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Virginia City, Nevada

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Virginia City is–first, foremost, and unashamedly–a tourist trap.  You should come to terms with this, before you even add it to your itinerary.  If you don’t, you’ll be disappointed. If you can find a way to look past its cheesiness, you’ll be able to enjoy it (at least a little) as a historic, wild west town.

From Carson City, take US 50 to NV Rte. 341.  The intersection is well marked with huge billboards, while at the same time, the actual road is a bit difficult to spot. I ended up on some other road before eventually finding the right one.  Maybe it was just me.

The road to Virginia City is narrow and winding, providing just enough of a challenge to make you feel like you’re wandering into the wild west, but still easy enough to not be a problem for anyone.

 

As you roll into town, you’ll instantly notice that this is a city built on a steep hillside.  Main Street is also C Street.  If you head uphill, you’ll find A and B Streets, downhill, D through R Streets.

The first landmark you pass as you enter from the south is the historic Fourth Ward School, which now serves as a museum.  It’s pretty fancy for a school, even more so when you consider it was built in 1876.  The old school was abandoned in the mid-20th century and nearly lost to neglect, but was finally restored and re-opened as a museum in 1986.

The Fourth Ward Museum is only open between May 1 and October 31st, so it wasn’t open during my April visit.  You can find more of its history and visitor information here.

Once you make it into downtown, you’ll find several blocks of wood-plank sidewalks and swinging doors.  Several small casinos, like the Bonanza Saloon, try to draw you in with a few slot machines and card tables.  After all, this is Nevada.

The Delta Saloon takes another approach.  Miles before you reach Virginia City, you’ll begin to see one sign after another, all of which demand you “SEE THE SUICIDE TABLE”.  This is, of course, an incredibly effective marketing tool.  After reading about a hundred of those signs, you undoubtedly will walk by the Delta Saloon, and realize, “This is the place with that Suicide Table I’ve heard so much about!”.  And then, you’ll go inside.

If, during that drawn-out process of anticipation, you’ve conjured up an image of some kind of table-shaped suicide machine, you’re sure to be disappointed.  The “Suicide Table” is simply a card table, with a story attached.  The sign above the old table explains that three people committed suicide, shortly after suffering tremendous losses while gambling at the table.

In another corner of the Delta Saloon, you can behold the “Old Globe”–apparently not quite worthy of a sensational pseudonym.  Yet another informational sign explains that the globe is “valued in excess of $100,000” (a number that has obviously been updated, one can assume, as the globe market fluctuates) “due to its rarity of construction.”

Just the privilege of seeing such remarkable antiquities is surely enough to convince you to drop a few quarters in a slot machine.  It would be wrong of you, if you didn’t.

Back out on the street, you’ll find a few old signs in alleyways.  These are the kind of things photographers like me enjoy discovering, in old mining towns.  Unfortunately, Virginia City is so crowded with modern-day tourist clutter, it’s hard to find many good pictures.

Drop down a block or two from C Street, and you’ll find a couple of Virginia City’s historic churches.  The bigger one is St. Mary’s In The Mountains Catholic Church, dedicated in 1877.  One block behind it is St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, built in 1876.  Both churches replaced previous ones, lost in a devastating 1875 fire.

For a short, scenic drive, head down Mill Street, which becomes Six Mile Canyon Road.  The road passes Sugarloaf Mountain, the odd-shaped hill that rises up in the middle of the canyon.

This is a nice little side trip, although it doesn’t really lead anywhere.  Once you reach the bottom of the canyon, you’ll need to turn around and come back (or keep going–you’ll eventually end up back at US 50).  A couple of observations: there aren’t many places to pull off the road, which is unfortunate, because I would have taken more pictures if I could have stopped.  Also, as you head out of town, you pass Virginia City’s sewage treatment plant, which drains into the creek at the side of the road.  So, every few hundred feet, you see a “don’t drink the water” sign.

Once you get back to C Street, head north, out of town.  Before long, Rte. 341 drops down the Geiger Grade into the Reno/Sparks valley.

On your way down the Geiger Grade, there’s a turnout that provides a great overlook of Reno and Sparks in the distance, as well as the twists and turns of Rte. 341.

Thanks to the Geiger Grade, Rte. 341 is the sharpest and steepest road on the Nevada Highway System.  It was named after Dr. Davison Geiger, who financed the construction of the original (and much steeper) dirt road to Virginia City back in 1862.  The newer and easier-to-drive version of the highway was completed in 1936.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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