Reno to Virginia City via Back Roads

If you live in, or are just visiting Reno, a trip to Virginia City is a must. Virginia City is one of the oldest towns in Nevada. It was at the center of gold and silver mining and the rich Comstock Lode in the late 1800s. At its height 23,000 people lived in Virginia City. Today the population is about 1000. Although it is a tourist town it still feels like the old west and is a fun place to visit. If you take the main roads it is probably no more than an hour from Reno. But in the words of Doc Brown in the movie Back to the Future –  “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” My husband, Duke and I really enjoy exploring by taking old dirt roads.

Today Duke and I went with some friend and took the Jumbo Grade Trail and the Ophir Grade Trail to Virginia City. We came home on the Old Geiger Grade Toll Road. All of these roads are rough dirt roads and I think four wheel drive and high clearance are definitely necessary to drive on them. We had a great time. Ed, our leader, and his wife had done the trip before using the book Nevada Trails – Western Region as a guide.

We left the paved roads about 4 miles south of highway 395 near New Washoe City. You can see where we left the pavement and the road we started up on in this picture.


In this next picture I am looking west across Washoe Valley. You can see the remains of a giant landslide described in an article titled Catastrophic rockfalls and rock slides in the Sierra Nevada, USA by Gerald F. Wieczorek

“At about noon on May 30, 1983, a large complex rock and soil slide detached from the southeast face of Slide Mountain, Nevada…… Subsequently, along the northeastern margin of the rockslump zone, a rapidly moving rockfall avalanche of large boulders and a debris avalanche of gravelly sand initiated and entered the northern end of Upper Price Lake, a small reservoir….Price Lake, displaced most of the lake water, which overtopped and breached a low dam. The water then breached the dam of Lower Price Lake and sent a torrent down the gorge of Ophir Creek. In the steep canyon the rapidly moving water picked up fine and coarse rocky debris. Emerging from the canyon 6 km downstream, the debris flow spread out and deposited over the alluvial fan of Ophir Creek in the Washoe Valley, destroying and damaging houses, causing one fatality, and covering old U.S. Highway 395.”


Further along the road we had a wonderful view of Carson City, Nevada’s capital.


Here are a couple more pictures of us and the road. It was a cool, overcast, beautiful day.



After lots of rocks, ruts, and stops for pictures we eventually got to Virginia City. 


Virginia City has a very large Catholic Church. Some guys were in a basket at the end of a very tall cherry picker repairing the steeple. It is not a job I would want to do!


We had a barbecue lunch at Virginia City Jerky and Smokehouse. My spicy pulled pork had a wonderful smoky flavor and was some of the best I have ever eaten.


After leaving Virginia City we headed down on the old Geiger Grade toll road. The Online Nevada Encyclopedia describes the road:

opened completely in 1863 with several toll
stations. Its sharp descent, including hairpin turns and steep slopes,
made it impractical for heavy loads, but it was a popular route for
stagecoaches. Because drivers had to slow in some places, these became
favorite locations for robberies."

Even now it is a very steep and in places very narrow road. It is hard to imagine driving a stagecoach up that road or for that matter riding in one.

Here is a slide show of a few more of the pictures I took on the trip today.

Silver Peak Mount Rose Hike

For ten years the Silver Peak Brewery which has two great restaurants in Reno has sponsored a hike to the top of Mount Rose. For a donation you get a t-shirt and beer at the top. The hike benefits the Nevada Land Conservancy. Their web site says that they have been so successful that because of over use this is the last year that the hike will be on Mount Rose.


Mount Rose overlooks Reno and at 10,775 ft high is the highest peak around Reno.


We did the Silver Peak Mount Rose Hike one other time two years ago.  I blogged about it here. It was cold, there was snow at the top, and it was VERY windy but still fun. This time the weather was unseasonably warm. Getting to the top was relatively easy. I’m sure that was because Duke and I hiked 32.5 miles with packs on our backs on the Tahoe Rim Trail about a week ago. Saturday afternoon it was wonderful to sit on top with all the people and dogs and enjoy the views and a beer.



From the top we saw a helicopter land in the meadow way below. Apparently they were there to evacuate someone who was having heart problems. We started down and about an hour from the top came upon two guys who had just found a guy collapsed and unconscious on the trail. As we approached he started vomiting and they turned him on his side.  I called 911 and explained that we were were about half a mile above the helicopter that was already there. The man was coming around by this point. He said he was 75 and didn’t have a  history of heart problems. He had already been to the top.

We think it was probably the altitude and the heat that got to him. The paramedics hiked up from the meadow and reached in about ten minutes. Apparently in addition to the helicopter guys some more paramedics had hiked in to help with the first guy. We hiked on down and watched the LifeCare helicopter lift of with the first guy who they had carried down the trail and loaded on the helicopter. Another helicopter came in and circled but I don’t think it landed so I am guessing that the guy we helped hiked out after he felt better.



If you would like to see all the pictures from this hike they are available on Google here.

The Crystal Mine and the Top of Peavine Mountain

Last Thursday we went for another back road exploring trip with some friends. We went north form Verdi on Dog Valley Road and then north of of Dog Valley road to a wonderful Forest Service Camp ground called  Lookout Campground  that we will have to camp at some time. The sites were far apart and the setting was beautiful. 


From there we went to a nearby crystal mine.  Apparently crystals were mined here during World War II for radios. We had fun collecting some beautiful white quartz and a few crystals.


Peavine Mountain is the large mountain on the northwest of Reno. The crystal mine is on the west side of Peavine. From the Crystal Mine we headed around the north side of the mountain and went up the dirt roads to the top of Peavine where there are lots of communication towers and fantastic views.




If you would like to see all the pictures from the trip they are on Flickr here

September Events in Reno

One of the reasons that Reno is such a wonderful place to live because there are so many things going on here.

Last weekend Duke and I went to the Reno/ Tahoe Blues Festival. We enjoyed sitting outside on the grass and listening to great music. I must admit I brought a book. It was quite a juxtaposition reading an English Family saga set in Cornwall during World War II while sitting outside in shorts on a hot Reno afternoon enjoying the blues.

September is full of events.

September 2-7 is the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off. I missed last year because Duke and I were out of town so we are definitely planning to go this year.

September 11-13 is the Reno Balloon festival. We went in 2007 and it was wonderful beyond anything I had imagined.

September 16-20 are the Reno Air Races. Duke went to the Newcomers Club Men's breakfast Thursday morning and heard a presentation about the races. They sound great. We are planning to go this year for the first time.

September 23 -27 is Street Vibrations the annual Reno motorcycle gathering. I don't ride a motorcycle but it is still fun to see all the bikes.

Steamboat Ditch and the Tom Cooke Trail to Hole in the Wall

Back In February Duke and I hiked the Tom Cooke Trail to Hole in the Wall. This hike is on page 233 of the book Afoot & Afield Reno-Tahoe A comprehensive hiking Guide by Mike White. The trail starts right next to the Patagonia Outlet on the Truckee River and heads south and then west along the Steamboat Ditch to where the ditch goes through a tunnel.

If you are familiar with Reno you are familiar with the ditches but otherwise you are probably wondering what I am talking about. Reno has a series of canals that carry water from the Truckee river for irrigation. I wanted to know more about the Steamboat Ditch but had a hard time finding any information. The Reno library wasn't able to help me.

Finally today I went to the library at the Nevada Historical Society. The people there were incredibly helpful and I learned a lot.

As the Reno area was first being settled in the second half of the nineteenth century most ranches got there water by buying shares in a ditch company. About 130 miles of ditches were created in the Reno area primarily for irrigation. 

The last ditch company was formed in 1877. It was the Truckee & Steamboat Irrigating Canal Company. Trustees  hired Chinese labor to construct the 33 miles of canal. White laborers were angry and announced that they would drive the Chinese out by force. In spite of their threats the Steamboat Ditch was opened July 1, 1880. It took two years and $40,000 to build

The Steamboat Ditch starts at the Nevada-California Line near interstate 80 west of Reno. Water is taken out of the Truckee river and is carried in flumes and through canals to an area south of Reno near Steamboat Creek. On our hike we walked along the ditch to one end of a tunnel that was built through a hill above the river. It is a long dark tunnel and you can just see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Hile in the wall 003
Hile in the wall 005

During the winter if you ever take Interstate 80 into Reno you can see the flume for the Steamboat Ditch on the other side of the river. The icicles hanging down underneath the flume are beautiful.


There are other paths to hike along the canal and I am looking forward to exploring more of the Steamboat Ditch and learning more about it.

Reno Newcomers Club – Let’s Learn About Nevada meeting

Duke and I have joined the Reno Newcomers Club. It is a very active group of over 1000 people with lots of activities. A couple of weeks ago we went to the welcome coffee, got the newsletter, paid our dues and joined. We went to our first event last night. The Let's Learn About Nevada Meeting was held at the Coney Island Bar one of the oldest establishments in Sparks. Named Coney Island because there used to be an amusement park across the street. It was originally a tamale factory.

The speaker for the meeting was Guy Rocha, the soon to retire Nevada State Archivist. He talked about the importance of getting historical facts right. A few of the facts he talked about include:

  • The dome on the Nevada state capitol is not now and never has been made of silver.
  • When Reno was the divorce capital of the country the 'tradition' of going form the courthouse to the Virginia Street bridge was created by a marketing brochure and the movies.
  • The name Nevada is from the Spanish word nevada for snowfall. Sierra Nevada in Spanish means snowy sawtooth mountains.
  • The iceberg should not have sunk the Titanic.  The Titanic broke up and sank so quickly because it was built with defective rivets. 
  • Nevada senator  Key Pittman who served in the US senate from 1913 from 1940 was not kept on ice so that he could be elected after he died. He had heart attack before the election and died a few days later.
  • Our speaker Guy Rocha would be interested in the position of Archivist of the United States.

Guy Rocha said "Ultimately I believe the truth matters."

New House for Thanksgiving

I haven't posted anything in almost 3 weeks but if you follow my Twitter updates in the right hand column you know that we just bought a new house and have been busy moving out of the old one and getting settled in the new one.We are having a open house tomorrow so have had a deadline for getting unpacked. We also had the family here for Thanksgiving which was great fun.

We had to buy a new refrigerator and we also ended up buying a new washer and dryer. Our old dryer was gas and the quote to install gas to the dryer here was $1,200!

I love the new house. We have a great view and it is just nice to know that it is ours.
Here is part of the view from the back door.
House 002

And here is a four generation picture from Thanksgiving.

Petroglyphs at Lagomarsino Canyon

Last Friday Duke and I went exploring. Several people have told us about the petroglyphs at Lagomarsino Canyon. Our real estate agent said he used his mountain bike to find them and was blown away by the magnitude of the site. We used the directions on the Backyard Traveler blog and headed out in our truck.We drove over some very rough dirt trails.  I am kind of surprised that we found the site on our first try because there are no signs and there are lots of dirt roads. The site is probably no more than 10 miles east of Reno as the crow flies but we were the only people there on Friday. I'm sure the remoteness limits the visitors.

The  sign at the entrance to the canyon says

"Lagomarsino Canyon is one of the largest rock art sites in Nevada. Most
motifs appear to be 4-5,000 years old, but some may be as old as 10,000
years. Although we do not know what the images mean they still hold
great significance and deserve to be respected. This site is protected
by law and is monitored regularly by concerned local citizens and
Storey County law enforcement. If you want to learn more about rock art
or want to help protect this special place go to or call the Storey County Sheriff @ 775-847-0950"

We climbed up the rocks to the lip of the canyon. It is easy to suppose  that the ancient Indians who did this rock art used this canyon for hunting. It seems like it would be a good place to drive game over the edge of the cliff. The drive was really pretty and the rock art was amazing. If you would like to see my pictures they are on Flickr here.


Reno Citizen’s Institute

For the last several weeks Duke and I have been participating in the Reno Citizens Institute (RCI). RCI is a ten-week class in which we have learned a lot about Reno city government. The city has run this program twice a year since 1999. The class meets every Thursday night. It has been a fascinating fantastic experience. I have learned so much. Let me give you just a few of the highlights from each week.

  • Week 1 is the only week we missed. We were on vacation which was too bad because we missed the introductions. The program was about the City Manager's office. Luckily we will be able to make it up next time they run the program in the spring.
  • Week 2 was about the Human Resources, Finance and Communications and Technology Departments. It doesn't sound too exciting does it? But it was great. We learned that Reno has 1500 employees. We learned about the budget process. Given the number of years I worked in IT I found the technology section of the program especially interesting. The software people must have enormous challenges given the diversity of software from Municipal Court Management to Geographic Information Systems to Building Permit Management to Fleet Maintenance Software to name just four.
  • For week 3 we had a tour of the water treatment plant and learned all about Reno's municipal water sources and systems.
  • Week 4 was all about the redevelopment agency and public works. Reno's downtown area along the river is so beautiful and is so obviously getting better and better that it was interesting to learn how redevelopment works and what is in store for the future. We had a short bus tour and also learned that there is a special public works crew that just focuses on keeping downtown beautiful and clean. 
  • Week 5 was at one of the fire stations and was all about the fire department. We got to see the equipment and talk to fire fighters. I was surprised to learn that only 6% of the calls they receive are for fires. 63% are medical calls and 31% are calls for other kinds of service. Another instructive tidbit of information was about the Mizpah hotel fire that happened when we were visiting Reno back in October of 2006. Eleven people were killed. The fire chief  told us that anyone who opened the door of their room on the hall where the fire started died. Anyone who went out a window survived.
  • Week 6 was about public works and was at the corporation yard. We toured the maintenance shop there and saw everything from snow plows to police cars to parking meter monitoring vehicles. Very cool!  We also learned all about everything Reno is doing to be green. 
  • Week 7 was at the McKinley Arts and Culture Center and was all about parks, recreation and community services. There is so much to do in Reno. This year I want to be sure to go ice skating on the rink by the river downtown.
  • Week 8 was on community development. We learned all about building inspections and permits. We also got a demonstration of the very cool Reno GIS mapserver. At this site you can use year-by-year aerial photographs to look at how a location changes from year to year. You can admire the scrub brush that five years ago was where our house is today.
  • Week 9, last Thursday, was about the Reno Police Department and City Attorney's office (Civil Division), The assistant police chief who talked to us was fascinating. He described how Reno changed from an old time police department to a model of community based policing. He had lots of interesting examples. Last year Reno had something like 8 pedestrian fatalities this year I think he said we have had 1.
  • Our final class (week 10) is next Thursday. It is about the City Attorney's office (criminal division) and the Reno Municipal Court.

I can't say enough about how great this class has been. The thing that has most impressed me is the enthusiasm and quality of all the city employees who have talked to us. From the people who run the water treatment plant, to the police chief, to the parks and recreations people to the building inspectors there has been a  level of professionalism and pride that has just blown me away.