Sunday, April 30, 2017

(11) Preparations, Sea Trials, Part II

(2) Dog Valley Days 

One week after the Packard Tour I went on another tour of the Lincoln Highway in California and Nevada. Although this tour was again of the Lincoln Highway in California and Nevada it was completely unlike the Packard tour. This time I was with members of the Nevada chapter of the Lincoln Highway Association. I was able to snag a ride with Jim Bonar, former Director of the Nevada Chapter. This turned out to be a stroke of luck as Jim's knowledge of the Lincoln Highway through the Sierras of California and Nevada is second to none.

I left my blue '67 Ranchero at the parking lot of the casino where we rendezvoused. I was not the only one to leave my classic car behind. All of the cars on this tour had high ground clearance and most were four-wheel-drive. The Dog Valley Route is on forest service roads. I think my Ranchero would have made it, but I would've had to devote three or four days to cleaning it and getting the dust out of all the nooks and crannies. It was better to leave it at back in the paved parking lot. Riding with Jim assured a bonus that I would learn something on this trip as well.

Original Pavement, East of Verdi, Nevada. 
The tour began with the viewing of some old Bridge abutments and sections of pavement of the Lincoln Highway. Only dedicated highway enthusiasts ("Roadies") or the clinically insane become excited over viewing old pieces of broken concrete. The fact that I was one of those getting excited means that I fit into the one of the two categories. Sadly, as this is being written the historic old pavement is threatened with destruction and removal for development.

Border Obelisk and interpretive sign on the Dog Valley Route

Heness Pass Road

We then proceeded up Henness Pass Road and into Dog Valley. Henness Pass Road and Dog Valley is the original route of the Lincoln Highway over the Sierras. It is a road that is steeped in history. Before the Lincoln Highway the road was used to bring supplies to the Comstock mines. Before that it was the Emigrant Trail into California.

Alder Creek Campsite

Very near the dog Valley Route is the Alder Creek campsite of George and Jacob Donner. It is now a beautiful roadside picnic area. Standing there looking out over the peaceful scene it is difficult to comprehend the horrors of the winter of 1846-1847. George and Jacob Donner lost their lives very near this route. George and Jacob did not even make it to the eastern shores of the lake that would later bear their family name. George's wagon suffered damage near Alder Creek. When the wagon was damaged George suffered a serious injury. George, Jacob and their families and Teamsters made camp at Alder Creek. Neither George nor Jacob would survive the winter and never left the Alder Creek campsite.

Plaques at Alder Creek to the Memory of Tamsen and Elizabeth Donner

A tender footnote to this saga involves the story of Tamsen Donner, George's young wife. Tamsen remained strong through the winter and nursed her husband, George. When a relief party arrived at Alder Creek the rescuers and husband George urged Tamsen to leave with the rescue party. Tamsen refused wishing to nurse her husband in the final few hours of his life. After George died Tamsen hiked to the main camp at the east end of Donner Lake. In addition to caring for George in his last hours, Tamsen saw to it that her children were put into the hands of the rescuers, but she did not survive the winter.

Alder Creek, site of George and Jacob Donner camp
Several years ago, The Anthropology Department of the University of Nevada excavated the Alder Creek Site. To assist the dig, Cadaver Dogs were used to identify the places where human remains were present. The remains cannot be detected by humans, but even with the passage of more than 170 years the dogs can detect the presence. Separate teams of dogs each independently identified several points. I was with Greg Palmer last summer (2016) as he marked the places the dogs had identified. Likely one of these is the final resting place of George and Jacob Donner and others who made camp here.

Greg Palmer marking a place identified as
containing human remains

Truckee River Route Petition
Copy Courtesy of Norm Saylor
Truckee River Route

The Dog Valley Route was abandoned for the Truckee River Route by the mid-1920s. There was a petition drive by residents and businesses in Truckee, Reno and San Francisco in favor of the Truckee River Route. Norm Saylor has many of the original petitions that were signed and delivered to the California Department of highways. The new route was 11 miles shorter, avoided several difficult summits and was considered more scenic and also gave additional opportunities for camping and tourist activities. While all of this is true, it has also been argued that an improved Dog Valley Route would have been even shorter than the Truckee River Route and would have been less expensive to construct.

The Truckee River Route evolved from the Lincoln Highway and Victory Highway into US Highway 40 and ultimately into Interstate 80. The fact that Interstate 80 still uses this route is a testament to the Truckee River Route. Nonetheless, Dog Valley serves as a quiet and beautiful reminder of the rich past of this region of the Sierra Nevada.

Truckee River Route of the Lincoln and Victory Highways

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