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Virginia City, Nev.: History Weekender

The Old West is alive and well in a charming pioneer town outside of Reno.

A Virginia & Truckee steam train exits a tunnel.
Photo caption
A Virginia & Truckee steam train exits a tunnel.

Flush with gold and silver from the 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode, Virginia City once boasted 100-plus saloons, one for every 30 inhabitants. You can still wet your whistle in this rollicking slice of the Old West 20 miles outside Reno, and you’ll also encounter Victorian buildings, an old-time railroad, and a local fondness for such oddities as camel races. Area code is 775.

  • Four-mile excursions on the Virginia & Truckee Railroad depart the 1870 depot and snake through a high desert landscape that includes Gold Hill, where the Comstock era began. Trains are pulled by a vintage steam or diesel locomotive. 166 South F St., 847-0380,
  • In a handsome redbrick space, the Roasting House serves a gold rush waffle (topped with peanut butter, walnuts, and honey), sandwiches, and other fare. 55 North C St., 847-0708,
  • The Historic Fourth Ward School museum hosts an exhibit of period clothes, such as a lady’s feathered hat, and devotes a room to a then-unknown, local 1860s journalist named Mark Twain. You can tug the rope to ring the 1876 school bell. 537 South C St., 847-0975,
  • Western wear meets steampunk garb at the Old Red Garter, a shop stocked with more than 2,000 Stetsons and other hats, red leather cowboy boots, and Victorian-style women’s gowns, complete with bustles. 80 South C St., 847-4482.
  • During the annual Virginia City International Camel & Ostrich Races, held Sept. 5–7 this year, jockeys on humped or feathered beasts scramble around a track accompanied by banjo and harmonica music—and raucous laughter from the stands. Zebras race, too. 847-7500,
  • Get a fascinating, up close look at mining during tours of the historic Chollar Mine. Led by a guide, participants walk along a tunnel dug deep into a hill and shored with massive timbers, then end up in a chamber 100 feet below ground. 615 South F St., 847-0155.
  • At Core, a charming restaurant in a rustic 19th-century cider factory, the sophisticated seasonal dinner menu may include marinated, pan-roasted duck breast. 420 South B St., 453-5167,
  • Peruse treasures at the Comstock Rock Shop, such as sparkling amethyst geodes, inlaid soapstone boxes, American Indian arrowheads, and dangly semiprecious stone earrings. 20 South C St., 847-0383.

Photography by Asa Gilmore

This article was first published in September 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.