Virginia City, NV is an a la cart tourist destination. Each establishment has at least two or three attractions from the menu: restaurant, bar/saloon, casino, gift shop, and museum. The museum selections range from a school to a mine tunnel to The Suicide Table (Faro game table) to Mark Twain’s desk and other printing stuff to rocks to prostitutes. The gift shops range from quality gems and jewelry to leather and western wear to antiques and collectables to dolls to fudge, candy and ice cream. Like finding gold and silver, you find a lot more rocks, sand, and mud than you do quality stuff. The vendors are prospecting for you money, just as miners sought the valuable ore.
Virginia City had it’s fame in the silver mining days. It’s population swelled, as gold-and-sliver-rush towns usually did, to tens-of-thousands. And, as with most of these towns, a few bankers and suppliers consolidated most of the wealth, built some mansions and took the money back to San Francisco and other cities far from the mining towns. Unlike many of these towns in California and Nevada, Virginia City did not become a ghost-town. A much smaller population continued to live there, while the buildings fell into neglect. However, a few decades ago some artists and tourist discovered Virginia City and began to restore the structures or build new ones.
Our trip began from Reno, driving southwest over a mountain range for about 45 minutes. The pass is called the Gieger Grade for the pioneer who cut the switch backs for the horse-drawn wagons westward. After cresting the mountain, you are distracted by the easterly view when you suddenly are on the main street of Virginia City.
The city sits high on the side of the ridge, with cut-out areas from past mining and hill-sized piles of tailings from mile shafts farther down toward the valley. While most of the activity in Virginia City appears to be visitors and local residents now, some mining continues currently.
Karen is quite familiar with the city from numerous trips with her family and having included the cities history in some of her plays for Rainbow Company. She was our guide. We started at the 4th Ward School House, which has set up several rooms about the school as well as the period when Mark Twain wrote for papers and short stories from Virginia City. Later in the afternoon, we would carefully creep down stairs in a gift shop to get to the
basement which contains Mark Twain’s Desk. This was one of the a la cart menu visits, with a minor fee for the museum section. Other purchases are voluntary. The ledger books and encyclopedia on the desk did not seem to have much to do with Mark Twain other than the effect of being old.
Half of the grid of the streets follows the contours of the hillside, while the other streets run straight up without regard for the grade. Maybe the planners came through San Francisco, so steep streets did not seem out of place. We walked a couple of blocks up through the neighborhoods, to see the restored and new residents and Bn’B’s. Among these streets was the opera house, which was not really open, but the unlocked door did not deter us from looking in the lobby and checking the registry of famous performers who had appeared there. A group of youths rehearsed for a play, possibly a summer production for tourists.
We found a really good rock shop along the main street. It has a variety of minerals, crystals, fossils, and jewelry for reasonable prices. We did not need to load up our suitcases at this time, so we just made a note of this place. In the back of one of the saloons is a mine tunnel tour. The guide takes the group about 300′ into the hillside. Watch your head for low beams. You get a sense of how miners spent their 12 hours shifts, digging, drilling, blasting, building support structures, and hauling out ore to find the silver and gold which the hoped for. Later, as we walked in the streets, we thought about this and other underground tunnels and shafts which were built over hundred years ago. Unlike many mining town, Virginia City was build directly over over the mining activity. It does raise the questions of when the support beams will decay or some geological activity might lead to mine collapses, with the streets, houses, stores, etc pressing down into the descending shafts. Meanwhile, come visit, have a good walk, visit some museums, have a meal and drink, and shop a little.