Day Trips

Red Dog Saloon – Virginia City

The Red Dog Saloon on C Street – Virginia City

Virginia City is well-known for many things: the V&T railroad, its prosperous silver mines, and maybe even as the place where Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright drank a Sarsaparilla before heading back to the Ponderosa Ranch. One lesser-known fact about Virginia City is that it is the birthplace of Psychedelic Rock n Roll.

Gold and silver were discovered in Virginia City in 1860, and soon thereafter it became a boomtown. At its peak, this city was home to over 25,000 residents. Eventually the mines went bust, and by 1960 the population dwindled to just over 500 residents.

This reduction in population meant property values were affordable. In the mid-1960’s that affordability attracted a new breed of inhabitants: young, long-haired, idealistic folks who would eventually be known as hippies. In search of enlightenment and a job, in 1965 a group of friends purchased an old hotel and transformed it into the Red Dog Saloon. A Disc Jockey named Travus T. Hipp recruited bands in San Francisco. An artist named Bill Ham developed a lightshow that could be projected on to a wall. With that, Psychedelic Rock was born. Even the poster used to advertise the show was the first-of-its-kind. Known simply as The Seed, this poster, with its avant-garde stylings, went on to serve as the inspiration for art and advertising. Copies of this poster fetch thousands of dollars when they come up for auction today.

The Seed: The poster that inspired a generation

Among the bands who played there were The Charlatans, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother & The Holding Company. (Big Brother would go on hire a female vocalist named Janis Joplin.) Known as The Red Dog Experience, this concert series lasted all Summer long. The Experience would go on to be repeated for the next two Summers.

Some of the Red Dog cohorts took what they learned in Virginia City and created Family Dog Productions in the Bay Area. This group went on to produce shows for the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe and the Fish, among many others. These shows, at the Fillmore Auditorium, the Avalon Ballroom and Golden Gate Park were at the heart of the Hippie movement.

The stage at the Red Dog… and a pizza

Although there was some animosity between Virginia City residents and the “Red Doggers”, those curious attendees brought some life to the Comstock. These days the Red Dog is alive-and-kicking, and it’s a cornerstone of the community.

In addition to a full bar, the Red Dog offers a variety of sandwiches, wings and pizza. Live music is still on the lineup at the Red Dog. The walls of the saloon are festooned with posters from some of the many acts which have graced the stage over the years.

Virginia City is always a fun location to spend the day. When friends and family visit from out-of-the-area, it’s a great way to show them some of the history of the Old West. If you stop by the Red Dog, you can explore some the wilder side of the Wild West.

For more information, visit:

Malakoff Diggings State Historic Park – Nevada County

The “diggings”

If you could spend the night in an old ghost town, would you? There are very few ghost towns left in the mining west. Most have been claimed by fire or lost to time. The community of North Bloomfield is a monument to miner’s efforts to seek fortune, and our modern day efforts to preserve the past. Located a few miles from Nevada City, California, a visit to Malakoff Digging State Park makes for a fun day trip.

When gold was discovered in California, it didn’t take long until the 49’ers collected all of the “easy” gold in the streams and rivers. A new technique, hydraulic mining, proved effective at getting gold buried underground. High pressure water was used to wash away entire mountainsides so that the gold could be retrieved. Several of these operations were in place along the Yuba River, but Malakoff Diggings was the largest. The nearby town of North Bloomfield is the community where the miners lived. This state park encompasses both the mines and the town.

A monitor used for hydraulic

First settled in 1851, North Bloomfield this town once boasted a population of nearly 2000 residents. At its peak, North Bloomfield had several hotels, saloons, breweries, shops and even two churches.

In 1884, a court decision put an end to hydraulic mining. The dirt and silt from the mines was carried down-river and contributed to massive flooding in the Sacramento Valley. That court ruling protected cities like Marysville, but caused towns like North Bloomfield to fade away.

Catholic Church in North Bloomfield

Malakoff Diggings State Historic Park is 3000-acres. It has picnic areas, a museum and 20-miles of hiking trails. Many of the buildings of North Bloomfield have been preserved, and it’s even possible to rent some of the old, rustic miner’s cabins for an overnight stay. (Being a state-run facility, the museum and cabins are closed for the 2021 season, due to Covid, but nearby Chute Hill Campground remains open.)

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of visiting the park are the cliffs carved away by hydraulic mining. It is eerily beautiful and reminiscent of places like the Grand Canyon or Zion National park, where over the course of millions of years, natural erosion has created a surreal landscape. However it only took two decades of hydraulic mining to achieve this effect. A thick layer of iron-rich red dirt sits atop a hardened-layer of white gold-bearing gravel. There is still gold in “them thar hills” but actually getting it is far too expensive to be profitable.

Today, the true value in visiting Malakoff Diggings State Park is the chance to reconnect with nature and learn some interesting history of the California Gold Rush.

North Bloomfield Schoolhouse

Due to its remote location in the rugged Sierras, the park may be temporarily closed to due to adverse conditions. Check ahead of time before you go.

For more information:

Photographer and Article by Jeremy Dunn, Select Group Videographer

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