Modern day Nevada is famed for its brash lights, all hours partying and the gambling of the Vegas strip. The 24-hour-culture capital is loud and proud, with over the top architecture, drive-thru weddings and classic mob history, and has been made even more famous in recent years by the cult murder mystery TV show, CSI. However, the past of this desert area is long, interesting and often overlooked. However, the Silver State’s inception, struggles and eventual fruition as the gambling capital of the world is well recorded, and for tourists looking for the quieter side of the desert, there’s a lot to see, do and learn.
If you really want to find some quiet, you can’t get much more silent than a ghost town. Not too far from the bright lights of the big city of Vegas, the Nevada countryside is dotted with deserted ghost towns that date back as far as the 1900s. Although not all of the towns are necessarily on the map, many of them are easy to get to, and can provide a fascinating glimpse into the real historical lives of long since buried Nevada residents.
Rhyolite is a fantastic example of a true Nevada ghost town. Located four miles west of Beatty on State Route 374, Rhyolite is ironically famed as one of Nevada’s most-visited abandoned villages, and it’s not hard to see why. With easy access from the highway and a collection of creepy old buildings, the town features its own dilapidated jail house, featuring barred windows, a perfectly chilling thrill for wannabe ghost hunters. Once you’re done saying hi to the incarcerated spooks, check out the incredible Tom Kelley Bottle House. Erected in 1905, the house is, as the title suggests, entirely constructed of liquor and beer bottles, and is surprisingly one of the few intact buildings amongst the rubble of Rhyolite.
If you want to escape the desert ghosts but still find a window into Nevada’s past, a mining tour might be the best option for you. More family-friendly than a ghost town, the long-since closed mines of Nevada offer a unique picture of the town’s economy, which was founded on precious metal mining as far back as 1849.
For a real historical insight, a great place to start is Virginia City. Known as the “birthplace of Mark Twain”, this was the first place young Samuel Clemens first used his famous nom-de-plume, whilst writing for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper. A boomtown worth its weight in silver, Virginia City is home to the Chollar Mine, which offers year-round educational tours on the history of the mine, which in its heyday served as the fifth largest in the area for silver production.
If you’re looking for something with more sparkle than shine, why not check out the famous Nevada opal mines? Virgin Valley in north-west Nevada is home to three that are open to the public (namely, The Royal Peacock Opal Mine, the Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine, and the Bonanza Opal Mine) and most even allow you to dig for your very own piece of treasure, whilst learning the fascinating history of Nevada mining.
As an area steeped in the past and made rich by its heritage and culture, Nevada is of course home to a number of museums detailing its long and lively history. With eight state museums, choosing where to start can be a dizzying experience, so travelers are best advised to choose based on what aspect of Nevada history they’re most interested in.
If motors are your thing, Don Laughlin’s Classic Car Collection, located in the eponymous town of Laughlin, is a must-see for classic car enthusiasts. With over 80 vintage and antique cars on display, this is a haven for any automotive maniacs, and we’re just getting your engine started. To get really revved up, scoot along to Reno’s National Automobile Museum, where over 220 of Bill Harrah’s classic collection are on show, along with multiple changing displays throughout the year.
Alternatively, for a kid-friendly educational experience, check out the three children’s museums Nevada has to offer. In the heart of Vegas you’ll find the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum, an award-winning attraction, and one of the biggest children’s museums in the country. With more than a hundred exhibits and many changing displays, this is an interactive education built on kids having fun. Over in Reno, the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum offers another exciting kid-focused adventure space, encouraging kids to build and learn, and in Carson City, the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada combines fun and learning with a focus on science, arts and the humanities, proving that museums don’t have to be boring.
If you’re looking for a holiday steeped in history, look no further than beautiful Nevada, where you can experience a rich culture embedded in the glorious desert surroundings.