Pickup trucks rumble through town where real-life cowboys confidently strut into dusty saloons, handlebar moustaches bristling under wide-brim hats. Sun beats down on the arid desert, glistening off the snow on distant mountain peaks. Shimmering highways shoot straight as an arrow across the desert passing by sprawling ranches and one-horse towns. This is Nevada, the American Wild West.
This is the land of big skies and desert landscapes, of rodeos and casinos, of big adventure, indulgence and fortune. And like any American trip, the best way to see the state is to get behind the wheel and drive.
The Open Road
To experience the Wild West in its modern-day form, take the Interstate 80, the Corridor of Cowboys boldly striking off into the desert from Reno all the way to West Wendover on the state border. Casinos and churches jostle for prime real estate in towns where the locals are warm and welcoming.
Further south lies the ‘Loneliest Highway in America’, the US-50. Towns are few and far between on this historic route that runs parallel to the Pony Express, the path taken by mailmen who traversed this high mountain desert on horseback in the 19th Century.
Hiking Boots or Heels?
No road trip to Nevada would be complete without visiting Las Vegas. Even if you’re not a gambler, seeing this world-famous mecca of indulgence and sin is a must, where flashing lights and enormous casinos can easily suck up days (and lots of money).
But burn past the city limits east towards the Californian border to experience what Nevada is really about – nature. Death Valley National Park could be lifted straight out of Mad Max, a place of colourful rocks and canyons that make for some incredible adventures. Along the way is Red Rock Canyon, where short walking trails get you up close to the bright red and iron-rich rock formations.
A Pioneering History
People flocked to Nevada seeking fortune long before Vegas lured in punters. Head to Virginia City to delve into the State’s pioneering past, location of the Comstock Lode, one of the largest deposits of silver in American history. The town is part of the Lake Tahoe loop, starting in the colourful and cultural city of Reno before taking in the forested and mountainous scenery of America’s second deepest lake.
Beyond Burning Man
The arid playa of the Black Rock Desert is one of the flattest places on Earth, and every year plays host to 50,000 people who descend on the flats to erect the temporary Black Rock City, site of the famous Burning Man Festival. Aside from that, the desert is an adventure hot spot; 4x4 tracks, hiking trails, hot springs, and rock-climbing sites can all be found here.
The US-93 tracks east from Vegas towards the Great Basin National Park, a criminally underrated area full of amazing hiking trails, and alpine landscapes. The dark skies over the Great Basin are a stargazer’s dream, and the isolation is the perfect way to experience Nevada, America’s real Wild West.