Exploring Virginia City With the Spirit of Mark Twain
By Shaunta Grimes on April 28, 2011
Virginia City is only about 15 miles from Carson City and a little further from Reno, but it's one of those places you have to put some work into getting to--winding up the mountains, taking treacherous turns, praying that the run-away trucks the state has kindly put lanes up for don't come up on you. But then you make one last corner, and you see it. And it's magnificent. And you're so glad you took the drive.
I grew up near the ocean in Southern California. For a long time, I was sure I'd go back. The ocean was in my blood. But over the last 25-ish years, I've found that I'm happiest in the mountains. They sing home to my soul. When I travel to New England for school, I always feel this letting go when I look out the plane window and see the Sierra Nevada's below. I don't believe there is anywhere that they are more beautiful than in Virginia City.
Virginia City is filled with interesting old buildings. This was the place in the 1860s, when the Comstock load was giving up her silver and everyone wanted to be here. Mark Twain worked at the newspaper, spectacular casinos and brothels sprung up, and everyone who was everyone came to perform at the opera house.
We stopped at the museum, where I learned that there is an extensive mining system right under the city. It's not in operation anymore of course, but it's huge and intricate. They went so deep that in order for the miners to survive, they could only work 15 minutes shifts, and had to be sent down with ice to cool themselves.
Everywhere you look, there are 150-year-old reminders of the mining that used to happen here.
Virginia City's main drag is much the same as it was, with the addition of a billion tourists and modern cars. I couldn't stop thinking about Mark Twain walking along the wooden sidewalks, eating at the same restaurant we ate at, maybe stopping to wave up at the working girls hanging out of their windows to entice him.
If you ever find yourself wanting a taste of the Old West, this is the place to get it. Drop me a line, and I'll come explore with you. There's a graveyard with a walking tour that we didn't get a chance to take. And half a dozen more museums I want to get into, including a red light museum in what was once the brothel. Plus, who wouldn't want this beauty to take them on a guided tour?
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