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Nevada’s border towns get you into the action that much quicker.
Photo: Terry Cynar (Wendover Will greets visitors to West Wendover)
Nevada. There might not be universal agreement about how to pronounce it, but there is one common denominator concerning the Silver State—crossing its border practically guarantees a good time. Gaming, shows, bright lights, seemingly endless and undiscovered terrain…Nevada has whatever form of entertainment you’re looking for. Following, we cover a mixture of towns that border Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon, and Utah.
South Lake Tahoe to North Lake Tahoe
Whether to start from the south or north might be the toughest decision you make during your time on the east side of Lake Tahoe. Starting in the south at Stateline on U.S. 50, you’re in the heart of Tahoe’s version of the Strip. Four major resort-casinos (Harrah’s, Harveys, Horizon, and MontBleu) provide all the comforts of Nevada: world-class dining and entertainment and gaming galore. For a more low-key experience, check out Bill’s and Lakeside Inn.
One-half block west of the state line is the Heavenly Lake Tahoe Gondola. The eight-passenger cabins take guests more than two miles up the mountain in 12 minutes while they enjoy views of Lake Tahoe. The gondola accesses the Heavenly Flyer, a ZipRider experience, at Adventure Peak. Open year-round, the high-speed thrill ride has a vertical drop of 525 feet and is the longest ZipRider in the lower 48 states. On the ground, there are nine Heavenly Sports shops in a village atmosphere (skiheavenly.com). In the warm months, Edgewood-Tahoe Golf Course, home of the annual American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, is worth a play if you have the time. Legendary architect George Fazio designed the course.
As you head north on U.S. 50—a State Scenic Byway—you will be overwhelmed with the beautiful views and possibilities for adventure. Lake Tahoe Cruises and Zephyr Cove Resort offer cruises, snowmobiling, aqua ski shuttles, and more. The M.S. Dixie II and Tahoe Queen—she just turned 25 and is newly renovated—run regularly (zephyrcove.com).
Continuing north, Spooner Lake (make sure you turn left onto State Route 28), is popular for picnicking, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and cross-country skiing. Another beautiful small mountain lake, Marlette, can be hiked to from Spooner. Two of the more popular trails in this area are the Flume Trail and the Tahoe Rim Trail along the crest of the Carson Range. Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park (parks.nv.gov) offers a multitude of areas for visitors to enjoy. Sand Harbor is the most popular, with sandy beaches, a boat launch, picnicking, and group-use facilities. During July and August, you can catch the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor.
Named for the Great Incline Tramway built by loggers in 1878, Incline Village (13 miles north of the U.S. 50/S.R. 28 junction) is where some of the country’s wealthiest people have built mountain retreats. This community features some of Tahoe’s most relaxing beaches, and the Thomas J. Long Foundation Education Center, inside the Tahoe Center for Environmental Sciences, is worth a visit if you want to explore the science behind green living. Winter sees snow lovers trooping to Diamond Peak (in the city limits) and Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe—via S.R. 431 toward Reno. The Thunderbird Lodge, former home of millionaire George Whittell Jr., is open for guided tours (by land or water) from June through mid-September.
Finally, Crystal Bay, like Stateline, accentuates the concept of a border town. You can swim from one state to the other in Cal-Neva’s swimming pool. The resort’s Indian Room, a popular meeting place, also splits both states. Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kennedy, and Sam Giancana played here in the ’60s. Crystal Bay has four energetic casinos with lodging, dining, and live entertainment.—Information courtesy of visitinglaketahoe.com and other listed sites
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, in conjunction with the Laughlin Visitors Bureau, recently introduced its new campaign for Laughlin, a Southern Nevada border town: “Laughlin. It’s Like You Own the Place.” About 90 miles south of Las Vegas off S.R. 163, the town’s re-energized brand and renewed vision emphasize the VIP treatment, convenience, and affordability that you can experience in Laughlin, separated from Arizona by the Colorado River.
A getaway to Laughlin combines the excitement of a casino destination with the beauty, ambiance, and recreation of the Colorado River. From riding the waves on jet skis to relaxing in a poolside cabana, the burg has become a popular retreat for snowbirds who want to escape the harsh winters in northern states. Winter Break, January 9-15 (aimed at the over-50 crowd), is a weeklong series of events, including a bowling tournament, car rally, wine tasting, and Polar Bear Club dip in the river.
Named for Don Laughlin, who purchased a motel and bar (now the Riverside Resort) in the area in 1964, the city boasts nine hotel-casinos with more than 10,000 rooms. The Riverside’s 34-lane bowling center features glow-in-the-dark “cosmic bowling.” At the same casino, more than 70 classic and rare cars, trucks, and motorcycles are on display in the Riverside Resort Classic Auto Showrooms.
At the Aquarius Casino Resort, each of the 1,907 hotel rooms are almost completely renovated to be more spacious and offer more top-of-the-line amenities, including granite countertops and cherry wood vanities.
Situated on the shores of the Colorado River five miles south of Laughlin at Nevada’s southern tip is Big Bend State Recreation Area. The park, operational during daylight hours only, offers dramatic views of the river and surrounding mountains. Popular activities are picnicking, boating, fishing, and swimming. Another outdoorsmen’s paradise is the Lake Mohave/Lake Mead National Recreation Area. A few miles north of Laughlin’s casino row, Lake Mohave’s 200 miles of shoreline is etched with hundreds of coves and secluded areas. The lake is rich in wildlife and offers an abundance of recreational opportunities such as fishing, boating, waterskiing, swimming, scuba diving, camping, and hiking. Many of these activities can be enjoyed all year round due to the area’s warm climate. Lake Mead, formed by the Hoover Dam, is the country’s largest manmade lake, with 550 miles of shoreline. Both Lakes Mead and Mohave comprise the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and are operated by the National Park Service.
Laughlin has become one of the leading special events destinations in the southwest. Laughlin’s River Stampede PRCA Rodeo, Xtreme Bulls event, and SCORE International Off-Road Racing offer something for every adventurous spectator. For shoppers, the Preferred Outlets of Laughlin, with more than 60 merchants, is a must-do, and when your feet get tired, you can catch a movie at Stadium 9 Cinemas. If you’re good on the links, there are five championship courses in the area.—Information courtesy of visitlaughlin.com
Straddling the Nevada-Utah line, Wendover emerged in the early 1900s as a railroad stop for steam locomotives refilling with water before the long, dry trek across the Bonneville Salt Flats. Wendover actually encompasses two municipalities bisected by the Nevada-Utah border. The original settlement was in Utah, but the Nevada side, officially West Wendover, has become the irresistible, action-packed little brother.
During World War II, the Wendover Air Field was established as an Army Air Corps Base. It was subsequently selected as the headquarters for the top-secret mission in which America dropped atomic bombs on Japan. Wendover’s isolation provided the ideal locale for a mission requiring such secrecy, and the area became home to more than 20,000 soldiers. After the war and the base’s eventual decommissioning, Wendover slipped into relative obscurity, becoming a dusty stop for weary travelers along U.S. 40, or the “Victory Highway.”
Wendover might still be a wide spot in the road had Bill Smith not decided in the 1920s to renovate a gas station and motel (today the Wendover Nugget) on the Nevada side and throw in a few slot machines. As gaming became a more accepted and popular form of entertainment, the Salt Lake Valley’s growing population looked west and soon discovered a place less than two hours away to try their luck. The population on the Nevada side has exploded from an unincorporated township so small the 1980 Census didn’t bother to count it, to today’s city of more than 5,000 residents.
Wendover’s five resort-casinos sport all of the amenities—from pools and health spas to elaborate buffets and nightlife—Nevada visitors have come to expect. The most recent entertainment addition, the $19 million, 1,000-seat Peppermill Concert Hall, promises locals “Vegas Entertainment—Only Closer.” Wayne Newton, Willie Nelson, Jay Leno, Bill Cosby, and Bill Engvall have all made recent appearances.
Even if it’s mostly green felt and cabarets that attract visitors to West Wendover, those who venture beyond its neon-shrouded hotels will find an area rich in history and outdoor recreation. Efforts are underway to restore the historic airfield, which already has a museum, and the town’s visitors center is replete with exhibits on local history, geography, and events.
Hikers can take to the recently opened Leppy Hills Trail System, offering spectacular views of the surrounding valley and nearby salt flats. The flats also provide a science lesson—you can observe the curvature of the earth. A popular vista west of town provides an unobstructed view of Interstate-80 traversing the perfectly flat, salt-encrusted plain. In an optical illusion, cars approaching Wendover actually appear to be going uphill. Each summer, a number of motor sports events are held at Bonneville Speedway, an area of the Bonneville Salt Flats. Numerous land speed records have been set there.
The Wendover area is a prime flyway for migratory birds. The nearby Goshute Mountain Watchable Wildlife Area is the prime spot for viewing up to 18 species. Also south of town is spring-fed Blue Lake—its deep warm water has made it a renowned destination for scuba divers.—By Kurt Marko
Perhaps nowhere is the convergence of frontier ethos and vacation getaway more apparent than the little burg of Jackpot. South of the Idaho border on U.S. 93, its modest founding sprang from entrepreneurs seeking a new start after Idaho outlawed gaming in 1953. Jackpot’s progenitor, Peter Piersanti, opened a small gas station with slot machines, founding the eponymous establishment, Cactus Petes, that’s become synonymous with the town ever since. Piersanti, who named the unincorporated town, hit a jackpot himself, as the town has grown into a gaming, recreation, and entertainment destination for Southern Idaho and beyond.
Today, Jackpot is anchored by the 300-room Cactus Petes resort and casino, which features all the amenities tourists expect in a Four-Diamond destination, from A-list entertainment and newly remodeled rooms to a lush pool area and candle-lit dining room. Jackpot’s four other casino-motels ensure that everyone from the weary traveler to the fun-seeking cowboy is sure to find an appealing spot. For those hauling their own accommodations, the town offers an RV park with full hook-ups, and the airport, with a 6,000-foot runway, makes for a convenient fly-in overnighter.
Jackpot is often packed on weekends with folks from Boise to Idaho Falls streaming down like a caravan for Nevada-style entertainment. Yet Jackpot isn’t just a slot palace for turnaround buses, it’s also a worthy hangout for sportsmen. Nearby Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir, accessible just a few miles north off U.S. 93, is renowned as one of the best walleye fisheries in the region and also is home to a variety of other species, including trout, Chinook and Kokanee salmon, perch, crappie, channel catfish, and smallmouth bass. The open range around Jackpot also is a favorite of hunters—conventional and bow—out for everything from big game such as deer, antelope, and elk, to upland birds.
Jackpot’s mile-high elevation means that summer afternoons aren’t as sizzling as elsewhere in Nevada, with nights bordering on chilly and mornings pleasantly mild—ideal conditions for enjoying a round of golf. Jackpot’s 18-hole course, an island of emerald turf and evergreens amidst the surrounding native sage and grasses, yields a layout that’s challenging, yet not overwhelming for the novice.
Those same temperate summer evenings provide ideal conditions for concerts at Cactus Petes’ outdoor amphitheater. As the sun dips beneath the western hills, music lovers can enjoy the sounds of major entertainers from country stars like Willie Nelson and Tanya Tucker to classic rock bands like Foreigner and ZZ Top. During the chillier months the acts move indoors to Cactus Petes’ intimate Gala Showroom, where even the cheap seats feel like being stage-side.
The plateaus around Jackpot may look like scenes from a spaghetti western, but those majestic vistas provide a backdrop to one of the most popular border towns in Northern Nevada. Vacationers looking for a break from the more crowded tourist destinations will find its western hospitality and rich entertainment options a winning combination.—By Kurt Marko
Located on U.S. 95, on the northern edge of the Silver State, McDermitt has always been an outpost. Born as a cavalry station during a time of turmoil between settlers and American Indians, the town was named for Colonel McDermitt, the commander of the fort who lost his life in a scuffle with the indigenous residents. Both the town and the nearby reservation bear McDermitt’s name, and the place is an amalgam of Indian culture and cowboy history. It is appropriate, then, that McDermitt’s biggest annual events are the Indian Rodeo in June, and the Ranch Hand Rodeo, known as the Twin States Stampede, in July. The Twin States Stampede has been held annually for more than 100 years, making it the longest running rodeo in Nevada. Other events such as sack races, egg races, and tug of war are held after the rodeo. A street dance carries on until the early morning hours.
The rest of the time, though, McDermitt, which straddles the Nevada-Oregon border, enjoys a peaceful serenity punctuated by quiet events at the McDermitt Community Hall. The venue is available for hosting events. With room for more than 100 people, it has been used for small business meetings, conventions, and family reunions. The bar at the Desert Inn Casino (above photo by Susanne Reese) is also a popular locals’ hangout.
Like many rural Nevada towns, the still-unincorporated McDermitt enjoyed its share of mining success. Gold, silver, and mercury have all been pulled from its soil, but ranching has always been its mainstay, and sprawling cattle operations abound in the vicinity. The old McDermitt jail, built in 1890, is shown by appointment, and people are allowed inside for pictures. one original Fort McDermitt building survives on the nearby reservation and still is used for occasional get togethers.—Information courtesy of cowboycountry.org
Stop at Boomtown Casino Hotel on your way to Reno
As you make your way on Interstate 80 East into Reno, one of the first signs that you’ve entered the gaming mecca of Nevada is Boomtown Casino Hotel. Plans are in the works to upgrade some of the property’s 318 guest rooms. Dining options vary from Cassidy’s Steakhouse, The Sundance Café, and Silver Screen Buffet. Children will enjoy the Fun Center, with an arcade featuring more than 30,000 square feet of exciting games, including a climbing wall, flight simulator, and antique carousel. The 3D Motion Theater, the first in the world to be all-digital, has booming sound effects produced by Dolby Digital. boomtownreno.com, 800-648-3790
Max. elevation: 6,229 ft.
Avg. snowfall: 300”-500”
Ski trails: 182
Jan./July avg. high: 41°/79°
Web site: visitinglaketahoe.com
Phone: 800-AT-TAHOE (south), 888-434-1262 (north)
Elevation: 535 ft.
Jan./July avg. high: 63°/108°
Web site: visitlaughlin.com
Established: 1906 (Wendover)
Elevation: 4,255 ft.
Jan./July Avg. High: 35°/91°
Web site: westwendovercity.com
Elevation: 5, 240 ft.
Jan./July Avg. High: 38°/85°
Web site: jackpot-nevada.net
Elevation: 4,424 ft.
Jan./July Avg. Temp.: 39°/89°
Web site: cowboycountry.org
Phone: 877-626-9269, ext. 650
WORTH A CLICK
Read about Nevada Commission on Tourism’s David Lusvardi’s wild ride on Bootleg Canyon Flightlines at blog.travelnevada.com. Boulder City isn’t far from the Arizona border in southeastern Nevada.
Mesquite hugs the Nevada-Arizona border. Read more about it: