National Geographic : 1974 Jun
She paused and then added, "It's not an easy life but I like it, even when the temperature drops to 35 below zero, as it did last winter, and we have to chop through the ice in the creeks so the cattle can drink." The wind wailing down the valley underlined her words, and I shivered. Unlike Molly, I did not choose Nevada, Nevada chose me. The son of a livestock family, I was raised in Carson City and helped my father on the range. So I had been aware forever of my state's hardness and loneliness as well as its beauty. When I was growing up in Carson City, its most important claim seemed to be that of smallest capital in the United States-gov erning the destinies of a sprawling Nevada that had its dubious distinction too. As history books like to point out, there was one person for each of its 110,540 square miles. Carson City was a town of not more than 1,600 souls, a paved main street and dirt back streets, white-frame houses, and a few stone mansions. On its main street stood the cap itol, a U. S. Mint (now abandoned), and a famous hostelry known as Ormsby House. In that hostelry a nearly forgotten man of history, Territorial Secretary Orion Clemens, had worked in a corner bedroom to shape Nevada's beginnings as a state. His occa sional helper was his brother, an aspiring writer with the pen name of Mark Twain. It All Began in Virginia City Carson City presses against the evergreen forested shoulder of the Sierra Nevada, and when I was a boy, most of the population of the state naturally lived in such surroundings, in the favored green valleys of western Ne vada, where water was plentiful. Reno was the state's largest and most influential town, studded with the mansions of mining tycoons, Asleep in the early morning, Virginia City awaits midday throngs of curio-seeking tourists. Boomtown storefronts reflect the era of the 400-million-dollar Comstock Lode, which yielded bullion that gave Nevada its nickname-the Silver State. But the ore ran out with the 19th century, as it did 160 miles away in Belmont (right), where octogenarian Rose Walter recalls long-gone bonanza days in what is now a ghost town.