Western Region: Nevada: USA
Many of the people who visit Nevada go to Las Vegas. The city is known for its gambling casinos and theaters. Other visitors go to Nevada for the sunshine. Nevada gets the least rain of all the fifty states. Nevada gets less than seven and a half inches of rain in a whole year!
You know you’re headed to one of the country’s least visited national parks when you realize your car is almost the only one on the desert road that leads you there (US-50 is known as “the loneliest road in America”). And what do you see once you arrive? More desert.
But don’t be fooled: The park is not only alive with flora and fauna but is home to some of the oldest living plants on Earth. On Wheeler Peak (13,063 feet) a 12-mile scenic drive takes you to rocky glacial moraines on which grow Great Basin bristlecone pines—small, gnarled trees that took root almost 5,000 years ago. Down in Lexington Canyon the limestone Lexington Arch rises as high as a six-story building.
Beneath the desert Lehman Caves is a cool refuge full of amazing sights. Sixty and ninety-minute cave tours are offered; the longest (and best) is the ninety-minute half-mile journey that winds past formations ranging from the expected stalactites and stalagmites to elegant, rippling drapery and rare shields—disk-shaped formations with streamers of flowstone.
Near the cave entrance is a picnic area, café, and visitors center. The center supplies information about the wealth of hiking, riding, and camping options in a vast park full of surprises. Open year-round except holidays. Café and gift shop open Apr.–Oct. Admission charged. www.nps.gov/grba (775) 234-7331
Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge Complex
Viewed from the road, Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) appears as a vast expanse of desert scrub.
Yet a million-plus migrating waterfowl home in on the marshland that dates back for thousands of years—land wet enough for the American Bird Conservancy to have listed Stillwater as a Globally Important Bird Area.
Native species include egrets, herons, and double-crested cormorants. Throw in long-billed dowichers, black-necked stilts, and other shorebirds and it’s no wonder that countless binocular-wielding birders flock here.
Just to the northeast is the other open refuge in the complex: Fallon NWR. Anaho Island NWR, a sanctuary for colonial-nesting waterbirds such as the white pelican, is closed to the public. Open daily. http://www.fws.gov/stillwater (775) 428-6452
Perhaps 20 people still live along the main street of Unionville, which winds nearly three miles deep into Buena Vista Canyon.
The road is flanked with ruined walls and foundations that recall earlier days of hope and, in the 1860s, a measure of prosperity.
The camp was settled in 1861 by silver miners of divided loyalties. Southern sympathizers named it Dixie, but when the Northern faction gained the upper hand, they changed it to Unionville.
Mark Twain came to do some prospecting here, but he got involved in buying up shares in dozens of other mining operations and left after a week or two.
A fire in 1872 destroyed a number of buildings, and the mines were also slowing considerably by then. By 1880 Unionville was in a rapid decline. There are a number of very well-preserved structures here, most notably a covered bridge and a schoolhouse built on a hill.
And the Old Pioneer Garden Country Inn—built in 1861, meticulously restored, and operating today as a bed-and-breakfast—is a lodging oasis for travelers. www.ghosttowns.com/states/nv/unionville.html (775) 538-7585 Old Pioneer Inn
This attractive town has the charm of what in Nevada passes for antiquity: It was founded as a trading post and wagon-supply station in 1851 and contains the state’s oldest saloon, the Genoa Bar, with its collection of electrified gas and kerosene chandeliers.
Two other buildings are worth a detour. The first is the Genoa Courthouse Museum, an elegant two-story brick building dating from 1865 (like the Genoa Bar, it is said to be the oldest building of its kind in Nevada).
Washo Native American artifacts and other exhibits are on display, and you can wander through the old courtroom, the original jail cells, a period kitchen, and a blacksmith’s shop.
Across the street is the Mormon Station Historic State Monument, which looks like a Wild West fort but is actually a reconstruction of the 1851 log-cabin trading post and its compound.
The original burned in 1910; this replica (which houses a small museum devoted to pioneer life and Nevada history) was built in 1947. Museum and Mormon Station both open daily May–Oct. Admission charged. http://www.genoanevada.org (775) 782-4325 Museum (775) 782-2590 Mormon Station
The gorge is part of the Panaca Formation, created when the freshwater lake that had covered the land receded and erosion carved the montmorillonite clay into jagged pillars, gullies, and caves.
Nomadic tribes of Fremont, Anasazi, and Southern Paiute passed through from 10,000 B.C., hunting and gathering plants. Mormons founded the town of Panaca in 1864 after discovering water.
Nearby Bullionville sprang up in 1869 when silver ore was found. In the 1920s open-air plays were performed against the other-worldly backdrop.
At an elevation of 4,800 feet, the park is home to a great variety of wildlife—like coyote, gophers, roadrunners, blackbirds, and non – poisonous lizards and snakes. In the summer, however, the Great Basin rattlesnake stops for a visit.
At the north end, where the park tapers sharply, Miller Point provides a panoramic view and can be reached by a road just north of the information center. Open year-round. Admission charged. www.parks.nv.gov/cg.htm (775) 728-4460
Lost City Museum
When Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s and vast Lake Mead was created, the construction came with a cost: the loss of historic Anasazi Native American sites.
When one such treasure, Pueblo Grande de Nevada, was threatened, the National Park Service enlisted the Civilian Conservation Corps to excavate ancient artifacts. The CCC also helped to erect the adobe brick pueblo to house the trove—the Lost City Museum.
Built on the ruins of an actual pueblo, the museum displays tools and weapons made from bone, quartzite, chert, or obsidian; turquoise pendants and beads; and an extraordinary collection of Anasazi pottery, known for its distinctive, highly stylized designs.
Visitors who stroll the grounds of the three-acre site enjoy an intriguing array of desert plants, many of them labeled. Open daily except major winter holidays. Admission charged. www.nevadaculture.org/docs/museums/lost/lostcity.htm (702) 397-2193