Chasing Down The Muse: Discovering a piece of Western history

August 11, 2011|By Catharine Cooper

"On the road again.

Just can't wait to get on the road again…

Goin' places that I've never been.

Seein' things that I may never see again."

— Willy Nelson


Road trip!


Last week, Buster and I headed north and east to hook up with friends a modicum of adventure. OK, limited adventure. Cracked ribs via a surfing accident Saturday morning dampened the possibility of rock climbing, horseback riding, stagecoach cruising, etc. But the open road beckoned, and our first destination was Virginia City, Nev.

We drove up the eastern belly of California. From Laguna, that meant out the 133, onto the 5, merging with the 241, sliding onto the 91, dialing into the 15, and finally, crossing over to 395. That's a lot of highway numbers and reflects the fact that we live in a very concentrated population area.

Once we escaped the subdivisions and big box malls of Victorville, we drove with light traffic through Kramer Junction and past the huge bank of solar panels. I was struck by the number of vacancies and closed businesses in each of the small towns.

I posted "check-ins" via the feature on Facebook from stops at Four Corners, Mt. Whitney and Mono Lake. Friends responded with, "Oh, traveling again — what a surprise," (Jack Lipscomb) and "Say hi on your way back," (Candi McCue via Bishop).

At Mono Lake, Buster and I stopped for lunch and hiked around the edge of the lake. Small tufa towers and a vast number of seagulls are testimony to the salinity of the water. I reflected on the years I spent teaching photo classes up and down the Owens Valley. Fenced areas have closed-off places where my students spent many star-filled nights.

"Welcome to Nevada" beckoned me to the state of no personal income taxes. Thank goodness for iPhone's map feature. With the built-in GPS, it always knew just where I was and had no trouble locating the barely marked turnoff for Highway 341, just outside of Carson City.

The 341 winds through dry rocky hillsides covered with spent mine tailings. Gold and silver set the tone for expansion in these hills, and in the 1830s, Virginia City was the center of the western world. A population of 35,000 overshadowed that of Los Angeles (a mere 20,000), and San Francisco was considered the poorer sister city.

Today, Virginia City is a collection of renovated vintage buildings, a handful of ruins, a boardwalk crammed with antique and touristy shops, saloons and a casino. The population hovers around 750, and it seems that everyone knows everyone else.

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