Nevada’s most mysterious landmarks

Away from the excess and extravagance of the world-famous Las Vegas Strip, Nevada has a quieter, more mysterious side. That vast, sandy landscape and impossibly hot, pounding sun have borne witness to some strange and unusual events over the years. Take a Nevada road trip to the places we’ve picked out and you’ll soon realise there’s a whole new and eerie side to this desert state.

Rhyolite Ghost Town

Along US 95 towards Death Valley National Park, you’ll find Rhyolite Ghost Town. Following the discovery of gold in the region at the start of the 20th century, this town was one of a cluster of similar dwellings that popped up in the area which came to be known as Bullfrog Mining District.

The town of Rhyolite quickly grew after a few big scores here, going from a two-tent mining camp to a thriving 5,000-strong population in just six months. Two years later Rhyolite residents walked on concrete pavements, and had a hospital, a train line, a school, and two churches – all the trappings of a very successful town. However, by 1914 the high-grade ore was almost gone and the town quickly went bust.

All that remains of the boomtown today are creepy shrouded sculptures and ruined buildings. Timber merchants’ shacks, their facades falling to the ground, and stunning homes built by proud and hopeful prospectors are now abandoned to the elements. Melancholic and moving, Rhyolite Ghost Town offers a fascinating glimpse into a golden moment in history.

Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park

Around four hours’ drive north of Las Vegas, six huge beehive-shaped charcoal ovens stand; a spooky monument to the Nevada silver rush that took place in the mid-to-late 19th century. These 30-feet-tall ovens stand forebodingly side-by-side in the shadow of the Egan Mountain Range to the west.

Local miner Thomas Ward built the wood-guzzling ovens to create vast volumes of hot-burning charcoal – an essential ingredient for smelting the precious silver out of the ore. While others fought for every scrap of silver in reach, Ward had made his own fortune just from the charcoal – enough to build a town around the ovens.

Beyond a visit to the ovens themselves, the park is a popular spot for camping, and conditions are good for mountain biking, hiking and fishing whatever the weather.

National Atomic Testing Museum

Though only a short five-minute drive from the Strip, this trip through science and history offers an altogether different take on American life.

Starting with the pioneering explosion of events that took place at the Nevada Test Site, the facility provides a compelling overview of nuclear testing on a global scale over the past 70 years. Artefacts on show include a large nuclear reactor and Genie, the world’s first air-to-air missile.

There’s also a piece of the Berlin Wall, referencing the end of the Cold War, and two pieces of the World Trade Center to mark the start of the global ‘war on terror’. Put on a pair of goggles and experience a simulation of a nuclear test, and learn the history behind the opening of the Nevada Test Site. There’s a rolling programme of new exhibitions and learning events, all with the purpose of helping people understand the ramifications of our nuclear technology.

Hard-hitting and thought-provoking, the National Atomic Testing Museum is an unexpected wealth of insight and fascination on Las Vegas’s streets.

Hoover Dam

Perhaps not as mysterious as our other attractions, but an amazing engineering feat nonetheless, the Hoover Dam was built on the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, about a 40-minute drive from Vegas.

Built during the Great Depression, the dam was designed to harness the huge might of this fast-flowing waterway, and supplies both water and hydroelectric power to a vast area in the south-west. Crew building the dam demonstrated real courage as they bored tunnels and dangled on ropes from dizzying heights to complete the job by 1935 – more than two years ahead of schedule.

Las Vegas is the painted face with which Nevada greets the world, but this state holds many stories close. Take your time to travel to the sites of the most compelling tales and unearth their secrets for yourself.