Comstock Mining District ~ Virginia City, Nevada
The Comstock Mother Lode did much more than just merely make Virginia City visible on the map back in 1859. This silver and gold ore deposit was so big, that it made Virginia City the richest town in America and the extreme amount of wealth generated turned the world economic structure upside down. So much silver came out of the Comstock that silver prices soon plummeted and many foreign countries went broke. The gold flowed like a river too and on any given day gold dust can still be seen in the street gutters along the old saloon row in downtown Virginia City. Visions like this certainly have made this old mining town prime time a pilgrimage site for those who have gold fever! A lot of old wild west history sure was made in Virginia City in the old days and the best way to gain a little insight prior to arrival is to tour the Comstock Mining District!
If you walk into Virginia City and ask where to find the Comstock Mining District the answer from a local will probably be, “Well … Its everywhere!” This literally is true in the sense that the ground underneath Virginia City looks like Swiss Cheese, because so many mine shafts and stopes have been dug! Most of the old historic mine sites are located a little way downhill from Virginia City, so by standing on the road near the top of the hill, the entire mining arena can be seen.
The Comstock was no ordinary ore plume deposit that had a high concentration of gold and silver all in one place. Because the Comstock is located in the fairly young Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, there are many fault lines in this region and the earth’s crust has been crushed into pieces that have been displaced by tremendous pressure through eons of time. Because of the rock strata displacement, the rich Comstock ore vein is scattered all over the place underground. It took time for the local mining geologists to finally pool their thoughts and plot every underground ore strike on a map. The result was a map of scattered dots with varying depths and by looking at the map, the next underground ore strike area could be predicted. This is when the days of the Swiss Cheese style exploratory mine shaft techniques came to an end and the mining operation became much more efficient. By doing so, the market was absolutely flooded with silver and gold and Virginia City was sitting on top of the world!
The story of how a miner named Henry Comstock performed a con job to swindle the estate of a couple of local miners that died out in the cold, in order to take hold of the original ore strike, is an interesting story to hear. Henry Comstock stole this rich gold claim and as it was back then, it was the perfect crime, because nobody other than the dead prospectors knew about the ore strike. Comstock went on to open a few more local mines before selling out for a lowball price. During this time, the Comstock gold and silver rush went full tilt and several big mining companies were making bonanza strikes.
By 1873, most of the big mining operations were dwindling away and the Virginia City gold rush was over. However, because this region is so rich with ore, some of the companies continued working the claims and the recent high price of gold has caused a few of the old claims to come back to life. The Comstock Mining District is not nearly as active as it used to be, mostly because modern ore mining techniques only involve turning mountains into open pit excavation areas and this cannot be done in historic Virginia City, which sits on top of the old mother lode.
All mining claims are still active in the Comstock District, even though some of the adits are covered with cobwebs. Some of the old original mines are now open for guided tours, which happen to be a good learning experience for visitors of all ages. The price of a Virginia City mine tour is a good bargain by modern standards and I did the old historic Chollar Mine Tour during my visit. Exploring the Comstock Mining District is the best way to gain a better understanding of what made Virginia City famous, so put on the mining helmet, turn on the headlamp and get ready to see the amazing sights deep underground!