The Comstock Mining District did much more than just merely make Virginia City visible on the map back in 1859. This ore deposit was so big, that it made Virginia City the richest town in America and the extreme amount of silver produced turned the world economic structure upside down. So much silver came out of the Comstock that the price of this precious metal soon plummeted and many foreign countries went broke. The gold flowed like a river too and even in modern times, 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 a prime time pilgrimage site for those who have gold fever! A lot of old wild west history was made in Virginia City back 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 ... It is everywhere!" This literally is true in the sense that the ground underneath Virginia City looks like Swiss Cheese, because so many mine shafts have been dug in the past! Most of the old historic mine sites are located a little way downhill from Virginia City, so by standing on top of the hill, the entire mother lode arena can be viewed.
The Comstock was no ordinary ore plume deposit that had a high concentration of gold and silver all in one tidy spot. Because the Comstock is located in the relatively young Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, there are many fault lines in this region and the earth's crust has been crushed into fragments that have been displaced by tremendous pressure over eons of time. Because of the fragmented rock strata, the rich Comstock ore vein is scattered all over the place at various depths 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. By looking at the mapped data, the next likely 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 swindled a couple of local miners that died out in the cold, in order to take hold of the original claim is an interesting story. Henry Comstock stole this rich gold claim and as it was back then, the dubious act was the perfect crime, because nobody other than the two dead prospectors knew about the mother lode 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 mines 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, because this town sits on top of the old mother lode.
All of the 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 are a good learning experience for visitors of all ages. The price of a Virginia City mine tour is a 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!
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