The Best Little Town in America. Elko

“Hi Honey we’ve been invited to give a presentation in Elko.”  Elko....what’s an Elko? As it turns out it is the capital of Nevada’s gold belt, and that’s why we had been asked over.


I’m a city person. A big city person. Every time I’ve visited America it has been to big cities so when the opportunity to visit Elko came up I leaped at the chance. I first had to get the atlas and find out just where it was. After I got a magnifying glass out I found it in Nevada. So off to Nevada we went. We flew to Salt Lake City and hired a car for the long drive across the Great Salt Lake Desert. The drive itself was sensational. It was January and we were surrounded by wild winter weather. The skies above the desert were crystalline  but the surrounding mountains were being hit with dramatic snow storms.


We entered Elko at dusk. It was cold and the town was small. Hunter S. Thompson quipped that in Elko, "The federal government owns 90% of this land, and most of it is useless for anything except weapons testing and  poison-gas experiments". (Fear and Loathing in Elko) Elko has also been used in an episode of X-Files.


Elko was also the centre of gambling and prostitution for Elko County. It was built in the 1860’s for the railways and became a cowboy and mining town. It was where people from Salt Lake City would come to misbehave. That role has now been taken over by Wendover and the casinos are looking a bit tired and under-used. I guess the prostitutes are as well. We checked into the Hilton Garden Inn, it was on a slight rise so had a view over the town.


We drove down town for dinner and were amazed to see a large polar bear at the front of the Commercial Casino.


And even more amazed to see a real stuffed bear inside. From the plaque: Legendary White King. Height: 10’4’’Estimated live weight: 2000 lbs. Mounted by the Jonas Bros. (of Seattle) “Taken In The Arctic Ocean By Native Eskimo Hunters At Point Hope, Alaska. Reputed to Be The Largest Polar Bear Ever Killed. Lives On Seals And Fish. Spends It’s Life On The Ice And In The Water of The Arctic Region.”


From Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear And Loathing In Elko", Rolling Stone #622, January 1992:  We entered the hotel through the Casino entrance. The Judge seemed calm and focused until we rounded the corner and came face to face with
an eleven-foot polar bear standing on its hind legs, ready to pounce. The Judge turned to jelly at the sight of it. "I've had enough of this goddamn beast," he shouted." It doesn't belong here. We should blow its head off." I took him by the arm "Calm down, Judge," I told him. "That's White King. He's been dead for about thirty-three years." ... Read More….[**The Judge of course being one Clarence Thomas**]


We went into the restaurant and found a menu heavy on meat. Would you like meat with your meat? This was to be the diet in Elko. Not a place for vegans.


I had a lot of time on my hands and no car so I walked Elko. It’s not very big so it didn’t take that long. I found the local cemetery which seemed to be in three parts. One very elegant and well looked after.



The second was ramshackle and full of plastic flowers and toys.







The third was made of tombs and mausoleums.


Down town there was a very sad fashion emporium. The sort with dead flies in the window and mannequins missing body parts.


There was a lovely wig head that was so badly looked after I felt sorry for it. It should have been in New York.


I visited the Western Folklife Centre located in a converted hotel. It had a surprisingly interesting exhibition tracing the origins of the Basque culture and its ties to the Elko community. There was an air of excitement as they were preparing for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering that was happening the next week. Unfortunately we weren’t able to stay for it and the accompanying celebrations of food and music. And Cowboy Poetry.


We ate at the local Basque restaurant. Do you want more meat with your meat? And all the other casino restaurants. Do you want more meat with your meat? We didn’t visit any of the brothels. Do you want meat with your meat?


We didn’t visit the bowling alley or the gun shops. We probably missed a lot. I did visit a local gift shop and bought a little tin shrine with plastic horses and a cactus. It fell apart in the suitcase on the way home.



We enjoyed the five minute rides it took to see the night lights of Elko.



I walked around recording the architecture of small town America and bizarrely found a  hotel selling Australian beer.




I had a great time but five days seemed like a month.




Elko’s motto is “The Best Small Town in America”. It’s the only one I’ve seen so I’ll have to take their word for it.




We had another stunning drive back to Salt Lake City but that’s another story.



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