Complete Nevada Traveler Contents
The Complete Nevada Traveler by David W. Toll
Wendover Travel Info
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Wendover

393rd, The crew of the Enola Gay
The crew of the Enola Gay trained here to drop the A-Bomb on Japan. The WWII Army Air Corps base is now a warped and tattered remnant, contrasting vividly with the many-splendored present.


The Nevada
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Description and History of
Wendover
by David W. Toll
Wendover's luxurious casino resorts huddle at the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Wendover's luxurious casino resorts huddle at the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats.
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ON THE WAY INTO WENDOVER from the west, the freeway tops a rise and then sweeps down toward the Bonneville Salt Flats below. If you pull over to the side of the road at the crest and park for a few minutes, you can study a view unlike anything else in the world.

The Salt Flats extend in a broad white plain, the desert's skin stretched tight, as far as the eye can see — and it curves. The horizon line is a clear arc from side to side, and the two stripes of freeway pavement curve away across the alkali toward the vanishing point. Nowhere else on land can you actually see the curvature of the earth.
Quads at the edge of Bonneville Salt Flats
Quads at the edge of Bonneville Salt Flats
Columbus was right!

Almost as amazing as its shape is the earth's texture and color here, spread out in horrid immensity: surely the cruelest desert your eyes will ever see. And where the bleached and crusty sea of alkali meets a shoreline of dead brown hills, is Wendover.

Feast your eyes on that scene for a while. You'll never forget it.

This remarkable settlement was established in the 1920s when Bill Smith built a gas station beside the road here. The light bulb he erected on a tall pole was only a tiny speck of light in the black desert night, but for years it served westbound motorists as a welcome beacon as they crossed the Bonneville Salt Flats. Thus Wendover developed as an outpost of civilization in the midst of isolation.

B-29 in flight
Wendover boomed during the war when the Army Air Corps built a bomber training base here. The B-29 crews who dropped the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima trained for their missions here. Some of the base has been converted to civilian use, but most of it has simply been left to warp and tatter in the baking heat and the scouring winds. The roaring engines of the Enola Gay have faded to a distant drone, gone forever from the hot blue sky.

Now a neon cowboy greets the travelers along Interstate 80 and Wendover is booming again. Booming almost beyond description, in fact. Not so long ago Wendover, Utah, looked like a village in Turkey, and West Wendover, Nevada, was just the Stateline Club and a lot of substandard employee housing left over from the war. The Rock, they called it.
Wendover Airforce base, 'The Rock'
Wendover Army Air Corps base ('The Rock')
But the Rock has been upholstered since then, and now Wendover has five large casinos. Bill Smith's old place became two major casinos, and then they went broke and acquired new owners to become the State line Nugget and Montego Bay, twice it size across the street. Between them they offer more than 800 rooms and seven ambitious restaurants, ranging from coffee shop through buffet to gourmet restaurant. The Peppermill, Nevada Crossing Rainbow and Red Garter up the street provide customers with more choices, but it's just fastfood — Chinese food, pizza and burgers — at non-casino restaurants.
Welcome to Wendover
Welcome to Wendover!
Ten years ago is already "the old days" in Wendover. Long before that a sign in the desert grit said, "You missed Las Vegas — Don't Miss Wendover." Now you may have missed Wendover too. The population of Wendover, Utah, began drifting westward across the border as fast as new housing was developed in West Wendover, Nevada. Some of Wendover's newcomers are retired people. They like desert life and that eye-popping view, and the glamor and convenience of the great casinos, with Salt Lake City and all its metropolitan touches just two hours' drive across the curve of the salt flats.

Incorporated as a city (officially West Wendover) in 1991, the little gambling center on the Nevada side has seen some dreams evaporate — 800 acres of residential housing that didn't occur, a large water park and a Factory Outlet mall that failed to materialize, at least one major new casino and maybe more that were on the draing board but never got off. There was even a plan to annex Wendover, Utah; that didn't take place either. Some things did appear: the exceptional Concert Hall, for example. There's a two-screen movie house, and as if to validate Wendover's new permanence, a large cemetery was dedicated on a hill above town, with already a handful of graves, some of them marked.
Wendover Vistors Center
Wendover Vistors Center
Wendover resembles an old-time mining town in the way it has sprung vigorously to life in the desert wilderness, progressing from next-to-nothing to rambunctious little city in just a few fast years. Bill Smith's little light bulb would be lost in the glare of Wendover's splashy brilliance now.

To stretch your legs, take the short climb to Danger Cave: drive east into Utah on I-80 and take the first offramp to the truckstop. Continue past the truck stop and turn left at the dirt road just beyond. As you drive west, you can see Danger Cave on the hillside off to the left ahead of you. You'll find your way with no trouble. Not far away, but more difficult to reach, is Juke Box Cave, which got its name when it was used for dances by the airmen at the base during WWII. The concrete dance floor still remains, as do petroglyphs near the entrance. This was the venue of choice for dances because it was cool even at the height of summer, and because it could be lighted without breaking the wartime black-out.


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