Take scenic Geiger Grade, south of Reno, for great views and historic Virginia City.
When Mark Twain talked about "roughing it," he meant the rigors of mining life in Virginia City, Nev. But he could have been describing the rugged ride over the Geiger Grade, a twisting mountain road built in 1862 to haul silver from the Comstock Lode. The road gets its name from Davison M. Geiger, a local physician who financed its construction. Daredevils with four-wheel-drive vehicles still take the old grade. But most drivers should stick to the newer Geiger Grade (built in 1936), Highway 341. Cutting through the same scenic area, it begins in the valley south of Reno off Highway 395 and winds its way through a rocky landscape dotted with junipers. At the 4.6-mile point there's a turnout with spectacular views of the Sierra and a plaque paying tribute to Dr. Geiger. Down toward the valley, you'll see the old, snaking, unpaved route. The new road curls over the mountains and south into historic Virginia City. It was once a rough town, but these days it's a pretty nice place to stay.
Where it is: From Reno, take I-80 east to 395 south. Look for signs to Virginia City and Highway 341.
When to go: Spring brings a fragrant bloom to the high desert, but summer or fall are less likely to have bad weather.
Who will like it: History buffs, scenic-drive devotees. What's there: Virginia City, a historic mining town complete with saloons and covered sidewalks, preserved to give visitors a taste of pioneer days.
Illustration by Michael Klein
This article was first published in March 2003. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.