Vegas, so you must drive out of the city quite a distance to find these brothels.
The desert valleys and the rugged barren mountains of the Nevada desert country can be quite beautiful. It is a great destination for tourists, hikers and backpackers that want to get away from the usual tourist attractions. One should be aware that this land poses some dangers especially during the hot summer months. You can easily get lost in the wastelands and never be found. (When Steve Fossett’s plane disappeared somewhere in this vast terrain, authorities began a months long search via airplane and satellite imagery. They did not find his plane, but instead located the wreckage of several other planes that had been lost for up to fifty years.)
The Desert Rats
The rugged individuals that inhabit this forbidding country, sometimes known as “the desert rats”, are a strange breed of isolationists. Many of them come to the desert to escape civilization and to scrape out an existence in a very inhospitable environment. Some of them tend to be very interesting people.
In 1968, Marta Beckett gave up her career as a dancer in New York City and relocated to the little ghost town of Death Valley Junction just across the border from Nevada. She founded the Amargosa Opera House and spent the last fifty years giving weekly performances of music and dance to audiences composed of desert rats and tourists.
Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © VisitRenoTahoe.com
Photo Description: A hot air balloon soars over the desert near Reno.