Minneapolis has St. Paul, Dallas has Fort Worth, and Reno has its historic and playful twin city of Sparks. I know this is a stretch, but Reno-Sparks is comparable to Earth and the planet Mars, similar but not identical, alike but unequal in size and personality.
Keeping our 180-foot diameter, Reno Legacy Dome as the sun, Mars would be about 10.5 inches in diameter, and orbit 5.6 miles from downtown. This would make Mars about the size of a basketball, with an orbit encompassing the outer limits of the city of Sparks.
To explore Reno’s conjoined relative, I dropped by the Sparks Heritage Museum. Standing outside the museum was Last Chance Joe, a 35-foot tall, abandoned casino prospector with a white beard, one-toothed smile, floppy hat, and pistol on each hip. A meticulous school teacher on a boom lift, wearing a dust mask and holding a sander, told me that he was hoping to finish Joe’s much-needed face lift by the end of summer break.
Inside the museum, the elderly docent, glad to have a visitor, gave me the five-cent introduction and pointed me toward the exhibits. Like walking through a time capsule, I marveled at the neatly displayed memorabilia, frozen in a simpler era of time. I quickly discovered that Sparks was founded as a railroad town. Here, in 1903, Southern Pacific Railroad built the largest roundhouse in the world, and the largest building west of the Mississippi River. In time, the city of Sparks grew up around the railyard and became known as Rail City. Aptly, Sparks High School are the Railroaders and their logo is an old-fashioned steam train.
Nowadays, Sparks hosts a series of blockbuster summer events centered around Victorian Square, a public plaza next to the Nugget Casino Resort. Fireworks aficionados have a blast at Star Spangled Sparks, northern Nevada’s longest and most spectacular 4th of July pyrotechnic and laser show. In August, motor heads cruise over for Hot August Nights, which claims to be the largest nostalgic car show in the world. And, in September, carnivores come to devour The Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, voted by readers of USA Today as the #1 barbecue festival in the United States.
In between all the exciting events, I like to walk the two-mile loop around Helm’s Lake at Sparks Marina Park. About twenty years ago, the city converted a 120-foot deep gravel quarry into a 77 acre lake, complete with a marina, sandy beaches, and an F-4 Phantom jet purposely submerged for scuba diving.
On the east bank of the Sparks Marina are the Outlets at Legends, a modern shopping complex including an IMAX luxury theater, and Scheels Sporting Goods, the world’s largest all-sports store. As you enter Scheels, you pass through two 16,000-gallon aquaria, filled with tropical and native species. Once inside, the 295,000 square foot building is so roomy it accommodates a 65-foot tall Ferris Wheel.
Browsing the exercise equipment aisle, I saw a pair of dumb bells, with a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the box. Like in the movie, where Arnold and Danny DeVito are cast as ridiculously dissimilar twins, so are Reno and Sparks, similar in some ways, but asymmetric in both proportion and persona.