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Silver Sierras Nevada Drive Tour
Old West & Big City in the Silver State
Visit Nevada for sites in Reno and Carson City, explore the Sun Mountains and Lake Tahoe, and check out western spots like Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park and Virginia City.
Day 1: Reno / Sparks
Spend the day in Reno. Start with a walk along the two-level Smith Truckee River Walk between Virginia and Sierra Streets. Nearby, the Virginia Street Bridge has lots of history. Reno founder, Myron Lake bought the original log structure in 1861 and started charging toll for everything using it. It made him wealthy, but terribly unpopular.
Continue east to Mill and Lake Street for Harrah’s National Automobile Museum. Parking available at Mill and Museum Drive. Over 200 vintage cars, from 1890 to present day, are displayed in street scenes from the periods. The collection is a small portion of the more than 1,000 owned by the late William F. Harrah. Admission fee. Newland Heights, Reno’s historic section where many of the houses were designed by Nevada’s well-known architect Frederic DeLongchamps, is on the bluff above the Truckee River, west of Sierra on Court Street. The highly recognized Reno Arch sits astride Virginia Street on the north side of the river at 3rd, between Harold’s and Fitzgerald’s Casinos.
The $35 million National Bowling Stadium is at Center and 4th. At 1650 N. Virginia is the Nevada Historical Society Museum, a virtual gold mine in understanding the history of the state. In Washoe County’s Rancho San Rafael Park, 1502 Washington Street, take in the May Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, May Great Basin Adventure, a historical theme park for kids with lots of hands-on exhibits, and the May Museum. These attractions are named after Wilbur D. May, long-time resident of Reno and heir of the May Department Store Empire.
In Sparks visit Victorian Square, the city’s main casino area. Stopping at the Sparks Information Center and Chamber office in the old Southern Pacific Depot, at the corner of Pyramid and Victorian Avenues, will include a visit to some old train cars, the remnants from the city’s railroad past. Next door is the Sparks Museum, filled with historical artifacts. The National Air Race Museum & Hall of Fame, 1507 Hymer, is a real treat for those who love flying.
Day 2: Lake Tahoe
Head to Mt. Rose and Incline Village on Lake Tahoe’s northeast shore – a premier area for all kinds of skiing and snowmobiling in the winter. Come spring and summer, it becomes a paradise for sail boating and wind surfing. Take NV 395 south to junction with NV 431 west, Mt. Rose Highway. Follow it to Incline Village.
During the months of May to October, visit Ponderosa Ranch, 100 Ponderosa Ranch Rd, Incline Village, where the television show “Bonanza” was filmed. Retrace route to US 395 and turn right to junction of NV 429, Davis Creek Road, about nine miles. This is an active geothermal area and the power plant nearby uses that energy to produce electricity. Turn right on Davis Creek Road and visit the Bowers Mansion in Bowers Park. Built in 1860 for one of the Comstock Lode founders who later married the lady owning the neighboring claim, the house and family have quite a history. It has been restored and furnished with mostly original pieces.
Continue to Frankstown Road, taking it to the right for a quick, but beautiful scenic drive along the foothills. The road rejoins Davis Creek, goes under US 395 and connects to NV 428, which runs up the east side of Washoe Lake and reconnects with US 395.
Day 3: Virginia City
Depart on US 395 south to NV 341 for a beautiful, winding drive to Virginia City, an 1850s historic mining town. This “Ghost Town” poured more than $400 million of silver and gold into the national economy during a critical period of U. S. history.
Begin at the Ponderosa Saloon, C and Taylor Street, with a 30 minute guided tour through the Underground Mine. Well worth the fee! Inside the saloon (the Bank of California Building), see the bank’s original vault and historic photos. South of Taylor on B Street is the Castle, an incredible 1868 Victorian mansion, built for the Empire Mine superintendent. Visit the Piper Opera House, corner of B Street and Union, built in 1885 by John Piper as the town’s theater. The Fourth Ward School, on the south end of town, was built in 1876 for $100,000. Take the Virginia & Truckee Railroad tour, an open car and caboose, pulled by an old steam engine on a 35 minute trip from the depot on F Street, just south of St. Mary’s Church, through #4 tunnel to Gold Hill depot. V & T operates from Memorial Day through October 1. The fees are reasonable.
There are over 60 attractions in Virginia City, so don’t worry about getting bored. Stop in the old Territorial Enterprise Museum to see Samuel Clemens’, aka Mark Twain, desk and materials. Take NV 341 to US 50, west to Carson City.
Day 4: Carson City
Nevada’s capital city has many attractions to visit. Get a copy of the Carson City Blue Line Trail map from your Best Western host or the Visitors Bureau, 1900 S Carson Street. It directs you on a historic residential and commercial self-guided, 1 hour walking tour of 59 sites (many have audio capabilities where the history of the site is shared), or a 19-site driving tour. The tours are adjacent to the Nevada State Capitol. Stop at the Nevada State Museum, 600 N Carson, the State Railroad Museum, 2180 S Carson, the Stewart Indian Cultural Center, 5366 Snyder, and the V & T Depot, 729 N Carson.
Leave Carson City by heading west on US 50 to Stateline and the south Lake Tahoe. Ride the spacious paddle wheeler M. S. Dixie II that departs year-round from Zephyr Cove, 888-896-3830. There is a 150 mile trail system for hiking and horseback riding around Lake Tahoe accessible from several area trailheads. During winter, snowmobiling is available at Zephyr Cove Snowmobile Center and skiing at Heavenly North. Return north on US 50 to the junction with NV 207, taking it down to NV 88, then north to Minden.
Day 5: Minden / Gardnerville
Take US 395 north to NV 57 west to Mormon Station State Historic Park. Head into Genoa and stop at the Genoa Courthouse Museum built in 1865. Close by is a great historic country store, Genoa Country Store, built in 1879.
Follow NV 206 south pass Wally’s Hot Springs to NV 19, taking it east to US 395. Turn right to Holbrook Junction and take NV 208 through Gardnerville, Wellington and Smith to Yerington. Take Alt. US 95 east to Schurz and US 95, following it around Walker Lake.
Day 6: Hawthorne / Berlin
Visit the Mineral County Museum, 10th and D Streets, for area historical artifacts and the eye-catching mural depicting the town’s history. Depart on US 95 east to Luning and take NV 361 north to Gabbs, connecting with NV 844 two miles north of town, taking it to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. The 1890s mining town of Berlin was the result of silver being discovered in Union Canyon. As was the case with many such towns, when the ore ran out so did the people.
Today Berlin has been uniquely preserved with furnished houses and offices. In the Berlin- Ichthyosaur State Park can be seen the fossil remains of ichtyosaurs –“fish lizards” or sea-living dinosaurs that were 75 feet in length and existed 70 to 180 million years ago. Their remains lie in what was once an ancient seabed that has been uplifted to 7,000 feet by volcanic action.
Return to US 50, taking it west to Fallon. Check out Sand Mountain, a one mile wide natural phenomenon that rises 600 feet and stretches out for two miles. The dune was created by wind blowing desert sand into the corner of the mountains over thousands of years. The Sand Creek Pony Express Station nearby has self-guided trail signs. Grimes Point, featuring 150 basalt boulders with ancient Indian petroglyphs is up the road and easily accessible.
Hidden Cave, 1 1/2 miles north, is only open to guided tours that are available at the Churchill County Museum in Fallon. Fallon, an agriculture oasis, rises out of the desert floor as a welcome sight of green. It is known for its “Heart O’ Gold” cantaloupes and home to the U. S. Navy’s famous “Top Gun” flight school for F-16 pilots. Two places to visit in Fallon are the Churchill County Museum at 1050 S Maine and the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, home to thousands of migratory geese and ducks. Stay in Fallon, proceed to Fernley via US Alt 50 for the evening or take I-80 west into Reno.