Tour the Nevada National Security Site

May 12, 2014

When anyone books a trip to Nevada, it is almost implicit that their trip will involve sightseeing along the neon strips of Las Vegas, taking in the vibrant sights and sounds of its casinos and halls of entertainment. But for some adventurous travelers, sights may set on a destination roughly sixty-five miles northwest of that perennial tourism hub. A stretch of nearly 1,360 square miles, it might be easy to miss if it weren’t for the fact that it’s larger than the state of Rhode Island. This is a destination which isn’t about flashing lights and roaring entertainment, but it’s one with much greater significance for some.

This area is the Nevada National Security Site – and yes, they offer tours.

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photo credit: misterbisson via photopin cc

However, the NNSS isn’t just any tourist attraction. In addition to a complicated history, the area also has strict rules and regulations that you might not initially be familiar with. For those with an interest in history and the power of nuclear energy, read on to learn more about how to make your trip to the NNSS. And if you find yourself hungry for more excitement, check out your extreme travel options in North America with G Adventures.

History and Background

In January of 1951, the site was established specifically for the purpose of nuclear testing. In fact, much of the photography that we associate with nuclear destruction was taken at this very site over hundreds of nuclear tests. The link between nuclear weaponry and the NNSS is so powerful that over five hundred protests of nuclear weapons have occurred around the site, with protestors the likes of Carl Sagan.

Preparation for an underground test at NNTS

Preparation for an underground test at NNSS

While a good majority of tests take place far underground, the most memorable tests in the public’s mind took place topside where mannequins, dummy houses, vehicles, shelters, and other structures were erected to simulate their ability to withstand a detonation. While the grounds are pockmarked with enormous craters hundreds of feet wide and deep, these smaller reminders of the devastative potential of nuclear power are by far memorable.

photo via:

Photo via: markloiseau.com

While this eerie fascination drives many tourists to visit the site – many structures are still erected throughout, after all – the place also has a historical and national significance that drive more patriotic-minded tourists to visit. While full-scale nuclear weapons tests are a thing of the past for the area, their current mission is to serve as a stockpile, an outdoor laboratory, and a means of emergency nuclear response.

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photo credit: itjournalist via photopin cc

It is the nation’s most significant zone for experimentation when it comes to nuclear detection and has been essential as a means of arms control around the world. In fact, these purposes only scratch the surface of the site’s importance to national security. Naturally, a place of this significance has some rules and regulations that you might not expect in a casino.

Photo via: markloiseau.com

Photo via: markloiseau.com

Rules and tips for travelers

While those interested can find a handy brochure of some of the most important rules and regulations on their site, there are a few exceptions that make this trip much different than your usual tour. Here are a few of the most important of these tips to keep in mind while you’re packing your bags.

• Book in advance! Slots for this tour are extremely limited, often booked months in advance, so plan ahead if you intend to see this historic site on your trip to Nevada.
• While your usual tourist trap might come with a fully loaded gift shop, souvenirs aren’t as readily available in the NNSS. It is against regulation to attempt to take anything from these grounds for keeping, such as rocks or debris.
• While photography and tourism go hand-in-hand, the NNSS is a place where the art isn’t as appreciated. Cameras and tape recorders are forbidden, as well as binoculars, so leave them home and take in the sights.
• Long bus rides on rocky terrain mean that those with motion sickness might want to brush up on their coping strategies, or even pack medicine for more extreme cases. Pregnant women are discouraged from attending altogether because of the extremity of this terrain.
• Make sure to bring food for your group since there are no dining facilities in the area. While you might not need a picnic basket, the tour is several hours long – packing in a few rations for your party is likely a wise precaution. And while you are in Nevada, this isn’t Las Vegas; no alcoholic drinks are allowed.
• While light clothing is encouraged, shorts and sandals are not allowed. Sleeved articles of clothing of a light material, such as cotton or loose polyester, are great at keeping you cool while protecting you from the sun.

With these tips in mind, you’re free and set to enjoy one of the most interesting destinations for tourism in the United States. For history buffs or extreme travelers, few landmarks provide such a fascinating glimpse of our nation’s defense, as well as an insight to our country’s heritage from the Cold War era.

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Reader submission by Rebecca Johnson. Rebecca Johnson is an administrative assistant and dabbler in travel writing with G Adventures. While she finds herself traveling throughout the world in her work, her favorite destinations have always been along the scenic west coast of the United States.