ELKO, NV – THE CORNERSTONE OF COWBOY COUNTRY
Jun 10, 2019 10:52AM
By Kristy McLean
Photo courtesy of Travel Nevada
Don’t worry…this is not another one of those hokey ghost towns with the same old canned cowboy characters having a fake gun fight in the street. Elko is the REAL deal. Real cowboys, real cattle, a real saddle shop with real history, real gold still being pulled from real mines, authentic Basque food prepared by descendants of real Basque sheepherders, and real untouched wilderness…Elko is the REAL wild, wild west.
Elko is located in the northeastern corner of the state of Nevada, situated on the Humboldt River halfway between Reno and Salt Lake City. Interstate 80 traverses Elko County, making it a convenient destination if traveling by car. Between 1841 and 1869, approximately 225,000 emigrants traveled the same path along the California Trail which roughly follows today’s I-80. Elko is passionate about celebrating these deep roots to Westward expansion and American ranching, mining, railroads and hard-working immigrants.
BASQUE-ING IN NORTHERN NEVADA TRADITION
In the 1940s and 50s, Senator Pat McCarran was instrumental in the migration of skilled Basque sheepherders from the Pyrenees region between Spain and France who were welcomed into the Elko area as the local ranchers were struggling with declining sheep populations and decreased wool production. After two generations, many of the 57,000 Basque who now populate America can trace their origins back to these early sheepherders in the hills of Nevada. So, it’s no wonder that Elko has hosted the National Basque Festival for over 50 years and is a hotbed for authentic, family style Basque restaurants such as the historic Star Hotel & Restaurant which opened as a boardinghouse for sheepherders in 1910.
Visit Elko July 5-7, 2019 for the National Basque Festival at the Elko County Fairgrounds to see Basque dancing groups and athletes from across the country competing in traditional Basque rural sports featuring stone lifting, weight carrying, wood-chopping, tug-o-war, and many other events that rival the toughest cross-fit competitions of today. Complete with a sheepherders bread-making contest, 5k Walk, traditional Catholic Mass, plenty of paella and many other ways to celebrate this alluring culture. Insider tip: wear all white clothing with the intent of cutting loose and spilling red wine on your clothes. Local Bascos consider wine-stained clothes a badge of honor, drawing attention to the fact that another successful National Basque Festival is in the books. And, you mustn’t leave before trying some traditional Picon Punch, the unofficial state drink of Nevada! See ElkoBasqueClub.com to learn more.
THE HEART OF COWBOY CULTURE
Elko was once called “the last cowtown in America” by writer and commentator Lowell Thomas. This aspect of the culture lives on today, and is celebrated every winter during the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The Western Folklife Center located in the century old Pioneer Hotel, which sponsors the event, is open year-round and has a gift shop, museum and Black Box theater that shows a short, 16-minute film, "Why the Cowboy Sings." Stop by to view the exhibits or to enjoy a glass of sarsaparilla at the old-time bar.
The J.M. Capriola Co., located in downtown Elko, is the premier destination for Northern Nevada's ranching needs. Established in 1929, the store carries on the tradition of G.S. Garcia, a maker of Western gear who came to Elko in 1893. Garcia soon developed a worldwide following of cowboys and ranchers who clamored for his exquisitely made bits, spurs and saddles. Today, J.M. Capriola saddles are still handmade by a small staff of master craftsmen. Located next door to the J.M. Capriola Co., the newly opened Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum honors the lives of iconic Westerners, such as G.S. Garcia and trick rider and Cowgirl Hall of Famer Mabel Strickland. The museum is loaded to the brim with antique saddles, collector-quality silver spurs, stories of local legends, and the importance of culture and traditions of the buckaroos of the American West.
SILVER STATE STAMPEDE – July 12-14, 2019
If you miss the Reno Rodeo, or need a little more century-old rodeo action, head to Elko for The Silver State Stampede - the oldest rodeo in Nevada. The tradition of Elko’s annual rodeo started in 1913 when G.S. Garcia decided that northern Nevada cowboys needed a rodeo, and the town needed the added entertainment and income. Today’s Stampede has grown into a multi-faceted event, showcasing the best of rodeo and ranch cowboys alike. http://www.silverstatestampede.com/
History buffs will not want to miss The California Trail Interpretive Center to learn why so many pioneers moved west nor the Northeastern Nevada Museum and its impressive assortment of Indian and Old West artifacts. The museum holds one of the world’s largest collections of works by Western artist Will James, as well as several etchings and watercolors by Edward Borein.
THERE’S GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS!
Though many think that gold country is a thing of the past, northern Nevada miners beg to differ. Nevada is the top gold-producing state in the nation, is fifth most productive in the world and ranks No. 3 as a global mining jurisdiction based on investment attractiveness. The state contributed 72 percent of total U.S. gold production in 2017, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and gold is Nevada’s No. 1 export with a value of about $6.29 billion, reported the Nevada Division of Minerals. Northeastern Nevada is home to some of the most prolific mines in the country, several of which exist along the Carlin Trend just outside of Elko. The goldfield is one of the richest in the Western Hemisphere. Silver, copper, lithium, limestone, zinc, tungsten, galena, agate and countless other precious metals, minerals, and rocks are mined at a total of 104 mines statewide. So, if you’re a gold digger or a rock hound you have yet another reason to visit Elko!
Elko County is known as a sportsman’s paradise and outdoor recreation abounds. Nestled into the base of the Ruby Mountain range at just over 5000 ft. elevation, Elko and the surrounding areas attract summer and winter adventure seekers alike. Take a day trip from Elko within 30, 60, 90 miles in any direction and your satisfaction is guaranteed. TravelNevada.com and the 2019 Elko Visitor’s Guide at ExploreElko.com are both great resources for planning your excursion.
In summer, the outdoor enthusiast enjoys everything from hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, boating, birding, golfing, and horseback riding to camping, rock hounding, panning for gold, and exploring rare geological formations. The Elko area boasts some of the best fishing west of the Mississippi and attracts anglers from around the world. Hikers indulge in following emigrant footsteps along historic wagon trails through mining towns and abandoned mines. Varied terrain and elevations offer beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife such as bighorn sheep, mountain goats, deer, elk and many types of alpine birds. The Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, in particular, is a birding delight with a whopping 220 species of birds calling it home or a stopover location along their migratory path. Varieties of birds include canvasback and redhead ducks, trumpeter swans, herons, egrets, eagles, falcons and more.
Winter months in the greater Elko area are often blanketed with snow. Whether your idea of adventure revolves around the hush of falling snowflakes in a pristine alpine meadow or racing through powder with adrenaline-pumping speed, Northern Nevada can fulfill your longings. Ruby Mountain is the ultimate in alpine skiing where heliskiers can be dropped by helicopter to ski one of the many peaks towering above 9,000 feet. SnoBowl Ski Area is great for skiing, snowboarding, and sledding. Snowplay and and cross-country skiing are also popular along Harrison Pass and Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway. Elko also offers great snowmobiling and ice fishing with trout and yellow perch in abundance.
THE ROAD TO JARBIDGE – A TRUE BACK-TO-NATURE EXPERIENCE
If you’re up for a bit more than a day trip, Jarbidge Wilderness is approximately 100 miles from Elko but is about a 4-hour scenic drive. You can break up the drive with a stop for some boating, waterskiing and fishing at Wild Horse State Recreation Area about 65 miles north of Elko on Hwy 225. The best route to take from Wild Horse is Gold Creek Road to Bruneau River Loop. Dense with wildflowers and picturesque views, it’s 50 miles of dirt road and no services along the way so make sure you’re completely gassed up in a vehicle that can handle rugged terrain and have all of your provisions even before leaving Elko. You’ll need a map too because you’re entering an area where no GPS has ever gone before.
Jarbidge Wilderness is one of the most remote areas in Nevada and arguably the most spectacular. Quietly tucked away in the very northeast corner of Nevada, the Jarbidge Wilderness area is comprised of an unimaginable 113,000 acres with nearly 100 miles of hiking trails. Perhaps one of the most popular cross-country routes is Matterhorn Peak, a difficult but rewarding 12-mile loop that offers unmatched views of neighboring points from a magnificent 10,839 feet. Jarbidge is also known for its premier fishing, as it’s the only place in the state of Nevada to nab the esteemed Bull Trout. If you’re looking to get completely off the grid, as one of the least visited wilderness areas in the lower 48 states, Jarbidge is just the place for you.
If you need a little more action with your wilderness, you might try visiting Jarbidge this summer for its 1st Annual Jarbidge Days Beer Crawl on August 10, 2019. Jarbidge Days also offers a parade, an arts & crafts show, children’s games and more. If you’d like a bed, plan ahead because accommodations are limited but otherwise there’s an RV Park on the north end of town and the US Forest Service offers five free public campgrounds along Jarbidge River and backcountry camping throughout the wilderness area. Bring your own water and always pack out what you pack in, leaving as minimal impact as possible. Visit Jarbidge.org to learn more.
HOME ON THE RANGE
We hope you are as intrigued by Elko and northeastern Nevada as we are and encourage you to hit the road this summer for some down home, cowboy country culture and off-the-grid adventure. Believe it or not, we haven’t even scratched the surface of all there is to do in Elko County – car shows, casinos, horse racing, balloon races, wine walks, art festivals, unique holiday festivities, Centennial Boots public art, you name it. So do a little homework on your own and have fun learning about this special place that exemplifies Nevada’s favorite mottos “Don’t Fence Me In” and “Home Means Nevada.” Special thanks to Nevada Division of Tourism (TravelNevada) for the Elko inspiration – be sure to visit TravelNevada.com to learn more and plan your trip.
Travel Nevada’s video in which John Wright, owner of J.M. Capriola Co., explains the importance of guarding tradition, building custom saddles, and why he chooses to call Elko, Nevada home.