Nevada Commission on TourismRed Rock Canyon offers formations in every breathtaking hue found under the sun.
Length: About 360 miles.
When to go: Popular year-round.
Words to the wise: Information on
hiking and camping is available at the Bureau
of Land Management in Caliente. Ranger-led
tours of Great Basin National Park are
given only in summer.
Nearby attractions: Las Vegas. Ward
Charcoal Ovens St ate Historic Site, near Ely.
Further information: Nevada Commission on Tourism, 401 N. Carson St., Carson
City, NV 89710; tel. 800-638-2328,
Far off the beaten path, this desert
drive embraces a host of unexpected
treasures. Beginning with the
watery playground at Lake Mead, it
winds past eroded rock formations,
multihued canyons, and old mining
towns and ends with ancient trees
that grow near a glacier.
1. Lake Mead National
For millions of years, the 1,400-mile-long Colorado River snaked
its way untrammeled from the
Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of
California. To tame the river and
create what was once the world’s
largest reservoir took nothing less
than the construction of the dam
that, at its completion in 1935,
ranked as the world’s largest.
The Herculean task of building
Hoover Dam took 18 months of
excavation and tunneling to divert
the river, 24 months to block the
canyon with nearly 7 million tons
of concrete, and up to 5,000 workers
on the job around the clock.
Statistics are one thing, but
seeing is believing. The guided
tour, which begins at the Hoover
Dam visitor center, allows visitors
to appreciate the combined efforts
of thousands of workers that was
required to construct the 528-foot
dam one sees today.
The crystalline waters of 110-mile-long Lake Mead — the vast
reservoir that was created by the
dam — are a mecca for swimmers,
boaters, windsurfers, divers, anglers,
and sightseers. As large as it
is, though, the lake is just a small
part of the 1.5-million-acre recreation
area that surrounds the Colorado
River as it flows from the
show-stopping Grand Canyon all
the way south through the seared
desert surrounding Lake Mojave.
2. Valley of Fire State Park
Like a fanciful mirage, the many
peaks, spires, and pillars in Nevada’s
largest state park shimmer in
jewel-toned hues. Wind and water
over the course of millions of years
sculpted the landscape here into a
masterpiece of haunting beauty.
Interpretive trails lead visitors past
raspy red rocks where desert tortoises
linger in cool recesses and
beside smooth cliff faces where, a
thousand years ago, Anasazi artists
etched mysterious petroglyphs .
North toward Overton, the Lost
City Museum holds yet more remnants
of the long-vanished Anasazi
civilization that flourished in the
region until A.D. 1200.
3. Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
The desert stretches long and
lonely as Rte. 93 runs north between
the gaunt hills of the Sheep
Range to the west and the sunbaked
Delamar Mountains to the
east. But underground water, in
true oasis fashion, feeds Lower
Pahranagat Lake and, 4 1/2 miles
beyond, Upper Pahranagat Lake.
Lush meadowlands and stands of
cottonwoods crowd the narrow
valley, which serves as a stop for
migrating waterfowl and a nesting
area for great blue herons, swans,
and dozens of smaller species.
Local wildlife — wary coyotes,
browsing deer, and prowling bobcats — border the ambitious lobby
mural of the mission-style train
depot, Caliente’s trademark building.
South of town, the gentle
Meadow Valley Wash is hemmed
in by majestic Rainbow Canyon,
where sheer rock walls have been
stained by minerals into a kaleidoscope
of color, and the valley floor
is dotted with postcard-perfect
farms and ranches.
North of town a 28-mile detour
along a steep gravel road leads to
Beaver Dam State Park. Short interpretive walks and longer hiking
trails corkscrew through the park’s
pine-scented canyons at nearly a
mile above sea level.
5. Cathedral Gorge State Park
Rte. 93 hugs Meadow Valley Wash
on its way to Cathedral Gorge, a
strikingly eroded landscape spiked
with steep-sided buttes. Hike on
superb nature trails or take in the
views of the gorge at Miller’s Point
Overlook, about a mile from the
In the mid-1870s Pioche reveled
in its reputation as the bawdiest,
most lawless town in Nevada.
The pioneer cemetery
records some of the shootings and
shenanigans that earned Pioche its
special place in frontier history.
Meanwhile, the city fathers were
swept away with boomtown optimism,
floating bonds in 1871 for
a new courthouse that the county
didn’t manage to pay off until 1938.
By then, with accrued interest,
the debacle had been dubbed the
Southeast of Pioche, through
Eagle Valley (where golden eagles
swoop with effortless grace), is
Echo Canyon State Park. A reservoir
that’s well-stocked with rainbow
trout abuts a steep rock wall
— the perfect acoustical setup for
echoes. Nine miles beyond is
Spring Valley, another state park
favored by anglers. A number of
homesteaders’ cabins are perched
among the soaring, cinnamon-colored
7. Great Basin National Park
Continuing 100 miles or so beyond
Pioche, the drive ventures
deep into Nevada’s only national
park, where the trove of scenic
riches includes caves, a glacier,
some of the world’s oldest trees,
and hushed groves of white-barked
aspen. An outstanding example of
a mountain island in the vast Great
Basin desert, the park is an unexpected
ark that brims with life.
At the visitor center schedules
are posted for 90-minute ranger led
tours of Lehman Caves. The
tours follow a short paved trail
through caverns where the temperature averages a chilly 50°F and
the walls and ceilings are covered
with lavish decorations.
The park’s 12-mile Wheeler
Peak Scenic Drive passes scrubby
mountain mahogany and bro a d
forests of spruce and
limber pine on its
from the visitor
center to the
the road’s end, trails
fan out to the
to Nevada’s only glacier,
and to placid, tree-rimmed
On the higher reaches
of the Snake Range,
near the end of the
scenic drive, twisted
cling tenaciously to
soil; some of
especially those nearest the tree line, are up to 3,000 years old.
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