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Friday, January 31, 2014

Checking Out Carson City

You can't miss Carson City when you're headed down the highway, there's a big eagle to guide you to your exit.  Carson City is the capital of Nevada, and all the state government buildings are there, including the Capitol building itself.

Nevada achieved territorial status in 1861 and was admitted to the Union in 1864.  Construction began on the Capitol in 1870 and was finished a year later. It was designed by Joseph Gosling of San Francisco.  In 1875 an iron fence was erected around the grounds to keep livestock out!  The exterior stone is limestone quarried at the Nevada State Prison.

In the 1940's and 1960's demolition of the Capitol was considered. But after originally deciding to condemn the building plans were halted and the dome was restored in 1969.  In 1974 three different engineering firms concluded the building was structurally unsound but that with extensive work it could be saved.

The first floor contains Alaskan marble floors that were added in 1917.  The building was originally lit with kerosene and heated with steam, but was electrified in the early 1890's, replacing the kerosene chandeliers.  The handrail on the staircase is the original black walnut.

The dome used to include an ellipse, but bats would swoop down and startle the tourists.  I'm glad they removed it when they remodeled!  The light fixture was interesting but I didn't find any information about it.

My favorite part of the Capitol building was the hand painted frieze done by Reno artist A.V. Wiggins in 1917.  Three feet wide and 400 feet long, it represents northern Nevada at the top and southern Nevada at the bottom.  Images include wheat sheaves, agricultural animals, and 21 one of the state's minerals to honor their deep history of mining.

Our walking tour was short as this Capitol was small compared to Wisconsin's.  We continued walking down Carson Street for a quick look around.  Cory was hoping to find more unique treasures, but it didn't pan out.  (A little mining joke there in honor of Nevada)

I enjoyed meeting and photographing Jack.

A few blocks down Carson Street and we arrived at the Nevada State Museum.  Admission was $8 and photography was permitted.

I got at least one gambling shot for our stay.  We didn't go into any casinos during our time in Reno.

In addition to a ghost town and a replica of an underground mine, they had a really good firearms exhibit.

Their most unique display is the operating coin press from the original Carson City Mint.  We watched the movie about the mint's short history.  The mint was established in Carson City to facilitate minting of silver coins from silver in the Comstock Lode, somewhat like how the San Francisco Mint was established to facilitate minting gold coins from the gold of the California gold rush. It only ran for 19 years during the period of 1870-1893.  From 1895 to 1933, the building served as the U.S. Assay Office for gold and silver. The Federal Government sold the building to the state of Nevada in 1939. Coins struck there are generally rare and have a high premium, especially Morgan Dollars that were struck there.

Unless you collect coins it's only interesting for about 2 minutes!  I was much more interested to see what they had on display in the Natural History and Geology departments.

The BIG surprise was the Mammoth on display. It was discovered in 1979 in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, on BLM land by an Oregon logger.  The horse in the background was discovered by a friend of his in the  mud flats near Pyramid Lake mostly exposed and intact.   Also found in the area were two camels!  Those three animals were estimated to have died 25,000 years ago, were buried in sediment and not exposed until the 1980's.

Careful excavation was needed for the brittle bones of the mammoth, and after transport they were mended or filled in with plaster in missing areas. Some of the bones on display are copies due to their incompatibility with being displayed on a framework.

Staff visits to Bertha and Angel, the performing elephants at the John Ascuagas Nugget in Sparks, were very helpful, as the trainer kindly put the patient Bertha through all the possible postures considered.  Starting with the skull at the ceiling, the rest of the posture was designed to depict a death scene in a mud pit within the space available.  There are not sure of the exact age of the bull mammoth, but estimate he was alive between 15,000 and 17,000 years ago.  Mammoths are grazers and browsers and ate 400 pounds of food a day!

Hard to imagine a time in Nevada when grass, shrubs and trees were plentiful enough to support animals that ate that much.  Also during this time saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and giant bison roamed this part of North America.  Did you know that horses native to North America went extinct 10,000 years ago?  All horses here now are descendants of European horses.


  1. I think you missed your calling. You'd be a wonderful tour guide.

    1. Thanks for the compliment...something I hadn't considered. Perhaps when we retire in 7 years and start volunteering I'll get my chance at a few places! I've been trying to deal with my "tours" as education that doesn't sound too much like a textbook. Sometimes I don't succeed...some topics are easier to have fun with than others.