Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Chollar Mine ~ Virginia City, Nevada!

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     Comstock Lode Silver And Gold At The Old Chollar Mine!
     Virginia City is the heart of the famous Comstock Lode mining operations that began in the 1850's.  Because of ancient volcanic upheavals and tectonic plate pressure, the earth's crust in the Sierra Nevada Mountain region was broken and torn like a jigsaw puzzle.  When gold and silver mining first began in Virginia City, the miners thought they discovered a few pocket lodes and rich ore veins that only traveled a short distance.
     One day the mine owners met and they pooled all their information.  The tunnels were all mapped and the ore veins were charted.  The result was an overview of the complex underground ore deposits in the entire region.  It only took minutes to see that the rich ore deposits were fragmented by upheavals in the Earth's Crust and it was evident that plenty more ore could be found by judging where the missing jigsaw pieces were.  This meeting was when the full potential of the Comstock Lode was realized and the implications were tremendous.
     The Chollar Mine was established in 1859.  This mine is one of the oldesest full scale silver and gold mining operations in Virginia City.  Many mining industry firsts occurred at the Chollar Mine.  The Chollar Mine is where electricity was first employed in the mining industry.  This mine also set many new groundbreaking safety standards for that other mining operations followed.
    While visiting Virginia City, I took a tour of the Chollar Mine.  The price of admission is a bargain by modern standards.  The tour goes 400 feet underground into Chollar Mine, right into a large stoke chamber where a rich vein of the Comstock silver ore can be seen.
     For those who are hesitant about venturing into an old silver and gold mine that was dug over 150 years ago, there is no need to worry.  The age old timbers have been replaced over the years.  The first 400 feet into the mine is thoroughly shored up.  Fresh air is pumped in, just like in the old days and the level of dust is minimal.  Most of the old mine shafts are blocked so nobody gets lost.  Daylight can be dimly seen coming from the adit if the lights go out, so there is no need to be preoccupied with panicky thoughts while deep underground.
     The first 100 feet or so are a little damp and the mine shaft is wet, but after this point the deep mine is completely dry.  Obviously wearing the finest city slicker clothes and shoes is not advisable when venturing into this old mine.  Wear comfortable duds and be sure to not wear a hat.
     Old mine shafts from the 1800's tended to be narrow with a low ceiling.  A person that is less than 5 foot tall can walk upright down the Chollar Mine Shaft.  Those who are closer to being 10 foot tall NBA basketball players will have to stoop over while traversing the distance of the mine shaft to the stoke chamber, where the ceiling is much higher.
     I happen to be 6' tall and I only bumped my head once on a cross beam while I was not thinking about what I was doing.  That thunk on the noggin sure did send a clear message about how important it is to keep your wits about you when underground in an old silver and gold mine.
     Mentioning two major disclaimers is the best thing to do for readers of this article, so the vacation in Virginia City remains a fun one.  Waiting behind for the rest of the group to finish the mine tour is a far better choice than to pretend that things will be okay if either of these two specific maladies are ignored.
     Those who suffer from chronic claustrophobia should not venture into an old silver mine of any kind, because the passageways are tight and narrow.  The same can be said about folks that have extreme sensitivity to mold and mildew.  Old underground mines do have some fuzzy growth on the walls.  Those who have no health issues will have nothing but a great time inside the old Chollar Mine.
     The Chollar Mine tour truly is an educational experience for both children and adults.  Even experienced miners can learn something about mining history at this place.  The tour guide is a descendant of Virginia City mining families from the old Comstock days.  The guide thoroughly knows the Chollar Mine subject matter.  He presents a lot of good first hand knowledge about the Chollar Mine and Virginia City that is not mentioned in encyclopedic history books.  All said and done, it is best to not get into writing details about the Chollar Mine history and stuff in today's article, because the tour guide will provide all that information and more.
     Virginia City literally has a lot of ghosts of the past and this city is a paranormal tourism destination.  Even the locals will freely admit to seeing apparitions occasionally.
     While I was chatting with the tour guide deep inside the Chollar Mine, he mentioned seeing a miner from the 1800's walking down the shaft one day.  This happened when nobody else was in the mine and no tourists were on the property.  Sure enough, the tour guide saw what turned out to be a real live ghost deep in this old mine.
      So, when the lights go out ... and since the wiring is so old, they surely will ... just try not to jump out of your skin if a chill is felt on the back of the neck in the pitch black darkness!  There is nothing like a good little scare deep inside an old silver mine to shake the cobwebs clean out of the old kidneys!
     The Chollar Mine Tour is a fun venture that will provide a lifetime of memories.  Be sure to bring a camera along, because picture taking is allowed.
     A lot of history was made at this old mine.  The Chollar Mine is a historical Virginia City destination that must be experienced to be believed!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Monolith Gardens Trail ~ Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area, Arizona!

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     Monolith Gardens Trail
     Highway 93 runs from the Great Basin Desert through Las Vegas, before the road turns east toward Arizona.  There are some long stretches of wide open desert territory on this road and driver fatigue can become a problem.
     Tourists that venture from Las Vegas to places like the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West or the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, usually travel the first leg on Highway 93 to Kingman, Arizona.  Kingman literally is the starting point for traveling to all scenic destinations in Arizona.  Kingman is also the heart and soul of Historic Route 66.
     When traveling long stretches of road, like from Vegas to Kingman, taking a break to stretch the legs is the best way to reinvigorate the body and refresh the mind.  Coffee only does wonders for a short spell, before "car seat rigor mortis" takes over.  Stopping for a little exercise before arriving at a travel destination puts some pep in the step after getting there.
     A good spot to stretch the legs and walk the dog can be found at the Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area just outside of Kingman, Arizona.  The Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area offers several short hiking trails through the scenic Mojave Desert.  The facilities and trails are managed by the BLM, so they are well maintained.
     BLM recreation areas often are not highly publicized, so there is no such thing as dealing with an endless sea of tourists at a mainstream National Park.  Road related stress relief is easy to find at the lesser known BLM destinations, because there is more elbow room.
     The Monolith Gardens Trail is the easiest trail to find at the Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area, because the access is located on Highway 93.  Just a few small signs mark the entrance and it is easy to miss this destination while driving downhill.
     There is ample room for recreational vehicle parking.  Primitive camping is allowed on BLM land.  Even horse trailers can unload with ease in this area.  Riding the Cerbat Foothills Trails on horseback is what many folks do.
     Those that take the time to stop and look around will be rewarded for their venture.  The Monolith Gardens Trail is 7 miles long.  When the weather is cool, hiking the full 7 miles is easy to accomplish.  When summer temperatures are in the triple digits, it is best to shorten the distance and carry a jug of water.
     There are many little sidetrack trails and shortcuts for those who only want to take a short walk and get some fresh air after driving across the desert expanse.  For those who really like to get some exercise, one of the marked trails ends at the Historic Route 66 district in Kingman.
     The perception of size and distance can be deceiving in the Mojave Desert.  Mountains look like they are within reach and giant rock outcroppings appear to be much smaller than they really are.  After walking a short distance, the monolith outcroppings tower overhead.  It is then that the real scale of things sets in.
     Monolith Gardens is definitely worth taking the time to see.  The is a great place to take a break while traveling to the Grand Canyon.  Hiking the Monolith Gardens Trail is a good way to work up an appetite for some old fashioned classic American Route 66 diner food in Kingman too!      

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Virginia City, Nevada!

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     Virginia City!
     It is funny how some places get lost in the shuffle of history in modern times.  Virginia City is a place that many people never heard of, yet this Nevada town was once the most famous place on earth.
     The first generation of television viewers remember Virginia City as the setting for the Gunsmoke western series, but little was ever mentioned in that show about how Virginia City came to be.  Anybody that has studied world economics history or the influences of gold and silver on the power structure of governing bodies certainly knows why Virginia City was once called "The Richest City In The World."  Fans of Mark Twain also know all about this city.  Ask any gold or silver prospector and one will see a smile and an all knowing gleam in their eye when Virginia City is mentioned.
     Virginia City is where the Comstock Lode was discovered in the late 1850's.  A skilled prospector worked placers on Gold Hill till he was certain about where the source of the mother lode of gold was located in a bed of quartz.  Initially gold is what the Virginia City prospectors sought and the gray color composite ore vein was just kind of a mystery.  After an assayer report came in, the gray color material turned out to be a very high concentration of silver that carried a high percentage of gold particulates.
     At that time in history, silver sold for the same price as gold, so this ore vein discovery was the mother lode of mother lodes!  The Comstock Lode was the richest gold and silver deposit in the world and the actual value of these precious metals made the 1849 gold rush look small in comparison.
     The Comstock Lode funded the Union during the Civil War.  It turned the economic structure of the world upside down.  The high tonnage of ore devalued the price of silver and it weakened foreign powers.  This famous mother lode turned America into a superpower overnight.  Virginia City had the highest percentage of millionaires per capita.  Virginia City literally was the richest city in the world.
    Virginia City was boom town during the Comstock mining days and this city attracted many famous people and folks that saw an opportunity to use this city as a springboard to gain fame.  Samuel Clemens was just another newspaper journalist when he moved to Virginia City.  This city is where Samuel Clemens wrote his first novel under the pen name Mark Twain and of course the novel was about Virginia City during the Comstock mining era.  Many western novelists followed in Samuel Clemens footsteps in later years.
     There is a difference between easy money and big money.  There is nothing easy about mining gold and silver.  Many miners died while working in the vast maze of mine tunnels that run underneath the entire Virginia City region.  Mining was backbreaking work and the high paid miners made over $4 per day.  When the miners ended their shift, they did the town in a big way.  It was easy to be a high roller back in the days when a beer cost 5¢ and a big steak dinner cost 25¢.  This left plenty of money leftover for the finer things in life, like whiskey, brothels and gambling.  Virginia City was a haven for sin filled vice.  This heritage is part of the reason why brothels and gambling are legal in Nevada in this modern age.
     Many opportunists, con men and card sharks saw Virginia City as an advantageous opportunity to separate plenty of miners from their earnings.  The easiest way to part a fool from their money was the card game Faro back in the days of the wild west.  In reality, nobody played poker in the old west.  Poker was a Hollywood western movie invention.
     Doc Holiday is famous for his part in the shootout at the OK Corral, but Doc Holiday was also notorious for being a card shark hustler too.  Doc Holiday always carried his own Faro Board wherever he went and he spent plenty of time running Faro gambling rackets in saloons throughout the west.  Doc Holiday was an expert at stacking the Faro Deck and accusations of bunco crimes usually ended with bloodletting by a bullet or a knife.
     Faro eventually became the number one gambling game at Virginia City Saloons.  The most famous Faro card table of them all is located at the old Delta Saloon.  A few owners of this business lost their entire fortune playing Faro at one particular in the Delta Saloon and soon after they committed suicide.  Ever since then, the famous Faro table that cause catastrophic demise gained the reputation of being the Suicide Table.  The original Suicide Table is on display in this old Virginia City Saloon.
     The Virginia City saloon crawl has to be the best bar hopping venture that there is.  Every saloon in Virginia City has been around since the Comstock mining days and the looks of the saloons have not changed all that much during the last 150 years.  Stepping into a Virginia City saloon is just like stepping back into the days of the old wild west.
    The Delta Saloon has been in business since 1863.  This saloon has a classic western style long bar and plenty of antique furnishings.  The atmosphere and feel of this place simply has to be experienced to be believed.  The local patrons are real characters and striking up as conversation always leads to stories of Virginia City that are not mentions in magazine articles.  One local fella that look like he was straight out of the wild Virginia City days sat at the bar.  After the bartender asked how its going, the response was "Awe ... Shit the bed!"  I have not heard that old expression spoken at a Nevada saloon for many years and I could not help but to laugh.  We then had a funny little conversation over that old saying of woe and misery.
     Yes, there is never a dull moment when doing the Virginia City saloon crawl.  I stepped into the old Bucket Of Blood Saloon for a beer and had a good conversation with one of the owners.  The Bucket Of Blood Saloon was established in 1876 under a different name of the business than the current one.  Apparently this saloon had such a reputation for drunken brawls, knife fights and matters being settled at gunpoint that it earned the reputation of being the Bucket Of Blood Saloon.  The name stuck and it is apropos.  The Bucket Of Blood Saloon is another Virginia City establishment that is like traveling back in time to the gold rush days.  The captioned photos of the Bucket Of Blood Saloon in the slide show above are will captivate any wild west enthusiast.
     The Red Dog Saloon was another leg of the historic saloon crawl.  Originally the building was the Comstock House Hotel.  About 90 years later, the Red Dog Saloon came into fruition as a famous Virginia City 1960's psychedelic era saloon.  The Charlatons, Janis Joplin (Big Brother And The Holding Company) and the Grateful Dead performed on stage at the Red Dog saloon long before these band became famous nationwide.  The psychedelic saloon theme wore off after about a decade and the Red Dog Saloon eventually acquired an identity of its own that fits in with the old west theme of Virginia City.  Their still is a band stage and plenty of room for dancing.  Great country, western and bluegrass folk musical acts are booked each week.
     While at the Red Dog Saloon, the munchies entered the picture and ordering some good old fashioned tourist trap style junk food really sounded tempting.  The Irish Nachos got my vote of munchie approval.  The Irish Nachos definitely satisfied the junk food craving.  Irish Nachos are made with fancy garlic fries, cheese sauce and bacon.  One simply cannot go wrong with Irish Nachos and an ice cold Great Basin Brewery Outlaw Milk Stout!
     The rule of thumb for staying sober enough to drive is to have one beer per hour and then do another hour on the dry side.  Since I had to hit the road after doing the tourist thing in Virginia City, a 3 saloon crawl was all I could muster up during the 4 hour visit.  Striking the mother lode of Virginia City saloon crawls and chugging it up at every saloon in town is definitely a worthwhile venture.  If something like this is in the vacation plans, then I highly suggest booking a room in one of the historic Virginia City hotels to get the full effect of the wild west experience.
     There is plenty to do in Virginia City other than to hop from one saloon and gambling hall to the next.  Shopping for cool memorabilia and antiques tops the list.  I purchased an old cast iron Aunt Jemima Coin Bank and a souvenir T-Shirt at Zepha's for a fair price at Zepha's Cove antique shop.  This little shop is loaded with old west antiques and heirloom jewelry.  I also was coaxed into the Virginia City Mercantile curios shop.  Everything odd, weird and unmentionable can be found at this shop.  I purchased some Maple Bacon Taffy and Sassafras Tea.  I also picked up a hat or T-Shirt at every saloon I visited.  These nifty items are good conversation starters.
     There is a place to pan gold in Virginia City.  There is even a place to see a wild west shootout happen live in person.  Old west outlaw gunfights are great entertainment for kids of all ages.  The Chollar Mine is a prime attraction.  I did the tour of the Chollar Mine and the photos will be published in an upcoming article soon.  This is a historic area and there are many museums that are well worth visiting.  The mansions of the silver tycoons are open for tours and so are many of the Victorian era buildings, like the old 4th Ward School House.
     There are some good restaurants and BBQ joints in the main street area.  From what I understand, there is a local specialty hotdog company that makes customized hotdogs for every saloon and restaurant in Virginia City.  Gourmet hotdog fans will be pleased to hear this!
     Railroad buffs can take a steam engine train ride back and forth from Virginia City to Gild Hill or as far away as Carson City.  This is the way to commute from Carson City in style!  The mountain scenery on this rail route is breathtaking to say the least.  Information about the Virginia & Truckee Railroad can be found at the main street area or a couple blocks downhill at the railroad depot.  For those booking passage from Carson City, visit the Virginia & Truckee Railroad website.
     After reading the bits of this article and looking at the slide show it is easy to see what Virginia City is all about.  This old living ghost town is well preserved and it is a must to put on the vacation destination list.  Virginia City is located near Lake Tahoe and Carson City.  There is plenty of old west history to experience in this entire region.  Virginia City takes the cake as the number one wild west destination in the State Of Nevada!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Cactus Joe's ~ Blue Diamond Nursery!

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     Cactus Joe's Blue Diamond Nursery! 
     Cactus Joe's Blue Diamond Nursery is located near the intersection of Blue Diamond Road (Route 160) and the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive (Route 159).  By following Route 159 a couple blocks north toward Red Rock Canyon, Cactus Joe's can be seen on the east side of the road.
     The nursery is at a much higher elevation than Las Vegas.  This nursery is located at the mouth of Red Rock Canyon in the Spring Mountains.  During the hot summer months, this destination is a great place to visit, because it is about 15ยบ cooler than the valley and a refreshing cool mountain breeze offers a sigh of relief.  Cactus Joe's is a great place to chill out when the lower Las Vegas Valley temperatures are in the triple digits.
     Cactus Joe's Blue Diamond Nursery is a one of a kind place.  Cactus Joe's is a destination that good yo suggest for both the locals and visitors of Las Vegas.  This is no ordinary cactus nursery.  Many folks describe Cactus Joe's as being some kind of a spiritual experience!
     Some say Cactus Joe's is a destination for the soul.  Some say it is a great place to find bargains.  Some say it is a religious experience.  Everyone agrees that this nursery is a great place to relax and take a stroll through the cactus gardens while shopping for one of a kind southwestern style outdoor decorations.
     People have been known to spend an entire day at Cactus Joe's.  There is no fee or cover charge.  Making a purchase covers the price of admission.  Sales is what keeps the place in business, so by spending the almighty dollar this unique landmark garden shop will be around for many years to come.
     The staff really cares about cactus they sell and they lovingly nurture sick cactus back to health in the "cactus hospital" garden that is onsite.  The Cactus Joe's staff is second to none when it comes to cactus knowledge and they are happy to answer any questions.
     During the winter months, the cactus are housed in a shelter to protect them from the icy cold mountain air.  When the weather warms up, each cactus species is grouped together at several locations around the grounds.  The cactus are not just lined up in rows like at a normal garden shop.  The cactus actually arranged to create nice visual effects.
     Spring is a good season for visiting Cactus Joe's because plenty of flowering blooms can be seen.  Recent rains guarantee that the blooms will be in good numbers this year.  A second bloom occurs during late summer when the South American cactus species produce bright color flowers.
     The hand crafted artwork, ceramics, iron works and pottery are always way beyond the norm at this cactus haven.  The hand crafted garden product inventory constantly changes with the season.  Recently an Anasazi theme was adopted.  There were rustic ladders that replicated the ones found at the Anasazi Mesa Verde cliff dwellings.  Plenty of Native American and Mexican style pottery and metal works were in stock.  As one can see in the photos above, these items are one of a kind!
     Another item of interest at Cactus Joe's Blue Diamond Nursery is the Desert Rock Maze!  The Rock Maze is surrounded by many Aztec and Mayan style sculptures and figurines.  The Rock Maze is a good old fashioned entertainment for children.
     The Rock Shop at Cactus Joe's is stocked full of semi precious gems, geodes and petrified wood.   Fine crystal and turquoise jewelry can be found at Cactus Joe's specialty store.  The specialty is located next to the rock maze.
     I have been doing business with Cactus Joe's for many years.  There have been times when I have gone there just to take a leisurely stroll and soak up the interesting sights.  Even though shopping was not on my mind, I always found something interesting to purchase and bring home.
     During the weeks before I started 48 weeks of chemotherapy a few years ago, I spent a lot of time at the nursery gathering my thoughts.  I actually found plenty of peace of mind when visiting this unique nursery.  People that have battled severe illness know how precious the peace of mind can be.  There is something about cactus and native art that inspires clarity and hope.
     I had an extensive cactus garden of my own a few years back.  I mostly collected column cactus species.  The cactus that were purchased at Cactus Joe's were always vigorous with new growth.  One of the South American cactus from this nursery actually produced huge white and gold flowers that were as big as a dinner plate!
     If you are visiting town and you purchase large items at the nursery, arrangements can be made to have the items shipped.  The staff is very helpful with loading cactus and large items into vehicles too.  Te staff also provides planting information and tips for keeping cactus healthy.
     I highly recommend Cactus Joe's Blue Diamond Nursery for those who seek a one of a kind southwestern style shopping experience!