Last night on the California Trail we stayed in Elko, Nevada in the Stockman Hotel, a casino hotel. The room was good and roomy; and the breakfast was the best I had on the entire trip. It was complimentary as long as we ordered eggs and meat, oatmeal and toast, or French toast. But it was made to order and hearty.
Elko by the way was a true “hell on wheels” town. If you missed the series called “Hell on Wheels”, I suggest you check it out. It was a great series that just finished a few weeks ago, when the two railroads met in the story as they did historically at Promontory Point. The railroad through here followed the old California Trail.
“Hell on Wheels” was what followed the two railroads as they built their way across our nation in the 1860s. Following the laying of the tracks were gamblers, ladies of the evening, and just about anything or anyone else that could make money off the hundreds of men who were building the railroads. As railroad stations were built like Elko, some of these people stayed behind and set up shop–stores, saloons, and cat houses; but most of the horde following the two railroads simply pulled up and moved west or east with the progress of the railroads. That is why I called these towns “Hell on Wheels” towns, because what stayed behind is what helped found these towns.
The Humboldt River
The Humboldt is a stream that depends on snow fall. Several smaller streams and rivers add to the waters of the Humboldt as it flows west from here. It gets bigger; but then as there are no streams to join it later down the trail, it gets smaller in size as it continues west. The California Trail emigrants used this river as their highway.
After breakfast, we hit the road headed west still following the river and the California Trail. We are headed to the California Trail Interpretive Center just west of Elko.
Following old trails requires good research especially when you follow a trail that has become basically unknown to most people today. Sometimes you can’t figure it out until you get to the area. This interpretive center certainly helped. We spent the entire morning there.
The California Trail Interpretive Center was great and helped us tremendously to understand what the settlers went through when they crossed the Great Basin. It told how the settlers prepared for the trip, how they packed their wagons, and even what they had to jettison when the animals couldn’t continue to pull the load. It also explained this part of the country with its lack of water and desert and its long distances.
There was also a brief part about the Donner Party and how they got themselves into the predicament where they had to eat their own to survive. Incidentally, one of the biggest problems was that their party was dysfunctional from the beginning. There was bickering that caused delays and mistakes in judgment.
There is also a hiking trail so one can see some of the original wagon ruts.
This area all across this part of Nevada is called The Great Basin. Hydrolographicly, it is a vast region between California’s Sierra Nevadas and Utah’s Wasatch Mountains where water drains internally. The water has to go somewhere. Since it cannot reach ocean-bound rivers, it just sinks.
This is why the Humboldt River disappears into the Humboldt Sink which is really just a marshy area where the water seeps into the ground. It doesn’t look like our sinks here in Florida. The Humboldt River has nowhere else to go.
So the settlers followed this ‘river to nowhere’ through the harsh and desolate high desert valleys. To them it was vast expanses of barren, inhospitable land.
Today, this area is dotted sporadically with farms and ranches, mines, and the railroads. To us as we sit in our air conditioned car, it is big skies, long beautiful vistas, and a road that stretches over the horizon. This country is rugged beauty.
We stopped in Winnemucca, Nevada for the night. This is a long drive across this basin.