What Is Elko Known For? (17 Things It’s Famous For)

Elko is the best place to live in Nevada. A significant percentage of its 20,564 residents dwell within the Tree Streets, in a neighborhood lined with greenery. Elko also has many scenic sights, some of the most fantastic spots for skiing, hiking, and hunting, and gives off the feel of the Western spirit where cowboys, locally called buckaroos, live on.

Elko is known as The Heart of Northeast Nevada. It is the largest city in the region and the gateway to the picturesque Ruby mountains. It offers widely varied experiences featuring untamed wilderness, artistic heritage, eclectic cultural influences, and the authentic Nevada lifestyle. Indeed, it has so much to offer anyone who wants an adventure.

The Beginnings of Its Name

Historians believe Elko’s name was Central Pacific Railroad superintendent Charles Crocker’s doing. They say he was fond of animal names and probably just added an “o” to “elk.” Elko was once populated by railroaders, miners, and a few merchants. It was the last of the tracks laid out by the CPRR from the west. When the railroaders moved to the east towards Utah, they left a tent on the banks of the Humboldt River. Soon enough, the community developed an economy from freighting, mining camps, ranch supply center, and, yes, gambling with all sorts of games and vices already in progress.

Elko and Its Nicknames

Elko has earned several nicknames through the years. In Shoshoni, the native American tribe’s language, the name translates to “Rock Piled on One Another.” Sometimes, they also call it the Swiss Alps of Nevada, being close to Lamoille Canyon and the rest of the Ruby Mountains. Meanwhile, its motto, “The Heart of Northeast Nevada” signifies its being the largest micropolitan within the region. People have also known Elko as “The Best Small Town in America,” and later on, it earned the tag of being the best city to live in if you are settling down in Nevada.

Commercial Casino is Haunted

And it is not just because it is one of the oldest licensed casinos in Nevada. The building stood since 1869 as the Humboldt Lodging House, but when gambling became legal in 1941, it changed its name to Commercial. The frightening stories about the place being hunted are probably because the 8,441 square foot casino hosted some of the most gruesome scenes, from mistresses shot by jealous wives to Wild West gunslingers going wild. Casino staff and patrons commonly encounter hair-raising instances like hearing screams and gunshots, doors opening, and lights turning on.

The 10-foot Stuffed Polar Bear of Commercial Casino

More than the ghost stories that supposedly haunt the Commercial Casino, it often caught the attention and frightened stares of many because of the giant polar bear display at the entrance. They dubbed the stuffed animal White King and it had been there since the 1950s, in the same spot, holding the same position. If that did not come as scary, we do not know what does.

The Only Woman Ever Executed in Nevada Was Hung in Elko

Elizabeth Potts and his husband, Josiah were found guilty as charged for the murder and mutilation of Miles Faucett, a carpenter who was also Elizabeth’s second husband. They were convicted and sentenced to the death penalty in 1889 and were hanged simultaneously on June 20, 1890 in Elko. She was the only woman ever executed in the state since a 1901 ruling ended the practice altogether.

The Popular People of Elko

With its humble neighborhoods, Elko did not attract many A-listers to buy a property, but it does have its fair share of popular residents. There’s radio host Dave Pratt, known as the Morning Mayor, who started his career at 16 on local radio station KELK. Major League Baseball pitcher Cy Sneed was also born and raised in the city. Another sports great, National Football League’s placekicker Dirk Borgognone, who holds the record for the longest field goal in high school football at 68 yards, was also born in Elko, but now resides in Reno.

Elko is a Goldmine, Literally

One of the earliest industries in Elko is mining, having several area mining camps within the territory. In 1868, the city was founded as a gold town. Nevada contributes more gold to American production than other states, and much of it is harbored in the city. Although Elko’s ranching and tourism industries flourished in later years, its golden past could not be erased from the history books.

The First Mail Transport By Air Landed on Elko

It was 1925 when the US Postal Service started transporting mail by air, as authorized by the Kelly Act or the Air Mail Act of 1925. Did you know where the first commercial airmail flight landed? Yes, it was at the Elko Regional Airport. The Airmail Route #5 traveled 487 miles from Pasco, Washington on April 6, 1926. It had a stopover in Boise, Idaho, to load up on more mails.

One of the Last True Western Towns

Elko’s beautiful western past of miners and livestock raisers, buckaroos, and Shoshone Indians is still visible in the modern era. You can feel the cowboy spirit as you roam around the streets, stopping by for food, checking out museums, and attending festivals. Elko celebrates the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the Elko Band Powwow, and the National Basque Festival annually.

The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

There may be cowboy-related festivals held around town but the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, held every January, proves to be the best in the pack. It is an annual gathering when cowboys from all over the United States flock to celebrate the rural west and its colorful cowboy lifestyle over the last four decades. But this event is not just about poetry or cowboys. It is way more than that. There are lots of singing, visual arts, new media, and videos as much as there is a lyrical blend of the Wild West.

The National Basque Festival and Almost Six Decades of Tradition

Since 1964, Elko has been celebrating its Basque heritage with merriment. In the beginning, it was just a one-day affair, when the Elko Euzkaldunak Club gather the existing Basque clubs in the region for an organized picnic with lots of singing and dancing.  It had been the regular destination since then but instead of a one-day affair, it became a weekend spectacle scheduled around the 4th of July. It usually includes running of the bulls, strongman competitions, and traditional Basque food and wine.

Small Yet Vibrant, Small But Fun

Elko may be a small city compared to the likes of Jacksonville, Houston, and Oklahoma City but it has its set of allures that constantly drove people along. It may be small but it is not small enough that you have barely anything to do. On the contrary, it is adorned with beautiful tourist spots, representing the vibrant city vibes. Many experiences also await adventure-savvy individuals, thanks to its fair share of museums, hot springs, camping areas, and whatnots.

The Cultural Center of Northeastern Nevada

One of Elko’s highlights is hosting the Western Folklife Center, a regional cultural center run by a nonprofit organization. Located downtown in the old Pioneer Hotel, it features displays and events that help expand the people’s knowledge about the Western folkways. Get to know more about life in the American West through its 300-seat theater, an exhibition gallery, a historic saloon, a 20-seat black box theater, and gift shop. The Western Folklife Center is most popular for introducing the first National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1985, which became its signature event.

Free Public Art Pieces for Art Enthusiasts

In Elko, you do not have to attend art exhibits to see great paintings. You can just stroll around downtown to see 60 murals or more, done by local artists. The display of their gifts provides a powerful picture of their rich artistic expression. They first held the Elko Mural Expo in 2019, to encourage artists to take their expressions to the streets and many heeded the call. Now, joiners were coming from all over Nevada and other key cities like Long Beach, Salt Lake City, Buenos Aires, and Portland.

Life in the Jarbidge Wilderness

Traveling to the Jarbidge Wilderness is satisfying. It may not attract too many tourists every day, but those brave enough to explore what the Elko ancestors believed as haunted hills could attest to how picturesque the views are on this side of the city. This wilderness was designated in 1964 and has a total area of 110,471 acres. It’s a great place for hiking, camping, cycling, backpacking, big-game hunting (with giant elks, deers, and mountain lions grazing the area), and fishing (in a few small lakes) during summer. Then, get ready for a snowy adventure from October to June.

The Fluffiest Snow is in Elko

Elko would not be nicknamed the Swiss Alps of Nevada for nothing. It has the fluffiest snow that’s about 300 inches. So when it’s winter, people come in droves to enjoy their favorite sports, from snowmobiling to snowshoeing and heliskiing. And you cannot blame them. The Lamoille Canyon, the largest valley in the Ruby Mountains, is intensively sculpted. It offers a different kind of high through the slopes with a U-shaped cross-section nearby Thomas Peak.

A Tale of a Glacier Carved Range

The Ruby Mountains drive up Elko’s tourism. The ride towards the beautiful cluster of a wide array of landscapes through the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway is a treat in itself. What more if you get to access some of the mountains’ charming vistas? Whether you come to visit in the summer or winter, you will never get short of exciting things to do at the Ruby Mountains. The lakes and flowing streams, the high desert valleys, and the alpine peaks offer varied adventures to suit your fancy, all the while you enjoy the view as a stunning centerpiece.