Nevada’s current tourism slogan is “A World Within, A State Apart,” and when it comes to student travel, that couldn’t be more appropriate. Although activities might be geographically near the party capital of the planet, Las Vegas, what this state offers to student groups is indeed a “state apart.” Whether you’re in search for lessons in science, natural scenery, history or art, there’s a world’s worth of things to do in the Silver State.
Explore an Environment Like No Other
It makes sense to kick things off by talking about the biggest (literally) tourist draw in the state—the Grand Canyon—possibly the only park known to list its depth in miles (one, if you’re interested) as well as its breadth and width. On a clear day, your group can see up to 100 miles of this famous spot. And while mule rides to the floor of the canyon and ranger-led hikes around the rim are available, guided bus or air tours give groups on a tight timeline the chance to see quite a bit, quite quickly. However, if your group is adventurous, hiking, riding and rafting in the canyon provide for unforgettable experiences.
For an all-around, all-season adventure, Lake Tahoe has got your group covered. With a summer filled with boating, hiking, biking, golfing and water sports, no one will be bored. And in the winter, there’s skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing to keep things moving.
Not all of Nevada’s best-known sights are entirely natural. Take Hoover Dam, for instance. Built in the 1930s to contain and generate electricity from the Colorado River, the dam attracts nearly a million visitors per year. In addition to the visitors’ center, groups can see the dam itself, the powerplant or both. Incidentally, the dam also joins Lake Mead, a popular spot for boating, fishing, water skiing and swimming.
Just 17 miles from the Las Vegas strip (not that we’re saying you should take underage students to this particular destination), Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a nearly 200,000-acre foray into photo-worthy landscape. There’s a 1.3-mile scenic drive, plus miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding and biking. The namesake Red Rocks aren’t just clever marketing; they refer to the stunningly-colored formations of this piece of the Mojave Desert. Talk about a lesson in geology.
For a different take on the desert, visit Great Basin National Park, near Baker. It’s a place to see 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine trees or to study a night sky full of starts. And, it’s also where you’ll find Lehman Caves. You can catch a guided tour of the Lodge Room or the Grand Palace (with their attendant areas) in the caves nearly any day of the year, but advance reservations are strongly recommended.
Science Meets Nature
You might not expect to see an inclusive, interactive, science- and history-filled, Nationally-Registered Historic Place in Las Vegas proper, but you will find one: Springs Preserve. The preserve is a one-stop shop of sorts, a place where your group can see a botanical garden, hike trails and see live animal shows in one conveniently-located place. Current exhibits include a study of flash floods in the desert, a dinosaur exhibit and an examination of predator-prey relationships; other events and classes are available for student groups.
You’ll find the Smithsonian-affiliated National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas. In addition to a kaleidoscope of temporary exhibits, this science-based showcase has over 12,000 artifacts relating in some way to the development of the nuclear bomb. There’s also a nod to sci-fi with a look at the legends surrounding Area 51 as well as a complement of interactive exhibits, educational games and downloadable activity sheets.
Art in Unexpected Places
Reno’s Nevada Museum of Art is a massive, four-story collection of more than 2,000 permanent works, plus visiting exhibitions. And it’s got its own twist; unlike other art museums that arrange its 19th- to 21st- century works in chronological order, Nevada Museum of Art arranges them according to their theme. The museum is also home of the Center for Art + Environment, a research center that seeks to raise environmental awareness through creativity.
For art of the performing variety, you can’t get much more unique than the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko. Part workshop, part panel discussion, and full of music, dancing, storytelling, and, yes, poetry, it’s a one-of-a-kind experience you’d be hard put to replicate back in the classroom. Besides, how many cowboy gatherings feature Basque cuisine?
Tipping Student Travelers’ Hats to the Past
Speaking of Elko, you could say that the entire town is something of a nod to the Old West. As the home of the Western Folklife Center (stomping grounds for the Cowboy Poetry Gathering), and Northeastern Nevada Museum, it’s got your history right here. Just outside of Elko, you’ll find the California Trail Interpretive Center, which brings America’s westward movement of the mid-1800s to today’s students.
No trip to Nevada would be complete without learning something of and from the area’s earliest inhabitants. The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitors Center has a gorgeous setting, right along one of Nevada’s biggest natural lakes. But it’s the history and culture of the Paiute people that make this site so special. Have your students treat it respectfully, and they’ll be able to really appreciate the area’s story.
Nevada is a unique state–indeed, almost a world within itself. If you’ve been there or if you’re planning a trip, what would you add to our list of Silver State must-sees? Tell us in the comment section below!