Haunting the Ghost Town

We rolled into Virginia City around 9:00 am. Not a single car sat on the street. At the bottom of the hill, the dark windows of the visitors’ center looked blankly out at us. Turns out there’s not much going on in Virginia City at nine on a Tuesday morning. In fact, most of the town opens around 10:00 am. The only sound came from someone weedeating around a building before the visitors arrived. We headed toward the heart of the town, feeling like delinquents in a museum after hours. Virginia City is basically a town sized museum, nearly all of the buildings—even the ones with modern stores and restaurants—have plaques out front, describing the history of the building since the town’s founding in 1864. Quite a few of the buildings have been turned into museum quality displays: blacksmith forges, barber shops, dry goods stores and a post office, all stocked with the tools and merchandise that the stores would have contained at the turn of the century or before. Although sometimes you can actually enter the displays and look around, we peered through the windows. Most of the displays even have mannequins dressed in period garb standing behind the counters, or—in the case of the barber shop—getting a shave and haircut. We had a scare as we were peeping into the windows of a dry goods store. One of the mannequins started moving—sweeping the floor! On closer inspection it proved to be a janitor, nothing more, but for a minute I was terrified.

We wandered around the town for about an hour, and we probably didn’t see three people the whole time, which was actually a nice change of pace since we’d spent the morning before in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It was wonderful to wander ghostlike around the old buildings on a cool morning, the town oblivious to our presence. Things were waking up just as we were leaving, and to top off a great visit, we noticed that Cousin’s Candy Shop had opened its doors. This old fashioned candy store has hundreds of vintage candy varieties, as well as homemade taffy and fudge. The fudge alone is worth the trip from where ever you happen to be. I loved touring the old town, and reading signs that I’d never taken the time to read before, but next time I go, I think I’ll plan it so that I can spend at least some time in V.C.’s great stores and museums.

We headed east out of town, taking MT Highway 287 to Ennis. We stopped at scenic turnout right after the road crests the Gravelly Mountains. The Madison Valley unfurled below us. The pastures and hayfields shimmered emerald from the dew. The Fifty Mile Riffle—the Madison’s legendary trout run—cut a line of blue through the valley floor, and the Madison Mountains jutted to the east, the rust-red rock of Sphinx Mountain bright against the grass. The perfect punctuation to the trip.

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