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Sunday, July 07, 2013

Las Vegas is Fabulous but Reno is Ravishing

Morrill Hall University of Nevada
So lets talk about Reno! Reno? Really? Yes of course Reno! I have been to Reno at least a dozen times in my life and every time I have returned I have discovered something new and exciting about the "Biggest Little City in The World." Reno Nevada is one of the most delightful city's I have been to. Its quaint, charming and chuck full of arts and culture that leave you completely refreshed.

Reno learned a long time ago that it could not compete with the craziness of the Las Vegas Strip and its showgirl like resorts. But what it could do is focus on the arts, its perfect location to the ski resorts of Lake Tahoe and its rich history to fill in the gap. Situated right on the Truckee River the little city is a must see when you visit Nevada. Its located about 6.5 hours driving time from Las Vegas or roughly 1.5 hours by flight. I prefer the drive myself since it takes you through some of the hidden historical gems that Nevada has to offer. And since I am a major history fanatic the drive is perfect. Not to mention very therapeutic.

The drive can be daunting for many since it is long and for some can be quite arduous if you don't like the scenic vistas of the desert. The long expanses of the desert is what brings many to Nevada. Tourists from places like Japan and other heavily populated areas are in awe of how much empty land is out there. Huge arid tracks that make you wonder how people on wagons could survive it. Though I was in the comfort of my little air-conditioned MINI I know all too well that if my car broke down I would need water to survive before I could get some help. So I packed plenty of water and goodies to keep me satiated if things turned ugly.

No one argues the fact that Nevada is a place of extremes. The summers are super hot and the winters can get super cold. It has little arable land and water is most definitely a luxury. Heck Nevada should have not even been a state as soon as it was when it was created back in 1864. Even at the turn of the 20th Century eastern US newspapers questioned whether Nevada should even be a state with a paltry population barely able to sustain territorial status! But nonetheless the state survived and today its thriving thanks to a population that likes it's Libertarian nature of low taxes, individualism and entrepreneurship.

Alien Center in Wells
The drive from Las Vegas takes you North along Interstate 95 through the little hamlets of Indian Springs, home to Creech Air Force Base and Cactus Spring. Interesting thing about Cactus Springs is that its home to the Temple of Sekmet. The first temple dedicated to the Egyptian warrior goddess in almost 2000 years!

As you continue north you hit Wells (formerly Lathrop Wells) and their new Area 51 Alien Center and brothel (my guess would be that the brothel experience would be out of this world!). Past Wells you will eventually hit the small mining town of Beatty home to the world famous Sourdough Saloon and the Beatty Museum and Historical Society. Beatty is also the gateway to Death Valley National Park, the Rhyolite Ghost Town and the Goldwell Open Air Museum.

Continuing along the route you will pass through one of Nevada's historical gems. The town of Goldfield. At one time the town was the largest in the state with a healthy population of 20,000 people drawn there in the unending quest for gold. In 1982 the town was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Many of its old stone buildings still survive and some are still used today such as the court house. The Goldfield Hotel is considered one the most haunted places in America.

Once you leave Goldfield the next town is Tonopah home to the Tonopah Historic Mining Park and the Central Nevada Museum. The historic Mizpah Hotel and its perfectly preserved turn of the century architecture and decor is a must see when driving through town.

Upon exiting Tonopah, this stretch of road will take you through some of the most stark country in Nevada. With the exception of a few tiny villages such as Mina and Luning there is not much else out there except a few abandoned buildings along the route. So make sure to fuel up in Tonopah for the stretch to Hawthorn.

Reno River Walk
Truckee River
Hawthorn Nevada is an interesting place. Its an old US Army weapons depot. Once you get into the area you will notice thousands of bunkers all over the landscape. Goodness knows what is all held up in them. I heard rumors of old munitions from the Spanish American War to World War I and II bombs. Who knows nonetheless its interesting to see. Hawthorn is also home to several interesting attractions such as the Mineral County Museum and the Hawthorn Ordnance Museum. But one of the most interesting features of the town is its public art. As you exit the town which is easy to do since it only has one traffic light you will see to the left some interesting kinetic sculptures in a small park next to the Mineral County Museum. These sculptures are made from old artillery shells and are made to resemble flowers. Peaceful sculptures in a not so peaceful landscape.

Immediately after you exit Hawthorn you will hit Walker Lake. One of the few large lakes located in Nevada. The drive along the Western boundary of the lake will take you right up against the rocky cliffs between Mount Grant and Bald Mountain. The road rides tight so you definitely want to reduce your speed. In either case the blue waters of the lake are a nice respite from the brown sands of the desert.

Once you pass Walker Lake you are on the last long stretch before you get to Reno. You have two choices in this case. You can continue through to Fallon to hit the 50 which connects you to Interstate 80 at Fernley and then on to Reno or you can take the alternative 95 through Yerington which hits Fernley also. I would suggest that latter since it will save you about 30 minutes on the trail. Though Fallon is a nice little town the traffic tends to slow you down especially since you have to drive right through it to get to Fernley. Fallon is considered the Oasis of Nevada or Nevada's Breadbasket. It has a cool mix of farms, plenty of shops and quite a little art scene. But the coolest thing about the town is that its also home to the Fallon Naval Air Station or Navy Fighter Weapons School aka TOPGUN. Yep TOPGUN is located in Nevada...

Now that we have hit Interstate 80 the drive is swift. I would say within 30 minutes you will hit the Reno Sparks metropolitan area. Get off on Virginia Street and head South which lands you in the middle of Downtown. The rest is up to you where you wanna go. Since Reno has a pretty compact Downtown everything is within walking distance.

The Truckee River flows right through the middle of Downtown, which gives the city a great sense of the outdoors. The river also is the demarcation point between North Downtown and South Downtown. North of the river you will catch up to most of the big casinos and the historic center of the city including the University of Nevada. South of the River you will run into the more bohemian section of the city, home to the Nevada Museum of Art, the contemporary SoDo Restaurant the cool hipster bar St. James Infirmary, the Sundance Bookstore, and Blue Moon Pizza. Farther south along Virginia Street you run into Midtown. An area that is being redeveloped and reminds me a lot of the Arts District in Downtown Vegas. Midtown is home to lots of cool antique shops, used clothing stores like Junkee Clothing Exchange and the Melting Pot World Emporium. The latter being a favorite for those who attend Burning Man, the massive counter culture and art festival that takes place in Northern Nevada every August. For some good eats and drinks in Midtown try Thai Chili Cuisine, Craft Wine and Beer, and Brasserie Saint James are all places well worth your time.

Reno@ Night
Though Reno is a small city it has all the night time amenities that Las Vegas has too. Albeit in a smaller more compact way. The nightlife in Reno can be pretty cool and it wont blow your budget unlike some places in Las Vegas. The new Rise Night Club in Downtown is an independent mega club that reminds me quite a bit of Las Vegas' old Club Utopia. The space is massive (60k sq ft.) and the potential is even bigger. I suspect that in the near future some big named DJs will want to try Reno for a change.

It may not be Las Vegas with all the What Happens Here Hype, but if you are looking for that perfect little weekend getaway with all the amenities of Vegas without all the tourists, traffic and trix Reno Nevada is the place to go. Enjoy!

Special Thanks:
  • Dr. Matt Becker, Senior Acquisitions Editor at the University of Nevada Press for showing me a damn good time in Reno! 
  • Dr. Joanne O'Hare, Director of The University of Nevada Press for lunch and an amazing conversation!
  • Shannon Dobbs, Proproprietor of Rise Night Club for showing me your latest creation! Shannon you rock! 
  • D. Brian Burghart. Reno News and Review with regaling us with great stories about Turkey!
  • And thanks to everyone I met at St. James Infirmary! You know who you are!
For more information about Reno -

Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority - http://www.visitrenotahoe.com/
Reno News and Review - http://www.newsreview.com/reno/home
Reno Gazette Journal - http://www.rgj.com/

Brian Paco Alvarez enculturating Las Vegas into the millennium...

posted by Brian Paco Alvarez, Curator and Chronicler of Culture at


Blogger Unknown said...

Hey Paco. Cheers for the great blog about the Big Lil'. It was a blast showing you around. Matt

4:01 PM

Anonymous georgette crush said...

Paco. It was so great to meet you! Thanks for the love babe. Looking forward to playing in your neighborhood

4:09 PM


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