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USA: Nevada: Carson City, Cathedral Gorge, Ely, Great Basin, Hoover Dam - Lake Mead, Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, Lehman Caves, Primm, Red Rock Canyon, Reno, Virginia City
Nevada State, USA: Life beyond Las Vegas
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
What comes to your mind when you think of Nevada? That's right. What comes to your mind when you think of Las Vegas? Right again.
Beyond the razzmatazz of Las Vegas, you will be surprised, as I was, to find that the State of Nevada, USA, has so much more to offer to tourists. And they need not be gamblers. Assuming, you still have money on you after having visited the casinos, shows and enjoying gourmet cuisine in Las Vegas, I would suggest you become an explorer.
Before taking my flight further up North to Reno, I hired a car for a day and headed towards Hoover dam and Lake Mead. Just 30 miles away, I was on the dam in less than an hour. I made it a point to view the spectacular dam from the edge above and from the waters below too. Hoover dam connects the two States of Nevada and Arizona. Take your car, right across the dam and park. It's a little walk back, but that saves you parking fees, not to forget good view of the dam from the other side.
I will avoid talking about this engineering marvel and the thousands of tons of steel and cement that went into its making. Suffice to say, the dam produces enough energy to sustain the State of California. By the way, contrary to popular belief, Hoover dam doesn't provide power to Las Vegas!
Construction is happening to build a bridge to cross the gorge. Thereafter, traffic will not be allowed to crossover using the dam wall. When that happens, security agencies would be a very happy lot.
Back a few miles for a detour to Lake Mead - the largest man-made lake and reservoir in the United States. It is located on the Colorado River about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas, covering both the states of Nevada and Arizona. Formed by water impounded by Hoover Dam, it extends 110 miles behind the dam, holding approximately 28.5 million acre feet (35 km≥) of water. The water held in Lake Mead is released to communities in Southern California and Nevada, via aqueducts.
I strongly recommend a two hour cruise on the Lake Mead. I was aboard Lake Princess. The ticket was $22. Food and drinks could be purchased on board. Good to sip and munch as you see around and hear the recorded Lake Mead and the Hoover dam story. That gives you an opportunity to go very near the base of the mighty dam. The view is simply outstanding. By evening, I was back at the Hilton where I was staying. The hotel is just next door to the convention center. It made sense to be at the Hilton as I was attending a travel trade show. Hilton is away from the popular strip where most of the tourists love to stay.
Sad, I missed doing the Grand Canyon. But I guess that's OK for now, as my business will bring me back to Las Vegas. That's when I will thoroughly explore the Grand Canyon from both the rims. From up above in a helicopter and a picnic on the floor of the Canyon. Those who don't have plans to roll the dice for a second time in Las Vegas, must do the Grand Canyon.
The next morning I was to become part of a group at the airport. We were guests of the Nevada Commission on Tourism. We boarded a Southwest flight to Reno; Northern part of Nevada. In about 90 minutes we were on our bus that would take us to Carson City; the Capital of Nevada State. We had 3 days ahead of us. One each in Virginia City, Lake Tahoe and Reno.
Carson City is 30 miles from Reno. Like many towns in Nevada, Carson City was founded in the early boom days of mining. A center of silver mining, Carson City was the county seat of the former Ormsby County and was named after explorer Kit Carson. Following the discovery of gold and silver on the nearby Comstock Lode in 1859, Carson City became a thriving commercial center. The discovery of the Comstock Lode brought their Carson City to life as a freight and transportation center. President Abraham Lincoln, recognizing the importance of Nevada's silver and gold to the Union's Civil War effort, signed the proclamation that ushered Nevada into statehood on October 31, 1864. Carson City was selected as the state capital at the constitutional convention and has retained that honor to the present day.
Our first stop was at the Nevada Tourism office. I had the good fortune to meet with Tim Maland the Director of Commission of Tourism and his efficient and helpful team. Thanks to the position we enjoyed, we were able to walk through the Capitol Building and see at close quarters the Governor's office, various meeting rooms, treasury and the courts.
For a walking tour, you only need to follow the blue lines clearly marked on the street. The blue lines will take you through the neighbourhood's major sites and homes of famous people. Our guide, Joy Evans, elaborately dressed in period costume, had nice notes with her, which she read out at each stop. Interestingly, I heard many stories about spirits and haunted houses.
A quick lunch and we were on our bus to Virginia City, just 16 miles away. It was a scenic route cutting through the mountains.
The mining boom turned Virginia City into the most important settlement between Denver and San Francisco. It turned grubby prospectors into instant millionaires who built mansions, imported furniture and fashions from Europe and the Orient. These folks then financed the Civil War. And then went on to build empires around the world. San Francisco is one of them.
At the peak of its glory, Virginia City was a boisterous town. There was gold in every hill and millions of dollars were being made. Men came from everywhere. Mark Twain and his stint as a reporter for the Territorial Enterprise began his writing career here.
We checked in at the Ramada Hotel right on the edge of a cliff. Soon I was ready for the city tour in a tram that was being pulled by a tractor. The driver, I guess was the town's most popular figure. Passers by kept waving at him as we moved along. Everybody knew everybody. One of the many small town advantages.
Virginia City has many museums. The Mackay Mansion museum was built in 1860 as the headquarters of the Gould & Curry Mining Company Office and later purchased by John Mackay, one of the "Silver Kings." It includes mining artifacts, original furnishings and Tiffany silver. The Nevada Gambling Museum features more than half-a-million dollars worth of gaming memorabilia, including over 100 antique slot machines, cheating devices, and gamblers' weapons.
A trip to Virginia City won't be complete unless you visit the Bucket of Blood Saloon. While sipping their house beer, we heard, on the piano, the gorgeous, 80 something, "Squeek" as she is locally know. She has many CDs to her credit. We could sense why.
Couple of drinks later, we were on board Virginia and Truckee (V&T) Railroad. It was a 35 minute train ride through the heart of the historic Comstock mining region. The trip was complete with an ambush. Gun fights and all. The sheriff came to my rescue. We dropped off for dinner at Gold Hill Mercantile. Steaks are highly recommended. We took the bus back to rest for the night. Next morning we were to head for Lake Tahoe. The sunrise from my room window was an awesome site.
30 miles from Virginia City, Lake Tahoe is at an elevation of 6229 feet. Lake Tahoe is best known for its beautiful blue and clear water (99% pure), and is surrounded by mountains which rise more than 4,000 feet above the shore. The lake is 22 miles long, 12 miles wide; about one-third lies in Nevada, the rest in California. The water drains from Lake Tahoe through the Truckee River. Lake Tahoe is the third deepest lake in North America as it has an average depth of 989 feet but the deepest point is about 1,645 feet. Lake Tahoe is comfortable through the summer despite its proximity to the desert. Annual snowfall averages 40 feet, with snow pack averaging 20 feet which explains why downhill-skiing and cross-country skiing are very popular in the winter. Summer activities include hiking, white water rafting, beach picnics and other water activities.
Since I was at Lake Tahoe during summer, we were able to take one of the lunch cruises. We crossed over to the California side and back. 2 hours of pure bliss. Back ashore, I took a horse driven carriage ride through the streets of Lake Tahoe. Calling the animal a horse was an understatement. The guy weighed more than a ton. The owner let me know that the animals were special drought horses that have the ability to pull many times their weight. Their appetite can put to shame a bunch of regular horses.
Half of Lake Tahoe city is in Nevada and the other half in California. Of course, since it's legal to gamble in Nevada, the action was more on the Nevada side. Our dinner was on the 16th floor of Harrah's. A sumptuous spread, that's very popular with locals and tourists alike. Enjoy a fantastic view of the lake in the front and the mountains behind. Unless you have a reservation, waiting could be for as long as an hour.
Later, we checked into Horizon hotel. Nice place bang on the Stateline. My room was facing one of the many golf courses in the area. No gambling for me. A good night's sleep was necessary to catch the action at Reno the next morning.
It's a very scenic drive up to Reno. You go up 4000 feet on the Rose Mount Highway. Lake Tahoe is visible for miles. The drive is simply breathtaking. We were in Reno in about 2 hours (about 60 miles) with a few camera stops on the way. For the shopping enthusiast, there's a large mall just on the outskirts of Reno city. A stop won't disappoint you.
Reno, rightly branded 'the largest little city of the world', lives up to the expectations. You will find excellent hotels and casinos and the razzmatazz of Las Vegas. We were guests of Peppermill Resort. I got a suite in the Tuscany Tower that was very, very elaborately decorated. Even the 42 inch hi-definition TV was encased in decorative wooden frame.
That night, Reno was host to a very famous band - Brooks & Dunn. It was a full house. We had a private box for ourselves. The singing and dancing went up till late in the night. Though I am not much of a music buff, I too was tapping the floor. The next morning was my flight back to Las Vegas with an onward connection home.
Of course I did Las Vegas the Vegas way. But that's another story.
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