Went to Donner Lake Kitchen for breakfast. They offered sourdough as one of the bread choices, because I am in California! Also, coffee came with milk already added. A California thing too?
That would make a good road trip. All of California.
Over to Donner Memorial State Park.
The Donner Party was a party of emigrants headed from Illinois to California in 1846. At the time, the California wagon trail had only existed for two years. The trip typically took six months. The Donner Party was late in getting started. Later, they decided to take what was described as a shortcut (the “Hastings Cutoff”), which ended up costing them about a month extra. The Hastings Cutoff was actually longer than the main trail, and went through some difficult terrain. The party cut down trees and moved boulders out of the way crossing the Wasatch mountains in present-day Utah. They went through waterless salt flats in Utah and a forty-mile desert in Nevada.
By the end of October, when they arrived at the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada (today’s Truckee), there was already three to four feet of powdery snow on the ground. 1846-1847 was an especially early and severe winter in the Sierras. They made several attempts to cross the summit. Heavy snow forced them back each time.
They set up two camps for the winter, one at what was then Truckee Lake (today Donner Lake), and one a few miles away at Alder Creek. Their food supplies ran out and they ate their oxen, dogs, ox hides, bones, and human dead. Around December 16, six weeks after they arrived at the mountain camps, a party of fifteen went for rescue on snowshoes they had made. It took 33 days for the snowshoe party (later named “The Forlorn Hope”) to reach help in California, eight of them dying on the way. There followed several rescue missions to get the remaining trapped people out of the mountains.
Of the 81 people at the two Sierra camps, 36 died from cold and starvation. 45 survived and started new lives in California. To this day there are descendants of the surviving families.
The people of the Donner Party were only human, but like all the pioneers they had superhuman courage and fortitude.
The Donner Lake camp site is today part of Donner Memorial State Park.
Took a walk with Rick, a very knowledgeable docent.
Visited the museum on site.
After my lake visit I drove up to Alder Creek.
Drove over to the mountain pass that the Donner Party, and all who took the California Trail, used, today called Donner Summit or Donner Pass. A twisty two-lane road and beautiful views.
After that I made the trip down the western side of the Sierras, some fifty miles. “Getting down from the mountains” was long and difficult in pioneer times.
To Sacramento, where to give the story some closure, I stopped at Sutter’s Fort, the destination of the California Trail and where the Donner survivors ended their journey.
Stayed overnight in Vacaville, where I will plan the end of my own cross-USA journey.
If you’d like to know more I recommend: The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party (2009) by Daniel James Brown Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West (2008) by Ethan Rarick
Lovely day. For breakfast went to The Griddle, a place near the motel that has a super-cool neon sign.
Back on the road again.
I wanted to visit Humboldt Sink, where the Humboldt River empties. But the access is by dirt road and I was concerned about safety. Got close to it. Total solitude, total quiet but for wind.
I have now driven 6,000 miles since leaving NYC.
Suddenly endless sagebrush gave way to cities – Sparks and Reno.
In my short visit to Reno, a barista told me that it’s a big drinking and gambling town, but there’s also a big underground arts scene, and “punk” music including basement shows in people’s houses.
So about 4:15 PM I was back on I-80 driving and thinking about geography and the Donner Party when I saw an SUV behind me with colored flashing lights, so I figured I might be getting pulled over by the cops. So I went into a nearby truck parking area. I was being pulled over by a Washoe County sheriff’s deputy. He said he was giving me a warning for following too closely. I wasn’t following anybody that closely.
He asked for my license and the rental car agreement which he examined and said I was three days overdue returning the car. I told him that was National‘s mistake. He patted me down for weapons. He checked the vehicle identification number to see if the car was stolen and spelled my name and driver’s license number into the radio to see if I was wanted for anything.
Also he asked me many questions. I told him about the trip. He asked if I just up and left one day. I told him I hadn’t. He said a couple of times that I was “fidgety”. He asked what I did for a living, where I worked. He even asked if I owned the business I work for. I told him I wasn’t comfortable answering that one and what does that have to do with what he was stopping me for? He said he just asked the questions to pass the time while they’re looking me up. I told him no, I didn’t own it.
He said your wife let you take this trip? I said yes, I have a great wife. He asked where I was staying tonight. I told him I wasn’t comfortable answering that one either. He let it go. A few times he asked a question I had already answered.
Then he said he was looking for things like drugs, guns, large amounts of money, did I have anything like that? I said no. He listed several drugs like meth, heroin, cocaine, marijuana. I said no to all of them. He asked would it be OK if he searches the car. I said no it would not be OK. He said if the dog he had in his car ‘alerts’ then that’s probable cause to search the car.
In order for the dog to check the car, Deputy #1 (Officer Nemeth, but I will call him #1) had to wait for another deputy, so the other guy can watch me to make sure I don’t escape while deputy #1 takes care of the dog. In a few minutes deputy #2 showed up. He was a nice older guy with a ‘SWAT’ pin on. I asked him if he was on a SWAT team and he said yes. I said that must be exciting sometimes and he said “it’s difficult work.”
So deputy #1 let the dog (I later found out his name was Titus) go around the car. The dog made a noise when he passed the gas tank door. So deputy #1 said the dog ‘alerted’ and that is probable cause to search the car.
Then deputies #3 and #4 showed up in a third car, because evidently I was the crime of the century in Washoe County.
Deputy #3 asked me aside from getting stopped by the cops how’s your day going? I appreciated that humor.
So deputies #1 and #2 searched the car and all my many pieces of luggage and random plastic bags in it, which took quite a while. I had to look away from the car while they were searching it. So I chatted with deputies #3 and #4 about my trip. #3 said I was doing what Steinbeck did in Travels with Charley. #3 said that #4 has been to lots of countries. #4 rattled off a long list of countries he’s been to. He has taken cruises to them. He described how he had enjoyed St Petersburg, Russia and how they have a big gate to close off the harbor.
So I was there for about an hour and they found nothing. Deputy #1 asked me if there were drugs in the car before. I said “It’s a rental car.”
So they said OK, you can go. As a parting shot deputy #1 said “your story was weird.” They put stuff back a little haphazardly but it looked like everything was still there and OK. Also the engine had been on and idling for the entire time.
6,000 miles and the first time I was stopped by the cops. And after those nice things I said about Nevada.
So on Yelp I would give the Washoe County Sheriff two stars. They get the second star because they didn’t tear up the entire car.
Back on the road, saw a sign for Peet’s coffee and decided to go there. Peet’s turned out to be inside a place called Boomtown. Outside Boomtown, they have a western movie set / Potemkin village. I found out Boomtown is actually a huge Best Western hotel / casino. I love the way slot machine rooms look with all the bright neon colors. But I think casinos are sensitive about photography so I didn’t shoot any.
I went to Peet’s and ordered a “Havana” coffee (which meant with cinnamon). On my way out I got lost and passed by the table games – blackjack, craps, and roulette. Of all of them, just one blackjack table was operating.
After the last Nevada exit, 80 follows the Truckee River valley south and it’s beautiful. Crossed into California. State #25, the last state on my trip, the Promised Land.
Had to stop for a state agricultural inspection. They asked me to open the trunk and I did, then they sent me on my way.
Got to Donner Lake Village and boy is it beautiful, right on the lakefront.
My friend (and relative) Jack tells me you’re not legally required to consent to the dog sniff. In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled on the issue in Rodriguez v. United States.
Another beautiful day! Took a car tour of Boise. First stop the Boise Depot, a Spanish-style railroad station. The Union Pacific knew how to build beautiful stations.
Next stop the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. They have a statue by Greg Stone of Anne, but I don’t like it. They made her look undignified. Her foot is on a chair, her body twisted, and one hand is very awkwardly behind her back. Not appropriate for a symbol of resistance to fascism.
“The sculptor, Greg Stone, from Northampton, Massachusetts, cast Anne as if she were pulling back an imaginary curtain and gazing out a window from the family’s attic hiding place.” Source
It still makes her look awkward and contorted. I would be surprised if no one had objected.
Downtown, there were a lot of people on the streets even though it was Sunday. I also saw a lot of bicyclists. Boise seems a very civilized, and vibrant, town. Went up to Camel’s Back Park, in the North End neighborhood. Seems like a great neighborhood, with some lively stores on 13th St.
Left Boise for Winnemucca, NV, a long drive through mostly desolate country. First I passed through Idaho’s wine grape growing region. Then into Oregon.
I crossed into Pacific Time and gained another hour, and soon after crossed into Nevada.
Where’s the casino? Found it.
I have a fondness for Nevada. The anything-goes atmosphere, the 24-hour culture. The deserts and lonely roads.
Finally arrived at Winnemucca. The city is named for a Chief Winnemucca (1820-1882) of the Paiute tribe, who at one time lived in this area.
Winnemucca is a treasure house of great signs.
Nevada has a different feel from the other Western states. The feel is hustle.
Beautiful morning. Clear blue sky, pine trees, birds singing.
Took a two-mile hike on the Heidelberg Hill Trail near town.
Two places on the trip I have liked enough to go back to – Buena Vista, CO and Ketchum.
Went to Three Island Crossing State Park in Glenns Ferry, ID. It memorializes a place where Oregon Trail emigrants were faced with a difficult choice – a dangerous and difficult Snake River crossing, or continuing to Boise along the southern side of the river, where the route was rocky and there was less grass and water.
Visited the museum there.
Unusually, it gave a lot of space to the Native American point of view.
Got to Boise. It’s more lively than other Western cities I’ve visited. “Boise is vibrant” says their tourism bureau.
I have mixed emotions about the trip ending. I like the trip but I’m also happy it’s ending.
At 8:30 PM, the hotel’s fire alarm went off and everyone evacuated. Turned out to be a false alarm, some kid pulled the fire alarm. Walked across the street to the Spectrum, a mall that contains only restaurants and movie theaters.
Had a great mac and cheese at Mad Mac (a mac and cheese only restaurant). Saw Toy Story 4 in IMAX. Surprisingly, the movie was good. IMAX was nothing special, just a big screen and stadium seating.
Drove to the Minidoka National Historic Site. No directional signs anywhere on any road. Is it because people who live here are still sensitive about it and want to keep it hidden?
Minidoka was one of the camps where Japanese-Americans were imprisoned without trial, purely because they were of Japanese descent, from 1942 to 1945. Public fears that they might be a fifth column were whipped up with false charges. 9,000 were imprisoned here and a total of 110,000 nationwide.
On February 19, 1942, only 2 1/2 months after Pearl Harbor, President F.D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the internments. Japanese-Americans were given one to two weeks to vacate their homes.
At war’s end, the US military obliterated almost all traces of the camp. All that remains are the foundations of a few buildings. NPS has created replicas of a guard tower and a fence.
I’m ashamed of America because we did it, but proud of America because this is a national park. I think this and the other camps are places Americans should visit. The NPS unit was established in 2001.
The United States formally apologized to Japanese-Americans in 1988. Each surviving internee was paid $20,000 compensation. (In 2008, the House of Representatives issued an apology for slavery and Jim Crow, but no compensation has been paid yet.)
Many men who were interned at Minidoka served in the US military in WW 2. 73 died.
Ezra Pound’s birthplace
In Hailey, Idaho, I visited the house where Ezra Pound was born on October 30, 1885. I visited as a literary pilgrimage because I love Pound’s poetry.
The house is owned by the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. They refer to it as “The Center in Hailey.” The only thing identifying it as Pound’s birthplace is a small leaflet in the window. The building was closed – it’s only open on Thursdays from 2 to 5 when there’s an exhibition. (Pound is controversial because he made pro-fascist radio broadcasts during World War 2, for which the US charged him with treason. He was ruled insane and imprisoned in a hospital for 13 years.)
My hotel, the Best Western Tyrolean Lodge, looks like an Austrian building. It’s within view of the mountain and the gondolas are operating, even though there’s no snow.
I love this hotel. The lobby is so cozy. It has vintage Austrian ski posters on the walls, though I think they are reproductions.
Went out for a walk. Ketchum is a classy ski town that has somehow kept all tackiness off its streets (looking at you, Breckenridge). The air smells really great.
Went to a place called Lefty’s Bar and Grill. You order at the counter and then sit down. Reminded me of a British pub. Just about everyone seemed to know one another. I got there at 4:30 and day drinking was in full swing. Someone was holding a little baby. There’s a Super Bike video game machine.
After that I stumbled into the town’s summer solstice celebration at the Town Square. Town Square is charming. On the square is a, yes, Starbucks, in ski lodge style with logs in all the walls.
Local architect Susan Desko designed the conversion of a former bank in 2012. It has a Sun Valley Visitor Information Center and a community meeting room (the former bank vault) inside. This is among the unique Starbucks I’ve been to. It even serves beer and wine.
Saw a highway sign for Golden Spike National Historical Park (GSNHP) and on the spur of the moment, I decided to go there. I’ve been interested in that place for a long time. It’s in a very isolated spot, Promontory Summit, on the northern side of the Great Salt Lake. When I got there at about 8 AM, I could see for miles and miles and I couldn’t see another person or car. And there was no sound except a little wind.
The golden-spike driving ceremony in 1869 that completed the first transcontinental railroad was planned by the two railroads, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific, like a modern media event.
They left a short gap between the two track segments to prepare for the ceremony. Locomotives were prepared. Dignitaries were invited and came. A photographer was on the scene, and telegraph operators were ready to transmit the news coast to coast.
At the ceremony, railroad executives drove the four precious metal spikes (two gold, one silver, and one gold-silver-iron) into a special laurel-wood tie. Immediately afterwards, the precious metal spikes and laurel tie were removed and replaced with regular iron spikes and a normal tie.
A nation went wild.
In city after city, church bells rang, trains hooted, fire engines howled, gongs clanged, and cannons thundered. Citizens thronged the streets. (NPS wall text)
The original laurel tie was displayed in San Francisco until destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.
Two of the original precious metal spikes are now at the Stanford University Museum. One belongs to the Museum of the City of New York, and the fourth’s whereabouts are unknown, so let me know if you find it.
The Visitor Center is on the site of the old railroad station. And it’s made to look like a station.
Rail passengers going through this point had to change from one railroad to the other. Sometimes they had to wait a couple of days. (I guess they had to wait that long because there was only a single track!) Some thought that this place, dubbed Promontory, would become a big railroad hub. But there’s no water there to support a town. So the Southern Pacific (the Central Pacific’s heir) bought the track rights as far as Ogden in 1870. Ogden became the hub.
Outside, there were plaques to the Irish (Union Pacific) and Chinese (Central Pacific) workers who built the railroad.
The NPS has had replicas of the two locomotives made. (Great use of tax dollars in my opinion!) They were reverse-engineered from photographs. They stage ceremonies where the two replicas meet at the real meeting point.
Those first tracks are long gone now.
A causeway across the Great Salt Lake for the railroad was built in 1903. In 1938, the track north of the Salt Lake was abandoned. In 1942, wartime, iron was desperately needed so they tore up all the tracks and ties and melted down the tracks. In the 1960s, NPS constructed a little piece of track (1.7 miles) on the original roadbed at the meeting place.
The causeway line is now used, but only for freight. Amtrak passenger service goes on the south side of the Great Salt Lake.
Spiral Jetty is a site-specific artwork created by Robert Smithson (1938-1973) in 1970. It’s an example, maybe the best known one, of Earth Art. The work is currently owned by the Dia Art Foundation.
When I found out it’s relatively near GSNHP, it became a must-visit. It’s actually a 40-minute drive from GSNHP each way over dirt roads.
To create it, Smithson hired a contractor and crew with dump trucks, a tractor, and a front loader.
It’s amazing to think of the work that had to be done, including selecting the site, planning the work, getting permission, and executing the work.
A Dia brochure said the work is intended to be walked on, so I did. I walked from the beginning all the way to the center, about a ten-minute walk. The black basalt rocks have many interesting holes and striations in them. Some look like animal skulls.
My impressions – this is a marvelous work, fully deserving its iconic status. The site is so remote, strange, and haunting. You can take its theme as “man meets nature” if you want to. The work requires something of the viewer — minimum 1 hour driving, walking down and up a rocky slope, plus 20 minutes walking. As an experiential work, it fits into the 1970s when it was made.
No one else was at Spiral Jetty while I was there.
On to Idaho!
In the afternoon I crossed into Idaho. State #22 for the trip. There were very strong winds when I got to my hotel in Jerome.
Overheard at McDonald’s in Green River (one female staff member to another): “Don’t call me bro!” Left Green River, past more splendid rock formations. And taking I-80, the actual direct route between NYC and San Francisco.
At Fort Bridger State Historic Site
Went to the Fort Bridger State Historic Site. Jim Bridger (1804-1881), the mountain man and explorer, established the “fort” (really, a private trading post) in 1843, to earn some money from his knowledge of the wilderness. He put it (in his words) “in the road of the emigrants.”
The location proved to be one of the main hubs of westward expansion used by mountain men, Indians, emigrants and Mormon Pioneers, the U.S. Army, Pony Express, Overland Stage and Union Pacific Railroad. Even during the 1900s The Lincoln Highway, Highway 30 and Interstate 80 crossed in or near Fort Bridger.
Wyoming Parks site brochure
Crossed into Utah, a state not on my original itinerary. Stopped at the Echo Canyon Rest Area and State Welcome Center on I-80.
A statue and tribute to the ox. From a sign: “Listen if you will, to the melodic plodding of the oxen as they methodically pull the immigrants and their dreams across the landscape of this canyon… He stands alone once more, this unsung hero.”
Henefer & Ogden
Like many people, I am fascinated with the story of the Donner Party, their mistakes, their tragedy, their dead and their survivors.
Stopped in Henefer, UT where there’s some Donner-iana.
Took a little car tour of Ogden.
About 4 o’clock I got to the KOA campground in Perry. It’s a luxurious campground, with a shower, laundry machines, restrooms, a store, a pool, free wifi, and a dumpster. My spot was really nice, tree-shaded with a mountain view.
I charcoal grilled hamburgers for dinner and then toasted marshmallows, just like the family used to do in the backyard when I was a kid. It was great.
Camping was a lot better than a hotel, except for the sleeping part. Sleeping on the ground with a pile of clothes for a pillow wasn’t that comfortable.
Went to downtown Casper. It’s chock-full of great vernacular architecture like gas stations.
Went for breakfast at Sherrie’s Place in downtown Casper. Full of locals. Food and service were top notch. Overheard: Lots of houses in Rock Springs have abandoned coal mines in their basements.
The historic trails fascinate me because they are a mixture of history and geography, and are so important to the story of America. People uprooted their lives and risked everything to go to places they had never seen, and suffered great hardships on the way. Some died on the way.
Over to Independence Rock, a trail landmark just outside Casper. It’s wonderful to think that the emigrants saw (and scratched their names on) the same rock.
I climbed up a little way and then came down — it’s a lot easier going up. I crawled down facing the rock. Didn’t see any genuine 19th century inscriptions.
Soon after leaving Independence Rock, I crossed the Sweetwater River. It had water in it, but it is much narrower than the North Platte.
Stopped at Devil’s Gate, a gorge cut by the Sweetwater.
I took a detour dirt road through Atlantic City and South Pass City – once mining towns, now just barely populated.
Got to the Continental Divide!
I am in the Pacific zone now. or as one of the emigrants said – “the other side of the world.”
The low point in the saddle is the South Pass of the historic trails.
A couple of miles past South Pass is the spot called “Parting of the Ways.” It’s one of the places where the California and Oregon trails diverged. (Both trails had variations in their routes.)
To my motel in Green River, a pleasant town.
Just when I got there – thunder and rain, which was over quickly. After that it was pleasant and cool.