Virginia City, Nevada City and Crystal Park (Part 2)

To continue the story of our trip to Virginia City, MT, Eric ran into an old friend, Roger, at the Bale of Hay Saloon Sunday evening. David snapped a photo of them:

Roger and Eric reconnecting at the Bale of Hay Saloon

Roger and Eric reconnecting at the Bale of Hay Saloon

Eric has known Roger for over 20 years, through his travels and antique dealings. They met up again the next morning on the front porch of the Fairweather Inn.

Roger and Eric chewing the fat on the front porch of Fairweather Inn

Roger and Eric chewing the fat at the Fairweather Inn

Roger is a very interesting fellow, a local. His family’s roots in Virgina City hail back to his great-grandfather who came over the hill into Virginia City back in 1862. Roger’s mother was born in the building that is now the Bale of Hay Saloon.

Roger worked in mining. He had also worked for Charles Bovey restoring the buildings in Virginia City. He now works for the state which bought the town buildings from the Bovey’s.

According to Roger, many music and other old machines were ruined by water damage in a major fire in 1983. However, a preserved fortune teller machine sits in the Gypsy Arcade, one of three in existence and the only one on public display. Roger states that David Copperfield offered to buy this machine for 2 million dollars, but the town turned him down. Here is a photo of it:

Your Fortune Told by the Human Voice!

Your Fortune Told by the Human Voice!

So of course, you have to step into the the Gypsy Arcade, across the street from Fairweather Inn to check it out! (along with the other machines mentioned in my previous blog).

About a mile west of Virginia City is another ghost town, Nevada City.

Nevada City got its start the same time as Virginia City, when gold was discovered in Alder Gulch in 1863. Numerous other mining camps sprouted out along the gulch, becoming what became known as ‘Fourteen-mile City.’

You can stay at the Nevada City Hotel/cabins:

There's Eric sleuthing it out

There’s Eric sleuthing it out

Star Bakery next door dishes up a fabulous breakfast.

Star Bakery

Star Bakery

We ate there both mornings. Behind these buildings is an open-air mining town museum. Old miners’ cabins have been moved here and preserved.

A train runs between Virginia City and Nevada City.

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Okay, not the original train. Eric found out from Roger that the original Steam Engine is stored in Nevada City. To get it up and running to specs would cost 150,000. Eric spots the building:

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We peeked in at the magnificent shiny-as-new train steam engine. And a steam engine tractor and other old equipment. Maybe one day these items will be on display. Anyone want to donate 150K to get the real steam engine train running this year for summer tourists?

Eric’s inner gopher (yes, Eric, you’re the only one with an inner gopher) has us itching to dig for crystals, so on Sunday we pile into two vehicles for the 100-mile drive west to Crystal Park. We stop in Bannack, the first Territorial Capital of Montana, where gold was first discovered (as mentioned in my previous blog.) Bannack is a well-preserved ghost town now. The last people left in the 1970’s. We wandered up the winding staircase of the Meade Hotel:

Bannock's Meade Hotel and neighboring saloon

Bannock’s Meade Hotel and neighboring saloon

And posed out front:

Megan, Jody and David

Megan, Jody and David

Ben and Rhonda get thrown in the town jail

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Earthen roof and floor, open bars on windows, a ghastly place. Would they throw you in there in the winter?

Pulling into Crystal Park now, about 1:00 pm.

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My vision at the get-go of this activity was of our whole group digging together like one big happy gopher family, in a big hole, or maybe two or three adjacent holes, chiseling crystalline treasures out of the dirt, sharing our finds, “Look at this one!” “Fantastic!” One digging, one sifting, passing our crystal finds hand to hand… great family bonding activity. And that’s how I thought we started out. With Eric heading up the trail in the lead, followed by Ben and Rhonda, then Scott, David, Megan and me. Maybe we were a little slow bringing up the rear with a gopher in the lead. I dunno. All I remember is going along happily, meanwhile coming upon a wiry middle-aged man emerging from a deep hole just six feet from the path, “Hey, find anything?” Scott, David, Megan and I pause to inquire…

He reaches into his pocket pulls out his find. “Look at this!”

Wow. That’s really gorgeous! “Can I take a photo of it???” I ask. “Sure….”

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A Yuuuuge chunk of amethyst. Holy shit, you’re kidding.

We chat with him a bit. ‘Jack.” He lived 100 miles away to the west. Had risen at 3:30 am to get here and had been digging since 6:30 am. Hadn’t found much in his first two holes but had been lucky in this hole in the past so decided to dig here again. He comes about twice a year – late spring and early fall, and digs from sunrise to sunset. His wife makes and sells jewelry, and she will be thrilled with his find!

“Nice visiting with you, Jack! Thanks for sharing!” Hey, where’s the rest of the group? Eric, Ben and Rhonda have disappeared. No worry we’ll find them, just follow the path up and around and keep an eye out for them. We hike up, and with no sign of them we literally start yelling for Eric. We’ve made it to the top now. Oh well, I’ll capture the view:

Crystal Park Summit view

Crystal Park Summit view

Megan and I park ourselves on a bench, while David and Scott wander further, calling for the others. Finally David comes back. “Scott’s going to keep looking …” Megan protests. “I don’t want to dig! I want to go back to the car!”

So the three of us wander back down the trail – there are lots of folks digging in holes, but none that we recognize. We make it back to the truck. David says he’ll stay with Megan. “I’ll just dig next to Jack!” I say.

So, I find a hole sandwiched between Jack and another boisterous family, doing exactly what I had pictured for our family. Dad, mom, mom’s sister, with two kids, all digging in a big hole, sharing the duties, and the joy, “Found another one!” “Oh, here, I’ll rinse it off!” “Wow, look at this large smokey crystal!” I started hopping out of my hole to witness their finds. After a half hour, I do find a little quartz crystal, about 3/4 inch long, the width of a colored pencil. Keep digging! Jack is digging like a maniac just below me, conspicuously quiet. I’m thinking that at least I’m digging just a few feet from the hiking path, surely the others will miss me and come looking for me!

Not. I’ll show them! I’ll find a big hunk like Jack’s and then they’ll wish they had found me! I dig by myself for the next 2 HOURS, finding little bits to keep me hopeful, listening to the exuberant yelps of the family in their big hole just feet away. Maybe they hear my groans, because at some point the dad comes over to me and drops a nice quartz crystal in my hand. “You can have this.” “Are you sure? Thanks!!” No problem, they have plenty. I check out their spoils … a large amethyst cluster, and about 20 other clusters and large crystals.

Eventually I hear Scott coming down the trail, whistling. “Scott! Did you find the others?” No. Scott ended up in his own hole digging by himself. Then Eric wanders out. “Is it time to go?” What the heck, Eric? Where were you?

Eric had started out digging with Ben and Rhonda, but then they had wandered off and Eric too had been digging by himself the past two hours. We had all dug alone, and none of us had found much. We were still waiting on Ben and Rhonda, so Eric finds a hole about 10 feet away from where I’m digging. His inner gopher gets to work. “Here’s a nice one!” The first crystal he finds is bigger than any of mine. “Oh, found another one!” A good-sized amethyst cluster. Jeez, Eric! Ben and Rhonda show up – they hadn’t found much but isn’t it time to go? It’s going on 6 PM. Yes. Megan and David show up – time to go!

Meanwhile Eric keeps uncovering crystals. We gotta go Eric! We’re all standing over him watching every scoop of dirt he lifts out of the inner crevices of his hole. Dump, sift … there, another one! You’re kidding! Over the last fifteen minutes Eric found about 10 crystals. Crystal whisperer, where were you?

In the parking lot Eric gives his amethyst crystal to Scott. Gives another crystal to Ben and Rhonda. Later I found out, he gave all his crystals away.

Here’s my spoils after my 2-plus hours of solitary digging, notice the fattest one at the bottom:

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Thats the crystal gifted to me from the family digging in the hole next to me. Here you see a closeup:

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Scott sent me a photo of his spoils, with the large amethyst cluster Eric dug up as his centerpiece:

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Driving back to Virginia City all dirty and exhausted. I snap photos of the back seat:

Rhonda and Ben

Rhonda and Ben

Megan, you were so patient waiting for us all those hours, letting us discover our inner gophers.

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Thank you, Megan! You’re tired too.

Thank you, David, for driving!

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I caught this weird abstract photo of the front driver’s side seat where I was sitting.

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Put a wrap on it, Jody. You don’t have to post every photo!

Okay. Crap! And I haven’t told you about Quake Lake and the Grizzly Bear … one more blog???

Oh, and when we got back Eric shared a photo of his crystal collection:

Eric's crystal collection

Eric’s crystal collection

That rascal. No wonder he gave all his crystals away.

Next time we go I’m digging with Eric, and whoever else goes along – in one big happy group. I want that gopher family digging bonding experience.

Yeah, with the crystal whisperer.

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