Photo: Natalie Menacho

On August 14, 1861 an unknown, unemployed steamboat pilot, and his brother, got off a dusty stagecoach from St. Joesph, Missouri having made the 1550 mile trek west to the newly-minted town of Carson City, Nevada. On a bit of a lark, he had decided to go and assist his brother, the recently appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory. His own career had been a casualty of the Civil War, which had broken out earlier that year halting all traffic on the Mississippi. Their three week journey cost $400, the equivalent of over $9580 dollars today. Of course, this former steamboat pilot, willing to spend hard earned money on a lark to head west was none other than Samuel Clemens.

Almost exactly 150 years later my girlfriend Natalie, our friend Greg, and I, set out for the Eastern Sierras, also on a bit of a lark, to follow in Clemens’ footsteps. We had combed guides, books, and maps, and made our plan. In early September we headed out in two Mitsubishi Monteros. Greg’s Gen1 and my Gen2.

Loading up the trucks

Monteros at the ready

Photos: Greg MacDonald

And we’re off!

Photo: Natalie Menacho

We changed horses every ten miles, all day long, and fairly flew over the hard, level road. We jumped out and stretched our legs every time the coach stopped, and so the night found us still vivacious and unfatigued.

Mark Twain, Roughing It, Chapter 4

For 280 miles we too flew over hard, level road to arrive a day later in Carson City. We stopped, had lunch, and stretched our legs across the street from the Nevada State Legislature and just down from the St. Charles Hotel, which reportedly housed a stage coach office in the 1800s. The building represented my best guess as to the exact spot where the Clemens brothers disembarked from their journey.

The St. Charles Hotel, reportedly the former location of Carson City’s stage coach office.

Photo: Nik Schulz

The three of us outside the St. Charles Hotel and apparently very near to the site of the “Carson City Downtown Get Down!”

Photo: Natalie Menacho

After lunch we headed out into the mountains towards Virginia City for our first bit of off-roading. The guidebook said the roads wouldn’t be too rough but warned us of the maze of trails on the way. It was right. We were soon lost.

Heading into the hills

Wild horses in the Virginia Range

Asking for directions on McClelland Peak

Photos: Greg MacDonald

Luckily we ran into a couple of guys working on McClellan Peak who pointed us in the right direction. Back on the trail we decided to stop for the day instead of pushing on to Virginia City. It turned out to be a good call. We parked the trucks in a V formation as wind break and pitched camp on top of a 7500 ft., sagebrush-covered mountain with views of Carson City to the south and Reno to the north. Greg started a fire with sage and horse droppings, both in plentiful supply. Natalie made a fantastic dinner of grilled bread, cheese, and sautéd vegetables. Meanwhile, I checked the maps to figure out our route for the next day.

Then, happy and sated, we sat around the campfire and told stories under a canopy of endless stars, much like Clemens himself had surely done as he made his way over these same hills.

Below, more photos, a map, and a little video.

Our camp near McClelland Peak

Cute! 🙂

Greg making good use of the available horse droppings.

Photos: Nik Schulz

Natalie making a different kind of magic in our field kitchen

Photo: Greg MacDonald

Greg scouting for the perfect shot

Photo: Nik Schulz

Quite a comfortable spot with a handy pile of horse droppings nearby

Photo: Natalie Menacho

A few of the essentials…

Photo: Greg MacDonald

I check the charts. The single malt is at the ready.

Photo: Natalie Menacho

Greg doesn’t look like this is his first rodeo…

Photo: Nik Schulz

Geez, gorgeous view…

 Photo: Natalie Menacho
 Video: Natalie Menacho

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Happy travels,


Other posts in this series:

Part 1, Arriving in Carson City 150 Years Late
Part 2, Virgina City to Desert Creek!
Part 3, Down Jackass Creek Without a Paddle
Part 4, The Ghost Towns of Bodie and Aurora
Part 5, Twain Lost and Found