Moon Nevada


By Scott Smith

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Whether you’re an adventure junkie, road-tripper, or card shark, Nevada has something for you. Pull off the perfect trip to the Silver State with Moon Nevada. Inside you’ll find:
  • Strategic itineraries for road-trippers, campers, skiers, and more
  • The best road trips through Nevada, from three days on “the loneliest road in America” to a week covering Death Valley and the Extraterrestrial Highway, plus detailed information on travel times, distances, and directions
  • The top sights and unique experiences: Explore caves and glaciers at Great Basin National Park, or go fishing, swimming, or boating on Lake Tahoe or Lake Mead. Marvel at the Hoover Dam, camp at a secluded alpine lake, and experience the authentic Wild West in a ghost town saloon. Try your hand at a slot machine and eat your way through an epic Las Vegas buffet, or visit one of Nevada’s major festivals and shop for local turquoise jewelry in a Gold Rush town
  • Local tips from longtime Nevadan Scott Smith on where to stay, when to go, and how to get around, plus advice for families with children and travelers with disabilities
  • Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
  • Thorough background information on the landscape, climate, wildlife, and local culture
  • Focused coverage of Reno, Las Vegas, Death Valley, Tahoe, Central Nevada, Elko, the Ruby Mountains, and more
With Moon Nevada’s practical tips and local insight, you can plan your trip your way.

Spending more time at the lake? Try Moon Tahoe. Headed to the parks? Try Moon Yosemite National Park or Moon Death Valley National Park.


International Car Forest of the Last Church in Goldfield

the famous Las Vegas sign



Planning Your Trip

Leaving Las Vegas


Reno to the Rubies


The Loneliest Road Trip



Artist’s Drive in Death Valley.

Nevada is no pushover. Its geography, history, and culture will challenge you to reconsider your sensibilities, push your limits, and press your luck.

The Silver State is still a frontier setting, straddling the line between the rough-hewn and the sophisticated, always with one foot planted firmly in the past, but ever poised to take the next step forward. The independent spirit found in the Native American’s respect for the land, the pioneer’s sense of adventure, the prospector’s optimism, and the immigrant Basque’s industriousness still abides here. There’s also an air of anticipation . . . that something exciting will happen on the next roll of the dice, with the next cast of your trusty fly rod, or around the next curve on the Loneliest Road in America.

To discover Nevada is to embrace its idiosyncrasies and incongruities: the urbanity of Las Vegas balanced by Fallon’s agrarian idyll; the forbidding barrenness of the desert counterpointed by fruit trees and grapevines. While cowboy conservatism is prevalent in much of the state, Nevada remains the only place in the country where not only gambling but also rural prostitution and recreational marijuana are both legal and vital to the economy.

Bellagio Conservatory in Las Vegas

Alien Research Center in Hiko

Heavenly Mountain Resort overlooking Lake Tahoe

There’s plenty of opportunity for vice and consumption in Nevada, but there’s more to it than bright lights and unchecked hedonism. Dance along with the neon on the Las Vegas Strip, Reno’s casino row, and the main street of just about any Nevada town big enough to have a stoplight. But far from the neon jungle, you will find some of the darkest skies in the United States, perfect for gazing at the stars. Plunge deep into Nevada’s backcountry to explore hundreds of river tributaries where you can cast a fly, battle your own rainbow, and celebrate victory with a hard-won meal grilled over a campfire. Experience homespun pleasures like farmers markets, local art shows, and balloon festivals.

The Vegas Strip, Reno, and Lake Tahoe shine like nuggets in a gold pan, but Nevada’s real treasures lie just below the surface. And like the miners of the past, you too will be rewarded if you’re willing to dig a little.

entrance to Boulder City’s historic downtown

Cathedral Gorge State Park.

Goldwell Open Air Museum near Rhyolite


1 Las Vegas Glitz: Think flashing neon, luxury resorts, and feathered showgirls. It doesn’t get any glitzier than Vegas (click here).

2 Outdoor Recreation in Tahoe: Surrounded by majestic peaks, this bluest of lakes makes the ideal setting for hiking, camping, and of course, skiing (click here and click here).

3 Fun in Reno: Even beyond the slot machines, cocktails, and floor shows, Reno offers serious fun, including the Truckee Riverwalk and an emerging art scene (click here).

4 Scenic Drives: Nevada was made for road trips, from the Loneliest Road (click here) to the Extraterrestrial Highway (click here).

5 Otherworldly Landscapes: Explore lunar craters, valleys of death, and eerily quiet prairies beneath star-strewn blackness. Choose the Black Rock Desert (click here), Cathedral Gorge (click here), Pyramid Lake (click here), the Lunar Cuesta (click here)—or all of the above.

6 Wild West History: Relive the Gold Rush era with visits to ghost towns (click here) as well as still thriving cities like Carson City (click here) and Virginia City (click here).

7 Hot Springs: Relax and rejuvenate with a natural mineral bath (click here).

8 Ruby Mountains: Nevada is filled with gorgeous landscapes, but this series of 10,000-foot peaks may be its most stunning backdrop (click here).

9 Great Basin National Park: This hallowed temple of the wilderness range contains permanent glacier-like ice, limestone corridors, and 4,000-plus-year-old trees (click here).

10 Small-Town Charm: Friendly, rustic communities bring a touch of civilization to Nevada’s rugged terrain (click here).

Planning Your Trip

Where to Go
Las Vegas

Las Vegas has a way of winning people over. Even nongamblers horrified at the thought of throwing away hard-earned cash break down and slide $20 into a slot machine—hey, you never know, right? Even strict dieters simply must sample a seafood buffet. Wallflowers gyrate under pulsing strobes. Dine, drink, dance, and double down, then do it all again tomorrow. Some 36 million visitors a year can’t be wrong. Gambling is Nevada’s lifeblood, and Vegas is its heart.

Reno and Tahoe

While showgirls and Elvis impersonators live here too, somehow Reno seems like a real town. Just a few blocks from the casinos, the Truckee River meanders right through town alongside museums, parks, fine restaurants, and upscale boutiques. Not far away are the pristine waters and rugged, tree-lined shoreline of Lake Tahoe. Its ski resorts beckon with plentiful runs, from bunny slopes to the blackest of black diamonds.

Central Nevada

Central Nevada is home to quintessential icons of the American West. Rainbow Canyon’s Native American petroglyphs and Goldfield and Rhyolite’s boomtown relics shed light on the lives of our ancestors; the hauntingly beautiful caves and spires at Cathedral Gorge take travelers even further back to primordial times. Perhaps it’s this rich past that drives restless spirits to haunt its historic towns.

Cathedral Gorge State Park

The Loneliest Road

To some, US 50’s miles of solitary roadway feel like heaven. The trip starts at state capital Carson City, continues through Virginia City (the state’s first boomtown), and pushes on to Great Basin National Park and the state line, tempting road-trippers with soothing hot springs, venerable watering holes, and quaint motels.

Northern Nevada

Northern Nevada’s Humboldt River Valley is your high school geography and history lessons come to life—only more interesting. Pyramid Lake, with its perfect triangular rock jutting through the placid surface, is one of the most beautiful desert waterways in the world. The Black Rock Desert, an expanse of playa at turns spiritually calm and eerily still, comes alive during the annual Burning Man festival. On the other side of the state, the Ruby Mountains reign from some 10,000 feet above, offering adventure recreation.

Know Before You Go
When to Go

Nevada makes a great winter escape, whether you want to shred the manicured slopes around Lake Tahoe or enjoy sunny mild temperatures (60°F or so) in Las Vegas. Expect high season rates in Tahoe, but enjoy bargains in Vegas—especially between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In summer, these big destinations still draw plenty of visitors. In Tahoe, the hiking’s fine and the lake is just as blue. In Vegas, the blackjack odds never change, the swimming pool is always open, and casinos and hotel rooms are air-conditioned.

If you’re headed to Nevada to enjoy outdoor recreation, spring and fall are perhaps the best times to visit. The spring sun is bright but not too hot, showers bring out desert wildflowers, and the fish are biting in lakes and rivers. Fall sees the baking heat abate in time for picnics, outdoor events, and camping trips.


Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport is one of the busiest in the country, and Reno-Tahoe International knows a little something about handling visitors as well. Most air visitors will make use of one of these state-of-the-art facilities. However, the resort cities receive huge percentages of their clientele from California. Starting on Thursday nights, the eastbound traffic on I-80 and I-15 can be murder; it’s more of the same in the other direction beginning on Sunday afternoon. Those visitors at least have the advantage of having their cars with them, a must for exploring beyond the resort corridors. However, the big cities are well provided with rental-car companies, and public transportation and taxis are easy to find.

Advance Reservations

While Vegas is always open for business, it’s a good idea to make a few calls to Las Vegas hotels or to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (702/892-0711) before you confirm your dates of your vacation to find out if there’s a convention, event, or holiday. While Vegas shows are quite popular, if you’re flexible, you shouldn’t have any trouble seeing your favorite production or headliner. Guaranteeing attendance at major boxing matches and music festivals may require some planning and advance purchases.

What to Pack

You’ll need copious amounts of sunscreen and water, but you can stock up when you get here. Summer nights in all but the highest elevations are mild. But in late fall, even when daytime highs flirt with 90°F, you’ll often need a sweater when the sun goes down.

Nevada has a bit of a split personality when it comes to attire. Most restaurants are casual, but some—even in the most out-of-the-way places in the state—may require jackets. On the other hand, men often attend southern Nevada church services in shirt sleeves and even shorts. The trendy clubs usually enforce dress codes, most disallowing jeans, tank tops, and tennis shoes.

Leaving Las Vegas

Aside from being one of the world’s premier destinations, Las Vegas also serves as a handy base camp for exploring southern Nevada’s natural and recreational attractions. With flights arriving from around the country and around the world. the city’s McCarran International Airport makes it an easy gateway to the state. Including a day or two in Vegas at the beginning or end of your trip rounds it out to a full week. For suggestions on how to spend your time in Vegas itself, see click here.

Day 1

Head south on I-515 to Boulder City (about a 30-minute drive), gateway to Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. You will burn a lot of calories today, so treat yourself to breakfast at the Southwest Diner. Park at the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, downstream from Hoover Dam, and walk across, pausing to read the interpretive signs and take in a fine view of the engineering marvel. Next drive to the visitors center and tour the bowels of the dam. Check out the visitors center until lunchtime. Restaurant choices in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area are slim, so pick up a few snacks and rent a pontoon boat at Lake Mead Marina. Spend the afternoon exploring the lake’s coves and enjoying a floating picnic. The marina also sells fishing gear and licenses in case you want to match wits with the lake’s legendary striped bass.

Hoover Dam

Return to the marina before sundown and head back up the hill to Boulder City for some window shopping and an evening stroll through the historical downtown, full of curiosity shops and boutiques housed in 1930s Spanish Colonial Revival buildings. On the way back to Vegas, stop again at the Southwest Diner for a home-style dinner of meatloaf, pot roast, or grilled ham steak, but make it an early night.

Day 2
180 MILES / 2.75 HOURS

After exploring some of humanity’s greatest creations in Boulder City, today you’ll head out on a jaunt through nature’s handiwork. Order coffee and muffins to go and head out on US 93 for the roughly 90-minute drive to arrive at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge. Get there early to catch a glimpse of deer, foxes, cougars, egrets, and tortoises, which are most active in the early morning. Continue north on US 93 for lunch at Caliente’s J&J Fast Food for fried finger food made from scratch but served in minutes.

Spend the afternoon looking up at the eerie spires and spindles at Cathedral Gorge State Park, then drive up to Pioche for dinner at the Silver Café, the best of the sparse offerings in this part of the state. Head back to Panaca and settle in with a good book and a restful night’s sleep at the Pine Tree Inn and Bakery.

Day 3
210 MILES / 3.25 HOURS

Dig into the Pine Tree Inn’s full breakfast for the fuel you will need for a full day of chasing extraterrestrials. Drive the 65 miles from Panaca to Hiko (following US 93 south). Pick up a Martian coffee cup and take a selfie with the 30-foot-tall metallic spaceman standing guard at the Alien Research Center. Then head west on the Extraterrestrial Highway (NV 375) to Rachel for an Alien Burger lunch at the Little A’Le’Inn. Explore the perimeter of Area 51—carefully—including the “Use of Deadly Force Authorized” sign. Reach the end of the ET Highway at Warm Springs and head on to Tonopah for a spicy, cheesy dinner at El Marques.

If you don’t mind sharing a room with the ghosts of miners and working girls, book the night’s stay at the Comstock-opulent Mizpah Hotel. But don’t turn in before a star party with the Tonopah Astronomical Society under the dark, dark canopy illuminated by thousands of stars.

Day 4
93 MILES / 1.5 HOURS

You won’t need a pick or pan for today’s lesson in Nevada’s mining history. Start the day with the Miner’s Breakfast amid Comstock-era decor at the Stage Shop Café at Tonopah Station casino. Peer into the shaft of Burro Tunnel and peruse the hoists and works at the Tonopah Historic Mining Park. Visit the Central Nevada Museum to gain some perspective into mining’s place in life in the Old West. The faithful boomtown re-creation outside includes a saloon, blacksmith shop, and stamp mill.

Head 30 minutes south on US 95 to stretch your legs with a wander around Goldfield. Its turn-of-the-20th-century hotel, fire station, and courthouse serve as apt selfie backgrounds. Finish with burgers and fries at Dinky Diner, then continue another hour south to Beatty and onto NV 374 to see the surreal plaster cast sculptures and other modern art at the Goldwell Open Air Museum. Head next door to check out the Bottle House, railroad depot, bank building, and other relics at Rhyolite ghost town before beating it back to Beatty for a casual alfresco dinner at KC’s Outpost. Load up on jerky and trail mix at Death Valley Nut & Candy Co. for tomorrow’s adventure, then hit the hay at the retro-cool Atomic Inn.

Day 5

Leave Beatty early for the drive southwest along NV 374 into Death Valley toward Stovepipe Wells Village (roughly 40 minutes), planning to arrive at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes to see the sunrise. Climb a dune to watch the play of light and shadow on the sand and rock formations. Backtrack slightly through the Titus Canyon Narrows and follow the signs to Scotty’s Castle for a guided tour of the iconic Spanish-style residence. The landmark castle was damaged during flooding in 2015, but the National Park Service offers a limited number of tours to witness its recovery, planned for completion in 2020. Either way, it’s worth a stop.

Head back south on CA 190 (60 miles, 75 minutes) for lunch at the Ranch at Death Valley, fuel for the Golden Canyon/Gower Gulch trail. Park at the trailhead on Badwater Road, two miles south of the junction with CA 190. The trail encompasses Zabriskie Point and views of Red Cathedral, Manly Beacon, and wave after wave of basalt ridges.

Returning to your car, drive the scenic Artist’s Drive loop through Artist’s Palette. The scenic route, lined with canyon walls stained green, yellow, pink, and white by minerals in the rock, starts three miles south of the Golden Canyon trailhead on Badwater Road. Nine miles and 22 minutes later, the drive returns to Badwater Road, four miles south of the embarkation point. From here, go north on Badwater Road and take CA 190 and NV 373 to Amargosa Valley (61 miles, 1 hour). Enjoy a late dinner at the Nebraska Steakhouse, a little slot play, and a room for the night.

Return to Las Vegas via US 95 or NV 160 (roughly 120 miles; a two-hour drive).

Lamoille Canyon

Reno to the Rubies

The road trip from the Biggest Little City in the World to the Alps of Nevada is a real slice of Americana. You’ll experience the Code of the West as it’s lived by cattlemen, shepherds, and farmers. Stretch your muscles and imagination communing with snowy peaks, mountainous trails, trout-filled streams, and verdant valleys. Reno-Tahoe International Airport offers an easy gateway to this section of the state.

Day 1

There’s plenty to see and do even before you start your drive across Nevada’s northern frontier. It may be much smaller than Las Vegas, but Reno can wine, dine, and entertain with the best of them. Start with a history and culture lesson at the Wilbur D. May Museum and Arboretum, which displays the magnate’s collections of Western gear, hunting trophies, Africana, and more. More evidence of how the other half lived is on offer at the W. M. Keck Earth Science and Mineral Engineering Museum, highlighted by mining millionaire John Mackay’s 1,250-piece Tiffany silver service—enough to accommodate a tea party of 24. Lunch on enchiladas and beer at one of Miguel’s two locations, then hit your favorite casino and spend some quality time with the one-eyed jacks and one-armed bandits. Top off the evening with a stroll along the Riverwalk, tasting wines and browsing art galleries along the way.

Day 2

A living, breathing tribute to early American ingenuity, hard work, and hedonism, Virginia City places visitors in the roles of hardscrabble miner and silver baron, schoolmistress and soiled dove. Strollers along C Street encounter new insights on boomtown life on every corner. Start at The Way It Was Museum to see how the silver went from mine to mill to amalgamation to bullion to mint. A short film puts the town in historical perspective. Before lunch, stop into the Mark Twain Museum. Twain’s original desk is as characteristically messy as he kept it at the Territorial Enterprise. You’ll see state-of-the-art 19th-century printing technology: It’s all hot type and primitive binding machines.

If you’re here in summer, escape the midday heat on a guided tour deep into Chollar Mine. Rough timbers and old-time equipment will make you want to grab a pick and try your luck at finding a rich vein. Imagine you’ve struck it rich and celebrate with barbecue and brews at the Firehouse Restaurant & Saloon. Cap off your visit riding the rails of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad past mines, over trestle bridges, through tunnels, and back through time. Head back to Reno to bunk down for the night.

Day 3
166 MILES / 2.5 HOURS

Grub up with a skillet breakfast at Peg’s Glorified Ham & Eggs in Reno, then head northwest on I-80. In less than two hours, you’ll be in Lovelock. If you’re traveling with your significant other, stop and hang a padlock in Lovers Lock Plaza to symbolize your unbreakable love in the Chinese tradition. Throw away the key, of course. Load up on picnic supplies, then continue to


On Sale
Jun 5, 2018
Page Count
300 pages
Moon Travel

Scott Smith

About the Author

Originally from Indiana, Scott Smith has lived in Nevada for 20-plus years, making him-by Las Vegas standards-a native. He earned his journalism degree from Ball State University, and an MBA at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Scott enjoys exploring his adopted home state with his wife and four sons. His favorite Nevada memories include battling gale-force winds to keep the family tent anchored near Sunnyside and digging two toddlers out of knee-deep muck along the shores of Lake Mead.

During his travels, Scott seeks out the unexpected-and enjoys finding evidence that contradicts most people’s stereotypes about Nevada. He has written about a selfless pioneer’s heroic trek to save his friends in the Nevada desert; the flourishing arts scene in “vacuous” Las Vegas; and the state’s brief embrace of Progressive values in the early 1900s that saw it outlaw gambling and liquor. A frequent contributor to Nevada magazine, Smith’s writing has also appeared in American History and Wild West.

Learn more about this author