“Hey, when are we doing that ride again?”, someone asked at the beginning of October. With the summer smoke gone from the sky and cooler Fall temperatures, we agreed it was officially time to plan our unofficial annual ride up to Virginia City. We picked the 4th weekend in October to make the trip from Carson City to Virginia City, an out-and-back loop ride that would take us through one municipality and three counties over its 26 mile route. The major change for this year’s ride, is that the Comstock Merger Mill at American Flat has been demolished since the last time we were up there. It was such an interesting landmark along the way, and we worried how it would affect the ride.
Eight other riders and I met up on a cool Saturday morning at 09:00. Some of the people were veterans of the ride, but there were several new faces as well. This is one of my favorite things about this ride. It always ends up being a fun social event, where people get to ride with people they don’t normally ride with. Everyone finishes the ride with a few new friends. Luckily it warmed up as we were making final preparations for the ride, and we were able to leave the heavy jackets behind. A few minutes later, we were bouncing our way up the rocky climb out of Centennial Park.
As expected, we saw a herd of wild horses as we made our way around Mound House. Oddly not present, though, was the sound of the V&T Locomotive. Even when you can’t see it, you can usually hear the whistle blowing off in the distance as it chugs its way up and down the grade. Later in the day we’d find out that the V&T was not running due to a special event. Thomas the Talking Tank Engine was making short runs on the upper part of the line. I didn’t get a good look at it, but you could hear the train talking when we were near Gold Hill.
After a fun climb up the American Flat Toll Road, we regrouped at the saddle above American Flat and decided what to do next. We agreed that riding down to the old mill site to satisfy our curiosity was something we had to do, even if it meant losing excess elevation on our way to Virginia City.
When we arrived at the site, we were all pretty shocked at just how complete the demolition of the Comstock Merger Mill was. Only the gable of one structure buried in a mound of dirt remains, what I have heard was left as a memorial to the once great structure. The rest has been trucked out or buried, and the place is now nothing more than a landfill. There’s no good reason to come this way any longer, and most of the area is barb-wired off anyhow. We’ll definitely take the high road around this area next time.
We climbed out of American Flat and descended down to Gold Hill. Although one of the only paved sections of our ride, it was also the hardest. Some riders opted to walk their bikes at times up the grade. A couple linemen working the phone lines above shouted words of encouragement like, “Whose bright idea was this?”. One resident explained to me that this was the steepest paved road in Nevada. I believe him. We were all thankful to get past the railroad tracks and onto the gentler Homestead Road near the top.
Once on Homestead Road, it was an easy pedal over to the truck route and then up into Virginia City. We coasted through Virginia City, all the way down to the north end of town to our destination, the Red Dog Saloon. A few riders mentioned that they’d been thinking of the awaiting cold beer for several miles now. Upon arriving, we quickly quenched our thirst and ordered up three large pizzas. If you haven’t had the pizza at the Red Dog, it’s some of the best in the area.
Over lunch we discussed a new route back. Rather than drop back down to Gold Hill, we decided to climb Ophir Grade above American Flat, and then drop down to the flat at the southwest end. Although probably more climbing than going through Gold Hill, Ophir Grade is gentle and would save us from a lot of steep ups and downs. Not only that, the view of the Comstock and surrounding areas from the grade is beautiful. Even with tired legs and full bellies, everyone really enjoyed the ride up.
At the top of Ophir Grade we headed south over to a little reservoir. From here we followed a steep and slippery road all the way back down to Cemetery Road at American Flat. You sure wouldn’t want to ride up this road, but it was fun going down! Once down to Cemetery Road along the rim of American Flat, it was easy work to get back to the canyon of the American Flat Toll Road. Someday I’d like to explore the entire length of Cemetery Road. It would definitely be the best climbing route to Gold Hill if it doesn’t cross through any private property.
We had a blast descending all the turns of the American Flat Toll Road. The group split up a bit in this section. Some people went straight back to the trailhead in the interest of time. Some of us went and enjoyed some more trail riding at Centennial Park. One person even took a wrong turn and almost ended up at HWY 50. The important thing, though, is that we all made it out in the end. Lots of fun was had by all, there were no injuries to report, and we all agreed we were looking forward to the next ride to Virginia City. It was also good to see that while the loss of the Comstock Merger Mill has been disheartening to so many, it didn’t ruin the overall spirit of this ride into Nevada’s Old West.