When people think of Nevada, which is the seventh biggest state of the United States, they usually think of the desert and of Las Vegas – but that is not all the state has to offer: there is, for one, the name “Nevada” itself, which is derived from the Spanish and means “snow-covered.” Nevada also has the third largest gold deposits in the world after South Africa and Australia. In addition, it also has large silver deposits, which is why it is also called the Silver State. The Spanish probably used the name for the area that is today the northern part of Nevada, with Lake Tahoe (which is partly in Nevada and partly in California), which is a popular skiing area. The surrounding country is one of the most beautiful recreation areas, both during the summer and the winter months. Nevada has one of the lowest population densities of all US states and about 80% of the state’s land is government owned – one of the reasons there is so much room for recreational activities like skiing, hiking, and mountain biking.
A high number of people of Basque ancestry live in Nevada; they came there at the beginning of the 20th century to work as shepherds on the wide, open plains. Every year on the 4th of July, thousands of Basques are coming to Nevada to participate in traditional games and competitions and enjoy good food together. The festival is in Elko, 300 miles East of Reno on the I-80. Most people believe Las Vegas to be the capital, when, in fact, it is only the biggest and best known city of the state. Ever since 1864, Carson City has been the capital of Nevada. The second best known city in the state is Reno, mostly for its divorces, just as Las Vegas is known for its weddings.
Nevada has a dry desert climate. Depending on altitude, winters are usually mild (approx. 10 °C = 50 °F) but there may be frost during nighttime (-8°C = 17.6°F in Reno). Summers are hot with temperatures higher than 30°C (=86°F). In addition, it is extremely dry, meaning at night temperatures can drop 20-25 degrees. Originally part of Mexico, it went to the US under the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty. In 1850 Congress set up the Utah Territory, which included what is today Utah, Colorado, and Nevada. In 1859, Comstock Lode, a rich gold and silver deposit, was discovered and Virginia City was established. The finding attracted more and more people to the region: gold seekers, prospectors, salesmen and others who came there to seek their fortune.
On March 2, 1861, Nevada separated from the Utah territory, adopted its current name, and finally became the 36th state of the United States of America on October 31, 1864. During the Great Depression, Nevada legalized gambling on March 17, 1931 to speed up economic growth. In addition to gambling, prostitution, which is generally illegal in the US, was made legal in some counties of Nevada. It is illegal, however, in all of Clark County and its capital Las Vegas. Due to the rather liberal gambling laws and the ski resorts, tourism is Nevada’s most important economic factor. Real GDP per capita was $39,813 in 2006, putting Nevada in eleventh place in the national ranking.
Nevada’s most important native tribes include the Paiute in the West and South of the state and the Western Shoshone in the North and East. Despite the fact that initially Indian sovereignty over their own territory was respected (e.g. in the Rub Valley Treaty 1863 between the US and the chiefs of the Western Shoshone), the political development of Nevada, its joining of the Confederation in the 1860s and the severe discrimination against Indians and their rights until today has repeatedly led to tension and conflicts between US authorities and Native Americans. The best known defenders of Native American rights are the two Western-Shoshone ranchers and winners of the Alternative Nobel Prize, Mary and Carrie Dann from Crescent Valley.