Historic Sites In Nevada. More Than Just Parks has 5 incredible must-see sites for you to visit.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I taught history for over a quarter of a century. Now I enjoy researching and writing these articles for More Than Just Parks.
I’m going to give you my list of the Top 5 Historic Sites in Nevada that you’ll want to see. We’ve got fascinating exhibits, famous figures, historic parks, legendary trails and so much more.
Historic Sites In Nevada
5. Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument
We begin our list of the Top 5 Historic Sites in Nevada with the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument.
As a former World History teacher, I realized that there’s old and then there’s old.
Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument preserves thousands of Pleistocene (Ice Age) fossils that help tell the story of an ever-changing ecosystem. These fossils were preserved within expanding and contracting wetlands between 100,000-12,500 years ago.
Many of the Pleistocene animals of Tule Springs are still alive today, including the coyote (Canis latrans), jackrabbit (Lepus sp.), and aquatic snails. Some animals went extinct, disappearing from North America entirely. (Source: NPS)
Tule Springs is a relatively new park so the trails are a work in progress. That having been said I would recommend taking the Aliante Loop Trail which offers year-round scenic views of Mojave Desert scrub habitat and the Las Vegas Range.
CHECK OUT: 10 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In Arizona
Historic Sites In Nevada
4. Pony Express National Historic Trail
Coming in at #4 on our list of the best historic sites in Nevada is the Pony Express National Historic Trail.
The United States Postal Service has announced that we will be paying more money for slower mail. Ugh! Perhaps it’s time to dust off an old idea which brings us to our next Nevada National Park.
From April 3, 1860 until October 26, 1861, the Pony Express delivered messages, newspapers, and mail using relays of horse-mounted riders. While it was only in operation for 18 months, it reduced the time for messages to travel between the east and west coasts to about 10 days.
Ten days may sound like a lot, but I suppose that depends on how good the postal service is where you live. No comment.
The Pony Express Founders
The three founders of the Pony Express were William Russell, Alexander Majors and William B. Waddell.
These three entrepreneurs used a shorted route with riders at relay stations. These stations were about ten miles apart.
The rider coming in could expect a fresh mount [horse] waiting for him and his mail pouch. It was like a relay race only with four legged runners.
Pony Express Peak Operations
At the peak of their operations, Russell, Majors and Waddell employed 6,000 men, owned 75,000 oxen, thousands of wagons, and warehouses, plus a sawmill, a meatpacking plant, a bank, and an insurance company.
Of course, technology waits for no one. The Pony Express could not compete with the faster telegraph. It went bankrupt after 18 months. From T-mails to emails. Isn’t progress wonderful!
Jim DeFelice has written a wonderfully entertaining account of the history of the Pony Express.
It’s titled West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express. I love stories about the Old American West. This is one book I simply could not put down.
Retracing The Pony Express
One hundred and fifty years later, you can visit trail traces, visitor centers, museums, hiking trails, historic structures and forts related to the Pony Express National Historic Trail.
The trail crosses eight states following the journey taken by dozens of young riders and hundreds of horses between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California.
The best news of all, however, is that you won’t have to change horses every ten miles. There are auto tour routes, GIS interactive maps and a Back-Country Byway.
Or, you can simply use your cellphone (there’s an app for every thing these days!) to chart a course across the Pony Express National Historic Trail.
Isn’t progress wonderful! [Did I say that already?]
CHECK OUT: 5 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In Oklahoma
Historic Sites In Nevada
3. Virginia City Historic District
Coming in at #3 on our list of the best historic sites in Nevada is the Virginia City Historic District.
According to the National Park Service, The Virginia City Historic District, located halfway between Reno and Carson City, Nevada, includes the 19th century mining towns of Virginia City, Gold Hill, Silver City, and Dayton, as well as open lands containing cultural sites associated with mining activities.
Between 1860 and 1880, these towns were the model for what would become the classic frontier mining boom town in the American West.
Virginia City and its larger mining district attracted immigrants from throughout the U.S. and all over the world. Chinese immigrants came to the area in large numbers and worked as, among other things, placer miners, railroad workers, restaurant owners, launderers, doctors, shop owners, and boarding house managers.
Things To Do
Today, the Virginia City Historic District is a remarkable collection of over 400 buildings – most dating from the 19th-century, abandoned mine shafts and adits (horizontal entrances to mines), and historic roads and streets. The District still retains the look and feel of a 19th and early 20th century western mining town.
Virginia City is still an active and vibrant community with restaurants, shops, hotels, and saloons.
In addition, the District has multiple museums, annual festivals, railroad rides, mine tours, historic walking tours, stagecoach and carriage tours, trolley rides, hiking, horseback riding, and camping.
CHECK OUT: 10 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In New Mexico
Historic Sites In Nevada
2. Hoover Dam
At #2 on our list of the best historic sites in Nevada is Hoover Dam.
The Hoover Dam was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression. It was dedicated on September 30, 1935, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Its construction was the result of a massive effort involving thousands of workers, and cost over one hundred lives.
The largest dam in the world at the time of its completion in 1935, this National Historic Landmark stores enough water in Lake Mead to irrigate 2 million acres and serves as a popular tourist destination.
A Short History Of The Hoover Dam
Originally named the Boulder Canyon Project, after the original proposed site, the dam would not only control flooding and irrigation, it would generate and sell hydroelectric power to recoup its costs.
It was Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover who negotiated the agreement to divide the water proportionally among seven states.
The first difficult step of construction involved blasting the canyon walls to create four diversion tunnels for the water. Facing strict time deadlines, workers toiled in 140-degree tunnels choked with carbon monoxide and dust, conditions that prompted a six-day strike in August 1931.
The second step of involved the clearing of the walls that would contain the dam. Suspended from heights of up to 800 feet above the canyon floor, high scalers wielded 44-pound jackhammers and metal poles to knock loose material, a treacherous task that resulted in casualties from falling workers, equipment and rocks.
The final block of concrete was poured and topped off at 726 feet above the canyon floor in 1935. On September 30, a crowd of 20,000 people watched President Franklin Roosevelt commemorate the magnificent structure’s completion. (Source: History)
Tour This Engineering Marvel
Hoover Dam’s reservoir is designed to hold 28,945,000 acre-feet of water and at 248 square miles its capacity is the largest in United States.
The dam backs up the waters of the river to form Lake Mead.
Lake Mead is the largest man-made lake (reservoir) in the United States, holding almost 29 million acre feet of water.
The Hoover Dam is open to the public daily from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Visitors can take a tour of the dam and power plant, which also includes the visitor center, by contacting the Bureau of Reclamation.
The #1 Historic Site In Nevada
1. Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is an otherworldly place that seems like something out of a Star Wars movie set. The landscapes here seem endless with stunning yellow, orange, and purple hues. And, surprisingly, there is abundant life in the last place you might expect.
Situated on California’s southeastern border with Nevada, Death Valley National Park spans over 5,000 square miles of otherworldly vistas. The largest national park in the continental United States, Death Valley is a park for superlatives.
Death Valley is the hottest place on earth, the lowest place in North America, and the driest place in the United States. Death Valley is also the largest National Park outside of Alaska.
CHECK OUT: Death Valley National Park
It’s Got Quite A History
The land that is known today as Death Valley National Park was inhabited by Native Americans (most recently the Timbisha Shoshone around 1000AD) prior to the arrival of Europeans. In the mid 1800s trappers and explorers entered the valley on their way to the gold rush in California.
A wagon train group of 49ers (gold seekers) headed to California got lost and ended up in Death Valley. Things got fairly desperate, so much so that they were forced to kill their own oxen and eat the meat for survival.
Eventually the party did make it out of the valley losing only one person along the way, but that was enough. It’s said that upon leaving the valley one member of the group turned around and said the famous words, “Goodbye, Death Valley” and thus a park was named.
Death Valley Got Its Name From A Group Of Lost Goldminers
The story of how Death Valley National Park got its name is a particularly fascinating one.
Our story begins with the discovery of gold in the Sacramento Valley of California in early 1848. Once gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, pandemonium set in as “gold fever” swept across the nation.
The Bennett-Arcane Party were a group of particularly unlucky prospectors who came from the East. Their destination was the Sutter’s Mill area of Northern California. In those days, folks didn’t have GPS. They made a wrong turn crossing the desert and got trapped in Death Valley.
Hoping To Avoid The Same Fate As The Donner Party
After learning about the infamous Donner Party who had perished on their way to California, this unlucky party took the Old Spanish Trail hoping to avoid the same fate.
Lost and starving, part of the group decided to remain at Travertine Springs while others trekked a grueling 300 miles to the nearest Mission. A month later, they returned with help.
Unfortunately for some of them that help came too late. By the time they arrived, some had already perished in the valley. As one of the more fortunate survivors managed to escape the valley, he supposedly said on his way out, “Goodbye, Death Valley”, and the name stuck.
Establishment of Death Valley National Park
On February 11, 1933 President Hoover set aside two million acres of land mostly in California but a small parcel in Nevada as well to create Death Valley National Monument. In the 1930s under the Roosevelt administration, infrastructure was built in the park by Roosevelt’s CCC program.
Controversy over the mines in Death Valley came about in the 1930s onward as conservationists fought to close them down. Finally, on October 31, 1994 the park was signed into law with an additional 1.3 million acres.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Death Valley I recommend this excellent book.
Check Out Our Death Valley Film
Map Of Historic Sites In Nevada
List Of Historic Sites In Nevada
- Death Valley National Park
- Hoover Dam
- Virginia City Historic District
- Pony Express National Historic Trail
- Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument
About The People Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues.
Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and a proud dad of these two wonderful guys who are hopelessly obsessed with the national parks.
I taught history for over a quarter of a century. Now I enjoy researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.
I’m always on the hunt for topics where nature and history intersect so please feel free to share any ideas that you might have with me.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested joining the adventure, sign up below!