Nye County is a county located in the U.S. state of Nevada. As of the 2010 census, the population was 43,946. Its county seat is Tonopah. At , Nye is the largest county by area in the state and the third-largest county in the contiguous United States (thus excluding the boroughs of Alaska).
The Nevada Test Site and proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository are located in the southwestern part of the county, and are the focus of a great deal of political and public controversy in the state. The federal government also manages 92 percent of the land in the county. A 1987 attempt to deposit the nuclear waste resulted in the creation of Bullfrog County, Nevada, which was dissolved two years later.
The county features several environmentally sensitive areas, including Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, the White River Valley, several Great Basin sky islands and a portion of Death Valley National Park. Visitors to Death Valley often stay at Beatty or Amargosa Valley.
Nye County is one of 11 Nevada counties where prostitution is legal. The county has no incorporated cities. The seat of government in Tonopah is from Pahrump, where about 86 percent of the county's population resides. Nye County is nicknamed "The Kingdom of Nye" from the radio program Coast to Coast AM, created by Pahrump resident Art Bell.
Nye County was established in 1864 and named after James W. Nye, who served as the first governor of the Nevada Territory and later as a U.S. Senator from the state. The first county seat was Ione in 1864, followed by Belmont in 1867, and finally by Tonopah in 1905.
The county's first boom came in the early 20th century, when Rhyolite and Tonopah, as well as Goldfield in nearby Esmeralda County were all experiencing mining booms. In 1906, Goldfield had 30,000 residents, Tonopah had nearly 10,000 people, and Rhyolite peaked at about 10,000. All of those cities were linked by the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad.
After the boom died, Nye County withered. By 1910, the population had plummeted to about 7,500 before sinking to near 3,000 in the middle of the century. It was not until development at the test site that the population stabilized, and dramatic growth didn't occur until the 1990s, when Pahrump became a bedroom community for Las Vegas.
From time to time, there have been discussions of moving the county seat south to Pahrump, or splitting off the southern portion of the county, but neither of these ideas appears to have sufficient support at the county or state government level.
From 1987 to 1989, Bullfrog County, Nevada, was split off from Nye County territory to form a separate political region. The population of Bullfrog County was 0; the county's creation was strictly a political maneuver.