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When you think Nevada you immediately think Las Vegas! Well, I do anyway. I realize Nevada is a big state however, I’ve never thought much beyond the clamor of Vegas and all the stories, movies, books, phrases and memes that are born out of it. I am not a gambler. I do not play the lottery, I don’t bet on horses or sports and my idea of going to a casino is to have a few free drinks while I milk the $20 I put into the penny slots. Nevada is much more than Las Vegas but not often spoken about. Bridal and bachelor parties go to Vegas. They tend not to go to Elko!

I drove across the northern part of the state from the Utah border across to the California border and what I loved about the landscape was how other worldly it felt.

Drive for miles and miles through flat desert and brush. I love how flat and straight the highway is. I could pick a point in the distance and it could take upwards of 30 minutes to get there.

Turn a corner on the highway and a desert lake appears. No it is not a mirage.

Turn another corner and a snow capped mountain range appears in the distance.

I am glad I have a modern car!

All rest stops should come with wild donkeys you can pet.

My first stop was in a small cowboy town of Elko which lies along the historic California Trail route settlers used to cross to California. The town grew in prominence as it is situated at the east end of the Utah – California portion of the transcontinental railroad. I stopped in the town center and found my way into one of the most iconic small town bars I could conjure in my imagination and settled into my beer. Signs proclaiming the virtues of Elko and the vices of every one else they don’t agree with littered the back bar along with mounted rifles, an old timey cash register and about a half dozen locals.

But my biggest pleasure stopping in Elko was my dinner purchased from BJ Bull Bakery. It seems an odd place for a Cornish pasty shop but one was standing in downtown Elko nonetheless. I had heard about pasties from the many cooking shows I watch but never had I tried one. I was eager and pleased to partake. It was delicious. Best way I can describe it? A cross between an empanada and a shepherd’s pie. YUM!

Chilton Tower in downtown Elko

Elko has a long history with the railroad.

Of course what is a good small desert town without a brothel?

The next day I awoke to a bright hot sunny day as I packed up my car and headed a few hours further west to Reno. The only reference I have of Reno is in the movie Sister Act when the Reverend Mother refers to it as Reno and Gomorrah. I didn’t have much of an expectation and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. Reno is CLEAN. I don’t think I saw even a single crumb of paper on the streets, sidewalks, gardens or any public spaces. Plus, it’s pretty at night. The various buildings all light up to create an urban rainbow.

Downtown Reno illuminated color display at night.

Reno’s air…. I mean “busport”.

I walked around for a while and took in the sites and uninterestedly passed by the various casinos until I worked up an appetite. I then decided it was most assuredly time for dinner. Asking a local for an iconic Reno staple I was informed I must head to Casale’s Halfway Club. My informant was not wrong. This old school family Italian restaurant made me feel like I stepped into my family’s Sunday gatherings. Everything about this place screamed pasta and meatballs. I enjoyed a heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs all washed down with two shots of Jägermeister. Why would I drink such a powerful tasting tipple? Because you get to write your name on the wall if you did. NO QUESTION! But, my favorite part of the meal, hands down, was the baby strung from a swing/harness contraption that spent the entire evening bouncing up and down much to the delight of all patrons and workers alike.

Casale’s Halfway Club – A REAL Italian-American family restaurant.

Every restaurant should come with a bouncing baby!

Two shots of Jäger to immortalize my name on the wall? DONE!

OK, yes, I know I am not a Vegas fan and I know I just said I am not a gambler but how can you drive through Nevada and NOT stop in Vegas. I mean, I had to at least see it once. It was, as I expected, not my scene. I am not looking to pass judgment on it. People enjoy Vegas all the time. Some people LOVE Vegas. But heat, crowds, gambling… just isn’t for me. But, I did stop long enough on the strip to see the Bellagio water fountain show which was rather spectacular.

Now, Vegas does have more than its casinos and I was determined to find something that “I” could enjoy. Once the sun set, I headed over to the Vegas Neon Museum. This outdoor exhibit houses decades of old neon signs rescued from landfills and the annals of history. If you find yourself in Vegas I highly recommend a visit.

The Neon Museum in Las Vegas

Here are just a few of the many many signs on display.

I also managed time to visit Frey Ranch Distillery in Kirby. Serendipitously, I showed up on single barrel release day and was able to walk out purchasing two different one-time only expressions. Now if luck found me then, it found someone else when I was driving to leave the state when a rock the size of Gibraltar hit and broke my windshield. Eh, I have two bottles of good whiskey to help me forget!

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