Virginia City is the home of the famous Comstock mining operations that began in the late 1850s. Because of ancient volcanic upheavals and tectonic plate pressure, the earth’s crust in this Sierra Nevada Mountain region was broken and torn like a jigsaw puzzle. When gold and silver prospecting first began in Virginia City, the miners thought they only discovered a few pocket stopes, because the rich ore veins only traveled a short distance. Not much stock was initially placed in the prospects, because it did not first appear to be a heavy mother lode strike. As history has proven, this short sighted assessment turned out to be wrong, because this mining district ended up turning the world economic structure upside down!
The day that all of the local Virginia City mine owners pooled all their information together was when the enormity of the Comstock Lode was realized. The tunnels were all mapped during those meetings and the numerous short ore veins were charted. The result was an overview of the complex underground ore deposit locations in this region. It only took minutes to see that the rich ore deposits were fragmented by upheavals in the Earth’s Crust and it was evident that plenty more ore could be found by judging where the missing jigsaw pieces were located. This meeting was the event that showed the full potential of the Comstock Lode and the implications were tremendous. The high volume of ore that flowed from the Comstock caused the world silver prices to hit rock bottom and the gold funded the Union Army during the Civil War. That certainly was a lot of cold hard mining cash!
The Chollar Mine was established in 1859, so it was one of the first in Virginia City. Many mining innovations that were first tested at the historic Chollar have been used by the industry ever since. The Chollar Mine actually is where electricity was first employed in the mining industry and this old mine also set many new groundbreaking safety standards for all other operations that followed.
While visiting Virginia City, touring the Chollar Mine definitely should be placed high on the list of fun things to do! The price of admission is a good bargain by modern standards and it is not everyday that a tourist gets a chance to go deep inside an old historic Comstock Mother Lode mine, so this is a thrilling adventure that should not be passed up. The Chollar Mine tour goes 400 feet underground, right into a large stope chamber where a rich vein of the original Comstock silver ore can be seen. Plenty of old timber shoring, ventilation ducts and old antique mining equipment await deep inside this mine, so the tour is a good learning experience.
For those who are hesitant about venturing into an old silver and gold mine that was dug over 150 years ago, there is no need to worry. The age old timbers have been replaced through the years and the local professionals know when there is real danger. Mine cave-ins do occur regularly in this area, because the ground under Virginia City looks like Swiss Cheese. The Chollar Mine does close down when an occasional cave-in occurs, but it usually does not take long to shore it back up so it is safe. For this reason, it is always best to check on the Chollar Mine tour status before planning a trip.
The first 400 feet into the mine is thoroughly shored up and this is the most stable shaft in the old mine. This 400 foot section is where visitors are limited to touring, so there will be no worries, other than bumping the old noggin on the low ceiling beams! Fresh air is pumped in, just like in the old days and the level of dust is minimal. Most of the old dangerous mine shafts that branch off the main chute are blocked, so nobody gets lost.
The first 100 feet or so are a little damp and the mine shaft is wet, but after this point the deep mine is completely dry. Obviously wearing the finest city slicker clothes and shoes is not advisable when venturing into this old mine. Wearing a hat is not advisable either, because it will surely get knocked off by the low ceiling timbers. Those who are taller than about five feet high will have to stoop while traversing the long mine shaft to the big stope room. This definitely is a place where children have the advantage, so be prepared for a stiff neck after the tour is done.
A few disclaimers are well within order when touring any old mine. Those who suffer from chronic claustrophobia should not venture into a mine of any kind, because the passageways are tight and narrow. The fear of darkness can be overwhelming in these places too. People that have an extreme sensitivity to mold and mildew should also avoid mine tours, because all sorts of breathing problems can be triggered when deep underground.
Another thing to keep in mind when touring the Chollar Mine is that the White Nose Bat Fungus is a threat to western bat populations. This bat disease can be spread by a tourist that visits more than one mine or cave. For this reason, it is best to bathe and wash the clothes after doing a cave or mine tour in the west. Sterilizing phones, cameras and any other personal items brought along during the tour is necessary too, because everybody likes to see healthy happy bats when traveling out west!
The Chollar Mine tour truly is an educational experience for both children and adults. Even experienced miners can learn something about history in this place. The tour guide is a descendant of Virginia City mining families from the old Comstock days, so the guide thoroughly knows the Chollar Mine subject matter. The tour guide also presents a lot of good first hand knowledge about the Chollar Mine and Virginia City that is not mentioned in standardized history books.
Virginia City literally has a lot of ghosts of the past and this historic old west city is a prime time paranormal tourism destination. Even the locals will freely admit to seeing apparitions occasionally. While I was chatting with the tour guide deep inside the Chollar Mine, he mentioned seeing a miner from the 1800s walking down the shaft one day. This happened when nobody else was in the mine and no tourists were on the property. Sure enough, the tour guide saw what turned out to be a real live ghost deep in this old historic mine!
The Chollar Mine Tour is a fun adventure that will provide a lifetime of memories to share with friends back home. Be sure to bring a camera along, because picture taking is allowed and not many folks have ever seen what a real Comstock Mother Lode mine really looks like deep underground. A lot of Virginia City history was made at the old Chollar Mine and this is reason enough to dawn a prospector helmet with a headlamp to take the grand tour!
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