Elko, Nevada

Ruby in the Jeweled Crown of Nevada

          Straddling one of America’s major thoroughfares, Elko is a great place to stop on Interstate 80 between Reno, Nevada and Salt Lake City, Utah.  Elko is a friendly ‘cowboy town’, so don’t be surprised when you’re greeted with a pleasant ‘hello’ by strangers passing on the street.  Elko County is the third largest ranching county in the United States and is known for raising grass-fed calves.  Bing Crosby had several ranches here where he enjoyed relaxing and getting away from the bright lights of Hollywood.  In fact, Bing was honorary mayor of Elko until his death in 1977.  Elko was settled by cattlemen and sheep herders in the mid-1800s and lies on the Humboldt River, the Immigrant Trail and the Transcontinental Railroad.  Many of the first settlers in Elko were Basques from the Pyrenees region between France and Spain and their influence is still very much present in the region, especially in the many fine Basque restaurants to be found in Elko.

Elko County Ranchlands with Ruby Mountains in Background

Elko County Ranchlands with Ruby Mountains in Background

Ranch in Elko County, Nevada

Ranch in Elko County, Nevada

What to See and Do

          Whenever I’m near Elko, my favorite side trip is to drive about 20 miles south through the rich, beautiful ranchlands of Spring Valley on the Lamoille Highway (227) heading toward the Ruby Mountains.  On the way I stop at the picturesque town of Lamoille, basically a one street hamlet lined with cute little houses and a couple of unique hometown restaurants.  There’s a special treat waiting for you at the end of the road…a beautiful little church that looks like it should be a scene on a Christmas card!  Continuing south from the town of Lamoille you will come to Lamoille Canyon, one of several glacier carved canyons extending up into the ‘Rubies’, as they are called.  This stunningly beautiful region seems to be known only to locals, but is a must see for anyone who enjoys the mountains.  And it’s an ideal place for hiking, picnicking and camping, too.  Back in the city of Elko, there are several museums chronicling the frontier history of the area.  Right on Idaho Street, the main drag, be sure to stop at the Visitors Center and the Northeastern Nevada Museum.  About eight miles west of Elko on Interstate 80 is the California Trail Interpretive Center, where there is no admission fee to visit the indoor and outdoor exhibits highlighting the history of the immigrant trail in the northern Nevada region.

Little Church of the Crossroads, Lamoille, Nevada

Little Church of the Crossroads, Lamoille, Nevada

Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains

Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains

Where to Stay and Eat

          There are many fine accommodations in Elko, running the gamut from budget motels to elegant hotels with flashy casinos.  Whenever I’m in the area I stay at the Click for Contact Information, because it’s centrally located, has reasonable rates and comes with an excellent breakfast.  And if you’re traveling with an RV, there are a number of good RV parks right in town.  If you savor food from south of the border I can recommend a great little Mexican restaurant, La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant, on Commercial Street and for a taste of Basque cuisine, try The Star Hotel on Silver Street.  Located in a historic, 100 year old property, the dining room serves family style meals with portion sizes that have almost everyone leaving with a doggie bag.  Whether you’re just passing through or coming specifically to visit the beautiful high desert country of Northern Nevada, be sure to take time to stop and explore the wonderful little city of Elko.

The California Trail Center

The California Trail Center

John on the Immigrant Trail

John on the Immigrant Trail

Virginia City, Nevada…A Taste of the Wild West

Wild West Mining Town

          The historic mining town of Virginia City, Nevada is a great place to get a glimpse of life in the old west.  The nearby Lake Tahoe/ Reno area is one of four side trips within a few hours’ drive from the San Francisco Bay Area that visitors will want to include on their Northern California itinerary.  The other three are Yosemite National Park, Carmel-by-the-Sea and, of course, the Wine Country of Napa County.

South Lake Tahoe, California

South Lake Tahoe, California

          On a recent camping trip with family and friends to South Lake Tahoe we took a side trip to Virginia City, Nevada.  Less than 90 minutes from all the action at Lake Tahoe, the drive took us over the beautiful eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and out into the open desert of Nevada.  Once there you’ll find the streets of Virginia City lined with historic buildings such as Pipers Opera House, unique restaurants like the Mustang Ranch Steakhouse and interesting shops with western wear and souvenirs.  As you stroll the main street you can watch a Wild West shoot out, stop to sip a sarsaparilla at the Bucket of Blood Saloon and take a gander at a $65,000 gold nugget.

The Main Street of Virginia City, Nevada

The Main Street of Virginia City, Nevada

Mark Twain Slept Here

          After silver was discovered in the Comstock Lode in 1859, Virginia City literally sprang up from the desert, eventually reaching a population of 25,000 at its peak.  Plagued by extremes in temperature, devastating fires and declining output from the mines, Virginia City saw its best days come and go in less than 20 years.  One of Virginia City’s most famous inhabitants was Samuel Clemens who lived there from 1862 to 1864 and it was there that he first used his more familiar pen name, Mark Twain.

Bucket of Blood Saloon, Virginia City, Nevada

Bucket of Blood Saloon, Virginia City, Nevada

          No trip to Virginia City would be complete without a visit to Boot Hill, which is located at the northeast end of town.  Wandering among the tombstones you will find everyone from outlaws who were hanged to Civil War Veterans to pioneer families buried here.  Speaking of veterans, hats off to Virginia City for honoring its veterans, past and present, with banners on the lamp posts lining the main street!

Boot Hill, Virginia City, Nevada

Boot Hill, Virginia City, Nevada

Planning Your Trip

          Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area you will take Interstate 80 East to Sacramento, where you can stop and visit the California state capitol.  Continuing east on Highway 50 now, you will enter the foothills made famous by the ‘gold rush’ of 1849.  Midway between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe make a pit stop at the town of Placerville for a look at some of the old buildings dating back to the gold rush era.  Placerville was originally known as ‘Hangtown’ for the many hangings that took place there during this lawless period in California history.  Moving east into the Sierra Nevada Mountains you will eventually descend into the Tahoe Basin, arriving at South Lake Tahoe.

Virginia City, Nevada

Virginia City, Nevada

          The attractions and activities at South Lake Tahoe are limitless and include visits to secluded Fallen Leaf Lake, fabulous Pope Beach with it long stretch of clean, white sand, the historic Baldwin Estate and the casinos at Stateline on the California-Nevada border.  Hiking, biking, swimming, boating and fishing are all available here.  For campers and glampers, I recommend the nearby Fallen Leaf Lake Campground.  So, if you’re fortunate enough to have a few extra days while in Northern California, the Lake Tahoe/ Reno area is a great place to spend it and nearby Virginia City, Nevada will give you a taste of the Wild West.

Reno, Nevada...The Biggest Little City in the World

Reno, Nevada…The Biggest Little City in the World