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Travel the V&T route on your own

Kelli Du Fresne

The Virginia & Truckee Railroad bridge rests on its laurels for now in Mound House, taking a break until called to service at some unknown point in the future.

It’s a utilitarian tool, not a thing of beauty or even an engineering marvel, but it will bring us five lanes closer to where we want to go.

The stories to be told along the V&T rails can only be imagined, but much of the route pegged for reconstruction can be seen today by those up for an adventure.

It’s possible to ride most of the 17 miles of the former route from Carson River Canyon to Virginia City on a mountain bike, motorcycle, quad, horse or even to walk it.

Unless you’re up for a long adventure, I’d take the route in parts. Right now, the Carson River is running high, fast and brown, but the canyon is now, and will be for months, a wildflower lover’s paradise.

Head east on Brunswick Canyon road past the Bertagnolli aggregate plant and go left, north of the river. You’ll soon pass the ruins of Comstock Era mills. The road climbs at a 3 percent grade and takes you along the canyon wall to Mound House. Much of this route is passable in a four-wheel drive, but to go all the way through you’ll find parts that are rocky, narrow and not fit for an auto-type vehicle. You’ll wind along above the river until the road heads north, and then you’ll pull into the back side of the Carson Highlands mobile-home park. The wrecking yards and some bunny ranches are off to the right a ways.

Once through the Carson Highlands you can cross Highway 50 and head north past the turnoff to more bunny ranches and catch the grade again, but remember to turn left, up the steep hill at the green water tank or you’ll end up at another aggregate plant built into the hillside.

Once atop the hill you’ll look down to see American Flat and the ruins of the old mill to your right. The grade will be below you and runs along the foothills on the west side. Pick it up and head around the flat and go east until you can scramble up to the old haul road and follow this north. You’ll pass the Gold Hill Cemetery and end up at the Gold Hill Depot. This is the steepest part of the adventure as the route pretty much parallels the old railroad bed, but loses its 3 percent grade. What will one day be the new route is to your right.

From here you’ll hit the pavement of State Route 342 just above the Gold Hill Hotel and go north about 200 feet until you hit a dirt road on the right. From here, you can cruise above the existing rails and see where the train enters the tunnel. Follow the road around and see the train exit the tunnel, keep going and you’ll end up on the southern end of Virginia City where the train crosses below State Route 341, the Truck Route.

It takes me the better part of a day to complete this 34-mile round trip adventure on my mountain bike, but it’s worth it.

Taking it in parts and spending more time observing or taking pictures would be even more fun. Imagine ladies with corsets and floor-length skirts, men with spurs and long coats and big dreams of striking it rich.

As you pedal, walk or roam, imagine the Short Line Princess once again in operation and her whistle echoing off the canyon walls.

Kelli Du Fresne is features editor for the Nevada Appeal. Contact her at kdufresne@nevadaappeal.com or at 881-1261.