Day 31 – Virginia City – Where the heck is Ben Cartwright?
Today is our 31st day on the road and it’s hard to believe a whole month has gone by since we left Las Vegas on May 1st. We are camped a Washoe Lake State Park, just north of Carson City.
David learned that folks over 65 who have been Nevada residents for at least 5 years can apply for an annual senior permit for $30. The permit entitles us to free entry into all 23 state parks including free camping fees. We took advantage of this opportunity immediately while in Carson City and plan to make the most of this benefit immediately. More about the park later.
The weatherman was right … it’s warmer today and less windy and we are off to Virginia City. We took a back road, SR-341, from the campground. There were herds of mule deer browsing in the fields and woodlands along the route and we barely missed hitting a big black-tailed desert jack darting across the road. We climbed higher and higher and sometimes I thought we’d either reach the heavens or fall to hell down the cliffs. We stopped along the way for some breathtaking views.
Our first stop in Virginia City was the Silver Terrace Cemeteries. We love wandering through old cemeteries and this is actually a collection of cemeteries because local churches and organizations buried their dead in close proximity, but in separate areas. The first burial here was in 1867. There are no ‘famous’ people buried here, but rather miners and shop owners and working people. Ben Cartwright was not buried here.
A street display just north of town provided information about the Comstock Lode, the ‘first major discovery of silver ore in the United States and named after American miner, Henry Comstock.”
Virginia City’s main street is a wild west tourist enthusiast’s dream. Covered wooden sidewalks line both sides of the street. There are saloons and gambling establishments galore along with souvenir shops, restaurants and ‘museums’.
The museum we most wanted to visit, ‘The Red Light Museum’ featuring Julia Bulette, well-known madam of Virginia City in the 19th century, closed a couple of years ago. Very disappointing because Ben Cartwright might have been there.
There’s the Silver Queen Saloon with the Silver Queen’s dress adorned in 3,261 silver dollars in tribute to miners who dug the Combination Shaft, 3,261’ deep. The Combination Shaft was created in 1875 during the Comstock Lode in Virginia City. At the time, the mineshaft was the second-deepest in the world.
Then there’s the Suicide Table at the Delta Saloon where three owners have purportedly committed suicide over heavy gambling losses at this table. Each ‘saloon’ had something to draw you in, but nothing to keep you there ... not even Ben Cartwright.
We did visit St. Mary’s in the Mountains Catholic church, a rather ornate church for the area which seems at odds with the rough and tough nature of this mining town.
We also discovered that a young author got his start here. In 1862, at the age of 27, Samuel Clemens walked 90 miles to Virginia City to begin his 2-year apprenticeship as a reporter for the local newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise. He signed his dispatches ‘Mark Twain’.
And what about Ben Cartwright? According to Wiki, ‘Bonanza’, featuring the life and times of the Cartwright family ran from ‘1959 to 1973 … lasting 14 seasons and 431 episodes … was NBC's longest-running western, and ranks overall as the second-longest-running western series on US network television (behind CBS's Gunsmoke) .’
Bonanza memorabilia, posters and pictures were seen all over town … especially in the Bonanza Saloon, but Ben and his boys were not to be found. We found several ads and references to the Ponderosa Ranch near Lake Tahoe and thought perhaps the family was hold-up there. We’ll have to check it out.
In the meantime, we headed back to Washoe Lake State Park campground for the night. We haven’t explored the lake shore yet. Maybe tomorrow. So much to do, so little time.