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Five Things You Must Do While You Are in Carson City

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Carson City (population 55,000) is the capital of Nevada. In the late-1860s, silver was discovered nearby, and a rush of miners and financiers' capital poured into the city. Billions of dollars of the mineral were extracted over the next 25 years from the Comstock Lode, and the state adopted the nickname “The Silver State.” Now, Carson City's claims to fame involve its large state workforce, proximity to the Sierra Nevada mountains, historical homes, and top-notch skiing in the Lake Tahoe area.

1. The Old Mint and Nevada State Museum: Carson City was an official U.S. mint for more than 50 years. The state museum is housed in what was part of the facility. The mint exhibit includes coin stamps, rare coins, a silver tea set from one of the governor's wives, and gold bullion. The museum offers an excellent look at Nevada's natural and cultural history. Don't miss the paleontology exhibit of the many prehistoric-animal finds made in the state's deserts and the geology section – in a state where mining is still a major industry. An annex leads to a comprehensive exhibit on the Indians of the Great Basin, the toughest human subsistence area in the U.S.

2. The Kit Carson Trail:  This is a 2 ½-mile walking path through Carson City's residential district. A painted blue line and bronze medallions along the sidewalk mark the route, which features stops at more than 60 landmarks, including 1800s-era Victorian-style homes, museums, and churches. The trail starts at the State Capitol with its “silver” (actually tin) dome and passes by the Governors Mansion, built in the Southern Colonial style in 1909.

3. Virginia City: The Comstock Historical District is one of the biggest in the country, and Virginia City is its nucleus. The small town has preserved its 1870s storefronts, churches, homes, and saloons -- lots of saloons, with names like the Bucket of Blood, Silver Queen, and Delta. Mark Twain got his start as a journalist here at the “Territorial Enterprise.” But Virginia City is not just a recreated tourist anachronism. After strolling its wooden sidewalks and buying authentic Western wear or Indian jewelry, you can belly up to an original Victorian bar and hoist a tall cold one with a “colorful” local sporting a long grey beard and ponytail.

4. Lake Tahoe: Carson City is just 45 minutes from the Nevada side of what Mark Twain called “the sea in the clouds”: huge, mountain-ringed Lake Tahoe at 6,200 feet elevation. Stay on Highway 50 for the Stateline area of hotel casinos, which book top-name music and comedy talent, and for very pretty Alpine beaches. Turn off on Highway 28 to Tahoe's North Shore. You will pass the now-closed Ponderosa Ranch, the set for the “Bonanza” TV series, en route to exclusive Incline Village. Many hiking trailheads are indicated along 28, and two beach state parks, including beautiful Sand Harbor, invite swimmers and boaters. Of course, Lake Tahoe is one of the premier ski destinations in the world.

5. Kings Canyon hike: Just west of the state capitol, Kings Canyon Road ends in a trailhead for a nine-mile, pine-shaded hike that offers views of several of the state's 300-plus named mountain ranges and of the desert communities of Highway 50, the official “Loneliest Road in America.”