M. D. Jackson has traveled and lived all over the Southwest/Northwest. She visits everything from tourist traps to National Monuments.
The first thing I want to tell you is “do not go to Carson Valley.” Do not go there and see the sunset over a 10,000-foot peak, do not spend an evening dining alfresco at one of the local restaurants, and do not go hike one of the many trails in the area that lead to a waterfall. I tell you this because there are enough people here already, and although you will be welcomed, this place should stay exactly how it is today.
When people say Nevada, they think of Las Vegas, Reno, or just miles and miles of desert. Carson Valley is not that Nevada. From the air, Carson Valley is a bowl surrounded by mountains on every side. Though it is known for its bird population, this area is also home to cows, horses, goats, and chickens. In between the ranches are small neighborhoods where everyone knows everyone.
Minden and Gardnerville are sister towns in the quiet county of Douglas, Nevada. Nestled at the edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Minden and Gardnerville have stunning scenery not typical to other parts of Nevada. Visitors may enjoy the downtown areas of these sister towns as they are both nostalgic and welcoming to visitors. However, the beauty of this town comes from its lush foliage, mountain views, and wildlife. People come to this community to relax and enjoy the slower pace of things here.
What to Do in Minden and Gardnerville
What should one do in Carson Valley? I made the joke recently that people in this area spend their time taking pictures of the area, and while that is true, there are lots of other things to do in the valley. We have the usual bowling alley, theater, and even small casinos; however, this area is also home to dozens of trails, historic buildings, and even a bald eagle or two.
On a warm day, people park on the edge of the road with binoculars in hand to catch a glimpse of the birds. In spring the birds are nesting in the trees, and the fields are filled with tall grass where the cows that calved in February watch over those calves. There is a peace here that only comes from being in the country. The photos would suggest that you are in a rural northern state, however, I assure you this is Nevada.
Where to Eat
Having been a local in the area for five years I’m going to give you the rundown of my favorite places to eat. For a great down home breakfast in a country diner atmosphere try Cowboys Café. The folks there are friendly and the food is delicious. A bit of a warning: Cowboys Café has large portion sizes, so come with an appetite.
For lunch, try a burger at Minden Meat and Deli. This place gets pretty busy, so set aside some time. If you are in the mood for authentic Mexican food, Minden has two great places La Hacienda Del Sazon and Francisco’s. Both offer amazing shredded beef enchiladas and tacos. Lastly, if you are in the mood for some good barbecue brisket go to Jethro’s. Located in the Gardnerville Ranchos, Jethro’s has an outside smoker that you can smell for blocks. Say hi to Gretchen while you are there.
For pizza, try Chicago Mikes Pizza. These are delicious deep dish pie pizzas. It is the best pizza in town!
Fun and Entertainment
These two towns constantly have events. Everything from concerts in the park to parades happen in this little community. The great thing about the area is that Lake Tahoe is only 20 minutes away, and Genoa, Carson City, and Reno are all close by. Before you leave, don’t miss the little town of Genoa, famous for its annual Candy Dance festival. Even California towns like Jackson, Truckee, and Placerville are just a day trip from the Carson Valley. This leaves endless possibilities for a vacation.
What can you do in Minden/Gardnerville? The area has its fair share of antique stores. One my favorites if the Red Barn right on the highway. Even if you are not looking for something this shop has some fun antiques along with the area’s largest selection of reclaimed wood and a taxidermy surprise I will let you discover on your own. Another great place for antiques and collectibles is Tumblewind. Located in Minden’s old town business district Tumblewind has something for everyone. Before we knew the name of this shop, I called it the “one of everything store” and it does have one of everything from antiques to collectibles you are likely to find it here. Don’t let the storefront fool you, this place is huge!
Gardnerville’s old downtown is right on 395 and hosts a row of cute shops and art galleries. Everything from second-hand clothing to handmade items can be found in this adorable downtown area. The area’s largest antique store is also located in Gardnerville. Full of everything from high-end furniture to 1950’s linens, Cheshire Antiques is an adventure. Re-style clothing is the cutest little shop located in one of Gardnerville's historic buildings, this shop has great resale items. Don’t forget to ask these shop owners about the buildings, most of the shop owners know the history and are happy to share.
You may have noticed Sharkey’s casino as you drove through Gardnerville. This building was originally owned by local folk hero Milos S. “Sharkey” Begovich, or "Sharkey" as he was affectionately known by the locals. If you stick around long enough you will hear stories about this generous local who served Christmas dinners to the locals and was known for his eccentric nature. Many of the artifacts from the original casino are now encased in the bar top of the casino. This casino is still locally owned and operated.
Weather in Minden and Gardnerville
Weather in the Carson Valley is unpredictable. The winter months can brutal. In 2016-17 the Carson Valley had seven months of snow and rain. I swear the sun didn't peak out forever. FEMA was actually camped out in Carson City waiting for the snow melt because we had an 85% chance of flooding. During that time, the roads iced over a lot. Local businesses suffered because people were not out and about. Even for those of us acclimated to the cold, it got to be a little much. The cows calved in the snow that year. Summer only lasts a few months in the valley. In 2011, the Lake Tahoe Fourth of July fireworks were canceled due to snow.
The summer temperatures can get just above 100 degrees. This is known as fire season. Almost every summer for five years, something was on fire. The year of the Yosemite fire we had to leave the area for a few days due to the smoke. So before you plan a trip, see what's on fire.
When the weather is mild, Minden/Gardnerville is heaven on earth. you wonder why people do not know about this place, why it's still this tiny area. Having lived there, I can tell you that it is beautiful year round. One snowy says the mountains are so beautiful it looks like a picture from a postcard. In the spring the rivers and streams reflect the mountains and grass leaving you with a sense that you are closer to nature. I loved living there and I hope you enjoy your visit to Minden and Gardnerville.
Questions & Answers
Question: What is the cost of living in Carson City, Nevada?
Answer: The entire area between Reno and Gardnerville is becoming comparable to living in California. The influx of people had jumped the rental costs. An example is that we were renting 1300sft place for $975, when we left in 2017 it was rented for $1350. Now a place that size can run you $1600. Many of the locals have moved to outlying areas. The other thing is that the entire area is prone to flooding. Any year the snow fall is high, areas flood and wash out. In other words be careful what area you move to.
© 2018 MD Jackson MSIOP
Liz Westwood from UK on May 17, 2018:
I really enjoyed reading this article. I've learned a lot and especially appreciated the photo of snow in the Carson Valley.