Virginia City should be on everyone's must see list when visiting Northern Nevada. Yes, it caters to tourists, and you'll find hordes of them strolling the boardwalk in the summer. But don't let that stop you. There's a reason it's overrun by tourists. Virginia City is one of the best preserved mining towns in the American West.
The Comstock, as the area is called, began in 1859 when gold was discovered in Six Mile Canyon. But it was silver that became the Mother Lode for Virginia City, and by the 1880's, it was one of the largest cities west of the Mississippi. Deep, underground mines criss crossed under the city, and millionaires built luxurious mansions. The boom eventually fizzled, and Virginia City dwindled to almost a ghost town. But not quite. It is still the County Seat of Storey County, and the tourist trade has revived the city.
Today, many of the historic buildings still exist in Virginia City. 'C 'Street is the main street through town. It's wooden sidewalk is lined with saloons, shops and restaurants. A tourist train carries passengers on the short run to Gold Hill. (The train, part of the famed Virginia and Truckee Railroad, has recently received funding to extend the line all the way to Carson City. It is due to open in 2009.)
The entire town climbs the slopes of Mt. Davidson, and there are great views to be had looking down Six Mile Canyon. Be sure and get off of 'C' Street and discover the rest of Virginia City. Piper's Opera House and St. Marys in the Mountains are 2 examples of places to visit that are not on 'C' Street.
Here is an excellent website showing Then and Now photos of Virginia City:
Go enjoy a dip at the Carson Hot Springs, on Hot Springs Rd. It's a long-time institution here in Carson City, and a soak in the hot spring water is rejuvenating after a day of fun. I heard there's some remodeling going on, but in the past they had a pool, private hot tubs, motel, RV parking, and a restaurant. Another great hot springs is Walley's Hot Springs Resort just south of Genoa - it's fancier, famous, more expensive, and quite an upscale operation.
If you want an exhilarating sightseeing experience, go for a glider ride out of the Minden airport. See the Sierras, Lake Tahoe, or even go for an acrobatic ride if you're daring! Minden airport is known throughout the western USA as a superb soaring airport with a great flight school. From Carson City, go south about 8 miles to Airport Road in Minden.
About an hour east of Carson City, lies one of the more interesting historic sites in the Carson City area, Fort Churchill. Today, it is little more than ruins, baking in the sun. But in it's heyday, Fort Churchill was a bustling place with 58 buildings and approx. 200 soldiers. The fort was built by the US Army in 1860 in response to the so called Pyramid Lake War, where a group of untrained men from Carson City were badly beaten by the local Paiute Indians. Fort Churchill was hastily constructed to protect both the nearby settlers and the Pony Express route, which ran through the fort. But, within a year, the fort was basicly obsolete. The Indian problem settled down, the Pony Express disappeared due to the telegraph, and the Civil War became a much more pressing issue for the US Army. In 1869, the fort was abandoned.
The State of Nevada has done a good job preserving the fort in a state of arrested decay. There is a small Visitor's Center that tells the story of the fort, and has a nice overlook of the grounds. There is a loop trail that circles the former Parade Grounds, passing the ruins of all the remaining buildings. There is also a campground and picnic area down along the Carson River.
There is a long running dispute over which is the oldest town in Nevada, Genoa or Dayton. This has spilled over into The Oldest Bar in Nevada dispute. I tend to go with Genoa, but don't tell the people in Dayton I said that.
Genoa was originally called Mormon Station, and was settled by a group of Mormons. At the time, what is now Nevada was part of Utah Territory, and the Carson Valley, where Genoa is located, was along the Emmigrant Trail to California. So, Mormon Station was established as a trading post along the trail. In 1857, the Mormons were called back to Salt Lake City. But by this time, Genoa was a thriving little community. It became the County Seat of Douglas County, which it held until 1916, when upstart Minden claimed the title.
Nowadays, Genoa is fast becoming an exclusive area of huge estate homes. The small downtown area still retains it's funky charm, however. There are a number of things to see within the 2 block downtown area. Mormon Station State Historic Monument is a recreation of the original settlement's fort. Across the street, in the Old Courthouse, is a nice museum.
The next block down has a couple of buisinesses in historic structures, including the aforementioned Oldest Bar, and a couple of antique stores. The whole town can be walked in 2 minutes, so it doesn't warrant a full day. But, it is in a very pretty setting at the base of the Sierra Nevada's, and makes a nice little excursion from Carson City.
Location: South of Carson City on US 395. Turn right on Genoa Lane.