Geography and Landforms:

Most of the state of Nevada lies within the Great Basin, a large desert area that extends into Utah, California, Oregon, Wyoming, and Idaho. The land is broken up by more than 30 mountain ranges that extend from north to south throughout the state. At the western edge of the Basin, the Sierra Nevada, a rugged mountain range, forms part of the state's border with California. Lake Tahoe and several other spectacular mountain lakes in the Sierra Nevada are popular vacation spots.

Elevation in the Basin region varies from a few hundred feet above sea level near the Colorado River to 13,000 feet in the southwest. Nevada's highest point, Boundary Peak (13,140 feet) is located here.

Nevada is one of the driest states in the nation. Much of its landscape consists of arid stretches of land covered with sagebrush and creosote bush. Most of the state's rivers run only during the wet season (December through June) and go nowhere. They empty into lakes with no outlets or flow into wide, shallow alkali sinks. When the water evaporates in the summer, the sinks become mud flats or dry lakes.


Spanish explorers were probably the first white men to come to the Nevada region. They may have entered the southern portion of the area during the 1770s while journeying from New Mexico to California. But the Spanish did not establish any settlements in Nevada.

More than 50 years later, American trappers and traders came to the area to explore. In 1827, Jebediah Smith led a group of trappers across southern Nevada into California, then back across the Great Basin. A year later, a group of trappers from the Hudson Bay Company, led by Peter Ogden, explored the Humboldt River Valley in the northeastern portion of the region.

The Old Spanish Trail, which connected Sante Fe, New Mexico with Los Angeles, was established in 1830 and extended across southern Nevada. Las Vegas soon became a station along the trail. Three years later, a trapper, Joseph Walker, blazed a trail along the Humboldt River that was heavily used by prospectors and settlers who journeyed to California after gold was discovered there in 1848.

Little was known about the Nevada region until Lieutenant John Fremont, led by Kit Carson, explored the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada between 1843 and 1845. Fremont sent detailed accounts of his experiences to the federal government. After the Mexican War ended in 1848, the United States acquired the Nevada region as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. At that time, Nevada was part of a larger territory that included California, Utah, and portions of 4 other states.

News about the Nevada region reached Mormon leader Brigham Young, who was journeying west in search of a place to settle with his followers. In 1849, Young established the State of Deseret, which included Utah and a large portion of present-day Nevada. Young asked the government to admit his state to the Union. Instead, Congress established Utah Territory in 1850, which included all of Utah and most of what is now the state of Nevada. The southern tip of the region was still part of New Mexico. Young became the territory's first governor.

Initially, non-Mormons were reluctant to settle in the Mormon-dominated territory, but after the discovery of the Comstock Lode, a rich deposit of silver ore near present-day Virginia City, large numbers of fortune hunters came to Carson County. Mining camps grew overnight and expanded into thriving but raucous towns.

In an attempt to bring law and order to these lawless mining towns, Congress established the Nevada Territory 1861. James Nye was appointed governor of the new territory, but before the territorial government could be set up in Carson City, the Civil War began.

Suddenly the mineral wealth of the territory took on added importance. Silver and gold were needed by both the north and the south to pay the costs of the war. Nevadans favored the Union cause, and President Lincoln was in need of another state to support his anti-slavery amendments. Even though the territory had less than the required population to become a state, Lincoln signed the proclamation for statehood in 1864 and Carson City became the capital. Nevadans elected Henry Blasdel, a mining engineer, as the state's first governor.

Nevada gained its present-day boundaries in 1866 when the southern tip of the state was added and eastern land was acquired from Utah. The completion of the trans-continental railroad in 1869 improved communication with and access to the East. But the state remained highly dependent on its deposits of ore. Nevada suffered severely when the Unites States began limiting the amount of silver used in the monetary system. Mines closed as the price of silver fell, many miners left the state to find work elsewhere, and thriving towns became deserted.

New mineral deposits were discovered at the turn of the century. In 1900, silver ore was found at Tonopah and copper ore at Ely, Ruth, and Mountain City. In 1902, gold was discovered at Goldfield. Thousands of miners returned and Nevada's economic recovery began.


Most of Nevada's economic riches are located deep within the ground. The state is a leading producer of gold, silver, and mercury. Copper is still mined, although it is no longer as dominant as it was in the past.

Tourism provides the major source of income for the state. Millions of visitors come to Nevada each year to enjoy the scenery, resorts, and gambling opportunities centered in Las Vegas, Reno, and Lake Tahoe. Approximately half of all workers in the state are employed by service industries related to tourism.

Because of the arid climate, farming is not highly developed. But irrigation practices have made the cultivation of vegetables, greenhouse and nursery plants, and grain possible. Livestock ranching is the main agricultural activity in Nevada. High plateau areas are ideal for grazing of sheep and cattle.

Other industries important to the state include the manufacturing of gaming machines, aerospace equipment, irrigation devices, and seismic monitoring devices.

First Inhabitants:

Native Americans inhabited the region that is now the state of Nevada thousands of years before Spanish explorers and fur traders began to explore the area. Archaeological discoveries of bones and ashes in the southern portion of the state reveal that Native peoples lived there more than 20,000 years ago. Cave drawings left by these ancient people can be found in the Valley of Fire State Park near present-day Las Vegas.

The Washoe tribe inhabited the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range that forms the border between present-day Nevada and California. They were highly skilled basket makers and used a dialect that was markedly different from that of the other Nevada Indians. The Paiute lived in northern and southern Nevada. Both groups depended primarily on hunting, gathering, and fishing for their food.

Much of northeastern region was occupied by the Shoshone. They were part of a much larger group of Native Americans known as the Uto-Aztecan whose culture spread from present-day Washington State to the borders of Mexico. One of the most famous members of the Nevada Shoshone tribe was Sacajawea who served as guide and interpreter for Lewis and Clark on their expedition.

Books Related To Nevada

Famous Citizens:

Eva Adams
Eva Adams was born in the Wonder mining camp near Fallon, Nevada. She served as administrative assistant to Nevada senator Pat McCarran, and was appointed director of the US Mint by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi was born in Las Vegas, Nevada. He became a professional tennis player at age 16 and was ranked 4th by the age of 18. Agassi became the first unseeded tennis player since 1930 to win the US Open in 1994. Two years later he won the first Olympic men's singles gold medal for the United States in 72 years.

Thelma Pat Nixon
Thelma Pat Nixon was born in Ely, Nevada. She married Richard Nixon in 1940. After her husband was elected 37th president of the United States in 1968, Pat began to use her position as first lady to encourage volunteer service. She was a literacy advocate who created a "Right to Read" program and worked to establish recreational areas in or near large cities for those who could not afford to visit distant national parks.

Edna Purviance
Edna Purviance was born in Paradise Valley, Nevada. She was Charlie Chaplin's leading lady in silent films between 1915 and 1923. Chaplin and Purviance appeared together in more than 40 films including The Tramp, A Night Out, and The Champion.

Jack Wilson Wovoka
Jack Wilson "Wovoka" was born in Yerington, Nevada. He was a Paiute Indian mystic whose prophesies helped to spread the Ghost Dance religion - an infusion of Christian theology and Paiute mysticism - across the American West. Wilson's hopeful prophecies created a spiritual and cultural revival in many American Indian tribes.

Capital: Carson City
Entered Union: October 31, 1864
Population: 2,839,099
Area 110,561
Bird Mountain Bluebird
Flower Sagebrush
Nickname: Silver State, Sage State, Sagebrush State
Governor Brian Sandoval

Places to Visit in Nevada: (Click the links to learn more.)

Bowers Mansion - near Carson City
This large Italian-style home was built in 1864 by a silver miner, Sandy Bowers, who made a fortune from the Comstock Lode. Located on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, the fully restored mansion provides a glimpse of what life was like in Nevada during the 1860s.

Great Basin National Park - near Baker
The beautiful and desolate landscape of the park forms the backdrop for a natural laboratory that provides visitors with many learning experiences. Explore salt flats, caverns, alpine wildflowers, the mining industry, and the cultural and geographic diversity of the area.

Hoover Dam - 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas
Built during the depression to provide power and irrigation water for parts of Nevada, California and Arizona, the dam is a National Historic Landmark. It has been rated by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of America's Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders.

Tonopah - Tonopah
Located halfway between Las Vegas and Reno, this historic town was once known as the Queen of the Silver Camps. It was established in 1900 at the beginning of Nevada's last great mining rush. Tour the 100-acre Tonopah Mining Park on the exact site of the original mining claim. Explore the colorful history of central Nevada at the Museum which features miners' cabins and railroad displays.

The National Atomic Testing Museum - Las Vegas
Affiliated with the Smithsonian, the National Atomic Testing Museum focuses on the development and history of testing nuclear weapons. There is an extensive collection related to the Cold War, the Nevada test site, and nuclear and radiological science and technology. There is even an exhibit on the fabled Area 51!