Wendover is a small resort town straddling the border that divides the American states of Utah and Nevada, 120 miles due west of Salt Lake City. The location on the state border makes Wendover the nearest legalized gambling for millions of people, which has led to the construction of large, extravagant casino resorts despite the town being otherwise very small and remote. This, in turn, has made Wendover sort of a quieter, more laid-back alternative to Las Vegas even for those who don't live in the region. Wendover is also the destination of choice for those attending land speed racing events at Bonneville Speedway, just east of town on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Officially, Wendover is two separate municipalities – Wendover, Utah and West Wendover, Nevada – but the two sides share a road network and are basically the same town from a tourist's point of view. While the rest of Nevada is in the Pacific Time Zone, both sides of Wendover observe Mountain Standard Time (UTC-7) in the winter and Mountain Daylight Time (UTC-6) from the second Sunday in March until the first Sunday in November.
Though human civilization existed in the area at least 9,000 years ago, the modern settlement of Wendover dates back only to 1907 when it was chosen as the location for a new railroad service station, where water could be piped in from springs in the Pilot Mountain Range to power the steam engines. This new settlement grew slowly at first, but it got an early glimpse of relevance in 1914 when the first transcontinental telephone line from New York to San Francisco was completed at the state border. Then, in 1931, the state of Nevada legalized gambling to combat the economic woes of the Great Depression. Bill Smith, owner of a gas station at the state border, took the opportunity to add a gaming floor and open the Stateline Casino, giving rise to the gambling getaway reputation that Wendover holds to this day. It was also during the 1930s that the Bonneville Salt Flats gained notoriety as the hot new destination to challenge land speed records and test the limits of automobile technology.
World War II brought a major population boom to Wendover, albeit a temporary one. The Air Force Base alone peaked at around 20,000 residents, more than triple the population Wendover has had at any other time in its history. The influx of young men with government salaries bolstered the gambling business on the Nevada side of the border and paved the way for newer, nicer, and bigger casinos. The soldiers left when the war was over, but the improved recreational facilities and the historic buildings at the airbase remained. During the second half of the 20th century Wendover was on cruise control, doing more of everything that had made it popular in the first place: the 1960s saw an unprecedented series of broken land speed records at the speedway, and the economic growth of the 1980s sparked another round of casino expansion. The 2000s saw the addition of a dedicated concert hall when the town's music scene outgrew the little cabaret stages in the casinos, and the old airbase began a major restoration project for the first time since the war. Today, Wendover has a combined population of about 6,000 people and a unique identity as a resort town in an unlikely location, on both sides of a state border in the middle of the desert.
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Wendover experiences all four seasons, with temperatures ranging from below freezing in the winter to shorts weather at the height of summer. Snow is a possibility you should be prepared for during the winter months, given the freezing temperatures, but the arid desert terrain keeps all forms of precipitation to a minimum. Spring is the rainy season, though a spring in Wendover could pass for the dry season in many places.
Visitors traveling to Wendover from far away will probably find it easiest to first arrange transportation to Salt Lake City and then take a bus or rental car from there.
Interstate 80 connects Wendover to Salt Lake City 120 miles to the east, and is the most commonly traveled route into town. Exit 2 on the Utah side of the border is the first exit labeled for Wendover, though it drops you off at the far eastern end of town. To get closer to the casinos before exiting the freeway, continue to Exit 1 onto Aria Boulevard, which is technically still in Utah but acts as the border street between the two sides of town. Note that Exit 1 does not offer ramps on the western side of the street, and is strictly a westbound exit/eastbound entrance.
To the west, Interstate 80 connects Wendover to most of the major towns in Northern Nevada and eventually Reno, Sacramento, and San Francisco. Drivers from this direction will want to use Exit 410, which puts you on Florence Way a block north of Wendover Boulevard.
The only north/south highway through Wendover is an alternate route of U.S. Highway 93. The main route bypasses Wendover to the west on its way from Ely to Wells, but for travelers driving north from Ely the road forks about 50 miles south of Wendover: continuing straight instead of taking a left will put you on U.S. 93 Alternate, which meets Wendover Boulevard across from the Peppermill casino. The northern half of the alternate route is just a concurrency with the 60-mile stretch of Interstate 80 between Wendover and Wells.
Greyhound offers bus service to Wendover, using the Pilot truck stop at 1200 W Wendover Blvd as a station. Greyhound can get you to Wendover from almost anywhere in the United States if you don't mind multi-day trips with transfers; more convenient direct buses to Wendover are available from destinations between Reno and Denver. All eastbound buses to Wendover start in Reno and follow Interstate 80, making brief stops in Lovelock, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, and Elko. Most westbound buses to Wendover start in Salt Lake City and make no stops in between. Some buses originating as far east as Denver will reach Wendover without requiring a transfer to another bus, though the layover in Salt Lake City is still over an hour long. These buses make intermediate stops between Denver and Salt Lake in towns such as Idaho Springs, Winter Park, Granby, Steamboat Springs, Vernal, and Park City.
Peppermill Resorts, owner of the Peppermill, Rainbow, and Montego Bay casinos, has partnerships with Le Bus and Lewis Stages Tours to shuttle passengers directly to the casinos from a series of stops in and around Salt Lake City. Utah Trailways provides similar shuttle bus service for the Wendover Nugget and Red Garter casinos, and offers discounted fare for military and first responders on Wednesdays.
Casino coupons are generally included with a trip on any of these carriers.
Wendover Airport (+1 435 665-2308) (IATA: ENV), originally a World War II airbase, is now operated by the county and is open to the public for general aviation if you have access to a private plane or can charter one. All scheduled commercial flights to Wendover are part of the Resorts at Wendover Flight Program (+1-866-359-9363). These flights can only be booked as part of a package deal with airport shuttle service and a three-night reservation on specific dates at the Peppermill, Rainbow, or Montego Bay casinos, which means all passengers must be 21 or older. The flight program visits a rotation of both large and small cities throughout the western United States and sometimes parts of Canada, usually not repeating destinations more frequently than every few weeks. Plan on flights selling out in advance.
Wendover Boulevard, a large east/west street that runs the length of the city parallel to the freeway, can be used to access all casinos and motels. Other businesses and points of interest, if not on Wendover Boulevard itself, are usually within a block or two south of it. There's almost nothing on the north side of the freeway, and most of Wendover's noteworthy streets either cross Wendover Boulevard or meet it at their northern terminus. The limited size of Wendover makes it a very easy town to navigate by car and feasible even on foot (though a full walk between the far western and eastern ends could be a bit of a trek – it's about 2½ miles, or 4 kilometers).
Public transportation in Wendover is sparse and provided only by private companies. The Nugget and Red Garter casinos have free shuttles running 24/7 if you're just going casino hopping around the west side. Toana Taxi operates mostly on a call-for-pickup basis and can be reached at +1 775 664-4400. Average cab fare is supposedly $10, according to the anti-drunk driving message painted on the doors.
- Bonneville Salt Flats. Left behind by the evaporation of a prehistoric lake, the Bonneville Salt Flats are one of the most striking desert landscapes in a region famous for them. The flats are visible on both sides of the freeway at any point within 40 miles east of Wendover, and the western portion closest to Wendover happens to be the most visually impressive part. Two of the best viewing areas are the rest stop near mile marker 9 and the entrance to Bonneville Speedway (north at Exit 4, then drive until the pavement ends). The area is open to the public at no charge when there are no organized events going on. If you drive out onto the flats, remember that you are offroading in the middle of the desert and take the appropriate emergency supplies. Also remember to rinse your car off afterwards, including the underside, or the salt residue will eventually begin corroding the metal.
- Historic Wendover Airfield, 345 S Airport Apron. 8:30AM–5:30PM daily (museum entry hours). While the Wendover Airport is still in use for general aviation and charter flights, a large portion of the grounds consist of the semi-abandoned remains of one of the most important Air Force bases from World War II. The small museum in the operations building displays a mix of authentic artifacts from the war and elaborate models of the base as it existed in the 1940s. (The museum can be hard to find, but it's in the blue-and-white building right next to the much more noticeable control tower.) Also on the property are several hangars that have been around since the war, including the prep site of possibly the most important warplane in world history: the Enola Gay B-29 bomber that ushered in the nuclear era with the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. The Enola Gay Hangar has been restored to look historically accurate from three sides, while the east wall, interior, and most of the roof are original construction from the war. Other sights at the airfield include filming locations from the movies Independence Day and Con Air, the building where the revolutionary Norden bombsight was kept under armed guard, and a handful of old structures that were once used to experiment with the wireless transfer of electricity. Comprehensive guided tours are $25 per person; basic hangar tours are $10 per person; self-guided browsing of the museum and control tower is free.
- Wendover Will. This 63-foot-tall mechanical cowboy stood at the state border for over 50 years, inviting motorists passing on the highway to stop and gamble. He can now be found in the median of Wendover Boulevard on the far west end of town.
Wendover is home to five casino resorts:
- Montego Bay, 100 W Wendover Blvd (at the state border), ☎ +1 775 664-9100. The closest thing Wendover has to a luxury resort. Sports a Caribbean theme that permeates everything from the decor to the dining options—surf and turf such as the Oceano Buffet and the Paradise Grill. Room rates from $59 weekdays, $109 weekends.
- Peppermill, 680 W Wendover Blvd, ☎ +1 775 664-2255. Centrally located for the west side of town. The Peppermill is the hub of Wendover's music scene, hosting the concert hall on its grounds and Cabaret entertainment in the casino every night from 7PM–2AM. Room rates from $49 weekdays, $99 weekends.
- Rainbow, 1045 W Wendover Blvd, ☎ +1 775 664-4000. Low minimum bets, an indoor pool open year-round, and a highly regarded buffet. Features live music from 7PM–2AM like the Peppermill, except not on Mondays. Room rates from $39 weekdays, $89 weekends.
- Red Garter, 1225 W Wendover Blvd, ☎ +1 775 664-2111, toll-free: +1 800 982-2111. Mostly known for being the budget option in town, the Red Garter is basically a motel and an added-on casino with an old mining town theme. The $3.99 breakfast deal at the Prospector Cafe is widely enjoyed. Across the street from the Greyhound terminal. Room rates from $27 weekdays, $47 weekends.
- Wendover Nugget, 101 W Wendover Blvd (at the state border), ☎ +1 775 664-2221, toll-free: +1 800 848-7300. Remodeled from the old Stateline Casino that built Wendover into what it is today. The Nugget is more popular for it's gaming floor than hotel space these days, but features a nice atrium with tropical greenery. The bars and eateries are plentiful, including a mini-food court area with Trino's Tacos, Dreyer's Ice Cream, and Starbucks. Room rates from $35 weekdays, $69 weekends.
The Peppermill Concert Hall, a 1,000-seat venue across a long parking lot from the Peppermill Casino, attracts a steady stream of classic rock bands, country musicians, and comedians. Nostalgia is a big draw, with the artist lineup featuring an impressive number of big-name rockers from decades gone by. Tickets generally go on sale about three months in advance.
Bonneville Speedway, the most famous section of the Bonneville Salt Flats, made a name for itself throughout the 20th century as the home of several consecutive broken land speed records. Two of the most popular events held there today are:
- Speed Week in August. 2015 dates are Saturday the 8th through Friday the 14th. Admission is $15 per person for one day or $40 for a pass that allows re-entry all week.
- World of Speed in September. 2015 dates are Saturday the 12th through Tuesday the 15th. Admission is $20 for a day pass or $50 for the whole event.
These are very similar events, just run by different organizations. Both feature a wide range of vehicle types racing against the land speed record in specific categories: everything from motorcycles to vintage cars to specialty streamliners built specifically for Bonneville. Passes can be purchased upon arrival at the Speedway, and while the hotels in Wendover often fill up in advance, there's no danger of the Salt Flats themselves running out of room for more spectators. (If hotel space does fill up, camping is allowed a few miles west of the Speedway in one designated area.) Viewing areas for all races are generally about a quarter mile from the Speedway for safety reasons, but visitors can get up close to the action and even mingle with the drivers and technicians by visiting the pits near the starting line.
Food, souvenirs, and supplies can be purchased from vendors at major events, but there are a handful of things you should bring with you just to be safe: sunscreen, sunglasses, drinking water, extra drinking water, any sort of shade structure...there's no such thing as too much protection from the sun when you're visiting a large reflective surface in the summer.
The salt flats are also used for other events besides auto racing, usually in the speedway area, and usually during the summer when the flats are most likely to be dry.
- The Salt Flats 100 ultra-marathon is held in late April every year. (2016 dates not yet set.) The 100-mile course starts and ends at the Bonneville Speedway and in between covers the wildly varied terrain of both the salt flats and the Silver Island mountain range. This is a grueling endurance run with unpredictable weather and two different five-mile stretches where the elevation increase is more than 1,000 feet, but anyone can register if you feel like you're up for it. There's also a 50-mile course for those who are only in extremely fit condition with just one extremely. Registration costs $100–160 depending on which distance you sign up for and how far in advance you register.
- HellFire is an annual mid-summer rocket launch event organized by the Utah Rocket Club. 2015 dates are July 31–August 2. All three days of launches are open to spectators; admission is free and signage will guide you from the Bonneville Speedway Access Road to the launch site. Food and souvenirs are available for purchase.
- While best known for land speed records, the salt flats have also been used for years to set records in the sport of Flight Archery: that is, archery with the goal of achieving maximum distance as opposed to target shooting. The U.S. National Flight Championship tournament is held annually in August or September. (2015 dates are September 3–7.) The cost to register as a competitor is $45 plus a $50 membership in the USA Archery Organization.
The Bureau of Land Management publishes a full schedule of sanctioned events with permits to use the flats.
Shopping isn't high on the list of attractions on Wendover; perhaps the only unique local buys you might find are the souvenirs at the town's plentiful gift shops, celebrating Wendover's racing heritage, wartime industry, and rowdy gambling culture.
There are a handful of buildings in Wendover that call themselves malls or mini-malls, but don't get your hopes up: their tenants are more likely to be tax filers and manicurists than retailers. The most prominent of these is the Plaza Shopping Center strip mall between Wendover Boulevard and Plateau Street on the far west side of town. Actual shops here include a furniture store and a charity thrift shop, but the "mall" is still more frequently visited for the strip club than anything.
- Smith's Food & Drug, 1855 W Wendover Blvd (at Pueblo Blvd, a little west of Wendover Will), ☎ +1 775 664-3306. 6AM–midnight daily. The city's largest store by far, and the only major grocer. Has a pharmacy and a bank.
- 99¢ Ice Cream, 601 E Wendover Blvd (on the lot next to the Motel 6). Named for the ice cream, better known for the tacos. Cash only.
- Los Compadres Mexican Restaurant, 85 E Skyhawk Dr (corner of 2nd and Skyhawk, a block south of where 1st becomes 2nd at Scobie Dr), ☎ +1 435 579-3868. 10AM–10PM daily. Local family restaurant known for relaxed and affordable sit-down dining. Accepts cards.
- Salt Flats Cafe, 1 N Bonneville Speedway Rd (a couple miles east of Wendover proper, just north of the freeway at Exit 4), ☎ +1 435 665-7550. 10AM–9PM daily. Casual diner out on the Salt Flats featuring large portions, low prices, and walls plastered with land speed racing memorabilia. Dinner entrees are mostly Mexican food platters; breakfast and lunch menus are split between Mexican and American food. Cash only.
- Golden Harvest Cafe (in the Nugget). 24 hours daily. Laid-back diner with the typical array of American food. Popular breakfast spot. $15–25.
- Pancho and Willie's Cantina (in the Peppermill). Su M Th 5PM–9PM, F Sa 5PM–10PM. High-end Mexican place loved for its atmosphere and service. Advertises $3 margaritas, but not a true budget option for a full meal. $30–55.
- Romanza (in Montego Bay). Su–Tu 5PM–9PM, F Sa 5PM–10PM. Upscale Italian fare secluded away from the gambling floor. Several California wines and a few foreign options as well. $30–70.
Bars and clubs in Wendover are generally on the Nevada side of the border due to the looser alcohol restrictions.
- Carmen's Black & White Bar & Grill, 425 Scobie Dr, ☎ +1 775 664-4238. M–F 4PM–2AM, Sa Su 12PM–2AM.
- Club 51, 1930 Plateau Way (in the Plaza Mall), ☎ +1 775 664-4089. 10PM–6AM daily.
- Southern X-Posure Show Club, 1870 Plateau Way (in the Plaza Mall), ☎ +1 775 664-3266. W–Su 6PM–6AM. $8 cover charge after 8PM.
Hotel space on the Nevada side of the border is provided by the casinos listed above. There are also a handful of places to stay on the Utah side:
- Bonneville Inn, 375 E Wendover Blvd, ☎ +1 435 665-2500.
- Knights Inn, 505 E Wendover Blvd, ☎ +1 435 665-7744, toll-free: +1 800-457-5987. Check-in: 1PM, check-out: 11AM.
- Wendover KOA, 651 N Camper Dr, ☎ +1 775 664-3221, toll-free: +1 800-562-8552, e-mail: email@example.com. RV sites, tent sites, and cabins available.
RV parking with hookups can also be found at the Wendover Nugget casino.
- West Wendover Branch Library, 590 Camper Dr, ☎ +1 775 664-2510. M W 12PM–6PM, Tu 1PM–5PM 6PM–8PM, Th F 11AM–5PM. Short and irregular hours, but provides public internet access on weekday afternoons.
- Pilot Travel Center, 1200 W Wendover Blvd, ☎ +1 775 664-3400. 24 hours daily. Full service truck stop with public laundry and shower facilities, Western Union, and UPS. Greyhound stops here.
- Wendover Community Health Center, 925 Wells Ave, ☎ +1 775 664-2220. M–F 7AM–6PM. Wendover's primary source of routine and preventative medical care.
Emergency paramedic service is provided by Wendover Ambulance and should be reached by dialing 911. If you need a full hospital with an emergency room, you will most likely find yourself in a helicopter to Salt Lake City.
|Routes through Wendover|
|Reno ← Wells ←||W E||→ Salt Lake City → Rock Springs|
|Twin Falls ← Jackpot ←||N S||→ Ely → Las Vegas|