A Walk Through The Old West
Virginia City, Nevada
If you are looking for an adventure that comes with a little American history, make your way to Virginia City, Nevada, one cowboy town that is fortunate enough to relive its past every day. From daily gun show comedy at the Virginia City Outlaws Wild West Comedy Show to the myriad of antique relics that line the properties of both homes and businesses, this adventure promises a glimpse into the old west.
History is rich and plentiful pretty much everywhere in V.C. We started at a museum called The Way It Was. Out in front a giant paddle wheel turns through the water as ceramic horses pulling authentic wagons look on. Inside a small street-side building, mannequins in period clothing depict what life was like in the olden days of Virginia City. That did it. We were going in.
Charlotte Smith greeted us and took our $3 for the tour, a modest fee for an interesting walk through the history of the old west. Kids under 12 are admitted free. Charlotte has worked at the museum for 28 years and told us she meets people from all over the world. There are displays everywhere including the counter she stood behind.
We enjoyed many interesting artifacts in this museum. A model shows the 700 miles of mining tunnels under the small town. The place is filled with gold and silver miner’s memorabilia. You will see everything from an antique pharmaceutical counter and dental chair, to a collection of barbed wire designs. From the old counter top slot machines to a prospector’s handmade ore car, there is plenty to see. A glass case displays the poker hand Wild Bill was holding when he was shot. Another display shows how cock fighting was a regular institution in the early days.
In 1869, a famous mining engineer named Adolph Sutro began work on one most ambitious projects of the day. A four-mile tunnel was constructed throughout the solid rock of the Comstock Lode mining district. Sutro had already proven his ability by inventing a new way to extract silver from waste rock. We learned that after Sutro built the mine in Virginia City, he moved on to become the largest landowner in San Francisco, where he built the famous Cliff House. He also served as Mayor of San Francisco from 1894 to 1896. We could have stayed for hours reading through the history, but there was more to see and we were only on a day trip in from Reno. Charlotte suggested we stop by the Visitor’s Center to meet Diamond Jim. There we picked up information on the mine tours and other attractions.
A walk through town was indeed like a walk through the old west. Wooden sidewalks still line the downtown streets. Most of the buildings were built in and around 1876, when the silver mining was going on and the town was booming. The buildings still stand and house many of the shops, restaurants and inns. Beautiful old churches with giant steeples stand in front of a backdrop of the beautiful mountainside that watches over this mining town. Photo opportunities are everywhere as is the rich mining history.
On his route to becoming an observer and writer of the American West, Samuel Clemens accepted a job as reporter for a Virginia City newspaper called the Territorial Enterprise in 1862. He covered the bustling frontier mining town. Like many reporters during that time, Clemens adopted a pen name, and began signing his articles with the name Mark Twain. The history is rich and pretty much surrounds every corner of this quaint little town.
We met a guy who goes by the name of SinkE. His beloved donkey is named Burnadeen; she follows him everywhere. He told a few tall tales about life in the mining town. He got his donkey from the BLM, telling us, “I’d never trained a donkey before; and she ain’t never been trained before. It took about six months, a little longer than expected because I got a little stubborn towards the end.” Now the two offer photo opportunities on the wooden sidewalks. Next a man came by decked out in striped jail clothes with a rope around his neck. He told us he had escaped but was ready to take us back to the Police Museum, where we would be held until we put up five dollars to be released. We also ran into a fellow on his way to a shoot-out with the Virginia City Outlaws. We bought some great kettle corn (non-GMO corn even), and browsed through the many shops and buildings. Next time, we visit we plan to stay over so we can truly experience it all.
We found that the best way to take it all in is to buy an adventure package at the Visitor’s Center. You’ll find them on the main drag downtown at 86 South C Street. Several packages are offered and include tickets to many attractions. Packages start at $15 for adults, and $2.50 for kids: the Comstock Heritage Adventure will take you to the Historic Fourth Ward School and Museum, the Mackay Mansion, Silver State National Peace Officers Museum and The Way it Was Museum. Other packages will take you on mine tours, rides on the trolley, the Virginia & Truckee Railroad and to the Virginia City Outlaws Wild West Comedy Show. The highest priced package is only $42 for adults and $26 for kids and offers two full days of adventure. Full packages are offered from Memorial Day weekend through October. Some attractions may be closed during fall and winter months. Most of the town is open for business year ‘round and there are several options for overnight accommodations. Visit them online for more information at VisitVirginiaCityNV.com.
To step back in time, take the Virginia City Scenic Drive which begins just to the south of Reno at the junction of Highway 395 and NV State Highway 341 (also known as the Comstock Highway). Take Highway 341 east toward Virginia City.
Additional sources: VisitVirginiaCityNv.com, history.com