Though it may be known as the Silver State, Nevada’s assets are second to none. But while you may be tempted by the bright lights of Sin City, keep in mind that Lady Luck can turn at the roll of a dice. So why not wave goodbye to the Strip for a while, and take a gamble on these five fantastically fun alternatives to Las Vegas’ extravagant centre.
National Atomic Testing Museum
Though you can’t throw a stone in Vegas without hitting some kind of museum, there are none that leave quite as big of an impact as this one. Providing a potted history of all things nuclear in the surrounding desert dunes, the museum houses more than 10,000 informative exhibits that are nothing if not eye-opening – particularly when you start considering the proximity of where you’re standing to some of the test sites.
It’s not all heavy stuff however, as the displays showing the rise of the 1950’s Atomic Age and its gloriously kitsch memorabilia will delight those with a fondness for nostalgia, and the interactive galleries and ‘experiments’ will keep smaller ones from wandering off into the wasteland. An educational and entertaining – yet in truth, quite terrifying – way to spend a long afternoon out of the sun.
Deemed a decent enough backdrop by Hollywood location scouts for everything from Superman to Transformers, the state straddling Hoover Dam may be impressive on screen, but in person, it’s even more magnificent – both inside and out.
Though there are many tours that take you to the top and dare you to gaze over the precipice, the only real way to get a true sense of scale is from the bottom up. Our recommendation is to take a ten minute detour down to Willow Beach (on the Arizona side), hop in a kayak or boat and sail up the mighty Colorado. Not only will you get a singularly special view of the dam, you’ll also glimpse the beautiful Black Canyon, caves and hot springs (and perhaps even a bald eagle above) on the way. More than meets the eye.
Once upon a time, the town of Nelson was known by another, more recognisable, name: El Dorado. So called by the Spaniards who came to settle here after gold and silver was discovered in the surrounding hills, the mining community reached its peak in the mid-1800s when thousands flocked here to strike it rich.
Though it was a popular town of ill-repute, it has a significantly cleaner slate these days thanks to a sparse population that rarely spills over the forty person threshold. Quiet though it may be, it is as close a glimpse into the real Wild West as you’re ever likely to get and its not-quite-abandoned quality makes it a perfect place to snap some atmospheric shots. Don’t forget to pay a visit to Techatticup, the most famous goldmine in Nevada, for a guided tour into the past.
Valley Of Fire
Dramatic in both name and nature, there aren’t many stop offs near the Strip that can hold a candle to this flame-coloured state park. Ancient and enchanting, the deep reds and burnt oranges that greet drivers coming in to hike through the sandstone valleys are best seen when the low sun hits them, but even at night, the surreal shapes make the perfect backdrop for some stargazing.
But if its title alone can’t tempt you into paying a visit here, perhaps the equally intriguing handles of some of its main features will. Between such fascinating formations as the Beehives, Mouse’s Tank, Rainbow Vista and Elephant Rock you’ll find that this place has more than enough to enthral sightseers both big and small for several hours. Be on the lookout for distinctly local wildlife, including rattlesnakes, kangaroo rats and kit foxes and do not under any circumstances forget the sunscreen.
Located along the long and not-so-winding road towards Nevada’s centre sits the sparsely inhabited settlement of Rachel – the self-styled ‘UFO Capital of the World’. Fortunately, it’s a claim to fame that can be backed up by its proximity to the famously furtive Area 51, a detail that the residents have been keen to capitalise on.
The main reason to visit is undoubtedly the Little A’Le’Inn, a motel, restaurant and bar with all the surreal trimmings one would usually associate with the likes of Fox Mulder and his fans. Frequented by friendly locals, as well as those seeking little green men, it makes for a surreal but truly memorable pit stop along the Extra Terrestrial Highway (Hwy. 375). Plan to spend an evening, and be sure to pack the binoculars just in case you do happen to spot strange lights in the sky.