Photo: Greg MacDonald

As I mentioned in the first “Twain Trip” post, Sam Clemens planned to work as an assistant to his brother, the newly appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory—a secretary to the Secretary as it were. This notion he abandoned, however, when he learned that his salary would be deducted straight from his brother’s paycheck. Surely seeking to maintain positive fraternal relations, he sought his fortune by other means, first as a timber baron, then as a mining tycoon.

Things did not work out as planned, however. Aside from nearly capsizing in Mono Lake and almost freezing to death near Carson City, a consequence of having spent the night lost in a snowstorm (a mere 50 feet from the nearest stagecoach station), he accidentally burned down a large swath of forest surrounding Lake Tahoe, a feat he bested only by forfeiting a mining claim worth millions of dollars. Not to say that he wasn’t keeping busy—he was. It was just no way to make a living.

Twain, used to doing things on a grand scale, made no exception in failure. He had failed spectacularly. Those weren’t the piddling millions of today’s currency, mind you—they were 1860s millions. And yet, at the end of his short mining career he didn’t have two cents to rub together. The dizzying flight from millionaire to pauper left him lost. A saving grace though arrived in the form of an offer to write for Virginia City’s local newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise for $25 a week. Normally he would have turned it down, work having been antithetical to his nature, but with his back firmly against a wall he accepted and, at 27, moved to Virginia City.

I do not like to work, even when another person does it.

— Mark Twain

For us, Virginia City lay still ahead. We awoke before dawn and watched a serene orange glow bleed into the dark until the sky flooded and pushed the stars out of sight. After breakfast and cups of tea to ward off the chill, we packed up and hit the trail.


The roads through the Virginia Range were only moderately rough, maybe a 2 out of 10. Navigating the network of tracks was the bigger challenge, but with our maps, compass, GPS, and occasional help from fellow adventurers, it was no problem.

Heading out of camp

Pausing at the start of the Ophir Grade trail to do some way-finding

Natalie and I looking into the valley just south of Gold Hill

A great big view and a small truck

We arrive in Virginia City!

Photos: Greg MacDonald

If Virgina City’s economy, tilted towards mining, wasn’t lopsided in Twain’s time, it certainly looked it now, listing heavily as it did, towards tourism. I expected to see a nice little town with a sense of its own history. While that history and civic pride were in evidence, they were overshadowed by a main street crowded with gift shops. Happily, there were a couple of good museums, the Twain museum in the basement of the Territorial Enterprise building, for example, which housed Twain’s desk, as well as the paper’s long-defunct printing press. Next door a tidy-looking, old bookstore specialized in Twain and other works of, or about, the period.

Having looked around, we decided to have lunch and get out of Dodge.

The Territorial Enterprise building still stands.

Photo: Nik Schulz

The basement was filled with artifacts, some expected…

…some unexpected.

This plaque marked the building.

Photos: Greg MacDonald

Natalie checks out the old-timey scene.

The Comstock History Center houses this well-restored locomotive.

How’s this for a field kitchen?

Photos: Nik Schulz

Some stores turn the period vibe up to eleven.

Virgina City from below town

Photos: Greg MacDonald

We headed back into Carson City to restock the cooler, grab some essentials: namely a Snickers ice cream bar, drove through Wellington, NV—there was nothing to stop for—and then turned to follow Desert Creek into the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The road from Hwy. 338 to the Desert Creek campsite was easy graded dirt. There we camped for the night.

Using the Power Tank to air up for the highway

On the road to Desert Creek

Photos: Greg MacDonald

After dinner and bits of Roughing It read around the campfire, Natalie and I fell into our tent and Greg bunked in his truck, as was his custom.

The night settled in again, and so did we.

Photo: Greg MacDonald

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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