Explore Western culture, American history in Nevada’s Cowboy Country

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Visit northern Nevada — also known as Nevada’s Cowboy Country — to access the state’s ranching history as well as take in its current mining activity. Many explore this area through its main artery, Interstate 80, an east-west route that roughly follows the old California Trail and passes through such cities as Elko, home of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering; Winnemucca, known as the gateway to the Black Rock Desert; and Lovelock, where you can “lock your love” symbolically at the county courthouse. Here in Cowboy Country, you’ll also feel the influence of the Basque culture in Nevada, in the form of Basque restaurants that once served the area’s Basque sheepherders.

Elko — National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Elko, in northern Nevada, is known for its active gold mines, but the community also holds much of the state’s ranching and cowboy culture. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, held annually in January, showcases ranch culture, but you can learn about those traditions year-round at the Western Folklife Center. Here, you can visit the Wiegand Gallery and watch a short video, “Why the Cowboy Sings.” Learn more about the cowboy life through such guides as Cowboy John Tours or such attractions as the Cottonwood Guest Ranch.

Also in Elko: The California Trail Interpretive Center, eight miles west of Elko off Interstate 80, tells the stories of pioneers who traveled the California Trail in the mid-19th century, hoping to find gold and opportunity out West. Elko also is a base camp for those exploring the Ruby Mountains, a section of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest that offers hiking, camping and other recreational opportunities. A popular section of the Rubies is Lamoille Canyon, a glacier-carved canyon known for its beautiful fall colors and spring waterfalls.

Winnemucca — Gateway to the Black Rock Desert
At the crossroad of Interstate 80 and U.S. 95, Winnemucca is the perfect base camp for exploring the Black Rock Desert — also known as the site of the annual Burning Man festival. The Black Rock Desert Wilderness, managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, offers day hiking and rugged dirt routes popular for four-wheel driving and mountain biking. One way to access the area, according to the BLM, is to drive 53 miles west of Winnemucca on Jungo Road (Nevada state Route 49), then turn north at the historic townsite of Sulphur and continue on the Sulphur-Jackson Road.

Also in Winnemuuca: Winnemucca is home to a multitude of special events, including such annual favorites as the Ranch Hand Rodeo in February, Shooting the West photography symposium in March and Run-A-Mucca Motorcycle Rally in May. Winnemucca’s also a base camp for those exploring the opal mines in Denio, about 135 miles northwest of Winnemucca.

Lovelock — Lock Your Love
The architectural centerpiece of the small farming community of Lovelock is the historical Pershing County Courthouse, and it’s here where people pledge undying love. The plaza behind the courthouse — which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — has a decorative chain fence upon which you can fasten a lock with your name and that of your sweetheart. Throw away the key and the deal is sealed.

Also in Lovelock: Lovelock Cave, a former archeological site that yielded thousands of artifacts during excavations in the 20th century, is about 20 miles south of the town. The site, managed by the BLM, includes a trailhead with a few interpretive signs and access into the cave via two wooden platforms. Download the BLM’s Lovelock Cave Backcountry Byway guide for directions to the site — most of the road is unpaved.

Sample Basque culture
Basque dining in Nevada usually involves hearty fare served family-style at long tables seating several different groups of people at once. Most of Nevada’s Basque restaurants are found in the northern end of the state: a few favorites include the Star Hotel in Elko and Ormachea’s and the Martin Hotel in Winnemucca. Nevada’s Basque dining is rooted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when a wave of immigration brought people to the American West from the Basque region straddling France and Spain. Many of those immigrants stayed at Basque hotels while working physically active jobs as sheepherders. Catering to their clientele, the hotel kitchens served up hearty fare visitors can taste today in northern Nevada’s Basque restaurants.

For images of these and other Nevada destinations, visit Flickr.com/Travel Nevada. Click on the “Albums” link and photos will sort by Nevada town or attraction.

The Nevada Division of Tourism (Travel Nevada) is part of the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. It promotes and markets Nevada as a tourism destination for domestic and international leisure and business travelers through its marketing and advertising programs and by coordinating partnerships between public and private entities. Travel Nevada also administers grant programs for local entities to market travel and tourism offerings and publishes Nevada Magazine.