Plan your summer
Nevada is the seventh-largest state in the Union. There are 109,781 square miles to explore, from the basin-and-range landscape on the northern end to the scenic desert panoramas in the south. This summer, discover your Nevada on a drive on the U.S. 50-Interstate 80 loop from the Reno-Tahoe area or on a road trip to Tonopah or Valley of Fire State Park.
U.S. 50-Interstate 80 road trip
The U.S. 50/Interstate 80 loop out of Fallon is the option for hardcore road trippers. This 790-mile itinerary is dotted with historical sites as well as recreational opportunities.
Start by heading east on U.S. 50 (also known as “the Loneliest Highway”). The road, which roughly follows the old Pony Express mail route, connects a handful of communities, including the former mining towns of Austin, Eureka and Ely. Stop in Austin to check out the mountain biking trails or to soak at Spencer Hot Springs; in Eureka, peek in the historical Eureka Opera House or the Sentinel Museum. In Ely, visit the historical Nevada Northern Railway, which once hauled copper ore from nearby mines and now offers train rides, or the BLM-managed Garnet Hill rock hounding area, about 10 miles away, where you can look for garnets and keep your finds.
Challenge yourself: Order a Highway 50 Survival Guide and have it stamped at participating locations along the route to earn a certificate commemorating your survival! Survival guides can be downloaded here or ordered through Pony Express Territory, an organization that promotes travel along the Nevada portion of U.S. 50, here.
From Ely, head north to Elko, home of the Western Folklife Center — the group that founded the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering — where you can check out western art in the Wiegand Gallery and watch the short video, “Why the Cowboy Sings,” in the Black Box Theater. From Elko, take Interstate 80 east back to the Reno area. Stops along the way include the BLM-managed California Trail Interpretive Center, about eight miles west of Elko, which tells the story of western migration in the mid 19th century, as well as the cities of Carlin, Battle Mountain, Winnemucca and Lovelock.
For more on Nevada destinations and road trips, order a copy of the Nevada Visitors Guide by visiting TravelNevada.com, and clicking the “Get the Guide” link.
Tonopah, about 175 miles from Fallon, is the site of Nevada’s second-largest mining strike. Stay here — the historic, restored Mizpah Hotel is popular with visitors, but there are other options — and visit the Tonopah Historic Mining Park, which incorporates portions of four of the area’s original mining companies. The visitors’ center offers a short video on local mining history, and walking tours are available.
Hard-core mining fans may want to splurge on a trip to the nearby Royston Turquoise Mine, where you can dig through tailing piles and keep what you find. For more on the Royston Turquoise Mine experience, click here. For more on Tonopah, click here.
Tonopah also makes a great base camp for those who want to explore the ghost town of Belmont, about 46 miles the north; and the Alta Toquima Wilderness Area — home of Nevada’s highest peak, Mount Jefferson. There are five Alta Toquima Wilderness trailheads; Nevada state Route 376 on the west side of the range and Pine Creek Campground is the easiest access point for recreational opportunities in the area. Note: The Pine Creek Campground is about 66 miles from Tonopah, but allow extra drive time, as this is rugged, isolated terrain. Access is dependent on road and weather conditions. For more on the Belmont experience, click here. For more on the Mount. Jefferson experience, click here.
Valley of Fire State Park
Valley of Fire State Park in Overton, about 440 miles from Fallon, is Nevada’s oldest state park, and one of its most dramatic. Red sandstone formations created 150 million years ago jut out of the desert floor and are accessible for hiking and exploring. Stay in Overton (the North Shore Inn at Lake Mead is an option) or go for the Strip experience (Las Vegas is 55 miles away).
Visitors to Valley of Fire may want to make an initial stop at the visitors’ center to orient themselves with the 35,000-acre park. There are several established hiking paths, but visitors also can climb over the sandstone to blaze their own trails to the top of the rocks. While touring around, look for petroglyphs, ancient rock art that can be found throughout the area, and in particular at the park’s Atlatl Rock section. Rock climbing is allowed in some areas of Valley of Fire (check with the visitors center); Awesome Adventures ATV in Overton is an outfitter that offers a rappelling experience at this park.
While in Overton, visitors might want to check out the Lost City Museum, one of seven state museums. Lost City curates ancient artifacts that had been threatened by the rising water level of Lake Mead, which formed after the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s. Visitors might also want to explore the ghost town of St. Thomas, just south of Overton inside the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. This former Mormon settlement was abandoned when Lake Mead filled; today, remnants of the town now can be seen due to lower water levels at the lake.