For a while we had been thinking of making a trip to Las Vegas. But something inside me kept saying it is not quite right to go see Vegas before we saw mini-Vegas — Reno, another casino city that lies way north of it. Something kept telling me that if I saw Vegas first, Reno would be lacklusture in comparision and that’s not fair to ‘The biggest little city in the world.’
Moreover, Reno came first; it was the first city in the state of Nevada to glitter and shine and attract people with its promise of entertainment, games and neon lights. So it was only proper to make Vegas wait a bit, at least until Reno got me tipsy from its sights.
With Reno pushed further up that long travel wishlist, we decided to put a check on it over spring break. With Reno being just around a three hour drive, we decided to drive — our most preferred way of travel.
To get to Reno, we had to cross California’s central valley, go over the snowy Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and cross over to the neighbouring state. On our way there, we made a pit stop to let the kids get their little hands wet and cold from some Sierra snow. So after a detour to Squaw Valley Ski resort, we were back on the cross country interstate highway (I-80) that took us across the state line and into Nevada. And there at the eastern foothills of the range was the ‘little city’ with tall buildings with bold signs on them.
We were too tired after the drive and our time in Squaw Valley that we thought of taking it easy that evening and starting afresh the next morning. On the way to our resort, we got a sneak peek at some of the street art, the neon lights and the famous Reno Arch and I couldn’t wait to walk around and get a feel of the city.
We started exploring from what I thought was the right place — Virginia Street. This street seemed to have several attractions lined up beside it — murals, Circus Circus – our home for the next few days, Silver Legacy and Eldorado, some of the popular casino-resorts in town. And also several others like Harrah’s and Whitney Peak. Further down the road, we stopped to look at and take a few pictures at Reno’s Arch.
Reno’s arch – the story
Looking into Reno’s history, I learned that Reno’s official arch has a history of its own. The arch is said to have first come into being during the Nevada Transcontinental Highways Exposition in 1927. After the event wound up, the city decided to keep the arch. What the arch needed was something to take the place of the dates of the exposition that was mentioned on it. So there was a contest to find a slogan for the city. And the winning entry was “The biggest little city in the world.” And the person behind that line was a gentleman called G. A. Burns. There seem to be many stories about why Reno came to be known as ‘Biggest Little City in the World.’ One of the most popular theories was that although Reno was a comparatively small city, it had it all, to put it on par with the big cities of the time.
Apparently, the Reno Arch, which has been acting as the signboard for the city, has been replaced a few times, each time getting better and flashier and reflecting the times.
That morning as we strolled through the city, we came across one of the older signs, this one on Lake Avenue just beside the bridge over Truckee River.
Talking of Truckee River, let me digress a bit and tell you that this is not just a river that flows through the city of Reno. In fact, Reno owes its very existence to this river that flows down from Lake Tahoe, high up in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada Range. I hear that present day Reno was born out of the first bridge across this river. And then it grew and developed and became the city in the desert where people came to play and gamble and have a nightlife.
From the old sign, we crossed the road and went to see another place that Reno is extremely proud of – the National Auto Museum which ranks among the top of the country’e automobile museums. It was a quiet place with a very few visitors looking around and marvelling at America’s auto history. It was a Thursday morning and I guess most of the people who were visiting were already gaming indoors.
Our walk to the sign and the auto museum showed us several murals and also seemed to set the scene for the neon light attraction that it would turn into at night. Now I couldn’t wait to see what Reno looked like when the sun went down. And to see that I had to wait till the next night as that evening was set aside for what the city is most known for — gaming and gambling.
Now the latter is only for adults. But the kids got to play at Midway a part of Circus Circus that has been created for kids to get a taste of Reno. Midway is where the whole family can get a taste of Reno’s culture, with games you can play with a few quarters to a dollar and win some toys or tickets to buy some prizes. Midway is an arcade if you will, with a circus tag. Every hour the stage in the area light up, putting up short circus acts like dog tricks, parasol shows, slack wire and the trapeze, to name a few performances.
Fast forward to the following night and we drove around to see Virginia street in all its neon glitter. This is something I highly recommend you do, if you are in Reno. Here are some sights from that Neon-light drive:
“Now that Vegas has also been checked off that list, I have to say that Reno is alluring in its own way. It has an old-world-charm that is special to it and gives the city so much character. “
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