Old West still part of everyday living in Elko County

Replete with a full calendar of events and festivals, Elko County offers unique experiences for visitors to northeastern Nevada.

Southern Nevadans planning vacations find plenty in the region to lure them into exploring their own fascinating state and finding common roots in frontier settlement, ranching, mining and railroading. The Nevada of yesteryear may be all but lost in the neon bustle of urban Las Vegas, but visitors find the Old West is still alive and part of everyday living in rural Elko.

Elko is 430 miles from Las Vegas. Head north on Interstate 15, turning onto U.S. Highway 93 near Apex. Designated a scenic route along most of its length, U.S. 93 parallels Nevada’s eastern border through grand Great Basin landscapes. Follow U.S. 93 to Wells, then turn west 51 miles on Interstate 80 to reach Elko.

Heading west, you follow trails blazed by mountain men and military mapmakers who probed the forbidding, unknown region that is now Nevada. Their journals and maps made possible the great migration of thousands of people headed westward following the discovery of gold in California in 1949. I-80 speeds over the route that the emigrant trains followed to reach the gold fields on the western side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Most of those early travelers were just passing through. Just a few stayed to establish wayside homesteads.

Nevada’s own settlement came a decade later, when fabulous finds of silver and gold east of the Sierras brought people back into the new Nevada Territory. Statehood followed in 1864. The arrival of the transcontinental railroads in the late 1860s spurred settlement in the sparsely populated state, particularly in regions with promise for agriculture such as Elko County.

Ranching is still an economic mainstay there, but it’s the soaring price for gold from area mines that keeps Elko prosperous while the rest of Nevada suffers through recession. Elko serves as a center of government and commerce for a city of about 21,000 and an outlying population of some 15,000.

Proud of its history, Elko boasts fine cultural facilities. Visit the prestigious Northeastern Nevada Museum in the downtown City Park, the Western Folklife Center in the old Pioneer Hotel on Railroad Street and the newly opened California Trail Interpretive Center, a Bureau of Land Management facility 8 miles west of Elko.

Previously open only by reservation, the California Trail Interpretive Center holds its grand opening this weekend. Starting Friday, the center will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Labor Day. After Labor Day, the facility will be open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Similar to the BLM’s excellent Oregon Trail Center in Baker City, Ore., this facility traces emigration routes through Nevada with displays, recorded excerpts from pioneer journals, interactive exhibits, historical reenactments and demonstrations of pioneer and native Shoshone skills, crafts, music and games. For more details, contact ranger Gary Koy at (775) 934-2467.

The Elko Beer Festival on June 22 ushers in a busy weekend. On June 23 spend $5 to adopt a rubber duckie and a chance at the $1,000 prize for the winner in the Great Humboldt Duck Race. Hundreds of toy ducks bounce through town on the river in a benefit for the Northeastern Nevada Museum. On June 24, drive a few minutes from Elko to the foot of the beautiful Ruby Mountains for the 37th annual Lamoille County Fair.

Elko’s Euzkaldunak Basque Club hosts 40 other clubs at the colorful annual National Basque Festival from June 29 to July 1. The event includes a Saturday night dance and a Sunday barbecue.

Elko sees many ranch-related events, but the Silver State Stampede from July 12 to 14 is a standout, an annual event since 1913.

The popular Elko County Fair, Aug. 27 to Sept. 6, draws attendees from Nevada and neighboring states.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.

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