Saturday, July 2, 2011 | 2 a.m.
West Wendover, population 5,000, sits in Elko County on the eastern border of Nevada and the western edge of Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert. The town is only 7.5 square miles but has a rich and colorful history. Thousands pass through it to visit its hotels and casinos, but few stay long enough to learn much about its past.
The Sun is here to help. Keep reading for a few fun facts about the desert stop. Even if you never visit, they might come in handy for your next game of Trivial Pursuit.
It’s in a different time zone
If it’s 2 p.m. in Las Vegas, it’s 3 p.m. in West Wendover. The town runs on Mountain Time, like Utah, instead of Pacific Time, like the rest of Nevada.
The U.S. Transportation Department in 1999 approved a petition by the town to officially move it to the Mountain Time Zone. West Wendover relies heavily on gaming and tourism, and the bulk of its customers come from Utah. Town leaders decided that being in the same time zone as Wendover, Utah, its next-door neighbor, could only help business.
West Wendover is the only town in Nevada that runs on Mountain Time. Jackpot, an even smaller town in Elko County, unofficially observes Mountain Time but is technically part of the Pacific Time Zone.
It’s the former home of the Enola Gay
During World War II, the Wendover Army Air Field was a training base for bomber pilots, including the crew of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The Enola Gay left Wendover, Utah, in late June 1945 headed to Guam, then Tinian and eventually Japan.
Construction on Wendover Field began in September 1940. By 1943, it had become the largest bombing and gunnery range in the world, according to the Historic Wendover Airfield museum, with more than 23,000 personnel, 668 buildings and 1.8 million acres of property. It housed 21 heavy bomber groups, including the 509th Composite Group commanded by Col. Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay.
After the war, the military used Wendover Field for training and research. The Air Force closed it in 1969 and later transferred its ownership to the town. The site is used as a museum and occasionally as a movie backdrop. Scenes for “Independence Day,” starring Will Smith, were filmed there.
It was part of an annexation battle
West Wendover thrives with gamblers, diners and hotel patrons, while its neighbor, Wendover, Utah, falls further into a state of disrepair. The towns sit side by side and are virtually indistinguishable from one another except for their noticeable economic differences. The towns almost became one until a handful of politicians quashed the idea.
For years, starting in the early 2000s, Nevada and Utah had talked about annexing Wendover into Nevada. The takeover would have involved redrawing Nevada’s border so it looped around the Utah town. Utah would have lost 15 miles; Nevada would have gained them. Local, state and federal lawmakers from both states originally supported the merger. For several years they discussed how to proceed. Then, in 2006, three Utah lawmakers had a change of heart.
Two members of the Wendover, Utah, City Council voted to permanently halt the annexation process. The council was split; two other members voted for the merger to continue. The tie was broken by the mayor, who voted to end the process.
Today, the Nevada-Utah border runs down the middle of a resort parking lot.