If you’re searching for the mythic West and you want to find it on a weekend road trip, your best bet is Elko. Two hundred ninety miles east of Reno on Interstate 80, Elko is home to the Western Folklife Center; J.M. Capriola, where saddles still are made by hand; and the Northeastern Nevada Museum, which features a collection of work by Western artist and writer Will James. Those places reflect the area’s history as a cattle-ranching region, and while the local economy today is heavily based on gold mining, family-owned ranches such as the Glaser and the Maggie Creek still dot the landscape.
Outside of those pockets of Western culture, Elko offers plenty of recreation in the nearby the Ruby Mountains, part of the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest. Popular draws are the Lamoille Canyon and Angel Lake scenic byways.
- Western Folklife Center. This nonprofit organization puts on the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, but its office at 501 Railroad Street is open throughout the year. Here, you can check out the Wiegand Gallery, which has Western-themed exhibits and a 20-seat black-box theater where you can watch a 16-minute video about why the cowboy sings. There’s also a gift shop that sells books, CDs and other items related to Western culture. Details: WesternFolklife.org.
- J.M. Capriola. See how saddles are made at Capriola’s, 500 Commercial St., just a block from the Western Folklife Center. In business since 1929, Capriola’s sells saddles, Garcia bits and spurs, boots, hats and other items essential to the bona-fide cowboy. The retail section is on the first floor, but visitors can go upstairs, where saddles are made and other leather work is done. Click here for a TravelNevada video of John Wright, whose family has owned the business for the past several decades. Details: Capriolas.com.
- Northeastern Nevada Museum. Stories of the Wild West are filled with larger-than-life characters. Learn about one of them — the artist and writer Will James — at the Northeastern Nevada Museum at 1515 Idaho St., less than a mile from the Western Folklife Center and Capriola’s. The Canadian-born James lived in the American West during the first part of the 20th century, a colorful life that included a stint in the Nevada State Prison for cattle rustling and winning the 1927 Newbery Medal for children’s literature for his book “Smoky, The Cow Horse.” Details: MuseumElko.org.
- Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway. About 20 miles southeast of Elko is the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway (Forest Service Road 660). The paved route travels up the glacier-carved Lamoille Canyon, known for its brilliant fall colors and spring waterfalls, ending in a turn-around. Trailheads are located along the byway and at the turn-around. Details: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/htnf/recarea/?recid=75383.
- Angel Lake Scenic Byway. The lake is about 60 miles east of Elko on the eastern side of the East Humboldt range, and draws visitors for camping, fishing, hiking and scenic views. Details: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/htnf/recarea/?recid=66132.
Keep an eye out:
A project is underway to open the Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum at 515 Commercial St. in Elko, to preserve the region’s cowboy and vaquero heritage. The museum will be housed in the former G.S. Garcia Saddle Company, which was more recently occupied by Nevada Energy. The building is currently under renovation; keep up with project on Facebook.
On your way in or out of Elko:
Stop by the California Trail Interpretive Center, eight miles west of Elko on Interstate 80. The discovery of gold in California in the mid-19th century sparked a wave of westward emigration: roughly a quarter million people braved the trail from 1841 to 1869 in search of riches and opportunity. Their stories are told at the California Trail Interpretive Center through interactive displays and multi-media presentations. Details: CaliforniaTrailCenter.org.