The American Black Bear is the state's largest mammal and the only naturally occurring bear species in Nevada. In fact, Black Bear is considered common in the ranges in which it lives. Most bears are concentrated in the Carson Range of western Nevada near the Lake Tahoe Basin, but a few scattered populations have been found over the last decade in the Pine Nut, Sweetwater, and Wassuk Ranges in western Nevada, and the Jarbidge Mountains in eastern Nevada - populations that are thought to have most likely migrated from neighboring ranges. Nevada's black bear population is considered healthy with an estimated 300 to 400 bears in the Carson Range alone!
Male bears often reach four feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh up to 450 pounds. Females are slightly smaller, standing 3.5 feet at the shoulder and weighing up to 350 pounds. Above all, it's their intelligence that's most intriguing. Black bears as we've come to learn, are best known for being highly adaptable and extremely tenacious, and greatly adept at problem-solving!
Unfortunately, much of this has been their downfall over the last few decades. Bears often lie at the center of attention where humans intermingle in their habitat becoming particularly habituated to obtaining human food by raiding garbage cans and dumpster bins. When this happens bears slowly lose their fear of humans and begin to associate humans with easy sources of food. This is very bad news for the bear. Once "addicted" to an easy food source (thanks to our careless waste disposal) bears become increasingly difficult to deter. Bear complaints have risen sharply in the past twenty years and bears are often moved or killed to prevent future problems. Homeowners, tourists, campers, and just about everybody walking on two legs can help by removing all human sources of food at all times and locking up said trash using "bear-proof" locks on certified "bear-proof" containers. Nevada's largest mammal has sustained itself for centuries without our help. Let's keep it that way!
- In a cooperative effort to measure Black Bear populations, the California Fish & Game and Nevada Department of Wildlife conducted a series of studies in both states and both agencies found that an average of three bears per square mile were found in the Lake Tahoe Basin alone, the second highest density of black bears in North America! Furthermore, the greatest number of bears were all centered well away from human settlements - the majority of the animals near Rubicon Pass and Washoe Meadows in California and Tunnel Creek/Marlette Reservoir, Bronco Creek near Mt. Rose, and the Genoa Creek drainage in Nevada. These numbers were quite humbling, having further proved that bears do just fine without our help or our messy food practices.
The little known Desert Wildlife Refuge of southern Nevada fares a great superlative. Encompassing more than 1.5 million acres, this kingdom-like acreage is not only the largest in Nevada, but it's also the largest wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states: right here in America's driest state!
The primary objective of the Desert NWR is the protection of the Desert Bighorn Sheep and its habitat. It's estimated that 1,500 animals (more than any other place in the world) roam six mountain ranges protected within the sanctuary. Desert NWR was created in 1936 as an addition to the larger Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex - which includes the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge near Death Valley, the Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge near Overton, the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge near Alamo, and the Amargosa Pupfish Station near Beatty. Wow!
This refuge takes pride for its continual development of new water sources which also inclides improving upon existing ones. The refuge also manages the valleys of the Mojave Desert and its six mountain ranges, including the tallest range within the refuge, the Sheep Range. In addition to its wildlife, Desert NWR also boasts an abundance of plant communities, precious riparian habitat, natural springs, and multiple groves of old-growth Bristlecone Pine atop the highest peaks. Here, visitors can sightsee, photograph, camp, hike, or backpack in this very wild, and starkely beautiful country.
- Find the Desert National Wildlife Refuge 32 miles north of Las Vegas from US 95. The refuge is open year-round and boasts primitive to developed campsites. Bring plenty of water!
Located just one hour north of Las Vegas, Nevada's first state park is also Nevada's largest. This park covers nearly 42,000 acres and twenty miles of paved road, and covers an acreage just large enough to be worthy of a small national park. And that's not including the natural wonders within its boundaries!
Noted for its unusual, fiery-red sandstone formations, Valley of Fire is Nevada's version of the American southwest, complete with petroglyph fields, red rock spires, fins, hoodoos, arches, and colorful slot canyons! Valley of Fire began as a generous 8,500 parcel given by the Federal Government in 1925; park development began in 1933 by Civilian Conservation Corps workers, and was dedicated prematurely on Easter Sunday 1934. The park was officially established by the state in 1935. According to Nevada State Parks, Valley of Fire receives an average of 500,000 visitors per year, second only to northern Nevada's Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park.
Photography is a popular past time here and people usually have no problem finding inspiration in the the area's peculiar sandstone formations. Let the names alone inspire you: Elephant, Arch, and Atlatl Rocks (which is adorned by Indian petroglyphs), Mouse's Tank, the Seven Sisters, White Domes, Fire Canyon, and the park's highlight, Rainbow Vista.
Find Valley of Fire State Park 34 miles east of Las Vegas from State Route 169, south of Interstate 15. Exit at "Crystal" and continue south into the park.
The winner of this title belongs to the beautiful Arc Dome Wilderness, located within the Toiyabe Range of central Nevada. Arc Dome makes up the very heart of the range, encompassing 115,000 acres south from Ophir summit to Peavine Canyon, containing the range's highest peaks, perennial streams, and a rich mix of riparian and vegetation zones. Additionally, thirty miles of the 70-mile long Toiyabe Crest Trail rides the spine of its mighty peaks within the wilderness, truly making the Arc Dome Wilderness one of Nevada's prime and most treasured wilderness areas!
The Arc Dome Wilderness was established under the Nevada Wilderness Protection Act in 1989 and comprises the southern third of the Toiyabe Range. At its closest point, the Arc Dome is 45 miles north of Tonopah and made widely accessible by a series of improved dirt roads from all sides of the range. You can find the prime areas most accessible from Big, Kingston, and Stewart Creeks.
Once titled "the most beautiful desert lake in America," Pyramid Lake is also the state's largest natural lake! This slate blue sea is so iconic of a "desert lake" too - one that spans some 27 miles long, 9 miles wide, and 168 feet at its deepest point.
Pyramid was first mapped in 1844 by John C. Fremont, the American discoverer of the lake who gave the lake its name after a large pyramid-shaped tufa formation on its eastern shoreline. Pyramid Lake is the largest remnant of ancient Lake Lahontan that covered much of northwestern Nevada at the end of the last ice age, at an estimated 890 feet. It was Pyramid that was Lahontan's deepest point. Its namesake pyramid on the eastern shoreline are considered sacred sites by the native Paiutes as well as important nesting sites for a large colony of American White Pelicans.
Pyramid Lake is well-known across the world as a premier angling destination for its rare and endangered Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. The Lahontan is native only to the Great Basin of the United States and its here in Pyramid Lake where the fish makes its stronghold, averaging a mega size of twenty four inches thanks to special fishing regulations and consistent care provided by the Paiute tribe. It is not unusual to pull out trout over ten pounds and it takes a twenty pounder to raise a real eyebrow.
- Pyramid Lake sits entirely within the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, 35 miles north of Reno.
Aside from its breathtaking stargazing, is it any coincidence that Nye's fate was also written in the stars? Maybe it's a surprise that Nye County is shaped like a mushroom cloud or a miner's pick axe? When we carved out this giant chunk of Nevada perhaps it was sheer coincidence that these two 'ingredients' played such an extensive role in Nye County's past. No matter what the shape, Nye County is one massive mother: Nevada's largest and America's third-largest county in size! Woot!
Nye, Oh My!
- If it were possible, you could cram the states of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island into the borders of Nye County and still have room left over!
- Speaking of Rhode Island, the size of Nellis Air Force Range alone would certainly swallow this New England state!
- If you were some how able to accomplish such a feat, it would take you nearly two weeks to drive the entire boundary perimeter of Nye County.
- Out of its 18,000 square miles, only 12 total square miles of Nye County consists of freshwater.
- Three of Nevada's ten highest peaks reside within the borders of this grand county, including the state's third- and fourth highest peaks.
- Nye County is home to the largest free-roaming herd of pronghorn and wild horses in America -- with an estimated combined total of 48,000 animals.
There ... how'd that taste? Tonopah, the seat of Nye County (the red patch in the image above) is barely affixed within the county's confines. In fact, Tonopah governs the largest acreage of land in the Lower 48! Nye County -- We Salute You!
A striking number? Not surprisingly, 72% of Nevada's population resides within Clark County and mostly within the immediate Greater Las Vegas area. And if you think this population is alien enough in sparsely-populated Nevada, you're not alone. Think about this: without this huge population, Nevada would be the least populated state in America with an estimated population of roughly 500,000. Outside of the confines of "Sin City," Clark County is still a very wild place.
The region that would eventually come to be known as Clark County has always had its fair share of inhabitants. The first human populace of southern Nevada were the Anasazi people who resided along the Muddy and Virgin Rivers. These people were advantageous of the area's year-round water supply by practicing "three sisters" farming where they grew corn, beans, and squash by utilizing smart water practices on a yearly basis.
The Anasazis were instrumental in constructing intricate dwellings out of rock and mud. They eventually built a large community near present-day Overton before they suddenly disappeared around 1100 AD. Of course, more proof of the Anasazi's stronghold can be found in greater numbers at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and several "lost cities" scattered throughout northern Arizona and southern Utah, but it's here in Nevada that the confluence of both the Muddy and Virgin River systems might have provided one of the more idyllic settings for the ancient people.
Much later in Clark County history, a Spanish padre by the name of Francisco Garces crossed the Colorado River near present-day Laughlin on Sept 1, 1776. By doing this, Garces became the first white man to step foot on Nevada soil. With the arrival of the Spanish, an important commerce route was constructed through this harsh landscape, further stabilizing the importance of the Clark County region. At the turn of the 19th century, Mormons moved in at the promise of gold and established a fort in the center of Las Vegas Valley, igniting the first population boom of the region.
Ironically, Las Vegas has always been an oasis. After all, its name literally translates to, "the springs." This vital spot is the main reason why the region has always seen its fair share of visitors and soon-to-be settlers. By 1930, the population of Las Vegas had grown to a whopping thirty residents until a sudden boom in the 1950s that would forever change the face of Nevada. Clark finally succeeded Washoe County in population in 1971, and since then, has held its title as Nevada's most populated county.
With that said it's no surprise that our next superlative goes to its county seat.
Las Vegas. The name says it all. Internationally renowned as a major resort city for all things that can happen, "Vegas" bills itself as "The Entertainment Capital of the World" most famous for its consolidated casino-hotels and associated entertainment. Las Vegas is not only the state's largest city, but could easily be considered the most important economic source in Nevada with over half of the state's income deriving from the spoils of this extreme city.
Ask any old timer of the past and nobody would have ever guessed that this dusty railroad town in 1905 would eventually evolve into the number one tourist destination in the world. (Is that another superlative right there?) At the close of the 20th century, Las Vegas had become the most populous American city founded in that century and grew to its present state not only because of its entertainment, but more so for its mild climate and cheap real estate. It's only through its growth that the city's tolerance and promotion for various forms of adult entertainment earned it the title of "Sin City." It's this image that has made Las Vegas a popular setting for films, reality shows, and television programs - further crowning the megacity with its even more famous slogan: "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."
Leaking Las Vegas
This gaming, the girls, the glitz and the glamour all come with a huge price tag ... and we aren't referring to the other g-word (gold). Las Vegas is first and foremost a desert and without its vital water supply from Lake Mead and the Colorado River, this city is dead in the water ... literally. Ready for another superlative? Las Vegas is also the driest city in America, averaging only 3 inches of rain a year which further complicates matters for its two million residents and exorbitant amount of annual visitors.
The continuous water problem in Las Vegas is quite ironic for an entertainment mecca, especially one that fancies water parks, golf courses, elaborate fountains, not to mention over 4 million toilets and expensive, power-consuming theme-based casino entertainment. Nevada's greatest treasure ... water, makes all this possible, a resource more valuable than any winnings on the casino floor. So then, it's no surprise that Las Vegas is also the holder of a shameful superlative: consuming more water than any other city in America. The City of Las Vegas fights a continuous battle that must utilize nothing less than smart water practices if it wants a definite future.
Well ... It's called "grand" for a reason and this holder of this prestigious title is so grand it would be a palace in any other country around the world. We'll let the stats speak for themselves ...
(c) Wikipedia Commons
- The MGM Grand is the third largest hotel in the world and the largest hotel resort complex in the United States. It is so grand, the MGM was even the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1993!
- The MGM takes up nearly a full city block, set in between Paradise and Tropicana on the Las Vegas Strip. The complex is so massive it must be linked by a series of overhead pedestrian bridges to neighboring casinos.
- The 30-floor main building is 293 ft high crowned with approximately 6,852 rooms.
- The property includes 5 outdoor pools, 3 rivers, and 8 waterfalls that cover 6.6 acres as well as a 380,000 sq. ft. convention center, the the Grand Spa, CBS Television City (Studio 54), and MGM Grand Garden Arena.
- The hotel also houses numerous shops (at last count 34), a dozen shows and night clubs, 19 restaurants as well as the largest casino in Nevada which occupies 171,500 sq ft.
Beginning in 1981, the Grand featured a glass-sided lion habitat inside the casino area which enclosed up to six lions that were shown everyday since 1999. A see-through tunnel ran through the habitat for close-up viewing of the lions who would frequently lounge on top of the glass. The lion habitat closed permanently in February 2012 as part of MGM's "Grand Renovation." Don't worry. The lions were taken back to their owner Keith Evans to a ranch 12 miles outside of Las Vegas where they are happily cared for.
Fun Fact: Speaking of opulence, are you ready to live like a king? The better question is, how much are you willing to spend? The MGM Grand boasts one of the most expensive mansions in the world, a 100,000 square foot palace that is strictly off-limits and out of view from the general public. (Ask about the "king suite" at the front desk.) Staying at this Romanesque mansion is nothing short of a buzz feed, where you will enjoy your very own personal 1,500 square foot patio and swimming pool and combined exercise room, bowling alley, dance floor, conference room, a 2,000 square foot kitchen with your own 24-hour butler service. Just to spice things up, you'll receive your very own complimentary movie theater with a library of your choosing and not two, not three, but four complimentary Rolls-Royce to get you to and from. All yours - for the low cost of $12,400 per night and by spending a minimum of $1 million in the MGM Grand Casino. Only in Vegas.
- Access to the MGM Grand can be done in two through the casino's valet parking, its four story parking garage (parking fee required), or on foot by a network of pedestrian bridges that link over Las Vegas Blvd to neighboring casinos.
We transition from rhinestone cowboys to real cowboys as we turn to cattle ranches, and there's no better one than the T Lazy Ranch. Out of the 1,100 cattle ranches across the state, the historic T Lazy S wins the title of the Nevada's largest cattle ranch with 5,500 head of cattle. To put this into perspective, the ranch is six miles wide, enough to fit 16 city blocks onto the acreage of the ranch! The TS lies between the towns of Elko and Battle Mountain near the site of Dunphy in Eureka County.
This large operation was originally settled by Irish immigrant William Dunphy (pronounced "DUN-fye") and his friend Hildrith who continued to expand their operations throughout the 1870s. The men began "bending" homesteading regulations by using his Irish emigrant friends back in California to file homestead claims, thus bypassing the necessary state regulations that at the time, limited ranch expansion! These were later sold to Dunphy after they received title, expanding his operations and his ability to control vast acreages of open range in the area. By 1875, the TS owned over 40,000 head of cattle which were run in two herds -- one in Nevada on the Rock Creek and Humboldt River drainages and the other in Idaho on the Snake River system. Following Dunphy's death, the ranch exchanged owners several times and today, it is now owned and operated by Newmont Mining Corporation, one of the largest gold mining companies in the world.
The TS Ranch is now managed through Newmont's subsidiary Elko Land & Livestock Company, but still remains one of the largest in the country. Owners of the TS continue to adhere to many of the old Spanish buckaroo traditions and Dunphy's innovative range management style with a solid reputation for tough horses, good cattle, and top hands. The Ranch has dropped the word "Lazy" from their name and prefer to call it the TS Ranch because ... as they say ...
"There is nothing lazy about this outfit!"
- The TS Ranch is located 19 miles east of Battle Mountain at the "Dunphy" Exit from Interstate 80.
In our list of Nevada's largest who could forget about the Comstock? Seems like the once "Richest Place on Earth" even has her own fair share of superlatives - one of them being the sacred title for largest church in the state. In fact, the Comstock's tallest structure is the historic St. Mary's of the Mountains Catholic Church - an elaborate gothic-style cathedral that proudly retains the crown for the largest standing church in Nevada - 179 feet at its tallest point. But, let's not stop there. To top off this already awesome superlative, St. Mary's is also Nevada's oldest church!
St. Mary's is arguably the most prominent building in the entire state. Father "Paddy" Manogue takes credit for envisioning and overseeing it's construction in 1872. He also ministered to the Comstock's Irish-Catholic miners for nearly twenty years after it opened. St. Mary's was labled as "the Mother of all Catholic churches in Nevada" notably being one of the only buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1875. Divine intervention?
- Nevada's largest church is open to visitors during parish hours in the winter and every day during the summer from 8am - 5pm. Mass services are still held in the old church every Saturday at 4:00pm and every Sunday at 11:30am. St. Mary's also has an extensive gift shop that supports the ongoing parish and building upkeep and restoration.
This ginormous body of water was born out of necessity. The completion of one single dam bred a body of water that has no equal - a mighty reservoir so impressive that it might be one of the crown jewels of the Southwest. At 112 miles long and covering 247 square miles in two states, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States.
The construction of Hoover (Boulder) Dam is a single project that forever changed the wild and untamed nature of the Colorado River. Several billion tons of concrete formed a lake that extends 112 miles behind the dam as far north as Interstate 15 and as far east to the western reaches of the Grand Canyon. Mead boasts approximately 26,134,000 acre feet of water and at maximum capacity retains 489 feet of water at its deepest point. If viewed from above this huge impoundment resembles a giant spider creature with hundreds of fingers, arms and coves that rack up an impressive 550 miles of shoreline!
Lake Mead is not without shortcomings. While water rights to Lake Mead are shared by three states, California, Nevada, and Arizona, Nevada actually gets the short straw and retains less than ten percent of its water rights despite the city of Las Vegas' demand. Of the three states, California consumes most of its water ... a whopping 72 percent for agriculture and urban use. Despite its size Mead has succumbed to drought three times in the last fifty years - a poignant reminder of the ongoing challenge of water management in the West. Hydrologists and state officials from all three states have put forth new laws and smart practices regarding water usage on a river already tired and sucked dry.
The National Park Service manages Lake Mead (and Lake Mohave) through a huge NRA (National Recreation Area). Lake Mead NRA caters to over four million visitors a year who come for the lake's abundant water recreation, warm winters, and its remote desert and adjoining red rock country. Best of all, the park also preserves over seventy miles of the Colorado River in its most pristine state, much as it was before the formation of Lake Mead. Here you can boat down untouched river canyon and beach yourself onto remote sandy beaches few people have seen. Whatever your flavor, Lake Mead is sure to serve it and however way you play, you'll be paying homage to America's largest reservoir!
Fun Fact: Ready for another superlative? Lake Mead is the only lake in Nevada with a permanent outlet to the ocean!
- Lake Mead NRA is readily accessible from every corner of Clark County. Most visitors arrive from the west from the Cities of Las Vegas and Henderson. From either city, follow Lake Mead Parkway or Lake Mead Blvd a short fifteen minutes east into the park. From the north, the park can be readily accessed from "Northshore Drive" from Interstate 15 and "Lakeshore Drive" from Boulder City. The far southern reaches of the NRA along the Colorado River remains completely road-less meaning the only way onto the river south from Boulder City or north from Laughlin. Access to the river can be done on foot, but many of the hikes are tough all-day slugs through steep, but beautiful canyon country that stretches for more than fifty miles! The southern most access of the NRA can be had at Laughlin and Bullhead City at Lake Mohave's Davis Dam where park visitors can boat in north.
What did you think of these superlatives?