A nostalgic road trip

Donner Lake and vicinity

Donner Lake from the Pass

I’ve spent many summers in and around the Truckee area of California. After my reunion in Susanville I decided to return to this area and do a little nostalgia tour. I decided to stay at Donner Lake, just a few miles outside of Truckee. In all the years, and it’s many, my family came to this part of California we drove past Donner but never stayed there. This time I wanted a few days here to conquer my fear of driving over the Donner Pass.

reflections on the lake

early morning outside our hotel room

geese arriving for breakfast

I did it! The route over the mountain always scared me as a kid because I saw a car nearly going over the cliff(see my Flickr post). We used to drive the old highway 40 winding its way past towns like Cisco Grove and Soda Springs. Since the mid-60’s when I-80 was built to bypass these little places they ceased to exist. Almost.

the bridge I conquered

looking toward Rainbow Bridge

sunrise slowly washes over the Pass and the wooden snow tunnels

I am but a speck on this mountain

Luckily for me you can still drive from Donner Lake, over the Rainbow Bridge, and along 40 and visit what is left of these once thriving communities. I used to love the old stone cabins that are now just ruins of chimneys and foundations. I remember the gift shop and orange juice stand in Cisco Grove…..still there but abandoned. Cisco Grove is now the end of the line. You either turn back or get onto to the Interstate to continue the drive toward Sacramento and points west.

what’s left of a stone cottage

the gift shop at Cisco Grove

they don’t make gift shops like this any more

I invited my husband to join me on this part of my road trip and he loved the history of the place. It was during the Gold Rush that the ill-fated Donner party tried to make their way across the Sierras and start a new life in Gold country. But they got stuck near Truckee and decided to wait out the bad weather, which turned out to be a winter of over 22 feet of snow. Many perished and those who struggled to stay alive did so by eating the others. I’m not kidding. If you stand at the base of Donner Pass you have to wonder how any of them ever managed to walk over it. But that is another story.

we were here

memorial at the site of the ill-fated Donner expedition

A section of highway 40 over the Pass

We walked across parts of the old Lincoln Highway and the Emigrant Trail. The ‘L’ highway was the first transcontinental highway going from the East coast to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. It was conceived in 1912 and was the first memorial to President Lincoln. We found remnants of the road, wondering how anyone traveled over it, and walked through the underpass of the old train route over Donner. We were also able to walk through some of the old railroad tunnels and snow sheds that line the mountain. Chinese immigrants built the railroad through this mountain and many died for their efforts. Unfortunately graffiti line the old stone walls now.

showing the path of the Lincoln Highway

railroad snow tunnel

memorial to the people who built the railroad here

art or defacing property?

I only took a few photos with my digital camera and some of those are shown here. Many rolls of film were taken with my Canon 7ne, my Holga, and pinhole. I also tried out the new Harman 4×5 pinhole and I hope I captured the mood of the mountain. The film goes to the lab today and in a week I should be posting some of those photos.

part of the Yuba River runs along highway 40

stark landscape

This was a great road trip and I hope to go back in a few months to finish the areas I didn’t have time to cover in-depth. A hint: it took me 13 hours to drive 240 miles. So much to see and experience.


About gretchen

I love living in the Pacific Northwest being close to the mountains and the ocean. My hobbies include photography, travel, reading, biking, walking and gardening. I am an Anglophile at heart and try to visit the UK often. My camera goes everywhere with me.
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