We first saw this ghost town in 1965, on a 30-day cross-country trip with our two boys. Entrance to Virginia City Outside Virginia CityOur older son, then four, had the back seat of the Volkswagen to himself, while his younger brother, not quite two, slept and played in the well behind the back seat, lined with blankets and teddy bears. Some of our luggage was in the front bonnet, but most was on top in a capacious car-top carrier.

The road to Virginia City was steep, narrow and rocky, with sharp curves, and we used first gear much of the way. As we look back, it seems rather adventuresome, but at the time it was all rather natural!

Virginia City, Nevada, was the site of the Comstock Lode, one of the largest gold and silver mining districts in the United States. Discovered in 1859, while gold fever and mining mania Virginia City Main Street Old Washoe Club, Main Street were at their peak, the discovery drew prospectors and miners and speculators and their associates to the mines. Virginia City became the center of trade and commerce and soon reached a population of 30,000.

Perhaps their most notable character was Samuel Clemens, who was then writing for the local newspaper. He used his pseudonym, Mark Twain, for the first time here, and wrote about his experiences in "Roughing It."

Of course, as the rich ore began to run out, the miners moved on, and Virginia City began a gentle decline.

The city in the hills The city and the hills This year we found Virginia City not much changed in appearance from 1965 but not at all remote. In fact, it is less than 30 miles from downtown Reno, which can be viewed from the hilltop just outside the town. The road has been smoothed and engineered and carries a fair amount of traffic.

The hillsides are dotted with expensive mountain homes, but there are still mines being worked, both gold and silver. With gold over $800 an ounce, it must be tempting to scrape out the remains from the old mine tunnels! We passed one setup which we recognized as a cyanide leaching process. Reno from Virginia City Reno from Virginia City

The town, which is mostly concentrated near its main street, includes souvenir shops and some little museums and restaurants, open at least during the summer tourist season, for dining and sandwiches. On the day we came, all was quiet and only one or two people were out in the streets. It's easy to see why people who work in Reno want to live here, because the views across the desert are spectacular.

The excursion to Virginia City provides an interesting contrast to Reno, which styles itself "The Biggest Little City in the West," and which has its own rough-edged charm. We stayed at the Silver Legacy which we found quite convenient and comfortable, connected by covered walkways to two other downtown hotels. The river walk continues to expand, and on our way back from Virginia City we watched skaters on the municipal ice rink.