Monday, July 14, 2014

High Stakes in Nevada

Well, I’d say we ‘drank enough of the Kool Aid’ for the time being and it’s time to wave farewell to our corn husking days in Nebraska and move on to the state of high rollers, quickie weddings, vast deserts, snowy mountains and more neon lights (yep, that’d be a museum dedicated to them there!) than you could shake a stick at.  That’s right, I could only be talking about the one and only Nevada!

You may remember that when we discussed Illinois it was my goal to teach the kiddos that there was more to The Land of Lincoln that Chicago.  Well, I ran into that same wall here in Nevada, except it was even more difficult to overcome with Las Vegas because unlike Illinois where I found plenty of other things to peak their interest, I was a bit more challenged with Nevada.  I’ll admit, I myself jumped on the Vegas bandwagon before I started my research convinced Nevada would be no big deal – Las Vegas is super exciting that meant there would have to be PLENTY of other things to choose from as well.  Not so much.  I mean they have a highway there they (proudly) bill as “The Loneliest Road in America”  for goodness sakes!  The fact that its seventh largest in the nation size wise and 9th on the least densely populated should have also tipped me off.  But as usual, I am determined to teach my duo that every state in the Union is important and has something (other than gambling and show girls) to offer.  So onward to the Silver State we go!

The discovery of silver ore (the first such in the nation) as part of the Comstock Lode in 1859 brought a major rush of settlors to the Nevada area.  So much so, that the population was enough for it to be admitted as a State (the 36th) in 1864.  From the Comstock Lode in the peak years of 1876–78, silver ore worth about $36,000,000 was extracted annually.  Silver mining in the state still occurs (it is the nation’s second leading producer behind Alaska) but believe it or not, it is far surpassed by Nevada’s gold production.  As of 2007, Nevada was responsible for producing 80% of the nation’s gold.  According to the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, “Total gold production from Nevada recorded from 1835 to 2008 totals is worth over US $228 billion at 2011 prices.”  Of further interest is how they mine in Nevada.  Nearly all the mines in Nevada are open pit mines because the land being dug in (mostly sand) is structurally unsound for tunneling.

Unfortunately, as with the gold and silver rushes in many of the other states out West, there were only so much of the goods to go around and the towns that had popped up around a boom were often abandoned leaving countless Ghost Towns around the state.  There are over 600 identifiable Ghost Towns across the state, many of which little remains but a few concrete slabs and crumbling rock walls.  Some of the most famous include Goldfield (which is also said to be haunted!), Aurora (which once claimed Mark Twain as a resident), Cherry Creek and Rhyolite (which sprung up and was virtually abandoned in approximately a five year period).

The land and climate don’t exactly lend themselves to easily habitable conditions, either.  With a statewide average of only nine inches of precipitation, Nevada is the driest state in the Union.  (Which seems somewhat odd since Nevada" is the Spanish feminine form of "covered in snow”, though the reference is to the Sierra Nevada Mountains which run though the state).  The majority of the state lies in the Great Basin which is known for its arid climate.  The southern section of the state is part of the Mojave Desert.  Personally, I am amazed by the toll the sun and wind can take on the land.  Valley of Fire State Park contains some of the most interesting (in my opinion) rock formations.  A few of my favorites that I just had  to share with the kiddos were Elephant Rock, The Beehives and Piano Rock.  The park isn’t that far from Vegas and is known for attracting tourists with an interest in the formations and the 3 ,000 year-old Indian petroglyphs contained in the park.

But if the hot desert isn’t your thing, approximately one-third of Lake Tahoe lies in Nevada in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake (a lake at a high elevation or altitude) and the second deepest in the country.  The area is well known for its skiing where at alpine skiing elevations, the snowfall averages 600 inches per year.  I wowed the kids with all kind of fun Tahoe facts, my favorite being If you were to pour Lake Tahoe out onto an area the size of California, the water would still be 14 inches (36 cm) deep.  (Beat that, Vegas!)

Outside of “Sin City” and The Biggest Little City in the World” the most recognizable Vegas landmark is most likely the Hoover Dam.  Built over a five year period during the Great Depression, the purpose behind the dam (which was once called Boulder Dam) was to control floods; store water for irrigation, municipal, and industrial use; and provide hydroelectric power, year-round recreational opportunities, and fish and wildlife habitat.  It was difficult to explain the size and purpose of the dam to the kiddos, so these fun facts I found helped put things into perspective.  While a little more technical and over their heads, the information I found here amazed us older Gatchel’s.  Lake Mead, (which is actually a reservoir) was formed by the dam and is known for its year-round opportunities for boating, fishing, hiking and sightseeing.

Are sports more your thing?  Unfortunately, Nevada does not play home to any professional sports teams, but it is home and birthplace to one of the greatest tennis players in history, Andre Agassi.  In singles tennis, Agassi is an eight-time Grand Slam champion and a 1996 Olympic gold medalist, as well as finishing runner-up in seven other Grand Slam tournaments.  Born in Las Vegas, where he still lives, Agassi (along with his wife and tennis star in her own right, Steffi Graf) founded the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation which has raised over $60 million for at-risk children in Southern Nevada.  He also opened the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas, a K-12 public charter school for at-risk children.  He officially retired from tennis in 2006.

Alright, alright, I know, I can’t wrap up this blog (or teach the kiddos properly) without giving Las Vegas its due.  (You may also note that I’ve peppered the blog thus far with plenty of Vegas related links that are full of fun facts about the City.)  Officially incorporated in 1911, gambling was not legalized in the state until 1931 when an act by the legislature which was then approved by the governor enacted the most liberal divorce laws in the country and open gambling.  Besides gaming, the city is known for its luxurious and opulent hotels, a plethora of places to get hitched quick (the requirements to get married in Clark County where Vegas is located are very lax, including no waiting period) and an endless list of entertainment options with current shows starring everyone from Blue Man Group to Cirque de Soleil to Penn and Teller to Celine Dion.   As I’m sure you can imagine, the kiddos were sucked in by all the pictures I had to show them and I have a feeling that like it or not, Vegas is going to be one of their favorite subjects this week.  There’s no doubt it plays a huge rule in Nevada’s bottom line though as in 2008 266 casinos with gaming revenue over $1 million for the year, brought in revenue of $12 billion in gaming revenue, and $13 billion in non-gaming revenue – and that’s just the casinos!

The kiddos are ready to roll the dice on Nevada this week and I’ll give it a go if they’re willing!  I’ve got some fun things planned and quite an interesting menu for the week as well.  I struggled a bit in this area as well as Nevada isn’t really known for any one type of cuisine (other than Basque in the northern area, which I’ll get to later in the week) and almost everything I came across pointed out one common theme – the buffet.  That’s not exactly practical when there’s four of us, though.  So I decided to kick off the week with one thing that strikes me as “Las Vegas lush” The Shrimp Cocktail.  (I know, I know, I’m reaching.  But I knew the Bean would be happy!) This was just for fun tonight because I wanted to make sure everyone made it through dinner so they could have dessert.  Available at The Fremont Street Experience I found this recipe for Deep Fried Oreos and knew we HAD to try them.  (When I put up the menu for the week I heard Grant make the Homer Simpson drooling noise and knew exactly what he was looking at.)  These weren’t tough to make and too much fun – I’ve already had requests for us to have them again this week.

So off through Nevada we go.  Are ya feeling lucky?  We are!  So stay with us for the week while we explore ALL of Nevada.  We’ll be back tomorrow with more Nevada fun and a dinner to pay tribute to Nevada’s mining industry.  So until then…

Nevada Fun Fact of the Day: Nevada is the seventh largest state with 110,540 square miles, 85% of them federally owned including the secret Area 51 near the little town of Rachel.

With the robots at VBS this morning

Builder Noah

Builder Kayla

We decided we needed ice cream this afternoon

Our mail from Nebraska arrived today!

My card sharks playing with some authentic casino decks

Shrimp cocktail

Oreos + Deep Fryer = *drool*

Mikayla shows off the inside 

Watching some Vegas videos before the Derby (which is of course now in rain delay...)

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