Earth : North America : United States of America : Southwest (United States of America) : Nevada
Nevada is an arid state of the USA, lying between California and Utah. Most of the state is within the Great Basin, but parts of the northeast drain into the Snake River and the the southern portion is within the Mohave desert and the Colorado river drainage. Please note that while many outsiders pronounce the state's name as "ne-VAH-duh", the correct local pronunciation is [nəˈvædə], with a short "a" as in apple,.
Although the majority of tourists only visit Las Vegas, Reno and Tahoe to gamble, watch shows, and indulge themselves in food and drink, Nevada offers the more discerning traveler western frontier experiences verging on horse opera cliche, and landscapes utterly different from Europe, East Asia or more populated parts of North America.
In this more primitive environment, gambling seems not so much a high-tech means of fleecing the overly optimistic as the direct descendent of the itinerant cardsharp. Legal brothels are another holdover, from the "soiled doves" of frontier times. It isn't that Nevadans approve, so much as they haven't gotten around to outlawing all of their history yet.
Cities and Towns
Nevada achieved statehood in 1864, becoming the 36th state, despite its tiny population. The primary purpose of this early grant of statehood was to pack congress with two more Senators and thus help preserve Northern/Republican dominance in the post-civil war era. At the time, Nevada's economy was dominated by the mining industry, thus tying the state to the industrialized North. Nevada was also seen as a counter-balance to the more agrarian and confederate-sympathizing California.
Over the years, Nevada's economy has diversified somewhat into agriculture, light industry, distribution, and gaming. However, over 87% of the land in Nevada is still owned by the Federal Government.
There are fairly large cultural differences between Urban and Rural areas, and therefore they are treated separately here.
The urban areas, consisting of the Reno and Las Vegas areas, are heavily dependent on tourism and thus very welcoming to outsiders. In addition, these areas have seen a huge influx of immigration in recent years from both inside and outside the USA and thus have a cosmopolitan feel. In a gambling town, everyone's your friend as long as you have money. Recent immigrants from California are widely complained about (especially by the less recent immigrants from California), but that's about the extent of it.
RuralRural folk in Nevada are about like rural folk in the rest of the US, except more so. Although they are mostly conservative and highly individualistic, you'll be surprised by their helpful, easy going nature and tolerance of people that they don't feel threatened by. As the entire rural economy of Nevada is dependent on access to Federal lands for mining and grazing, environmental activists, and BLM and US Forest Service employees may be viewed as a threat. Young and hip people, especially from the north-eastern US, may be assumed to belong to one of those groups...
Some rural areas have significant populations of Native American peoples, mainly Paiute and Shoshone. Reservations are found at Fort McDermott on the Oregon border, in the Reese River Valley between the Toiyabe and Shoshone Ranges, around Pyramid Lake and at the northern end of Walker Lake. Local tribes were traditionally identified by their dietary mainstays, which were Cutthroat Trout at Walker Lake, Cui-Ui (a large type of sucker) at Pyramid Lake, and even a type of caterpillar in the mountains near Lake Tahoe. Pine nuts from Singleleaf Pinyons were a staple in most locations and can sometimes be found for sale in rural stores.
English is the official language of Nevada. Spanish is also widely spoken in Nevada, and like much of the southwest Nevada is heavily influenced by the language, Hispanic culture, and history under Spanish and Mexican rule. Tagalog is also spoken among Filipino populations.
There's an awful lot of desert to explore in Nevada, and it's very easy to leave civilization behind. While that is a worthy goal, common sense is necessary to avoid life-threatening situations. Here's some tips for traveling to the more remote desert areas of Nevada:
Gambling is the major industry in Nevada, directly responsible for about 20% of total employment. Gambling establishments range from huge casinos boasting slot machines, table games and sports books to small bars and convenience stores with a few video poker games apiece.
Local towns depending on visitors from neighboring states have seen a significant decrease in traffic in recent years, much of which is blamed on the rise of Indian Casinos. Las Vegas, despite a downturn following September 11 2001, continues to thrive due to its destination status.
Most of Nevada is federal land managed by the BLM (U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management) or by the Forest Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service). Self-sufficient campers can camp free of charge on land under the management of either agency as long as camping doesn't interfere with other legitimate uses. Both federal agencies also have developed campgrounds where fees are usually charged. Fees vary by location, averaging about $5 at BLM campgrounds and $10 at Forest Service campgrounds.
There are two National Parks (U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service) in Nevada: Great Basin N.P. in east-central Nevada and Death Valley N.P. straddling the California-Nevada state line. The Park Service offers developed campgrounds where fees are charged and no-fee primitive campgrounds. 
Most of Nevada lies within the Basin-and-Range geographic province, so there are literally hundreds of mountain ranges. Some ranges are short, ten miles (15 km) or so, but others are over a hundred miles (160 km) long. Several ranges have well developed trails, however others are just beginning to be discovered by enthusiastic hikers, who often make their own routes from backcountry jeep roads, cattle or game trails, desert washes, and crosscountry travel which the lack of dense forests makes fairly straightforward. Perhaps not the place for novices to venture alone, however intermediate hikers will find abundant opportunities.
The highest peaks over 13,000' (4,000m) are right on the California border (Boundary Peak in the White Mountains and near the eastern border with Utah (Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park. Other ranges scattered all over the state rise into the alpine zone which begins above 11,500' (3,500m) in the south to as little as 9,000' (2,700m) in the north. Many peaks reaching into the alpine zone have evidence of past glaciation such as cirques, moraines and even glacial tarns (lakes), but Nevada has only one contemporary glacier on Wheeler Peak.
The driest ranges are those of moderate elevation in the rainshadow of California's Sierra Nevada Mountains which parallels Nevada's southwest border. Precipitation increases with elevation, to the north where the Sierra and Cascade ranges are lower, and to the east where the rainshadow effect lessens and moisture moving north from the Gulf of California comes into play. Hikers used to streams and mountain lakes will certainly find them in the Ruby and East Humboldt Ranges in the northeast, and in the Snake Range near Wheeler Peak, however drier ranges have unique landscapes not found in hiking venues elsewhere except perhaps in Central Asia, Africa and Australia. Dry ranges also have unique flora including open subalpine woodlands of Bristlecone and Limber Pine and lower down of Singleleaf Pinyon Pine which bear nuts that were a dietary mainstay of the Paiute and Shoshone tribes.
Restaurants in and around casinos in Reno, Las Vegas and Tahoe especially cater to the dietary whims of urban California. Notable chefs have opened restaurants worth a detour from the usual tourist activities. Buffets in casinos are often heavily subsidized in hopes that those who come to eat will stay to gamble. The more upscale examples offer surprisingly good food and plenty of it.
Outside of these tourist meccas, food takes on a western character. This is certainly the rule in small town cafes, but also in casinos along borders with Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Arizona drawing a western clientele with different dietary preferences than Californians.
Nevada and other parts of the larger intermountain region export beef and lamb, but are no cornucopia when it comes to fruit and vegetables. These are produced in very finite quantities because water is scarce and elevations usually high enough to induce late and early frosts. Accordingly cafes and restaurants with local clienteles serve 'meat and potatoes' fare. Coffee can be a weak disappointment. Nevertheless the food can be interesting in a regional way, often making inventive use of a limited range of ingredients.
Chinese immigration drawn by railroad-building and mining opportunities established chinese-american cuisine even in remote towns. Urban sophisticates may find it quaintly amusing -- chow mein, sweet-and-sour, egg drop soup, fortune cookies and all. Basque sheepherders went everywhere green grass could be found. Their cuisine may not actually be very distinctive, but it is served in multiple courses -- perhaps three different entrees -- at long communal tables.
Nevada may very well have the most relaxed liquor laws in the entire country. Although anti-drunk driving measures and the drinking age of 21 are as strongly enforced as anywhere else, that's pretty much where it ends. Most bars are open 24-7. Privately-owned liquor stores tend to have an extremely comprehensive selection of liquor, beer and wine, especially in Las Vegas. While some bars may close they do so by choice, not by legal necessity. Indeed many Nevada bars have been continuously open every single second for well over 40 years, including holidays.
Most bars feature some sort of casino gaming. Video poker machines are often built right into the bar itself. Indeed it's unusual to not see something like that in a Nevada bar. Bartenders may even offer you free drinks if you're actively playing.
As with the casinos, Nevada bars tend to take a decidedly cavalier attitude towards smoking; ask first, but chances are it's perfectly OK to light up if you so choose. If that bothers you, well, California isn't too far away ...
Nevada is the only state in the US where prostitution is not outlawed at the state level, except in the counties around Las Vegas, Reno and Carson City. Other counties are free to allow or outlaw prostitution in licensed brothels. This is a controversial subject with some Nevadans, especially in mixed company. Tread lightly.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints avoided Nevada somewhat because in many ways it became the antithesis of Deseret (Utah). Nevertheless Nevada has a significant Mormon population, particularly in Las Vegas, Reno and the lightly populated eastern part. Mormons, if they strictly follow church teachings, don't drink, are socially conservative and tend to have large families. They also can be well-travelled and fluent in foreign languages because many men are sent as missionaries to nations all around the world. The doctrine of polygamy is officially disowned.