Jul 072010

How’s that for a headline that grabs you? My old college journalism instructor would be so proud! I bet you’re wondering how I can tie those two things together, aren’t you? Well, keep on reading.

After a quick run to the post office and bank, we left the Gilroy, California Elks lodge at 10 a.m. yesterday morning and traveled east on State Route 152, which started out as a two lane road for the first 13 miles, and then became four lanes as it wound its way around golden hillsides and the sparkling blue waters of the massive San Luis Reservoir.

San Luis Reservoir California

There was a pretty stiff wind coming out of the southwest. Not enough to make driving hazardous, but it did make whitecaps on the water in some places. There was a lot of traffic but we moved right along.  It took us an hour to cover the 44 miles between Gilroy and Interstate 5, where we headed north.

San Luis Reservoir California 5

After a quick stop at the Flying J in Lodi for fuel, we continued north to Sacramento, where we got onto Interstate 80, eastbound. Traffic in Sacramento and for miles on both sides was busy, but moving well, so we had no delays.

As we began the long climb into the Sierra Nevada mountains, the golden grass covered hills of central California gave way to a thick conifer forest that crowded in close to the highway on both sides. (One down, one to go.)

Interstate 80 across Sierras

The highway was divided three lanes for quite a distance, then dropped done to two lanes, with occasional truck lanes added on the steeper climbs. Some sections of the interstate were pretty good, but in others the pavement was so rough that it almost rattled the fillings out of my teeth.

Interstate 80 across Sierras 2

The countryside was beautiful, and even though it was 87 degrees outside, in some places, there were still piles of snow on the ground, and a few mountaintops still had snow on them. I didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked, because the road has a lot of twists and turns and there was a lot of traffic, so there was no time for sightseeing.

Sierra mountain scene

Interstate 80 across Sierras 4

About 3:15 we stopped at Truckee to tour the Emigrant Trail Museum at Donner Memorial State Park. I had called ahead to ask if the parking lot could accommodate a 40 foot diesel pusher towing an extended length van and the ranger assured me it was no problem, they had big rigs in and out all day. The ranger lied.

We arrived to find a rather small parking lot filled with cars. Not only couldn’t we park hooked up, we couldn’t even get out while the van was still hooked up! So we unhooked, I parked the Winnebago off to the side, and the van in a regular parking space, and we went in to tour the museum, which is dedicated to the ill fated Donner Party, pioneers who were stranded in what is now Truckee, in the winter of 1846.

Admission to the small museum was $8 per vehicle, and it took a few minutes of discussion with the ranger on duty not to have to pay for two separate vehicles because we had unhooked the van, but we got that done, and then toured the museum, with artifacts from pioneer days, and watched a 20 minute video on the Donner Party.

Pioneer wagon 3

Their story is tragic, but also glaringly shows what can happen when people who are not prepared set off into the wilderness, be it 164 years ago, or today.  There were 87 people in the wagon train, 42 of them children. When they ignored warnings to turn back, because it was too late in the year and the mountain crossing was hazardous, they sealed their own fate. What ensued was a story of survival at its most desperate. By the time their ordeal was over, only 41 were still alive, the dead including 14 children. When the rescue party finally reached them, they were horrified to learn that some of the the survivors had resorted to cannibalism to stay alive! (Two for two!)

Today a striking monument of a pioneer family stands outside the museum, to honor those who perished here, and those who survived, as well as the other brave pioneers who settled the West.

Donner party monument 4

We were delayed leaving the museum, because one of our inside duals was very low on air, but I’m running long now, so I’ll tell you about that adventure tomorrow.

But leave we did, and we ran right into a short but nasty thunderstorm as we made our way down the eastern slope of the Sierras. We pulled into Boomtown Casino at Verdi, Nevada about 6:30 and had a mediocre dinner at Denny’s, then came outside just in time to see this beautiful sunset.

Sunset picture 3

We boondocked at the casino overnight, and today we’ll push on east. We covered 288 miles yesterday, and have another 520 to go before we get to Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday. We’ll have a couple of easy days driving ahead of us, and then we’ll squat down for a week or so.

Thought For The Day – Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  7 Responses to “Conifers And Cannibals”

  1. Good story, good photos and GREAT HEADLINE. I actually had to read it three times before I realized you meant cannibal. It is not an everyday word.

  2. Good story Nick. How’d the MH do on the grade up to Donner Pass?

    Guessing you’ve been through there before, and to SLC? I-80 out of Reno follows the Truckee River for a while, has some scenic areas. We were amazed at the salt flats in Utah. Lots to do in SLC especially touring the square, Mormon history, etc. You two have fun!

  3. We agree with both Mac and Greg. How could you go to Denny’s?

    We have taken that route from Gilroy over to I-5 many times, and the I-80 across the Sierras many more times. Love the trip, but you are right about not much opportunity to sight-see if you are the driver. Also have enjoyed the Donner Memorial several times. Thanks for the revisit!

  4. Ditto Greg! lol Sorry to miss you guys. We were all set to take you to the Underground Gardens. 😉 See you in AZ.
    B & T

  5. Glad you enjoyed your trip over the Sierra. I know those roads well and used to live in a cabin on the shore of Donner Lake. Rich and interesting history there! I really enjoy your blog and it’s been super helpful as my wife and I plan our own fulltiming adventures!

  6. One interesting fact about the statue is that the base the pioneers are standing on is the height of the snowpack the year of the Donnor party. It’s pretty tall if you’re standing next to it.

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