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Benjamin Spillman

For tourism, outback to the future

6 May 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Since the 1950s the Nevada desert was the destination for someone who ran afoul of the Las Vegas mob or victims of space alien abduction.

For 20 athletes gathered Monday on the outskirts of Henderson, it is where they'll spend the next few days kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking and running in an effort to attract more tourists into Nevada's outback.

The group is part of the Nevada Passage Adventure Competition, an event aimed at putting some of America's remotest landscapes on millions of television screens.

The 2008 version of the race, sponsored by the Nevada Commission on Tourism, includes Land Rover as its first major corporate sponsor and is also linked to a broader, global competition, another first.

The Nevada competition is the American qualifying event for the Land Rover G4 Challenge, an event that occurs every two years and takes place in 18 countries.

An extreme competition such as Nevada Passage is what it takes to attract the tourism spotlight beyond Las Vegas to places like Lincoln County, a rural expanse so sparse every man, woman and child who lives there could check into Mandalay Bay and not fill every hotel room.

"When (tourists) look at Nevada they see casinos and they see show business," said Chris Chrystal, media relations manager for the Nevada Commission on Tourism. "Nevada has so much more."

The commission's annual budget of about $14 million is about 5 percent of the budget of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the group responsible for making "what happens here, stays here," a ubiquitous expression.

The televised competition is a chance to get Nevada on as many as 2 million television screens across the country for about $500,000, much less than it would cost to buy advertising.

By linking to the Land Rover event, organizers hope to get even more attention. The link also makes it easier to recruit top-flight athletes to participate.

"They have really done a lot to bring people to Nevada," said Tom Lyons, one of the competitors.

Lyons, 46, of Reno, said places such as California, Colorado and Utah get more attention as outdoor destinations but Nevada has just as much to offer.

He cited the Ruby Mountains near Elko as an example.

The mountain range isn't widely known beyond enthusiasts, but is considered a great place for backpacking, hunting and hiking, said Lyons, a triathlete who also hunts elk and bighorn sheep.

"You feel like you are in the Canadian Rockies," he said.

On Monday the Nevada Passage athletes were still within eyeshot of the Strip, at the Ritz-Carlton at Lake Las Vegas.

They conducted interviews, posed for pictures and demonstrated the Land Rover LR3 HSE vehicles they will use in the competition.

In addition to the athletic challenges, participants will need to navigate their way to specific points and complete off-road driving challenges in the sport utility vehicles.

The competition takes place through Friday in rural Clark County and Lincoln County.

A television schedule for the 2008 event will be posted in August at Past episodes are available for viewing on the site.