Today, we want to follow the California Trail backtracking through that area we missed yesterday. We got up and headed north out of Wells to follow the Emigrant Trail Road, also known as the California Trail. We will follow this part of the Trail in reverse of the way the emigrants traveled.
We entered using a road a little over 20 miles north of Wells, Nevada on US 93. There is a sign there that says this is the entrance to the Wine Cup/Gamble Ranch. This entrance is just north of Wilkins, Idaho which is just a point on the map. This very large ranch is famous here because it was once owned by Jimmy Stewart.
We followed the road, which I had mapped through Google maps. Because we have no service out here, I also made screenshots of the google map route. Third, we had hard copy maps, too, just in case.
The gravel county-maintained road was a good one, but there was no traffic. In fact we only passed one truck in over sixty miles of travel. It looked like rain all day, but the rain never got to the ground.
In just a few miles, we saw where the road turned off going to the Wine Cup/Gamble Ranch house. Here there is a US Bureau of Land Management sign that explains the history of this area. We did not take the road down to the ranch. There is a big lodge in the distance.
We can see why Jimmy Stewart loved it here. Th vistas are beautiful, and don’t you know what it must have meant to him after dealing with the over-populated areas of Southern California. At the ranch here is where the California Trail pulls off from the gravel road that we’re driving, down to the southwest. This is where the California Trail turned more south leading down to Wells.
Traveling east, from here until the gravel road got to Rock Spring, the road followed fairly closely the California Trail. Signs told us when the trail and the road were the same.
I also read that through here the emigrants found spring after spring, some cold and good, some hot, some boiling hot, and at least one ‘stinking’, which was probably sulfur. They named this Thousand Springs Valley, and they followed the Thousand Springs Creek.
We followed the Thousand Springs Road, which in some places reads the Old Emigrant Trail on Google maps. We believe that where it says it is the emigrant trail that the California Trail and the road bed are the same. Signs on the roadside tell us this, too.
In one place the emigrants reported that a boiling hot spring set next to a cold one, and this is where people stopped to wash their clothes.
There is a big trail of dust following us. It is dry, hot and dusty. Imagine what it was like for them.
The gravel road continued to be good for about forty miles with the small exception of an area that was sandy. We worried about getting stuck, but bounced on through with little trouble. We realized that there are no cars or trucks of any kind to save us if we get stuck, and there is no phone service of any kind either.
But the roads were so good!
That didn’t last, though.
All of a sudden we came around a curve and there it was. A long stretch of road, about fifty feet long full of sand. I thought, “Oh Crap”. We didn’t have time to stop and thankfully Chuck has learned not stop in these conditions no matter what. His redneck training is coming along quite well.
What was worse, though, was that we bounced into a hole or rather a trough. The sand puffed up in a cloud around us as we slogged on through. I’m beginning to doubt this is sand. It seems fine as silt and did not slow us down in the least.
The car bounced out of the trough on the other side. The bottom of the trough was rough like it was filled with boulders. We bounced and rattled all the way through. The stuff in our car such as suitcases and bags bounced all around, some landing in the floorboard. But we could not see anything because the trough was filled with this silty chalk-like substance.
Both of us instantly knew that this was not good. How many more of these are ahead?
We are now very wary of this road, especially after the pit of chalk we bounced into. We eased along until we saw a trail sign that announced the Rock Spring, which I remembered from researching the trail.
The spring rises north of the trail from under a ledge of rock on a mountain ridge. The emigrants who wrote about this place said that they found the spring usually crowded with men, cattle, and wagons. The spring water is warm and still runs today. Many emigrants camped here.
While resting at the spring, I read what an emigrant said about the area west of the springs, “…bad as this was we pitched our tent in the dust, for the soil is as dry and fine as magnesia and rises at every step, covering everything.”
I think the trough we drove through several miles back might have been filled with what this emigrant described. Our black Toyota Camry is now almost white with the stuff. I also read that this dust chaps their faces and hands. They said the dust was tormenting and had a lime-like appearance.
Just after the Rock Springs, the road forks and either way we can see that the road is rough. We decide that this is a good place to turn around and go back.
We had to bounce back through the chalk trough again; but it went ok…again. Finally, we reached the road going to the Wine Cup ranch house, and we knew we were almost back to US 93.
As I mentioned before, the road here goes southwest, which is the Humboldt Wells route. It begins here at the ranch and descends into the Valley of Humboldt Wells. The Humboldt Wells form the headwaters of the Humboldt River, the river that the emigrants followed all the way across northern Nevada. The wells were a popular campsite for the emigrants.
Today these wells are on private property, so we didn’t try to see them; but I did look them up on Google Earth. They are north of Wells and west of US 93.
We stopped again at Bella’s for a late lunch. We ended up not needing the sandwich we bought just in case we got stuck on the trail. We’ll carry it on for a later emergency.
Our path this afternoon followed the Humboldt River which runs from east to west through very arid land. The emigrants picked up the river near Wells and followed it all the way to near what is called Trinity on the map, where the river flowed into Humboldt sink, east of today’s Reno.
We are traveling on Interstate 80 which follows the river, their old trail, and the tracks of the Central Pacific Railroad. Here towns sprung up along behind the building of the railroad back in the late 1860s. I call them “Hell on Wheels” towns, which I’ll explain later. Promitory Point where the two rails met is west of here in Utah.
The settlers following the California Trail were not that impressed with the Humboldt River. Several journals called it hot, muddy, and diminutive.
The waiter at Bella’s gave us good advice on lodging for this evening. He suggested the Stockman Hotel and Casino in Elko, NV.
So we drove west to Elko on Interstate 80 following the California Trail which followed the Humboldt River.
Note: My advice to anyone who tries to drive the California Trail between Wells, Nevada and Almo, Idaho is to plan, prepare, and plan again. Part of the road up to Rock Spring is very good, but I have no idea what is beyond. What I do know is that it is desolate. If you break down, you need to be ready to backpack out with food, shelter, and water for days. And I also wouldn’t try it without a four-wheel drive vehicle.