Much of Nevada is desert, and deserts are known for their mirages. But many of the strange visions seen in Nevada's deserts are actually real: A huge blue lake appears in the midst of a parched landscape; a brothel materializes at a remote crossroads; a marginally talented performer named Wayne Newton becomes a millionaire.

It's tempting to attribute these strange curiosities to alien life-forms or the UFOs that seem to frequent Nevada's mysterious Area 51 just north of Las Vegas, but most bear the hand of human origins. The Hoover Dam turned a great river into the electricity that powers Las Vegas and Southern California and provides much of the water to quench the burgeoning southwest region's thirst. Add the mortal temptations of statewide gambling, big-name entertainment and all-you-can-eat buffets, and you've got yourself a ready-made tourist attraction.

Of course, people did not create Nevada's beautiful desert landscapes, which can be even more wondrous than a city of flashing neon. Nor did they manufacture the pyramid at Pyramid Lake or the hundreds of remote mountains that pepper the state. With both isolated wilderness and bustling casino towns, Nevada is a place where you can get back to basics and also relish some of the guiltiest pleasures mankind can dream up. And you can do them both on the same vacation.

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