The Great American Road Trip
Destination: Nevada (Genoa)
Movie: Charlie Varrick (1973)
Lake Tahoe may be one of my favorite places in the United States, but it will not do for an example of Nevada for the road trip, since it is split between two states (California/Nevada). In order to get a little more taste of pure Nevada, Ken and I took advantage of a stay in a Lake Tahoe resort to explore a back road over the mountain and down to the oldest town in the state, Genoa.
Yes, we have been to Las Vegas many times, and NO it is not Nevada–in fact it is such an anomaly that it represents an adult fantasyland rather than the state in which it happens to be located. So on our road trip to Nevada, after spending a couple of days circling Lake Tahoe and immersing ourself in its incomparable beauty, we decided to get back on the road. Getting from Lake Tahoe to Genoa seems like a short hop–just 22 miles–but the drive is one of the most beautiful I have experienced. Up over the pine-covered mountain tops near Stateline at Lake Tahoe and down a curvy mountain road with views over miles and miles of….well….miles and miles. Genoa hides at the bottom of the mountain, tucked securely up against the Sierra Nevadas.
The first thing we learned about Genoa is that it is not pronounced like the city in Italy. Like so many American place names, it has its own unique slant. Say “juh-NO-ah” if you want to sound like a native. The second thing we learned about Genoa — despite its importance in Nevada history, it is practically unspoiled. It is, indeed, a quaint town with tree-shaded streets and historic battered board buildings. Mormon settlers started the first permanent trading post in Nevada here in 1851, to accomodate pioneers on the Overland Trail. If you want to follow the trail through town, just stay on Main Street.
You can visit the old courthouse, the cemetery, and a hanging tree. But there’s also an entertaining saloon, The Old Genoa Bar, “oldest continually operating thirst parlor in Nevada”–since it didn’t shut down during Prohibition.
Two beautiful parks and Genoa Country Store where you can pick up delicious sandwiches to eat on the front porch also make life delightful for the visitor.
When I went looking for a movie to represent Nevada, Hollywood offered me plenty of Las Vegas sagas, but the one I found, Charlie Varrick, claims to be showing you New Mexico. Don’t you believe it. The movie was shot in the flat country between Genoa and Reno, and on the mountain roads leading down to Genoa.
Walter Mattheau plays the tile role, a clever 2nd-class con-man/bank robber who prefers to hit small town banks holding a couple thousand dollars. The bank robbery that opens the film is shot in Genoa. Varrick gets worried when he see how much money hides in this little bank, and figures (correctly) that is is Mafia money. How he plots to survive being a target of the Mafia, a much more dangerous foe than the law, takes up the rest of the movie.
I’ll admit that this is not the greatest bank heist movie I’ve evern seen. Although I liked Mattheau in his role, the rest of the actors seemed to be over-emoting, playing for laughs, or simply not able to handle the directorial style of a documentary feel. But Genoa, on the other hand, acted its role of New Mexico to perfection.
I own all the photographs here. Took ’em myself. The last three are scans of older shots (before digital), but capture the essence of Genoa. Also in the mode of full disclosure, I should mention that nearly all the reviews I found on the Internet disagreed with me and thought this was a fantastic film. You can look it up.
Have you visited Nevada–not Las Vegas, mind you–Nevada? Know a favorite little “undiscovered spot”? Perhaps Mark Twain’s hang out of Virginia City? Or old abandoned mining towns? Or a guest ranch? [To give a listen to another part of Nevada–cowboy country–check out Music Road where Kerry Dexter provides us with the sound track for this road trip to Nevada. ]Or maybe you’d like to disagree about the merits of Charlie Varrick? Leave a comment below.
You might want to read about another trip to Lake Tahoe.