State in southwestern USA, one of the Rocky Mountain states, bordered to the east by Utah and Arizona, to the south and west by California, and to the north by Oregon and Idaho; area 284,448 sq km/109,826 sq mi; population (2010) 2,700,551; capital Carson City. Physically stark, mountainous, and arid, its nicknames derive from the abundance of sagebrush shrubs and silver mines. Most of Nevada lies in the Great Basin between the Wasatch Mountains to the east and the Sierra Nevada mountains, for which the state is named, to the west. The Mojave Desert lies to the south. Nevada is a famous gambling and entertainment centre, and is also known historically as the state where marriages and divorces can be quickly obtained. The discovery of gold and silver in the 19th century created Nevada's first boom period, and mining and cattle ranching dominated the state's economy until 1931 when gambling was legalized; tourism and related industries now generate more than half of the state's income. Much of the land is owned by the US government, and has been given over to wilderness areas and weapons testing sites. Las Vegas is Nevada's largest city. Other major towns and cities include Reno, Sparks, and Henderson. Nevada's indigenous peoples include the Shoshone, Washoe, and Paiute. The region was claimed by Spain in the mix-16th century and ceded to the USA after the Mexican War (1846–48). Nevada was admitted to the Union in 1864 as the 36th US state.
Physical Nevada is the seventh-largest state in the USA. Its boundaries form a rough rectangle, 776 km/485 mi long and 504 km/315 mi wide. Mostly made up of mountain and desert terrain, its altitudes rise from 305 m/1,000 ft to over 4,000 m/13,000 ft. The highest point in the state is Boundary Peak at 4,006 m/13,143 ft; the lowest point is 146 m/480 ft above sea level, where the Colorado River exits the state in the southeast. The state is divided into three natural land regions: the Basin and Range region, the Sierra-Cascade region, and the Columbia Plateau.
The Columbia Plateau extends into northeast Nevada from the Idaho prairies. Lava bedrock underlies the surface and rivers and streams carve deep canyons in the landscape. Most of northwest Nevada was covered in glacial times by Lake Lahontan. Remnants of this ancient lake include lakes Pyramid, Walker, and Winnemucca, the Humboldt and Carson sinks, and the Black Rock Desert.
The rugged Sierra Nevada range on the state's western border is part of the Sierra-Cascade province and cuts south of Carson City. On the California-Nevada border lies Lake Tahoe, one of Nevada's most beautiful spots and a major tourist attraction. Hot springs and geysers occur at the base of many mountains, remnants of Nevada's volcanic history.
Almost the entire state is located in the Great Basin, part of the Basin and Range region that stretches between California's Sierra Nevada mountains and Utah's Wasatch range. Mountains and plateaux, alternating with valleys, mark the land. The Toiyabe and Toquima mountain ranges rise in the centre of the state while the Snake and Toana ranges are located in the east. Scattered between are buttes, mesas (flat-topped, steep-sided plateaux), valleys, lakes, and alkali flats. Mineral deposits are abundant in Nevada's mountains. The Mojave Desert lies to the south.
Between Nevada's mountain ranges are closed basins (valleys that do not drain to the sea) where permanent streams flow, creating shallow, salty lakes. The low sections of the basins are known as playas, and their lakes are called playa lakes. The basins are referred to as sinks when dry, and salt lakes when they are full. The largest sinks are the Black Rock Desert, Smoke Creek Desert, Humboldt Sink, and Carson Sink.
The principal rivers of Nevada are the Humboldt, Truckee, Carson, Walker, Owyhee, and Colorado. The Humboldt River is Nevada's longest, the Colorado its most voluminous. Nevada has several reservoirs, including Lake Mead, created by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado.
The climate is arid and sunny with low humidity and light rainfall. Nevada has the lowest rainfall of all the US states.
Mountain animals include mule deer, beavers, foxes, bobcats, lynx, cougars, and squirrels. Desert inhabitants include kangaroo and pack rats, rabbits, coyotes, lizards, desert tortoises, rattlesnakes, scorpions, tarantulas, and gila monsters; birds include the cactus wren, mockingbird, nighthawk, and roadrunner. White pelicans can be found in the Pyramid Lake area. Trout, bluegills, black crappies, black bass, and Sacramento perch are Nevada's main fish species.
Features In the north of Nevada, Battle Mountain is home to the Trail of the '49ers Interpretive Center, commemorating the pioneers who migrated to the Sierra Nevada during the 1849 California gold rush. Jackpot, near the Idaho border, is a gambling resort where the streets are named for casino games. Near Jackpot is the Jarbidge Wilderness Area, one of Nevada's most unspoiled mountain regions, and the Bonneville Salt Flats, the site of numerous land speed records.
Pony Express territory spans the centre of Nevada, where Route 50 parallels the historic Pony Express route that stretched from St Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, in the early 1860s. Along the way is Great Basin National Park, where ancient bristlecone pines can be found. Within the park are the Lehman Caves, a spectacular limestone system with over 300 rare shield formations. Wheeler Peak, the second highest point in Nevada, is located here. Other places of interest are Stokes Castle in Austin, the Pony Express Station in Elko, and the Grimes Point Archeological Site, where petroglyphs (rock drawings) made by the American Indians who lived in the area between 5000 BC and AD 1500 can be found.
Las Vegas is often referred to as the entertainment capital of the world. The Las Vegas Strip is filled with themed resorts and boasts more neon and lights than any other US city. It is also the easiest place to get married in the USA. The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area lies 32 km/20 mi to the west, where wildlife such as bighorn sheep and wild burros can be observed.
Boulder City is the gateway to the Hoover Dam, a 221 m-/726 ft-high concrete structure built in 1936. Its reservoir, Lake Mead, is the largest artificial lake in the USA. To the northeast is Valley of Fire State Park, with Pueblo Indian rock drawings and brightly coloured rock formations.
The Reno-Tahoe Territory includes two of Nevada's largest cities, Reno and Sparks. Reno was Nevada's original gambling and divorce capital. Nearby is Virginia City, a National Historic Site commemorating the West's greatest mining booms. Ghost towns such as Gold Hill and Silver City dot the area. Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation to the northeast of Reno is sited around Pyramid Lake. Carson City offers numerous points of historic interest, including the state capitol, the Nevada State Museum, and the Nevada State Railroad Museum. The earliest settlement in the state is the Mormon Station State Historic Park, located in Genoa, and nearby is Fort Churchill State Historical Park, the ruins of an army post built in 1860.
Culture Nevada is one of the most sparsely populated states in the USA, and most residents live in an urban area, particularly around Las Vegas. Many American Indians live on reservations and maintain their tribal laws and customs.
The US government owns most of Nevada's total land and maintains rich wilderness areas and various military bases and testing facilities. Nevada is also well known for claims of UFO (unidentified flying object) sightings.
Nevada is a mix of glittering cities and Wild West traditions. The spirit of the Old West is revived in frontier pageants, such as Las Vegas's Heldorado Days and Rodeo in May; Elko's National Basque Festival, held every Fourth of July, and annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the USA's oldest poetry festival; and the All Indian Rodeo in Fallon. Reno hosts the Nevada State Fair in August and the National Air Races with sky diving and stunt flying in September. Ely holds the Nevada Rally International motorcycle race in August.
Deer hunting and trout fishing are popular pastimes, as is skiing, particularly at Lake Tahoe, which is a popular area for all winter sports. Lakes Tahoe and Mead are also frequented for their water sports and activities.
In addition to being a pop culture haven and a symbol of mass consumerism, Las Vegas also has a number of art museums, a natural history museum, and the Discovery Children's Museum.
The University of Nevada comprises the University of Nevada Reno (UNR; 1864), University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV; 1957), College of Southern Nevada, Nevada State College, Truckee Meadows Community College, Western Nevada College, Desert Research Institute, and Great Basin College. The University of Nevada's Mackay School of Mines is world-renowned for its geological, geophysical, and hydrological science courses. The Desert Research Institute, with campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, is an internationally respected research institution affiliated with the university.
GovernmentNevada state constitution Nevada's original constitution was adopted in 1864 and has had many subsequent amendments.
Structure of state government Nevada's Legislature is bicameral (two chamber) and meets for 120 days a year in every odd-numbered year. The Assembly has 42 members, each being elected for two-year terms. The Senate's 21 members are elected for four-year terms. Since 2010, members of both houses are restricted to a maximum of 12 years' service. Nevada sends four representatives and two senators to the US Congress, and has six electoral votes in presidential elections.
The executive branch is run by a governor and lieutenant governor, elected for four-year terms, along with a secretary of state, attorney general, controller, and treasurer. Republican Brian Sandoval took the governorship in January 2011. The governor may not serve more than two consecutive terms.
A Supreme Court comprises a chief justice and six associate justices, who are elected for six years, heads the judicial branch. Additionally, there are district, justice, and municipal courts.
Nevada has a libertarian tradition and has legalized many things that are illegal in other US states. This includes casino gambling and prostitution (if any county decides to allow it) and easy marriage and divorce. It is also one of a small number of US states with no personal income tax or corporate income tax.
A board of commissioners administers Nevada's 16 counties. County officials govern unincorporated cities and towns, while incorporated cities and towns have a mayor-council form of municipal government.
Economy Mining was the traditional cornerstone of the Nevada economy. The initial mining boom began with the discovery of the great silver and gold deposits of the Comstock Lode in 1859. Mining remains key to the state economy, including gold, silver, copper, zinc, magnesium, magnesite, manganese, tungsten, uranium, mercury, and lead. Non-metal resources produced include oil, coal, iron, clays, salt, and gemstones.
Agriculture, especially cattle ranching and other livestock rearing, developed as the second most important aspect of Nevada's economy. Cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, and poultry are raised in the state, and hay, wheat, corn, potatoes, alfalfa seeds, and barley are key cash crops.
The legalization of gambling in 1931 led to growth of the tourism and entertainment industries, and this in turn has driven the construction industry. Tourism-related industry is the largest employment category.
Manufacturing is heavily concentrated around the Las Vegas and Reno-Sparks areas. The most important industries and products are printing and publishing, construction, food processing (particularly confectionery and ice-cream), plastic utensils, and industrial machinery, including seismic monitoring devices, vending machines, and refrigeration units.
HistoryIndigenous inhabitants The first peoples in Nevada are thought to have arrived 12,000 years ago. Clovis points, 10,000-year-old stone arrowheads, have been found in the state. Artefacts from the Lovelock Cave near Lake Lahontan reveal the hunting patterns of the region's inhabitants 3,000 years ago. The Anasazi people lived in pit houses built with adobe (sun-dried earth bricks) and stone, created pottery, and mined the region as far back as 300 BC. A thousand years later, the Anasazi had mastered irrigation techniques and raised corn, beans, and cotton. The migrating Paiute, who along with the Shoshone and Washoe people were still living in the Nevada territory when the first white explorers appeared, eventually pushed the Anasazi out of the region.
Exploration and settlement The southwest of North America, including present-day Nevada, was claimed by Spain as part of its empire in the mid-16th century. The explorers and missionaries Father Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante are believed to have entered eastern Nevada in 1776, attempting to find a route from Santa Fe to California. The region came under Mexican rule when Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. Peter Skeene Ogden of the Hudson's Bay Company and Jedediah Smith of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company were among the first trappers to explore the territory. They entered the state from opposite ends in search of new fur sources and the elusive San Buenaventura River.
The first thorough exploration of Nevada was carried out by John C Frémont in 1843–45, inspired by the US concept of manifest destiny. The Frémont party was guided by the legendary Kit Carson, trapper, scout, and Indian agent. The information gathered from their surveys led to the first permanent US settlement in Nevada, a Mormon trading post established at Genoa in 1848.
Political and economic development The USA acquired Nevada from Mexico under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. By 1849 the Humboldt River had become an important link in the trail westward following the California gold rush of the same year. Discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1859 resulted in rapid population growth and led to the granting of territorial status in 1861. Backed by Republican support during the outbreak of the American Civil War, Nevada was admitted to the Union in 1864. Politically, another Northern state was required to ensure the ratification and adoption of the the 13th Amendment, which was passed in 1865 and abolished slavery. As a result of its admission during the war, Nevada's state flag bears a scroll that reads ‘Battle Born’. Nevada's mines provided much of the financial base for the Union's Civil War effort. The 1860s extension of the Central Pacific Railroad across northern Nevada spurred a grazing economy there, but through the late 19th and early 20th century, the state's fortunes rose and fell with the silver and other metal markets and with changes in federal monetary policy.
20th-century history and contemporary Nevada In the 1900s new mineral deposits found at Tonopah and Goldfield revived the economy, and Ely became a copper centre. By the beginning of the 1930s Great Depression, however, Nevada's economy was in dire straits, and in 1931 the state voted for the legalization of gambling and liberalization of its marriage and divorce laws. Both measures were designed primarily to attract business from California. The building of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s provided the water and power needed for the growth of Las Vegas.
With the beginning of World War II, the federal government began to use some of Nevada's remote public lands for aircraft training and weapons testing. Nellis Air Force Base and its test range and the Nevada Test Site are among the military facilities in the state. Most US nuclear weapons tests have taken place on the Test Site, which was chosen for its seclusion and distance from populated centres; Britain also carried out underground tests there from 1963.
Oil was discovered in 1954 and, in the late 1970s, important deposits of microscopically fine gold were discovered near Elko. These deposits, known as the Carlin Trend, are the largest source of gold found in the USA since California's gold rush in the late 1840s. The opening of the McDermitt mine in Humboldt County in 1975 made Nevada the USA's leading producer of mercury.
Despite its aridity and harsh landscape, Nevada has been the fastest-growing US state based on percentage for some six decades. In 1960 it had only 285,278 residents, but its gambling industry and lifestyle – made possible by massive federal investment in irrigation and hydroelectric projects – have made it one of the most flourishing parts of the Sunbelt. State politicians were at the centre of the 1970 and 1980s Sagebrush Rebellion, aimed at forcing the federal government to release public lands to the state.
As Nevada entered the 21st century, its priorities focused primarily on such pressing issues as environmental safety, economic development, and tourism. Environmental concerns include the leakage of plutonium and other radioactive materials through cracks in the rocks near an underground nuclear weapons testing site, contaminating the water and wildlife.
Famous peoplesport Jack Kramer (1921–2009), tennis player; Greg LeMond (1961– ), bicyclist; Andre Agassi (1970– ), tennis player
science Milton Erickson (1901–1980), psychiatrist
society and education Sarah Winnemucca (c. 1844–c. 1891), Paiute interpreter; Wovoka (c. 1858–1932), Paiute Indian prophet
economics Henry Comstock (1820–1870), Canadian-born prospector; James E Casey (1888–1983), business executive
politics and law Pat Nixon (1912–1993), first lady.
Nevada – flag
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