Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Hiking around Virginia City

I’m posting this without having time to do much editing… I’ll look it over again in a day or two, but I need to get on the road and head up to the Upper Peninsula, to the land of Cornish Pasties. The hike around Virginia City is one of my favorite, one that I’ve taken many times and one that I’ve even blogged about before (click here). For this hike, taken early last week, I’m including a number of photos taken (the photos were taken over a period of three days). I even made some of my own postcards! The first picture is a “postcard” of the Combination Mine, the second is of St. Mary’s of the Mountain Catholic Church, the third is of Ponderosa Pines north of town, the fourth is of the Jewish Cemetery and the final picture is of “C Street.” I'll try to do another post with wildflowers and cottonwood scenes. Enjoy!
You got to be up early to beat the sun in Virginia City. It’s 5:45 when I set out. I’m staying with a friend on the divide (between Virginia City and Gold Hill) and from this vantage point I can see the sun’s rays are already streaming up the canyon and striking the top of Mount Davidson, or as it’s also known as Sun Mountain. The air is still cool, but the winds have died down overnight, as they always do. Unless there is a storm, the morning air is almost ways still. I lengthen my stride and head downhill, startling a horse in a stall just off the two-track I’m following. At the bottom of the hill, I pick up the highway and cross over the cut for the Virginia and Truckee tracks. As soon as I cross the tracks, I turn left and take the road out to the old Combination mine. This dirt road used to be railroad tracks, which served the mine till it shut down in the ‘20s. The gallows frame over the shaft is one of the most photographic spots on the Comstock and I expect I’ve shot a hundred or more photos from the site, in all kinds of weather and conditions. Morning always has the best lightning, with the soft light cascading down over the city. Over the years, I’ve shot numerous photos of the city with the old gallows frame of the mine in the foreground. Today, I’ll shoot another dozen or so.

At one time, this was the site of an industrial complex; today, on only the head frame and a small building housing the hoisting works remains. The Combination mine was the result of four mines pooling their resources to sink the shaft that descends down 3,000 feet. Beneath the earth was a labyrinth of tunnels running north and south, connecting all the mines in Virginia City and Gold Hill together. It was hard work for the miners who labored at those depths for the air in the mines were often at 140 degrees Fahrenheit and there were always the danger of puncturing a hot water vein that would scald the miners as it filled the chambers. Mining at such depths required large pumps to remove the water. As the ore bodies on the Comstock began to play out in the early 1880s and mines began to close, the cost of pumping water became more and more expensive as fewer mines did all the pumping. Having all the mines interconnected provided safety, but also meant that water from one mine would seep into adjacent mines. By the mid-1880s, only a few mines were left operating in Virginia City. The Combination continued on till the 1920s, but after the 1880s, their mining was limited to that above 1600 feet, the level of the water.
I continue to follow the two-track around the mountain, heading east, stopping to visit the graveyard and the site of a stations of the cross that’s situation on an adjacent hill. I’m surprised to only find the path, lined in stone. The markers have all been removed; souvenir hunters have always been a problem here. I’m also not able to find the old wooden fence around what’s use to be pointed out as Julia Bullette’s grave and assume it too must have been removed. I pause and glance back at the city up against the mountain. The budded cross atop St. Mary’s of the Mountain glows in the morning sunlight, as do many of the east facing windows of the town. Here along the north side of the slope, flowers are still in bloom and even more of them have faded away. Although the ground is now dusty, it appears to have been a good snow year. Insects are singing from the pinions, another sign of a yet spring. I drop off the mountain and make my way down the sage and pinion covered hills, into six mile canyon. In the canyon, cottonwoods have shed their yearly harvest and at places the ground is covered. I cross the creek below the waste water treatment site and don’t linger long for the effluent water stinks.
I hike up the canyon and cross over to the ridge on the north side, heading up into seven mile canyon. At 7:15, AM, I cross the site of the old Con Virginia Mill, the richest on the Comstock, where I scare up a cottontail. The bunny darts away. The sun is higher and the air warmer. I wipe away sweat from under my hat and stop for a swallow of water. A tall cross stands on top of the hill ahead of me, the Catholic cemetery. Like the cross on St. Mary’s of the Mountain, this too is a budded one. I skirt around the east side of the cemetery and climb a knob to the northeast, with great views of the city and the cemeteries—the Catholic, the Masons, the Firemen and the Oddfellows. All the cemeteries are now ringed with a metal picket fence, designed to keep the wild horses out and hopefully to deter the theft of tombstones by forcing entry into the cemetery at one point.
Hiking west, north of the cemeteries, across the site of the North End Mines, I stop to ponder the Ponderosa Pines growing here. In the 19th Century, all the trees were cuts off the side of the hills and used either for mining timber or firewood. Ponderosas grow freely on the west side of the Virginia Range, but this is one of the few places that on the more arid east side where I’ve found the trees.

I hike across the tailings of the North End Minds, in search for the Jewish cemetery. It turns out that it’s further up in the canyon that I remembered, and it too is now ringed with a metal picket fence. I’m saddened to see the rustic “Star of David” missing. When I lived here, the star along with some markers in Hebrew were the only indications that this was a Jewish cemetery. After paying my respects, I hike back to town.
It’s 8:30 AM when I start down C Street. I’m surprised to see that Dave, a guy I use to play basketball with, is already in his jewelry shop. I stop in and we talk for a bit. Then I hike up C Street, stopping at the Mark Twain Saloon for a cup of coffee and to chat with locals. By 10 AM, I’m back on the divide, taking a shower and refreshing after my morning walk.


  1. OK, seriously, the postcards? Coolest things ever! I want to know how to make those! :)

    Looks like a fun trip. I know when we used to hike in AZ, we were always up super early to beat the heat.

  2. Love the postcards. That one of the church reminds me of some villages in northern Italy and Switzerland, with the buildings and the ever present church steeples nestled between tall mountains.

  3. Cool. I look forward to more photos.


  4. Please, please, please tell me you got a shot of whiskey and a beer back at the Bucket of Blood Saloon!

  5. What a trip and what a hike! Honestly, Virginia City has never crossed my mind as a place which I want to visit. But now, it does sound great.

  6. I love ponderosas. . . Nevada, though - it's nice in the summer, but I wonder if I'd like it in winter. How 'bout you, Sage?

  7. Now you've got to respect a place with a "Bucket of Blood Saloon". Sounds like a unique town alright.

  8. Ew, I hate cemetery robbers. I used to live next to a man that was SO proud of his marble landscape borders he got at a garage sale. *wink-wink*

  9. Sounds and looks like a wonderful hike! Probably one that I would have enjoyed. :)

  10. One of these days you're going to inspire me to leave these flatlands and visit the mountains! I'd like to try hiking one day as well.

    Looking forward to the wildflowers and cottonwood.

  11. The postcards are ingenious. Think you just began a new blog trend

    Feel as if I'm on the hike with you Like you unedited :)

  12. Like the postcards too. By the way, I'm back... and I've copied your bookshelf!

  13. TC, I made the post cards in powerpoint and then saved the slide into a jpeg file and posted them like regular photos (except that I got to post 3-4 photos per shot!)

    Kenju, that steeple is a famous one that identifies the town--the 100th anniversary stamp of Nevada statehood in 1964 featured a photo of the church

    Sherman, I think I'll do another series of the Virginia and Truckee railroad

    Diane, I hate to admit this, but I didn't go into the Bucket this trip--it was sad as the owner from when I lived there died 2 years ago--but I had a few drinks in some of the other bars--the Bucket is more of a tourist place anyway--I should write some of its history sometime--I do have both beer mugs and shot glasses from there

    MotherHen, one of the nice changes is that the town has a more "historical" flavor to it than it did when I lived there 20 years ago--when the town was mostly trinket shops and bars

    ing, I loved living there in winter--even those days you couldn't get off the mountain due to the snow, they were great, there was always a fire in the wood stove at the Union Brewery where you could warm up... as for the pines, something inside of me has been stirring as to pines--I've read books about longleaf and bristlecone pines and have been photographing them...

    Appalachianist, wish you could have been there, I'd brought you a beer... heck, that goes for the rest of you too.

    Maggie, I agree, they're a pretty sorry lot--even worst are the people who enjoy vandalizing cemeteries as the Jewish cemetery there experienced

    Tim, it'd be fun to take you along and share the stories about the place

    Scarlet, I was once offered a job in Florida--it was a good position--but when I flew home from the interview and looked at how flat it was, I couldn't do it--where I'm at now is almost too flat

    Pia, good! I won't edit then for I feel the need to write more as I've just gotten back from my trip to the UP

    Seawyf, great to see you back blogging! I'll go look at your bookshelf and see how many Sebald books you have in your libary :)

  14. I enjoyed walking along with you as I read. Great pictures.

  15. That's an interesting thought, Sage. Maybe some day it will happen? ? ? :)