THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO NEVADA ; from Gambling in Las Vegas to Gambolling in the Desert, David Orkin Strikes Gold in This Vast and Varied US State
Orkin, David, The Independent (London, England)
High excitement this year as Las Vegas celebrates its centenary. The city was founded as a way-station for travellers heading west. Over the past century, it has become the biggest city in Nevada and the most popular urban destination in the US " with vast casino hotels constantly seeking to outdo each other in terms of opulence and imagination. Casinos pop up all over the state, even in sleepy old ghost towns that made their fortunes in the 19th century. But beyond all that glitters, the main interest is in the dramatic landscapes, which are remarkably accessible " not least along 'The Loneliest Road in America' (US Highway 50). Amid vast tracts of untouched empty space, you can try adventure sports such as mountain biking, climbing " or hang-gliding or paragliding on the thermals of the Washoe Valley between Reno and Carson City.
Nevada is west of the Rockies, bordered by California, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Arizona. At 484 miles from north to south and 320 miles east- west, Nevada is the seventh-largest US state, and more than twice the size of Britain. The average elevation in Nevada is a mile high, and the highest point 13,141 feet at Boundary Peak in the White Mountains on the California border. The state was previously part of the Utah territory; the name 'Nevada' " 'snow-capped' " was adopted in 1861, and three years later the young State of Nevada was admitted to the Union. Silver from the state helped shore up the finances of the federal government during the Civil War.
BEGIN WITH THE CAPITAL
Carson City, the state capital, is barely more than a town: it was named after the legendary Western hero Kit Carson (001 775 687 7410; www.visitcarsoncity.com). Stop briefly to visit the two best museums: the Nevada State Museum (001 775 687 4810) in the Old Mint building and the Nevada State Railroad Museum (001 775 687 6953); these share the same website as other state museums in Nevada, dmla.clan.lib. nv.us/docs/museums.
A short drive to the north, Reno (001 800 367 7366; www.visitrenotahoe.com) bills itself as 'The Biggest Little City in the World'. It straddles the Truckee river, and the riverside trail along this swift trout stream stretches seven miles from Idlewild Park to the neighbouring city of Sparks. This is one of the world's only cities where thrillseekers can cool off by kayaking in the downtown area " at the Truckee River Whitewater Park. Visit the fine new Nevada Museum of Art (001 775 329 3333; www.nevadaart.org), which includes works by Roy Lichtenstein, and Christo. At the Nevada Historical Society (001 775 688 1190) you can see an outstanding collection of American Indian artefacts. Or, of course, you can gamble; Reno is where northern Californians gather to try their luck, in the self-styled 'little Las Vegas'.
I WANT THE REAL THING
How much reality you'll find in Las Vegas is questionable, but it is no longer the city that taste forgot. Las Vegas " 'the meadows' " was founded in 1905, at around the same time as a French scientist named Georges Claude identified a gas called neon. Initially it was a Mormon settlement, but by the Thirties it had reached the opposite end of the moral spectrum. Gangsters' ill-gotten cash was laundered by the million through casinos and hotels, aided by liberal laws in Nevada. If something was illegal and/or frowned upon in the rest of the US, it could usually be found in Nevada's largest city. Drinkers could slake their thirsts, gamblers could stake their shirts and lovers could make their vows. The rest is dazzling history, revealed at the excellent Nevada State Museum in Lorenzi Park, accessible from downtown Las Vegas on bus 207; call 001 702 486 5205 for more information, or visit www.nevadaculture.org.
Most of the huge casino complexes are located on Las Vegas Boulevard, universally known as The Strip. With hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms, they aren't exactly intimate, but they are in the heart of the action. …