Friday, April 03, 2009

Nevada 101

For my East Coast friends. Let's start today's lesson.

This is Nevada. All together now: "neh-VAA-dah." No, not "neh-VAH-dah." "Neh-VAA-dah." Very good.

It's the seventh largest state; it could hold 10 Marylands. It's slightly larger than Colorado and just smaller than Arizona.

It was founded in 1864, hence the reference to "Battle Born" on the otherwise admittedly boring flag. But the state nickname is "The Silver State."

Who knows the capital of Nevada? No, not Reno. No, not Las Vegas. No, not the Palms (*whack*). It's Carson City, where a U.S. Mint used to be back in the Comstock's (area near Carson City) silver heyday.

Note where people live in Nevada. With all due respect to Ely (e-lee), Elko, and Tonopah, most Nevadans live in one of two areas: down south, in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, or Boulder City; or in Reno, Sparks (collectively known as the Truckee Meadows), or Carson City in the northwest. Since Vegas and environs have such a large population, they have two of the state's three Congressional districts. Congressman Dean Heller serves the whole rest of the state.

Note the distance of Reno and Sparks from Las Vegas, about 450 miles. That's about as far as Boston is from Washington, DC, but you're still in the same state. Needless to say, Reno and Sparks are not suburbs of Vegas. The nearest bigger city to Reno? Try Sacramento, 120 miles to the west over Donner Pass. In terms of the West, 120 miles is pretty close. San Francisco is about a four-hour drive from Reno.

Just southeast of Reno is historic Virginia City, which you may remember from the opening of "Bonanza." Of course, I don't know why they kept burning up that map. To the east is Fernley, which suffered a flood last year when canal levees broke; and Fallon, site of a naval air station that is the home also of the Top Gun aircraft. Out east, Elko is a small but fairly wealthy town, built on gold and silver mining.

Not on this map is Searchlight, a southern town between Boulder City and Laughlin that gave the world Harry Reid (John Ensign is our other senator); and Yucca Mountain, south of Tonopah and the designated repository for the nation's nuclear waste . . . maybe. And between Tonopah and Vegas is the famous Area 51, where extraterrestrials may or may not be hidden. Art Bell of Coast to Coast AM fame lives in Pahrump ("pah-RUMP"), where things go Pahrump in the night.

Most of Nevada consists of mountains and high desert. Both Reno and Vegas sit on the edges of the desert, meaning any precipitation that comes usually doesn't last long in the valleys (see also: Denver), but the mountains sure get their share. While it's routine for summertime temperatures in Vegas to reach into the 110s, it's rare for Reno temperatures to top 100, but it has happened. And when it snows in the valley, it's actually rare for schools to close for it.

Mountain snow is the primary water source for northern Nevada. Much of the snowmelt runs through the Truckee ("Trucky") River. As a result, even in late summer, most of the lakes and rivers in northern Nevada are quite chilly. But that's also what gives Lake Tahoe its deep shade of blue. Southern Nevada relies more on Lake Mead and the Colorado River for water, but so does Arizona, southern California, and other states.

Prostitution is legal only in authorized brothels in Nevada's counties except Washoe and Clark, where Reno and Vegas are respectively. Most locals laugh as visitors go off to those places. No streetwalking is allowed.

More than 85 percent of Nevada is owned by the federal government, whether as Indian reservations, national parks or forests, or just plain land. Not much happens on it, except for wild horses running across it. The Bureau of Land Management is arguably the largest federal agency out here.

While Vegas is still very much built on gaming, that industry is losing its foothold here in the Truckee Meadows, largely because of competition from Indian casinos in northern California. The area has lots of festivals, however: the Rib Cookoff, Hot August Nights, and the Reno Air Races, to name only a few.

Any questions?