We started our day continuing to travel west toward Reno. I look forward to seeing what the Humboldt Sinks look like, but we’re not sure we can find a road nearby. I do know that the settlers followed the Humboldt River until it ran out. Then they stopped to camp to get ready to cross the 40-Mile Desert.
The countryside began to change. The vegetation became even more sporadic.
We passed where the Humboldt sinks show up on the map just south of the interstate, but we cannot see a thing. What we do see, though, looks like desert–like white sand Sahara-like desert without the dunes though.
Before we got to the desert as shown on the map, though, we left the interstate and traveled south where US 95 leaves the going southwest toward Fallon, Nevada. We plan to follow the Carson Cutoff. Within a mile of the interstate there was a sign showing where the Truckee Cutoff crossed. This is the cutoff which took emigrants into central California.
Just a few more miles farther down the road we passed where the Carson Route crossed, too. Other settlers used this cutoff to go farther south into California. Both cutoffs crossed the 40 Mile Desert, an alkali desert. We’ll cross it using US 95, though, which most closely follows the Carson Route.
We stopped, and I walked out on the Truckee Route to take a picture of some tracks through the sand. I have no idea if they are part of the original tracks and frankly I doubt they are.
The Truckee Route (or cutoff) was later the route that the Central Pacific Railroad used when they laid tracks east toward Promontory Point. We crossed the railroad tracks several hundred feet before we got to the Truckee sign. We will return from California in a few days using the Truckee Route, but today we are following the Carson Route.
The 40-Mile Desert was the most dreaded portion of the entire California Trail. The emigrants would try to time it so that they began to cross the desert starting late in the afternoon. Then they would cross all night long–resting in the day and crossing at night, because of the extreme heat, until they got to the foot of the Sierra Nevadas.
There was also a great loss of animals during this section of the trail. There was no water for the entire 40 miles. In 1850 a survey was done that found 1,061 mules dead, almost 5000 horses succumbed, and 3,750 head of cattle, too. Also, 954 graves were found. It was a tremendous loss of both lives and property in this 40-mile section of the California Trail.
I stepped out on the surface of the desert here, and it was crunchy under my feet. It seemed a little uncertain as if my shoe was falling through a crust but it only went for a half an inch or so.
As we crossed the 40 Mile Desert, we realized we were hungry. It is after 1 PM, and there is no place to stop to eat. It only took a little while to cross but the monotony is starting to wear on us. It took us about 35 minutes to cross, but it took the settlers several days.
Just north of Fallon the vegetation began to change noticeably. It was beginning to look like it did just before Humboldt Sink.
We finally arrived in Fallon, Nevada and found a great little restaurant called The Courtyard Café. We had what I think was the best tomato quiche ever. It was yummy. I have to admit, though, that my mind wandered to what the settlers experienced in relation to our own crossing. Of course, there is no comparison.
After lunch, we took US 50 west out of Fallon all the way into California. This road continued on the Carson cutoff, following the Carson River, which means the emigrants continued to follow water. This is still desert country, but hillier.
We took this route because we wanted to follow it a little south of Lake Tahoe just like the settlers and then go on down to Yosemite National Park. I’ve never seen the Lake Tahoe or Yosemite, though Chuck has. He and a college buddy spent a month the summer they graduated touring the country, so he hasn’t seen it in a long time.
But on our way to California we passed within ten miles of Virginia City, Nevada, an old Western town made famous by its silver strike and the television series “Bonanza”. Remember the burning map at the beginning of the tv show? You can see the Ponderosa, their ranch, which goes to the shores of Lake Tahoe; and there is Virginia City and Carson City in the distance on the same map. I remembered all of this from watching “Bonanza” as a girl. I had a huge crush on Little Joe, so you never know from where a kid gets their history lessons.
So we drove on into Virginia City, which is just off of US 50 about ten miles down Six Mile Canyon Rd. This drive itself is absolutely beautiful.
Virginia City is where the richest silver deposit discovery in American was made. It is where they mined over $400 million in silver. It became the richest city in America for a short time, and over 25,000 people lived there. It is where the comstock load was.
Today, it is a Victorian-era town with wooden boardwalks for sidewalks, old west saloons, shops, museums and restaurants. We stopped to have a drink in one of the saloons, and they made a perfect mojito. After seeing Deadwood a few years ago, I was impressed. They let the town remain a little western town, instead of making it a gambling resort.
We could have even taken the railroad steam engine to see the surrounding high desert, but we needed to get back on the road. We passed, but it would have been a great little ride.
We drove through Carson City, and we were still on the California Trail. The trail went south of Lake Tahoe. It was easier to cross the Sierra Nevada’s area here for the settlers, so we did the same.
We are quickly in the mountains and the arid conditions continue at first with the pale green sagebrush growing up on the side of the mountains. But we did notice that it was a little greener than before. And then all of a sudden we started seeing trees. Real trees.
These are probably lodgepole pines, and don’t you know the immigrants were so happy to see these trees. They saw no shade for probably over several hundred miles. We were happy to see the trees, too.
As we climbed from the valley floor and farther into the Sierra Nevadas, we entered alpine forests including cedar and aspens. The vistas are breathtaking especially as we climbed along the rim of beautiful Lake Tahoe.
I am reminded of something that happened to me when I worked at Game and Fish in Florida. We were taking a legislator to see several lakes that needed to be cleaned up of muck. This legislator who grew up in the northeast quickly approved of what we were doing and said, “This is great. I want to see everyone of them as pristine as Lake Tahoe.”
The fisheries biologist and I both got tickled, because comparing any Florida lake to Lake Tahoe is like comparing apples and oranges. Our lakes are shallow, warm and nutrient rich, while Tahoe is deep, cold, and nutrient deficient.
But today, I know what that legislator was trying to say. Lake Tahoe is a truly a gem. It is beautiful.