Sunday, May 10, 2009

May 9, 2009 - Virginia City, Nevada

Ah, good old Virginia City, one of the most storied places of the Old West. If anything described in the dime western novels of old - gunfights in the streets, fistfights erupting over card games, claim-jumpers thieving from legitimate claim holders - it must have happened here. The Geiger Grade, the road that leads into town, is a long and winding one, up and over the mountains through desert scrubland. The "city" pops up as if out of a jack-in-the-box box, a settlement as unlikely as finding a floating city on the ocean. Lawlessness thrived in places like this one.

But there was a time, when the cry of "Silver! Silver in Washoe!" rang out across the west, that this was the city to be in. Men from all around the area arrived with hopes high and muscles ready; many left with hopes dashed and bodies worn down. Some made instant fortunes, others died in saloons, by the bullet or bottle. Three men took their own lives over losses at the same poker table. That "suicide table" is still on display as a relic of the day.

And there's so much more. Mark Twain started his career here, writing for the Territorial Enterprise after failing at his attempts in the mines. There's a portrait of woman with a dress made entirely out of silver coins. And it's Nevada, so, of course, there's gambling.

Virginia City may be best known to modern-day TV watchers as the place where the Cartwrights handled most of their business, Ben, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe. The locals certainly call attention to that fact. The word "Bonanza" is sprinkled liberally along Route 341, the main road through town.

It's close to the real thing, the authentic past, but the cars that ride through the center of town help to kill the illusion. So do the bikers screaming obscenities in front of the bars, although I guess that might actually be close to the real thing. Ah well, no place is perfect.

Time: 63 minutes.

New species: (Birds) golden eagle (lifebird), Swainson's hawk (201); (Mammals) mule deer, piute ground squirrel (22).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is shakin': made a Henry Winkler sighting at the Reno airport - Aaayyy!; flew home through Chicago and Providence; read the graphic novels Batman: Haunted Knight and Batman: Dark Victory, both by Jeph Loeb; read A Peep at Washoe: Sketches of Virginia City, NT by J. Ross Browne.

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