Discovering a Piece of Western History

“On the road again.

Just can’t wait to get on the road again…

Goin’ places that I’ve never been.

Seein’ things that I may never see again.”

— Willy Nelson

*

Road trip!

Last week, Buster and I headed north and east to hook up with friends a modicum of adventure. OK, limited adventure. Cracked ribs via a surfing accident Saturday morning dampened the possibility of rock climbing, horseback riding, stagecoach cruising, etc. But the open road beckoned, and our first destination was Virginia City, Nev.

We drove up the eastern belly of California. From Laguna, that meant out the 133, onto the 5, merging with the 241, sliding onto the 91, dialing into the 15, and finally, crossing over to 395. That’s a lot of highway numbers and reflects the fact that we live in a very concentrated population area.

Once we escaped the subdivisions and big box malls of Victorville, we drove with light traffic through Kramer Junction and past the huge bank of solar panels. I was struck by the number of vacancies and closed businesses in each of the small towns.

I posted “check-ins” via the feature on Facebook from stops at Four Corners, Mt. Whitney and Mono Lake. Friends responded with, “Oh, traveling again — what a surprise,” (Jack Lipscomb) and “Say hi on your way back,” (Candi McCue via Bishop).

At Mono Lake, Buster and I stopped for lunch and hiked around the edge of the lake. Small tufa towers and a vast number of seagulls are testimony to the salinity of the water. I reflected on the years I spent teaching photo classes up and down the Owens Valley. Fenced areas have closed-off places where my students spent many star-filled nights.

“Welcome to Nevada” beckoned me to the state of no personal income taxes. Thank goodness for iPhone’s map feature. With the built-in GPS, it always knew just where I was and had no trouble locating the barely marked turnoff for Highway 341, just outside of Carson City.

The 341 winds through dry rocky hillsides covered with spent mine tailings. Gold and silver set the tone for expansion in these hills, and in the 1830s, Virginia City was the center of the western world. A population of 35,000 overshadowed that of Los Angeles (a mere 20,000), and San Francisco was considered the poorer sister city.

Today, Virginia City is a collection of renovated vintage buildings, a handful of ruins, a boardwalk crammed with antique and touristy shops, saloons and a casino. The population hovers around 750, and it seems that everyone knows everyone else.

I’d come to visit Jeff Teague and Paul Yandre, friends from Loreto, and stay in their B&B — the Cobb Mansion, with their two Jack Russell terriers, Tascha and Mancha. My friend Carol Boyd, who originally introduced me to Jeff and Paul, flew from Texas with her dog, Ellie. We now had four canines of similar size to romp on the extensive grass lawns.

The 1876 home has been painstakingly renovated and retains its original splendor, combined with updated plumbing and electricity, and the exquisite decorating tastes of the two men. Set on the edge of B Street, the mansion was built after the 1875 fires had leveled the city, and commands a view of the surrounded valley. Cool summer breezes lower the temperatures in the afternoon.

The formal parlor is furnished with a mix of Victorian-era antiques, including an 1810 Viner clock from England, and a Tiffany-style stained glass panel over the fireplace. Each of the six guest rooms has been named for a local personality and is furnished with distinct memorabilia.

My room, the “Beebe Clegg,” was occupied by Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg during the 1950s. According to the Cobb Mansion’s website, Beebe was a famous socialite and newspaper writer in Boston and New York, and Clegg was an accomplished photographer. Together, they decided to leave the “hoity-toity” life of the east behind and move to Virginia City (in their private train car), where they reestablished the Territorial Enterprise newspaper and built it into the most widely published weekly in the west. Many credit Beebe and Clegg with bringing Virginia City “back from the ashes.”

Breakfast at Cobb Mansion is served in the formal dining room. The fragrant scent of bread and hot coffee fills the house in the early hours. Paul bakes brioche and cinnamon rolls daily. Fresh fruit precedes a variety of breakfast options, such as French toast and eggs Florentine. Cocktails are at 5 p.m. in the garden. Comfy beds and soft pillows provide the perfect backdrop for dreams.

Paul is a retired teacher and a walking Virginia City history encyclopedia. He loves to take his guests on a city tour in his vintage 1929 Cadillac. He is the car’s second owner, and it is completely intact with its original paint, headliners and upholstery.

As we toured the town, he shared stories of unique homes and eclectic owners, the Opera House, the government buildings and closed mines. The bulk of the mining equipment that fed the coffers of Virginia City was shipped to Tonopah, Nev., when the local gold played out.

Thank you, Willy Nelson, for the road. I’ve now come to know a place I’d never been, and I’ve seen things I may never see again.

For more information about Cobb Mansion Bed & Breakfast, visit http://www.cobbmansion.com.

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