Virginia City

*ATTENTION! April-October (excluding July) FREE museum days.

Often at On A Dime Adventure a strategically planned journey takes a one hundred eighty degree turn and proves to be a stunning discovery. This is what took place when wind gusts of up to a hundred miles per hour flipped two semis from the freeway and got the attention of these adventurers in a powerful way. Traveling in a Hyundai with kayaks strapped to the roof when mixed with gale force winds had us considering a car nickname change from “White Lightning” to “Calamity Jane”. The wind also ponied up the souvenir of the century, an errant tumbleweed that was wrestled into the car after depositing more than a few splinters into this cowpoke’s hands. Tumbleweed and kayaks aboard, we continued to parts unknown.


 My guy (a western hero) sailed our vessel right off the freeway and with yours truly (a sugar-aholic) directing, docked into the parking lot of a chocolate factory. After re-roping the two mischievous devils to the roof, we carb loaded on taffy and toffee and met the most wonderful staff of the Chocolate Nugget Candy Factory in Washoe Valley, Nevada. They not only sugared us up but also directed us to get the heck out of the wind as the passes were closing.

Chocolate Nugget Candy Factory

 After an hour of online searching for hotels in Reno along with about four hundred other travelers ducking the dust storm, we came up empty on rooms that were On A Dime friendly. And praise be to the traveling gods as our next closest choice was to be a veritable gold mine, Virginia City. We looked at each other and said, “Cartwright land? Little Joe and Hoss?”  That was the sum total of what we knew about Virginia City and for those of you not familiar with the TV series, Bonanza, turn off your danged flavor of the month TV show and look it up. Back in the day, the Cartwrights ruled and we were now headed to their stomping ground or what we’d been told by TV-land was their stomping ground. More about that later.

 At this time, we want to make a full disclosure. On A Dime is subjective, in other words, when you are faced with sailing two kayaks with a lightweight car attached through mountains for twenty miles to escape insane winds, you suddenly lose any ability to concern yourself with hotel savings. Concern would’ve gotten us nowhere anyway as almost everything was booked. We paid one hundred twenty dollars for a room at the Silverland Inn and Suites and, friends, it was powerfully pleasing and a bit of a giggle when GPS went rogue and we followed our own intuition up a dirt trail in the car. Yes a small stick shift, wielding 2 kayaks, can climb up a side, dirt trail right into the parking lot. We were told by the lovely desk attendant that GPS is unreliable and that the paved main entrance was directly in front of the building, who knew? Another side note about GPS, our twenty-mile trip in through the mountains reduced to an eight-mile alternate route out to almost the same starting point.

Money saving hotel picnic

 After plunking down our one hundred twenty smack-a-roos, we employed creative reasoning about how much we’d saved by bringing in a spread of delectable food from the market in Reno and having a hotel picnic. One hot bubble bath later and the howling wind and light snow went from menacing to downright cozy. Funny how a warm, beautiful inn will transform a stressful storm into a fun adventure.

Silverland Inn
Silverland Inn and Suites

 By morning the winds had died, the kayaks were still with us, and the snow-dusted sunrise was outrageous. As the streets lit gold, we were struck by the realization that this old mining town was an absolute jewel. With mountains all around and a true sense of an era now passed, Virginia City is both mystical and magical. It has somehow managed to benefit from the wealth of tourism with the predictable trinket shops and yet retain some fascinating history and a true energy of the people who built this city. The miners, the prostitutes, the performers, the vagabonds and thieves as well as the “good” ladies and churches are all represented and celebrated. The pragmatic acknowledgement of diverse agendas and old-fashioned hypocrisy is refreshing and entertaining and the historic Trolley Tour that costs all of a whopping five bucks, three for kids (plus tip and DO TIP) is an absolute must.

 This town was both bustling and laid back. It was the one place that my souvenir tumbleweed felt right at home in the back seat of the car though I did shield it from seeing one of its relatives in a trash can outside of a saloon. My guy would’ve frowned upon a stop off for therapy for the tumbleweed, as it was not budgeted. What did offset the un-budgeted room price a little was my love of cheese and crackers. They are staples on a trip and always in my cooler. I had them for breakfast before we hit the town so while my guy indulged in a hamburger at the local Palace Saloon and Restaurant, I proceeded to imbibe on coffee and eat his fries. Please note that On A Dime encourages eating light or even just drinking in order to spend less but still enjoy the atmosphere at many establishments however we do not endorse scrimping on tipping. Tip generously (yes, this adventurer has waited many a table in the past).

Virginia City Mercantile

 Upon completion of the caffeine and hamburger refuel as well as the leisurely and extremely informative trolley tour, we took the opportunity to stroll around town. The few hours spent exploring had us realize that more time would’ve served us well. The colorful tales told on the trolley tour included one about the town madam brutally murdered and then denied a proper burial by the “good” ladies (read: disgruntled wives). The men circumvented this challenge and with the fire department leading off, held a parade in Julia’s honor before laying her to rest on the town’s hillside. Her grave is still there.

Julia Bulette Saloon

 A stop in at The Way It Was Museum was worth the three dollar admission. This self guided exhibit houses many artifacts from the town and shows three short (under 10 min.) films covering The Opera House, The Silver Mine History and The Mark Twain connection. All in all, this visit can be accomplished in under an hour or a more leisurely pace enjoyed for those that desire it.

Museum 1
The Way It Was Museum

  We ended our trip with a stop in to the historic Catholic Church that once was home to two thousand plus parishioners. A knowledgeable docent put the number of church members currently at about fifty families and stated that the Episcopal church next door was also challenged in participation but the that stunning history of the buildings helped keep them intact. The Episcopal Church was constructed without benefit of nails. The entire structure was built using pegs. The Catholic Church includes a museum and monk’s wine cellar where wine can be purchased. Pay close attention to operating hours as we just missed the area that sells the wine and this unhappy camper let out a little whining about the wine.

Saint Mary Of The Mountains Catholic Church

 And on a final note, we return to the Bonanza connection. As you traverse the history of the town, it stands out that no mention is made of the TV series that ran a decade and referenced the community on many occasions. When asked about this oddity, the docent at the Catholic Church explained that while the town is grateful for the influx of tourist dollars, somewhat encouraged by the show, the show never actually came to Virginia City. They shot none of the exteriors there, no publicity stills, no real connection other than the show’s creation via Hollywood back lot of the town. The docent shared that there was no ill will toward the TV series just rather a simple lack of any historical relevance. Our experience of the town had us feeling that the oversight was unfortunate but really more so for the cast and crew of Bonanza rather than the community.

 This town definitely stands on its own and offers a place flush with history so git along little doggies, head west and see for yourself.

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