Over the years, Nevada has enjoyed more than just 15 minutes of fame. After all, it’s home to the world’s foremost Liberace museum, its streets were once patrolled by both the Rat Pack and Wyatt Earp, and areas of its deserts are rumored to play host to some very special interplanetary tourists. Below, 25 lesser-known facts about the Silver State (on the house) to get you started.
1. Nevada is the country’s seventh-biggest state at 70,264,320 acres. However, the U.S. government owns 56,961,778 acres of that, according to a 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service [PDF], or around 81 percent of Nevada’s total area. The non-federally owned part of Nevada is actually smaller than West Virginia.
2. The state takes it name from the Sierra Nevada mountain range: "sierra nevada" is Spanish for "snowy mountains."
As one of the most mountainous states in the country, Nevada's peaks have snow throughout much of the year. But it's also the driest state in the country, with an average rainfall of around 9.5 inches.
4. Nevadans hold Guinness World Records for the longest concert by multiple artists (lasting over 372 hours), the largest margarita (at 8500 tart gallons), the most people simultaneously making sandwiches (1481 sandwich-loving souls in total), and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the costliest magic show ($28 million could buy a ton of top hats, plus plenty of rabbits to snooze in them).
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Sufferers of coulrophobia might want to avoid Tonopah, Nevada, home to a clown-themed motel filled with creepy figurines. As if that weren't eerie enough, the lodgings are right next door to the Old Toponah Cemetery, where around 300 miners, outlaws, and other pioneers slumber eternally.
7. The so-called Silver State is actually one of the world’s largest producers of gold. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that Nevada’s Great Basin area provides around 11 percent of all gold in the global market and around 74 percent of the United States'.
8. As of 2014, Las Vegas had 150,544 total hotel rooms for rent. It would take one person 288 years to test-drive every one, according to the Retail Association of Nevada. Good thing there are so many options: The city hosted over 41 million visitors and 22,000 conventions last year [PDF].
On March 1, 1869, Nevada became the first state to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude" and establishes Congress's right to enforce it.
10. Opened in 1936, the Hoover Dam straddles the Colorado River on the Arizona/Nevada border. The most massive public works project in U.S. history, its 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete could pave a 16-foot-wide highway stretching from San Francisco to New York City [PDF].
11. Given the scope of the project, it makes sense, then, that Hoover Dam construction zones were the first to require entrants to wear hard hats.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
One statue in Boulder City pays tribute to, as Roadside America puts it, one of the "unsung workers" on the Hoover Dam construction site. Erected in 2007, the sculpture honoring Alabam, the Dam's self-proclaimed "sanitary engineer," shows the man toting rolls of toilet paper and a broom. "Alabam's role might not seem important, but it was," artist Steven Liguori has said. "Can you imagine cleaning latrines for 7000 men in 120 degree heat? Can you imagine the smell? Oh my god!"
13. Riveted blue jeans were the brainchild of Reno-based tailor Jacob Davis (born Jacob Youphes). In 1870, the Latvian immigrant came up with the idea of using rivets to strengthen the pockets on work pants [PDF]. As pants and overalls started to fly off shelves (at “premium” $3 prices, too), he contacted blue jean inventor and magnate Levi Strauss to see if Strauss would like to jointly apply for a patent. Strauss agreed, and a successful partnership was born.
14. As the Mark Twain House & Museum explains, one Samuel Clemens kicked off his writing career—and first took on the more familiar pen name of Mark Twain—while working for the Virginia City, Nevada, newspaper Territorial Enterprise, a job he took after silver prospecting didn't pan out.
15. If Reno and Vegas are making you feel a bit cramped, you can always take a drive down Highway 50, known as “The Loneliest Road in America.” In 1987, Life magazine suggested travelers on the 287-mile stretch between Fernley and Ely have "survival skills" to navigate the remote route.
In a promotional event for 1996’s Independence Day (which features lots of action set in nearby Area 51), Nevada's State Route 375 was dubbed “The Extraterrestrial Highway,” as a nod to alleged alien activity nearby. The Associated Press reported that then-Nevada governor Bob Miller was on hand for the event, and that he had welcoming words for any future visitors: “Most people, when they look to the skies, see friend or foe. Not me. I see intergalactic tourists."
17. Since the 1920s, anthropologists and archaeologists from the American Museum of Natural History and other institutions have been unearthing ancient human artifacts in Nevada’s Hidden Cave, which give clues to early groups’ lifestyles and movements. The protected area served as a prehistoric stop-over shelter, and has preserved large troves of tools, trinkets, and coprolites. Still, researchers have determined that while it was convenient as temporary lodging, you really wouldn’t want to (and couldn’t) live there.
18. Covering just 11.5 acres of land, the micro nation of the Republic of Molossia can be found near Dayton, Nevada. Founded by James Spielman and Kevin Baugh in 1977, it was initially a "nomadic country," and was finally (per the Republic's website) "transplanted" to Nevada in 1995. It has its own navy, space program, bank, post office, and measurement system, among other features.
Nevada is home to the Washoe, Northern Paiute, and Southern Paiute tribes, among others, all of which played integral roles in representing and defending the interests of native groups during the U.S.’s aggressive westward expansion. The federally-recognized Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, for example, spent a good portion of the 20th century in a fight to regain parts of their territory, and successfully won organizational recognition in 1934. Meanwhile, the Northern Paiute religious leader Wovoka founded the powerful Ghost Dance movement of 1891, which spread throughout Western tribes and served as stirring commentary on the challenges of the era.
20. In the summer of 1864, with the Civil War roiling the south and a big election only months away, Lincoln supporters across the country hustled to secure statehood for pro-Abe territories. Nevada started putting together its state constitution on July 4 and managed to safely submit it to Congress just under the early November deadline. When the copy they’d sent by land didn’t make the trip, California Telegraph Company top gun James Guild managed to telegraph the entire 16,543-word Nevada constitution out on October 26, Benjamin F. Shearer’s The Uniting States explains. Two days later, it reached Lincoln’s hands in time and could be duly proclaimed.
21. Descended from the domesticated animals kept by mostly Spanish and native groups, almost half of the country’s wild horses live in Nevada, Smithsonian magazine notes, and about half of its wild burros, too.
23. Some stereotypes are right on the money. Las Vegas is indeed the wedding capital of the world: the greater metropolitan area hosts more than 100,000 weddings per year, ABC News reports.
24. University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor David Damore calls Nevada the "original swing state": As the Las Vegas Sun reported, Nevadans have thrown their electoral votes behind 31 of 38 eventual presidents since statehood, and last missed the mark in 1976.
25. The residents and visitors of Nevada don’t let their arid surroundings keep them from enjoying seafood. As the Retail Association of Nevada boasts, more than 60,000 pounds of shrimp is consumed in Las Vegas alone per day, which is more than is gobbled down by the rest of the country combined.