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Life is out there in Nevada

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In Nevada, you never know what excitement might be around the corner — especially with all of the surreal activity happening outside of Vegas and Reno. (Rod Charles/Vacay.ca)

Vacay.ca occasionally publishes articles on destinations outside of Canada. In this article, Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles features the world of Nevada beyond Las Vegas.

Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor

RENO, NEVADA—For most Canadian tourists the road to the Nevada begins and ends in Las Vegas or Reno. The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority says 1.5 million Canadians visited the city in 2015 and it’s a safe bet most of them stayed there.

This was true for me, as well. In three previous trips to the state I had never been outside of Vegas but this time was going to be different. The itinerary called for my group to leave Las Vegas and drive to Nevada’s Great Basin Highway (U.S. Route 93 north to Great Basin National Park) to the Loneliest Road in America (U.S. 50 East), then travel all the way to Reno. It’s not promising when the main attraction of your trip appears to be one never-ending road, but I would discover Nevada has much more to offer than casinos and glitzy shows.

DAY ONE: FRIDAY

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For all those who believe aliens have been experimenting on humans for generations, Nevada has a twist of its own: Culinary experiments with extraterrestrial flavours. (Rod Charles/Vacay.ca)

After an early-morning start and a couple of hours on the road, E-T-Fresh Jerky, (12600 US-93, Hiko, NV; Telephone: 1-775-725-3677) located next to Key Pittman Wildlife Management Area, is the first stop we make. Drinks, treats, gifts and, of course, alien jerky are available. If you haven’t guessed, E.T. stands for Extraterrestrial because apparently to the west somewhere beyond the mountain range is the famous Area 51, where legend has it there have been alien encounters and autopsies performed on beings from beyond our planet. I had no interest in being abducted and probed by aliens — again — so we drove on.

10:15 AM: KERSHAW RYAN STATE PARK

Next stop is Kershaw Ryan State Park, a part of a family of five Nevada state parks in Lincoln County. A 246-kilometre (153 miles) drive from the city, Kershaw Ryan is situated in a canyon with fruit trees, a picnic area and volleyball court. Hiking this park is an adventure but be warned — with elevations ranging from 4,312 to 5,175 feet above sea level and summer temperatures reaching above 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) it can be challenging — bring a solid pair of shoes, a hat and water.

12:30 PM: CATHEDRAL GORGE STATE PARK

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At Cathedral Gorge, visitors just might encounter heavenly sights on earth. (Rod Charles/Vacay.ca)

After our hike and lunch it was off to Cathedral Gorge State Park, a 30-kilometre (18.5 mile) drive from Kershaw Ryan. I have never seen rock formations like this in my life. During millions of years erosion has carved the soft bentonite clay into a maze of odd rock formations. Known for its slot canyons, Cathedral Gorge State Park makes me feel like I’m stepping back into time.

3:30 PM: PIOCHE

After a short drive our group arrived at Pioche, an old, tiny mining town that had a reputation for being wild. We stop at the Million Dollar Courthouse (1-775-962-5182), so named because after all the cost overruns and corruption the building ended up costing a million dollars. It’s no longer a courthouse but if you’re looking for ridiculous stories about the wild west then this stop is a must.

6 PM: CALIENTE

Evening is spent in the town of Caliente at the Shady Motel (430 Front Street; 1-775 726 3106) and dinner is at Knotty Pine Restaurant and Lounge (690 Front Street; 1-775 726 3767). Nothing five-star here and that’s just fine. The accommodations are clean and comfortable and the Knotty Pine offers several satisfying meals.

DAY TWO: SATURDAY

9:45 GREAT BASIN NATIONAL PARK

The parks in Nevada is an aspect of the state most Canadians don’t see. Our day began at Great Basin National Park, known for the Lehman Caves ecosystem. The only national park that is completely within Nevada’s borders, Great Basin has a cave system loaded with unique rock formations. Planning to arrive in autumn? Be sure to check out the annual Astronomy Festival.

1 PM: McGILL DRUGSTORE MUSEUM

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At the Drugstore Museum in Nevada, everything is as it was since 1979 — except the man behind the counter, of course. (Rod Charles/Vacay.ca)

Continuing our drive on U.S. Route 93, we arrive at McGill Drugstore Museum (11 Fourth Street, McGill; 1-775-235-7276 or 1-775-235-7082), a former drugstore that operated from 1915 to 1979. What makes it interesting is years after its closure, everything on the shelves is as it was in 1979. It was enlightening speaking with caretaker Daniel Braddock, who colourfully explained details about all the interesting items.

5 PM: ELY

We spent the night at the historic Hotel Nevada (501 Aultman Street, Ely; 1-888-406-3055) in Ely and enjoyed a Mexican dinner at Margarita’s (1501 Aultman Street; 1-775 289 6296). When I returned to the hotel I gambled a bit and I am proud to declare that I walked away with ten cents — in U.S. currency, no less.

DAY THREE: SUNDAY

9 AM: HISTORICAL NEVADA NORTHERN RAILWAY

Before leaving Ely we drove to the Nevada Northern Railway (1100 Avenue A; 1-866-407-8236). Built in 1905 by the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company to ship ore, a section of the Nevada Northern Railway is still used to ferry tourists around in original steam and diesel engines. It’s a dusty ride if you’re in the open car at the back, but you will love the tunnels and views of Ely from the train.

After we are finished riding the rails we were back on the road, officially on U.S. 50 Nevada, the Loneliest Road in America.

1 PM: EUREKA

By noon we were on our way to a former silver mining town called Eureka, 124 kilometres (77 miles) from Ely that was founded in 1864. We visited the historical Eureka Opera House and the old Eureka Sentinel Museum.

2:45 PM: HICKISON PETROGLYPH RECREATION AREA

Another treasure on The Loneliest Road is the Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area. The campground, 73 kilometres (45 miles) and a 40-minute drive away from Eureka,
features petroglyphs (ancient rock art) throughout the site. This is a self-guided interpretive hike, with picnic tables and washrooms nearby. Be sure to go to the end of the trail — the view of the valley is stunning.

4 PM: AUSTIN

This town has a mountain approach that isn’t for the faint of heart. A steep drop over the side and no guardrails! Definintely not a stretch of road that you want to make a mistake on, that’s for sure. At Union Street Lodging (69 Union Street; 1-775 964 2364) we enjoyed a barbecue dinner.

DAY FOUR: MONDAY

10:45 AM: SAND MOUNTAIN

After a breakfast, we hit the highway and were soon at Sand Mountain, a singing sand dune 32 kilometres (20 miles) east of Fallon. Two miles long and 600 feet high, Sand Mountain originates from an ancient lake. Donna Cossette of the Churchill County Museum and a member of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe, offered insight into the importance of the dune, not only to the state but also to her tribe.

NOON: VISITING FALLON

We were getting closer to civilization. Fallon has a Top Gun naval base, and not just any base — scenes from the 1996 movie “Top Gun” starring Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer and Kelly McGillis were filmed at this location. Bad news is it’s a working naval base, so no tourists are allowed. Fallon is a town with several restaurants and fine wineries.

We had lunch at The Slanted Porch (1-775-423-4489). Try the Rockwell sandwich (roast beef with melted dill Havarti cheese for $8.99) or the spicy chicken sandwich (topped with spicy mayo, Jack cheese and lettuce for $9.99). Before leaving Fallon we visited the Frey Ranch (1-775-423-4000). Run by Colby and Ashley Frey, Frey Ranch Distillery and Churchill Vineyards is where you can try vodka, gin, whiskey and absinthe. All grains for the distillery and grapes for the wine are grown on-site.

4:15 PM: ARRIVE IN RENO, NEVADA

The Loneliest Road was an awesome trek but I was happy to arrive in Reno. I checked into my room at the Eldorado Resort Casino (345 North Virginia Street; 1-775-786-5700) for an evening of entertainment and food. If you’re a gambler, Eldorado has what you desire. Obviously, I’m more for entertainment and nightlife than gambling and this hotel has a solid helping of both. Be sure and check the schedule or call ahead (1-800-879-8879) as there’s always a show playing at Eldorado Theatre.

DAY FIVE: CRUISING LAKE TAHOE

11 AM: M.S. DIXIE CRUISE

Soon we are on the road for our last trip. This time on the water at Lake Tahoe with M.S. Dixie Cruise. Lake Tahoe straddles the Nevada/California border and is 1,645 feet deep, if you can believe it. I’m quite worn out after all that driving so a boat ride is welcome. After a stay on the water, it’s time to chill out in Reno before heading home.

Nevada will probably always be about Vegas first but my advice to Canadian travellers is to venture a little farther into the state. With so many sights and people, you may be surprised to discover it’s not as lonely you perceive.

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Rod has previously worked for Canoe.ca and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.