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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Elko, Nevada: Ruby Mountain High

Writer and broadcaster Lowell Thomas once called Elko, Nevada, the “last American cowtown.”

Northeast Nevada personifies the Old West at its finest. Here, the deer and antelope do indeed play, as do bighorn sheep, wild mustangs and cowboys. Ranch hands gather for rodeos in nearly every community. And the scenery is all sagebrush, juniper forests and Western mountain splendor.

“We’re high desert set at the base of the Ruby Mountains, which are spectacular, with alpine lakes, rugged canyon streams and beautiful fall colors,” said Tom Lester, convention and tourism manager for the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority. “We even have a Basque community in the mountains and Basque restaurants downtown. Once people come to Elko, they’re hooked.”

Elko is a microcosm of Nevada’s economic drivers: gaming, mining and ranching, in that order. With 222 rooms, six of which are suites, the Red Lion Hotel and Casino, Elko’s largest hotel, has 24-hour gaming, live entertainment, a business center, a fitness center and 4,320 square feet of meeting space that includes a 3,000-square-foot ballroom for up to 200 guests.

Known as the Silver State, Nevada is the country’s largest producer of gold, fourth in the world. A number of mines offer free tours. And guest ranches provide the total cowboy experience.

Because of the growth, all three of the above drivers have brought to Elko, the town now has a new conference center and three new hotel properties in the works.

Families of meeting attendees will want to tag along. Three off-site venues — the California Trail Interpretive Center, the Northeastern Nevada Museum and the Western Folklife Center — bring life to the area’s colorful history and culture. At the J.M. Capriola store, visitors can watch saddle-makers crafting leather saddles inlaid with Garcia silver as they’ve done for 85 years. Every season of the year, the area has outdoor recreation that won’t quit, including hiking, mountain biking, snowboarding, snowmobiling, rock hounding, ATV trailing, and skiing on water or snow. Ghost towns abound for wandering through, as do wide porches to rock on and gaze at that splendid Ruby range.

New Elko Conference Center

Until recently, the Elko Convention Center in the heart of the city was the go-to meeting spot for groups of up to 500, with 11,000 square feet of flexible space that includes a 923-seat auditorium. In November, Elko upped the ante by building the Elko Conference Center next door. The two connect via a large outdoor patio perfect for catered functions.

“It took us over 30 years to grow out of the Conference Center,” said Lester. “Now under the umbrella of the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority, we have 30,000 combined square feet and multiple breakout rooms that can accommodate 1,500.”