Nevada History by John C. Evanoff

Visitreno.com is excited to present this series of articles by noted author and poet, John C. Evanoff. John will tell us about Nevada history and cover some of the more remote and unusual things to see and do in Northern Nevada.

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Virginia City

Trails of the Gold Seekers
April , 2008
By John Evanoff

If you haven’t been living in a cave in Reno, then you know of Virginia City and the Comstock Lode. There are two ways into the old lively mountain so called ghost town and both are on well traveled paved roads. The first is from Highway 395 South at the crossroads of the Mount Rose Highway. From there, you turn east on the Geiger Grade Road NSR341 and travel up the hill through picturesque canyons to the top of the grade where there are many turnouts to take pictures of Reno and Mt. Rose. The other route is through Carson City on Highway 50 East to just past Mound House where you turn left on NSR341 and go through Silver City, then Gold Hill and eventually into Virginia City. Another route is on a gravel road on Highway 50 east from Carson City past Dayton to the Six Mile Canyon Road just a mile east of the Sutro Tunnel Road and about ten miles west of Stagecoach. The Sutro Tunnel Road leads to the actual tunnel dug over the course of a decade beginning in 1869 to alleviate the water and ventilate the mines of Virginia City, but when it was first devised by Adolph Sutro, his plan was to intersect the deep mines at 1,500 feet deep and almost four miles from the mouth of the tunnel and make it easier to get the silver and gold ore from the mines to the mills along the Carson River for production. As lateral drifts were run along the now 1,600 foot deep tunnel to intersect with all the productive mines, a savings in water pumping was immediately realized and the hot and rancid air of the lower mines was removed saving many miner’s lives. You can still take a trip through the tunnel and the visitor center has all the history of the venture and the wild dreams of Sutro who later became Mayor of San Francisco.

The Six Mile Canyon road is a favorite for a Sunday drive because of its many splendid views of the canyon all the way up to the center of Virginia City. There are a couple of other roads into Virginia City, but they are not easily found including the old Dayton Toll Road from the Dayton State Park and the Lousetown Road that goes from the Lagomarsino Canyon area south of Highway 80 at Lockwood. The Lousetown Road is the most visually attractive of all the routes, but is extremely tough to maneuver near Lagomarsino Canyon because of all the shale and slate in the canyon’s bed. A good lightweight four wheel drive is best on this road and then you will still feel every bump the settlers felt as they maneuvered through the canyon from the Truckee River to Lousetown, an old way station for ore, supply trains and a daily stagecoach making their way up the road to the mines between 1860 and 1875. After Geiger Grade was open as a toll road, the Lousetown road wasn’t used as much. Many of the roads and trails from this road to both the east and west are significant in that they are quite spectacular for their views of nature and geography.

Spring time is a great season to take any of these roads to check out the wildflowers and Mustang herds. You may see herds of upwards of twenty horses in the canyon and on the hillsides. Just southeast of Lousetown, there are also some roads and trails for horseback and mountain bikes.

The peaks around the Lousetown area can all be climbed with very little effort, but you should bring plenty of water and some snacks to keep your energy high. Long Valley, Clark Mountain, Lousetown Creek, Cinder Mountain, Flowery Peak and the Chalk Hills are all fun to hike, climb and explore.

Another road open to the public for hiking, mountain biking and some off road vehicle traffic is the old Jumbo Grade toll road on the east side of Washoe Valley. This road was used by the mines to move ore to the mills at Ophir Creek near Bowers Mansion and Galena near Washoe City. Washoe City was quite large during the first years of the Comstock and would have been the capital of the state except for some fast thinking businessmen to bolster commerce in Carson City. The road actually moves in a half circle from New Washoe City to the Washoe Lake State Park along the top of Wakefield Peak near the old mining camp of Jumbo. Jumbo Toll Road was used to hall timber cut for the mines from the area around Huffaker and all the way south along the eastern flank of the Sierra to Franktown. Later, when the Jumbo toll road lost business to the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, the logging companies sprang up around the east shore of Tahoe from Incline south to Glenbrook and the hills became almost completely stripped of their ponderosa and sugar pine for hundreds of thousands of square acres. If you plan to take the Jumbo road for a hike, make sure you know the roads on the east side of Washoe Lake. Take the Eastlake Blvd. road off Hwy 395 south on either end of Washoe Lake and go to Jumbo Grade Way on the south end of New Washoe City. Head east up the hill and you can make it all the way to Gold Hill if you have a Mountain Bike or ATV. The best way to take this route is by horseback or hiking. You can see much more of the countryside and you don’t have to worry so much about the lay of the land. The other part of the old Jumbo Toll Road starts behind the ranger station at the south end of the lake and follows an old aqueduct that is still in use today for drinking water for Virginia City. The water comes from Hobart Reservoir and some other tributaries on the other side of the hill just east of Tahoe.

Along the north side of Virginia City; Mt. Abbie, Middle Hill, Ophir Hill, Orleans Hill and Cedar Hill make for easy climbs and great views of the mining district and Sierras. The three climbs that I think are treasures are just southwest of Virginia City and include Mt. Bullion, Butler Peak and of course the tallest, Mt. Davidson. Davidson is at an elevation of 7,864 feet and has fantastic views of the Sierras to the west and the entire region looking east from Virginia City to the Lahontan Reservoir. You might want to make Davidson a hike unto itself. The best but hardest trail leads from Virginia City at Spanish Ravine. The dry creek takes you up a steep canyon grade all the way to an overhang outcrop. By moving to either side of this outcrop, you can get to the ridge line and then walk fairly comfortably south to the peak itself. The other route is from the Washoe Lake side and uses the Jumbo Grade road. It is much easier but takes longer. Either way, be sure to wear strong light hiking boots, take a walking stick, a hat to keep the sun off your head and plenty of food and water. You can reach the peak in less than three to five hours depending on the route and have plenty of time to get back to your car. Please take a camera and binoculars. You will be pleasantly surprised and rewarded for the vistas.

Next month, I’m spending more time on Virginia City because I haven’t even touched its historical significance to Nevada and the surrounding communities. Mark Twain (Samuel Longhorne Clemens) wrote of this place in fabrications so outlandish that many people of the era thought Virginia City was the most lawless, money-grubbing location in the United States. Actually, he wasn’t too far off, but it was also home to some of the hardest working people in the old west. Some of them made and lost fortunes that today would set them in the same circle as multi-billionaires.


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