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Elko, Nevada 2020

Elko is a small town located in northeastern Nevada, USA, with the Ruby Mountains as a backdrop. Historically associated with the California Trail and the Central Pacific Railroad, Elko is known for its cowboy culture. It is the birthplace of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, emblematic of the city’s image. With the appeal of being a four season destination, there are many recreational activities such as rock climbing, hunting, fishing and searching for geodes or garnets which are widely found in the nearby mountains.

Geography and climate of Elko

View of downtown Elko, Nevada. Image Credit: Famartin via Wikimedia Commons

Elko is the largest city located in Elko County in the northeast corner of the state of Nevada. The city occupies an area of ​​46.26 km² around the Ruby Mountains. The Ruby Dome sits 21 miles southeast of Elko, and at 11,378 feet high it makes up the skyline. The capital Carson City is about 320 miles to the southwest; Reno is about 290 miles west southwest and Las Vegas about 420 miles south. Of day trips from Elko, Glenns Ferry, Idaho is about 225 miles north, the Black Rock Desert is about 215 miles east, and the Ruby Valley is about 54 miles southeast.

According to the Köppen climate classification, Elko experiences a semi-arid climate. It has four seasons, with hot, dry summers and freezing, snowy winters. The average annual temperature is 46.7°F, with an average temperature of 70.2°F in July and an average temperature of 25.1°F in January. The coldest month is January, with a low of -43.0°F, and July is the hottest month with a high of 107.0°F. Over a year, Elko collects rainfall over 73.9 days. This includes an annual precipitation total of 10.7″ and a snowfall total of 38.9″. Alternatively, there are 231 days of sunshine with a median UV index of 4.1.

History of Elko

Afternoon view of the Elko County Courthouse in Elko, Nevada
Afternoon view of the Elko County Courthouse in Elko, Nevada. Editorial credit: Kit Leong / Shutterstock.com

Upon completion of the western end of the Central Pacific Railroad in 1868, railroad workers moved east to join the Union Pacific Railroad and set up a small tent community along the Humboldt River. Prior to this time, Elko served as a thoroughfare that was part of the California Trail and saw migrants, gold miners, and wagons pass by. Although the community was home to railroad workers, it soon attracted settlers, cowboys, gamblers, miners, and men with vices. At the same rate that Elko grew, with plots ranging from $300 to $500 in 1869, it had also become a Western city of violence, including acts of murder. Due to its rapid expansion, the town established itself as a ranch supply center while branching out into mining and freight. Among industries, gambling, tourism and mining would remain. In 1917, Elko was incorporated as a town. The Airmail Act of 1925 would see the first commercial airmail flight in the United States land at the future Elko Regional Airport.

The population and economy of Elko

The iconic
The iconic “White King” at the Commercial Casino in downtown Elko, Nevada. Editorial credit: Kit Leong / Shutterstock.com

According to the last US census, Elko has a population of 20,564 and a population density of 442.09 people per km². This is a 12.33% increase from the 2010 census, which had a population of 18,392. The average age of a resident is 32.6, with females making up 48.50% overall and males 51.50%. The median household income is $91,484 and the gross monthly rent is $1,040. Nevertheless, 12.36% of the population lives below the poverty line. Among racial/cultural backgrounds, 82.44% identify as White, 5.39% are of another race, 4.10% are two or more races, 3.80% are Native American, 2.45% are Asians, 1.81% are African American, and 0.01% are Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders.

In May 2022, unemployment was 2.60%, while the national unemployment rate was 3.6% reported for the same period. The major industries that make up Elko’s economy are mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction at 28.5% overall, retail at 9.2%, and business services. accommodation and catering at 9.1%. The highest-paying jobs were from the following industries: mining, quarrying, gas and oil extraction, totaling $81,506; agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting and mining, with $80,085; and utilities with $77,083. Of the 10,500 employees, 2,525 work in mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction, 1,246 in retail trade and 963 in health care and social assistance.

Elko Attractions

Afternoon view of the magnificent Great Basin College in Elko, Nevada
Afternoon view of the magnificent Great Basin College in Elko, Nevada.

Center of Western Folk Life

The Western Folklife Center hosts the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, an annual event that promotes all arts and the American West. It is an example of Western’s Folklife Center’s primary goal of having a platform to connect visitors to its cowboy culture. Among the online and in-person exhibits, the most popular are the Contemporary Gear exhibit with hand-carved saddles and the Wiegand Gallery, which features lots of artwork.

Northeastern Nevada Museum

With 20,000 feet of exhibit space, six galleries, and impressive dioramas, the Northeastern Nevada Museum has something for all ages. Notable exhibits include the original Pony Express cabin, 40 artifact displays depicting Elko regional history, and the Wanamaker Wildlife Wing, which features life-size animal exhibits.

Elko is a four-season destination best known for its cowboy culture, which attracts many curious and intrigued visitors. With the Ruby Mountains and the Humboldt River as a backdrop, outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers will appreciate all that Elko has to offer. It offers all the appeal of Reno or Las Vegas with casinos found throughout its city but with the added appeal of art and poetry. Elko is one of the last true towns in the West, a proud identity etched in its history, and serves as the gateway to northeast Nevada.