Nestled in the Virginia Range above Reno, the small old-west town of Virginia City, Nevada is the “birthplace” of Mark Twain, origin of the psychedelic “San Francisco Sound”, and the site of the Comstock Lode, known around here as the Big Bonanza. In our solar system, the Big Bonanza has to be the planet Jupiter, which is two-and-a-half times larger than the other seven planets combined.
With the 180-foot diameter Legacy Dome as the sun, still visible on the distant horizon, Jupiter would be about 18 feet in diameter, and orbit 19 miles from downtown Reno. This would make Jupiter about the size of our trusty Subaru, with an orbit reaching out to the Virginia City National Historic Landmark, the largest federally designated historical district in America.
Virginia City made history in 1859, with the first major silver discovery in the United States. Christened the Comstock Lode, the vast deposits of silver ore extracted from the hard rock mines turned this patch of rocky sagebrush into the richest city in America. The shiny treasure aided the Union cause in the American Civil War, built much of pre-earthquake San Francisco, helped gain Nevada its statehood, and gave us our sterling nickname of the Silver State.
In the rush for silver, Samuel Clemens, born in the state of Missouri, arrived in Nevada in 1861 as an unknown journalist apprentice, and was hired as the newspaper editor for the influential Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. By 1863, he had made a name for himself, and began using the moniker Mark Twain at the end of his satirical and controversial editorials. A year later, with his faithful audience of readers in tow, he left Nevada destined for world-wide celebrity and fame.
One hundred years after Mark Twain left town, a group of folk musicians calling themselves the Charlatans came to Virginia City to play a six week stint at the Red Dog Saloon. Dressed as wild-west gunslingers and tripping on LSD, they took to the old-timey frontier stage, and played a new brand of electrified psychedelic rock, that was to become known as “The San Francisco Sound”. Hanging like birth certificates, posters and memorabilia inside the Red Dog record the history of the Charlatans, later performances by Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead, and the dawn of the 1960s counterculture movement.
Like the effusive liquid projection of a psychedelic concert light show, images of Jupiter reveal the planet’s stormy bands of flowing gas. Although a long way from Virginia City and the Comstock Lode, the massive size of distant Jupiter qualifies it as our solar system’s Big Bonanza.