Friday, February 13, 2009

Exploring the Old Carson River Road

One of the most scenic drives or hikes in Western Nevada is a trek on the old Virginia and Truckee Railroad bed that runs parallel to the Carson River, just east of Carson City.

The best way to access the railroad bed is via Deer Run Road (located off U.S. 50 East). Drive about a quarter mile to a bridge, then turn left on the dirt road adjacent to the Carson River.

The road is fairly good, although a four-wheel-drive vehicle is necessary in a few places because of mud and large rocks. The road is also popular with mountain-bikers.

At the start, it takes a few twists and turns and passes a gravel plant. Just beyond the gravel business, turn left on a slightly rougher dirt road and you’ve reached the old V & T pathway.

Cottonwoods and thick foliage line the river, which has plenty of flow in the winter and spring. The road hugs the hillside above the water and affords several photogenic views, particularly of the rushing water and trees (which are beautiful in the fall when the cottonwoods are clothed in yellow leaves).

About a quarter-mile from the starting point, the road passes a small hill with an unusual concrete vault or room (it looks like a tunnel) built into its side.

Just around a curve from the hill, the road crosses a wide flat and to the left are the remains of an old mill. During the 1860s, several mills were constructed along the river to process ore from Virginia City’s mines.

The ruins consist of a few stone and concrete walls, some metal scraps and lots of trash of more recent vintage. The ground around the site is littered with broken glass and gun shells (it’s a popular local shooting range).

From this point, the road begins to slowly climb and the views become more spectacular. Below, the river winds through the narrowing canyon, which is lined with multi-colored cliffs.

In some spots, the walls are craggy and gray, covered with brilliant green lichen, while in other places they are painted in rich shades of red and brown.

There is the smell of damp sage in the air and the sounds of life accented by chattering birds and the rapidly rushing waters of the river.

The route grows more rutted and rocky as it continues its upward path, away from the river. Near the highest point, it enters an extremely narrow pass, which is partially blocked by large rocks. It is, however, passable if you’re careful.

From this point, the route turns north into Mound House passing through a housing subdivision before rejoining U.S. 50.

For those wanting to take a nice hike along the river, there is a portion of the old railroad bed that was actually a spur line, which can be accessed near Mound House.

This trail (which is not drivable) goes east along the river to the site of the historic Eureka Mill. Occasionally, the old bed has been washed away so it’s a bit like playing detective to follow the route.

Along the way, you can find the stone foundations of bridges that once spanned several wide gullies and evidence of wooden trestles that once jutted from the rock walls. In some places, the railroad bed was supported by carefully fitted, stone walls, which still look solid enough to use.

At the mill site, you can find a few stone and brick walls while the grounds are littered with rusted metal shards and pieces of brick.

And, of course, plenty of history.

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