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.
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.
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.