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The Best Little Town in America lives up to its billing with friendly folks, eclectic events, and relentless recreation.
Photo: Julie Duewel/NDOT (above); Cynthia Delaney (below)
The Elko Area Chamber of Commerce claims on its website that the northeastern Nevada town is the Best Little Town in America. While Nevada Magazine leaves readers to decide “bests,” an inspection of the town’s people, traditions, and tourism opportunities leaves little to the imagination as to how it adopted such a slogan.
From a resident’s point of view—as is the case with so many small towns in Nevada—it’s Elko’s sense of community that has staying power. “If a person is in need, people will come to the forefront and help out,” says Elko native Ann Nisbet. Also a common theme around Nevada, Nisbet is strongly tied to her homeland through the family name. Her great-grandfather, Valentine Walther, built Sherman Station, a complex of late-1800s ranch buildings eventually moved to Elko from Huntington Valley in 1998 to house the Chamber. Today, Sherman Station doubles as an Elko visitor center and a museum of antiques and Walther family relics.
To truly delve into Elko’s history, however, a visit to the Northeastern Nevada Museum is in order. The building features exhibits on natural and cultural history of the area, including mining, ranching, the California Trail, railroads, and the lifestyle and basketry of Paiute and Shoshone Indians. The popular stained-wood Halleck Bar dates to 1916, and the museum pays homage to Western artist and writer Will James in two exhibits on display through December. The Western Folklife Center is also a blast from Elko’s past—and present. Located in the historic Pioneer Hotel, the WFC honors cowboy music and ranching culture by hosting concerts, exhibits, workshops, adult and youth educational programs, and special events. Just a few blocks away, the Elko Railroad Park commemorates the important role the town played in our country’s railroad history.
To be interested in Elko’s history, of course, is to understand it. Founded by the Central Pacific Railroad in 1868, the town became an important hub in then-desolate Elko County. “Just six months after the railroad arrived, Elko supported two banks, 45 saloons, three hardware stores, eight physicians, and eight attorneys,” reads Online Nevada Encyclopedia.
What originated as a rowdy tent town grew to be the county seat in 1869, and, by 1870, supported a population of more than 1,000. By October 1873, Elko had founded the state’s first university—University of Nevada—which moved to Reno in 1885. It wasn’t until the early 1900s, however, that the town really boomed, due in large part to the simultaneous construction of the Western Pacific Railroad and the development of nearby mining boomtowns such as Gold Creek, Jarbidge, and Midas.
Elko has ridden that wave into the 21st Century, and its nearly 20,000 residents are still benefiting from a lucrative local mining industry led by regional giants Barrick Gold Corporation and Newmont Mining Corporation. Newmont offers public tours on the second Tuesday of the month, April through October. Tour participants see a video at the museum, then are bused to the company’s pit, dump leach, and milling facilities.
Although Elko is one of Northern Nevada’s largest towns, it maintains a small-town attitude and charm. This is accentuated by the plethora of recreational activities available to outdoorsmen any direction from the city limits. Many would argue that the area’s natural gems lie southeast of Elko, starting with the quaint town of Lamoille and Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway. “Our family has long had a cabin in Lamoille, which is our favorite escape,” Nisbet says.
Lamoille is the northern gateway to what some consider “Nevada’s Alps,” the Ruby Mountains, as well as the Ruby Crest National Recreation Trail. With a glance at a map, the dozens of fishing icons in the range tell you that it’s a fisherman’s paradise, but backpackers, day hikers, horseback riders, and hunters also revel in its isolated beauty.
Outdoor enthusiasts, including bird watchers, also fancy Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge for its collection of marshes and ponds in lush, grassy meadows teeming with wild animals. Extreme skiers and snowboarders looking for a powder-packed mountain all to themselves might consider a three-day excursion with Ruby Mountains Heli-Experience, based in Lamoille.
A more direct route south from Elko is South Fork State Recreation Area. The retreat is a favorite among locals for water sports such as boating, water skiing, and fishing. Camping is available in developed sites. A short drive north of Elko is a small ski resort, Elko Snobowl, while a further drive north is Wild Horse State Recreation Area, with boating, fishing, camping, picnicking, hunting, cross-country skiing, and an annual ice-fishing derby. When the season is right, snowmobilers take full advantage of the many miles of open, public terrain around Elko, just as ATVers do in the warmer months. Golfers can walk the greens of Elko’s championship Ruby View Golf Course, or visit nearby Spring Creek Golf Course (both are 18-hole, par 71s).
All that outdoor activity will have you starving for a hearty meal when you make it back into the city. This is your chance to enjoy a family-style Basque meal at The Star Bar and Dining Room. Depending on the day of the week, the wait could be long, but the generous helpings of baked beans, bread, French fries, green beans, salad, soup, and spaghetti will leave you wondering how you’re going to handle the entrée—usually a cut of succulent lamb or butter-soft steak.
There are also a number of casinos in town where patrons can play the tables and slots to work up their appetites for a meal in one of the casino restaurants. The Historic Commercial Casino, where Ted Lewis and his jazz band kick started Nevada’s show-business legacy in 1941, is more than 100 years old.
It wouldn’t be small-town Nevada without the traditional community events. Holiday favorites such as the Festival of Trees, Christmas in the Nighttime Skies, and the Snowflake Festival transpire in December, but Elko’s main attraction on a national level is January’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The weeklong celebration of life in the rural West, January 24-29, 2011, will fill the city with thousands of cowboys and cowgirls, poets and musicians, artisans and scholars, and rural people and city folks. The showcase of contemporary and traditional arts from those who have made a living caring for land and livestock fills such venues as the Convention Center and Western Folklife Center. Tickets for the general public went on sale in October.
Nevada Magazine’s Tour Around Nevada campaign concludes with this issue. Thank you to all who voted and the hospitality and support of the towns covered along the way!
MEET NEVADA MAGAZINE
On January 24-29, 2011, we will meet and greet visitors and Elko citizens at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. We invite you to pick up a free magazine at the Convention Center or Western Folklife Center
Elko Convention & Visitors Authority
700 Moren Way
Elko, NV 89801
Veterans Day Parade, Nov. 11
Holiday Craft Bazaar, Nov. 26
Festival of Trees, Nov. 29-Dec. 1
Christmas in the Nighttime Skies, Dec. 4
Snowflake Festival, Dec. 11
Chamber Christmas Party, Dec. 16
Santa at the Museum, Dec. 18-22
National Cowboy Poetry Gathering,
Jan. 24-29, 2011
Visit exploreelko.com for more events.