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The state of Nevada offers everything from pristine natural wonders to exciting human-made amusements. After all, there’s more to the Silver State than casinos, from stunning lakes and austere deserts to ghost towns and pinball museums. Here are the must-visit statewide attractions.
More of a jaw-dropping roadside attraction than merely a motel (though your jaw might drop in terror rather than wonder), the Clown Motel fully lives up to its name. Outside in the forecourt, a red-nosed clown grins down from the sign, but the motel really earns its name in the lobby, which is crammed with a vast collection of toy clowns. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on whether you like clowns), there aren’t many in the actual rooms, save for the odd painting here and there.
The Fly Geyser is not quite a natural wonder. About two hours north of Reno near the Black Rock Desert, the brightly colored towers spew hot water for a fabulous photo op. The geyser dates back to 1964 when a geothermal power company drilled a test well and didn’t cap it correctly. All industrial accidents should be so fortuitous. The geyser is on private property, but it’s visible from the road.
“Art where it seemingly shouldn’t be” is the motto of the Goldwell Open Air Museum. It displays a set of massive sculptures in the Mojave Desert outside of Rhyolite, Nevada, including Dr Hugo Heyrman’s Lego-like Lady Desert, the Venus of Nevada and Albert Szukalski’s ghostly Last Supper figures. Goldwell keeps art alive with events and artist residencies, and it also runs cultural events in and around the town of Beatty and the Bullfrog townsite.
The International Car Forest of the Last Church, created by local artists Chad Sorg and Mark Rippie, is a chunk of life-size surrealism in the Nevada desert. It features the wrecks of more than 40 cars, trucks and buses, brightly painted and planted in the ground at odd angles, creating the effect of an automotive Stonehenge with a graffiti edge. The wide, blue skies and vividly adorned automobiles make for top-notch photo ops.
If Southern Nevada is known for casinos and the northern region for mountains, there’s a chunk in the middle known for aliens and those who look to the skies for them. The Little A’Le’Inn, near the mysterious Area 51, has embraced the regional theme with little green men on everything and a gift shop full of alien-related paraphernalia. It also has a friendly bar, a restaurant serving Alien burgers and a series of cabins and rooms for rent.
With a permanent collection from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, the Nevada Museum of Art focuses on art and the environment. It hosts several exhibits throughout the year created specifically for the museum, along with traveling exhibitions. Shows have included works by Raphael and other old masters, Kehinde Wiley and Ugo Rondinone, whose site-specific installation is south of Las Vegas.
The Neon Museum pays homage to Las Vegas history through the signs of motels, casinos, restaurants and other businesses. From the Stardust’s vast marquee to the small, shirt-adorned disc of a dry cleaner’s, some signs have been restored to their original electrified state, while others lie dormant. However, all are fascinating. The Neon Museum also offers Brilliant! – an additional program of signs reanimated with projection technology. General-admission and guided-tour tickets are available online and sell out quickly.
For lovers of cars, design and history, Reno’s National Automobile Museum is a must-visit. It depicts the evolution of the automobile through the 200 cars on display – from an 1899 Winton Phaeton to a 1965 Ford Mustang. The collection includes classic, sports and race cars, as well as several famous vehicles, such as a gold-plated DeLorean and the 1949 Mercury Series 9CM driven by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).
Roll that ball! Hit those pins! The National Bowling Stadium in downtown Reno, which opened in 1995 and is unofficially known as the “Taj Mahal of Tenpins,” offers 78 lanes, a pro shop and an extension of the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame. The stadium was the location for the bowling showdown in the movie Kingpin (1996) and is easily identifiable by the enormous geodesic dome on its exterior.
As a top-secret military research and testing center in the middle of the desert, near Groom Lake, Area 51 is the much-loved protagonist of countless conspiracy theories. The United States Air Force acquired it in the mid-1950s, primarily for the testing of Lockheed U-2 spy planes, but speculation has since run wild about its “true” purpose. You can get a great perspective on Area 51 from the top of Tikaboo Peak, 26mi (42km) away – which is as close as you’re allowed to get.
An hour’s drive northeast of Las Vegas is where you’ll find the Lost City Museum, offering an intriguing insight into the region’s history, as far back as 8000BCE. It was built in the 1930s to preserve archaeological remains of Native American sites known as the Pueblo Grande de Nevada, most of which were flooded during the creation of nearby Lake Mead. As well as a Native American pit house and the reconstructed pueblo, the museum comprises three galleries, a screening room and a gift shop.
Additional reporting by Mark Nayler.