The Silver State

Where is it?

State Flag




Desert West
Geographic coordinates:
35°N to 42°N
114°W to 120°W
total: 110,567 sq mi
land: 109,806 sq mi
water: 761 sq mi
coastline: N/A
shoreline: N/A
Bordering States:
Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon, Utah
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Colorado River 479 ft
highest point: Boundary Peak 13,140 ft
The state is broken up by several north-south mountain ranges. Most of those ranges have inland-draining valleys between them, which belies the image portrayed by the term Great Basin. Much of the northern part of the state is within the Great Basin Desert, a colder desert that experiences hot temperatures in the summer and sub-freezing temperatures in the winter. Occasionally, moisture from the Arizona Monsoon will cause summer thunderstorms; Pacific storms may blanket the area with snow. The Humboldt River crosses from east to west across the northern part of the state, draining into the Humboldt Sink near Lovelock. Several rivers drain from the Sierra Nevada eastward, including the Walker, Truckee and Carson rivers. The mountain ranges, some of which have peaks above 12,000 feet, harbor lush forests high above desert plains, creating sky islands for endemic species. The valleys are often no lower in elevation than 3,000 feet. The eastern parts of the state receive more summer moisture and have a slightly more verdant terrain. Sagebrush grows and some rivers and streams break the desert terrain. The southern third of the state, including the Las Vegas area, is within the Mojave Desert. The area receives less precipitation in the winter, but is closer to the Arizona Monsoon in the summer. The terrain is also lower, mostly below 4,000 feet, creating conditions for hotter summer days and colder winter nights due to inversion.

Nevada and California have by far the longest diagonal line as a state boundary at just over 400 miles. (There are a very few, much smaller diagonal boundaries in the northeastern states and Washington, D.C., with the longer exceptions not being at such a steep angle.) All other state boundaries, but one, are lines of latitude, longitude, or are irregular and based on rivers, mountains, lakes, etc. (A circular border exists between Delaware and Pennsylvania.) This line begins in Lake Tahoe nearly four miles offshore (in the direction of the boundary), and continues to the Colorado River where the Nevada, California, and Arizona boundaries merge 12 miles southwest of the Laughlin (Nevada) Bridge. The largest mountain range in the southern state is the Spring Mountains, just west of Las Vegas. The state's lowest point is along the Colorado River, south of Laughlin.




2,839,099 (2014)
Largest City:
Las Vegas: 583,756 (2010)
Age structure:
0-5 years old: 7.2%
<18 years old: 25.9%
65 years and over: 11.2%
Male: 50.9% Female: 49.1%
Population growth rate:
20.8% (2000-2005)
Population density:
18.21 per sq mi
Race(2000 Census):
White non-Hispanic: 61.2%
Hispanic: 22.8%
Black: 7.5%
Asian: 5.5%
Native American: 1.4%
Multi-Race: 2.5%
Christian: 78%
Other: 2%
Non-Religious: 20%




Derived from the Father Kino expeditions at the end of the 17th century through north Mexico and south U.S., Nevada passed to Spanish control, belonging to the Viceroyalty of New Spain. In 1821 became part of the First Mexican Empire of Agustin de Iturbide, until 1823, and afterwards of Mexico. As a result of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 and based on the Guadalupe-Hidalgo Treaty, Nevada became part of the United States. On August 14, 1850, the U.S. Congress established the Utah territory which included the present day state. 1859 saw the discovery of the Comstock Lode, a rich outcropping of gold and silver, and the mining center Virginia City sprang up. This discovery brought a flood of miners, prospectors, merchants and others hoping to strike it rich.

On March 2, 1861, the Nevada Territory separated from the Utah territory and adopted its current name, shortened from Sierra Nevada (Spanish for "snowy range"). Eight days prior to the presidential election of 1864, Nevada became the 36th state in the union. Statehood was rushed to the date of October 31 to help ensure Abraham Lincoln's reelection and post-Civil War Republican dominance in congress. As Nevada's mining-based economy tied it to the more industrialized Union, it was viewed as more politically reliable than other Confederate-sympathizing states such as neighboring California. Additionally, the immense amounts of silver that were being mined out of the Comstock Lode helped finance the war. Nevada achieved its current boundaries on May 5, 1866 when it absorbed the portion of Pah-Ute County in the Arizona Territory west of the Colorado River. The transfer was prompted by the discovery of gold in the area, and it was thought by officials that Nevada would be better able to oversee the expected population boom. This area includes most of what is now Clark County, Nevada.

Mining shaped Nevada's economy for many years. Although, in the late 19th century, Nevada found it increasingly more difficult to compete with states such as Colorado and Utah in the mining industry. There was even talk of stripping away statehood, the only time in American history such an action was discussed in Congress. However, the rich silver strike at Tonopah in 1900 is thought to have saved the state from near collapse. This was followed by strikes in Goldfield and Rhyolite, lasting well into the 1910s and making Nevada a dominant player in mining once again.

Gambling erupted once more following a recession in the early 20th century, helping to build the city of Las Vegas. Unregulated gambling was common place in the early Nevada mining towns but, outlawed in 1909 as part of a nation-wide anti-gaming crusade. Due to subsequent declines in mining output in the 1920s and the decline of the agricultural sector during the Great Depression, Nevada re-legalized gambling on March 19, 1931, with approval from the legislature. At the time, the leading proponents of gambling expected that it would be a short term fix until the state's economic base widened to include less cyclical industries. However, re-outlawing gambling has never been seriously considered since, and the industry has become Nevada's primary source of revenue today.

In 1931, construction began on Hoover Dam near Las Vegas. Thousands of workers from across the country came to build the dam, and providing for their needs in turn required many more workers. The boom in population is likely to have fueled the relegalization of gambling, alike present-day industry. Both Hoover Dam and later war industries such as the Basic Magnesium Plant first started the growth of the southern area of the state near Las Vegas. Over the last 75 years, Clark County has grown in relation to the Reno area, and today encompasses most of the state's population.

Over 87% of the state today is owned by the Federal Government. The primary reason for this is that homesteads were not permitted in large enough sizes to be viable in the arid conditions that prevail throughout desert Nevada. Instead, early settlers would homestead land surrounding a water source, and then graze livestock on the adjacent public land, which is useless for agriculture without access to water (this pattern of ranching still prevails). The deficiencies in the Homestead Act as applied to Nevada were probably due to a lack of understanding of the Nevada environment, although some firebrands (so-called "Sagebrush Rebels") maintain that it was due to pressure from mining interests to keep land out of the hands of common folk. This debate continues to be argued among some state historians today.




Carson City
October 31, 1864 (36th State)
State Tree:
Bristlecone Pine
State Bird:
Mountain Bluebird
State Flower:
Nevada has a bicameral legislature, divided into a Senate and an Assembly. Members of the Senate serve for 4 years, and members of the Assembly serve for 2 years. Each session of the Legislature meets for 4 months every two years, or longer if the Governor calls a special session. Currently, the Senate is controlled by the Republican Party and the Assembly is controlled by the Democratic Party. Nevada is one of the few U.S. states without a system of intermediate appellate courts. It has a state supreme court, the Supreme Court of Nevada, which hears all appeals. The court lacks the power of discretionary review, so Nevada's judicial system is extremely congested. Original jurisdiction is divided between the District Courts (with general jurisdiction), and Justice Courts and Municipal Courts (both of limited jurisdiction).

The Supreme Court of Nevada's courthouseIn 1900, Nevada's population was the smallest of all states and was shrinking, as the difficulties of living in a "barren desert" began to outweigh the lure of silver for many early settlers. Nevada built an economy by exploiting its sovereignty. Its strategy was to legalize all sorts of things illegal in other states, including easy divorce, easy marriage and casino gambling. Prostitution is legal in Nevada in any county that decides to allow it. Besides prostitution laws, a number of laws in Nevada, to this day, are noticeably more liberal (or libertarian) than in most other states.

Nevada's early reputation as a "divorce haven" arose from the fact that prior to the no-fault divorce revolution in the 1970s, divorces were quite difficult to obtain in the United States. To boost its fragile economy, Nevada adopted one of the most liberal divorce statutes in the nation. This resulted in Williams v. North Carolina, 317 U.S. 287 (1942), in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina had to give "full faith and credit" to a Nevada divorce.




The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that Nevada's total state product in 2003 was $88 billion. Per capita personal income in 2003 was $31,910, 19th in the nation. Its agricultural outputs are cattle, hay, dairy products, onions and potatoes. Its industrial outputs are tourism, mining, machinery, printing and publishing, food processing, and electric equipment. It is well-known for gambling and nightlife. Large, luxurious casinos in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Reno attract visitors from around the world.

Nevada's booming economic center is Las Vegas. In portions of the state outside of the Las Vegas and Reno metropolitan areas, mining and cattle ranching are the major economic activities. By value, gold is by far the most important mineral mined. In 2004, 6.8 million ounces of gold worth $2.84 billion were mined in Nevada, and the state accounted for 8.7% of world gold production. Silver is a distant second, with 10.3 million ounces worth $69 million mined in 2004. Other minerals mined in Nevada include construction aggregates, copper, gypsum, diotomite and lithium. Despite its rich deposits, the cost of mining in Nevada is generally high, and output is very sensitive to world commodity prices.

As of January 1, 2006 there were an estimated 500,000 head of cattle and 70,000 head of sheep in Nevada. Most of these animals forage on rangeland in the summer, with supplemental feed in the winter. Calves are generally shipped to out-of-state feedlots in the fall to be fattened for market. Over 90% of Nevada's 484,000 acres of cropland is used to grow hay, mostly alfalfa, for livestock feed.

Nevada is also one of only a few states with no personal income tax and no corporate income tax.