The California Trail

West. The promise of lush land and the possibility of gold. In the two decades prior to the Civil War, upwards of 250,000 people emigrated to Northern California (a brand new territory at the time) to redefine their lives. And to maybe stike it rich. And if it meant packing up all your earthly possessions (that you could fit in your cover wagon anyway), saying good-bye to your family (probably forever, this side of Glory), and walking/riding maybe 2000 miles through unknown territory, then so be it. It was the dream. And it was their reality. And a harsh reality it was!
CA Trail
Of the tens of thousands that crossed this great country on the California Trail, perhaps the best known is the Donner Party. Due to some poor advice, late arrivals, the worst (and earliest) winter in recorded history and generally short tempers, the trip did not go well for them. (Check out the the link if you would like more details).
Today I-80 runs along the California Trail route as it crosses Nevada. Now we were heading East, not West as the emigrants, but I was struck again and again with the fact that there was no way, no how, no sirree bob that I would have signed up for that trip!
Here is the view from just west of Salt Lake City (actually looking west) that would have greeted those pioneers-
California Trail-9
But just out of sight is the 40 Mile Desert (which includes the Great Salt Flats and is actually 50+ miles).
California Trail-8
California Trail-7
The trip had many ups and downs from that point on.
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California Trail-5
(and no tunnels to help them)
CA Trail summit
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California Trail-3
California Trail-2
California Trail-1
Leaving Nevada City-3
Back at Donner Lake (where the Donner party camped for that long, hard winter) there is a Emigrant Trail Museum and a commemorative statue to that ill-fated group of pioneers.
Leaving Nevada City-2
The height of the statue base (about 20 ft.) represents the snow depth from that winter. Geez.

I have great respect for those pioneers. Because I can’t imagine having the will or stamina to face the hardships that would be required to have crossed the country during that time.
Nope, I’m much more content crossing the country in my kind of covered wagon!
Leaving DA-2

3 thoughts on “The California Trail”

  1. I can’t imagine doing that trip either. It was bad enough when James and I drove it in a speedy car. I wonder sometimes though whether the pioneers really had any idea of the hardships they’d face, or any grasp of the time it would take. Those folks were made of sturdy stuff

  2. I remember when we did that westward trip back in ’84…… That is, 1984, and we had a truck and trailer traveling that route. Wouldn’t want to have done that route like the pioneers had to do it. I like air conditioning and soft seats over the bumps in the road!!

  3. Carol – glad you clarified WHICH ’84! I’m sure the scenery hasn’t changed much in the last 25 years (or 125 at that!). I’m inspired by those pioneers desire to Go West, but know for sure I’d be the one waving good-bye to them as they left. And Lynne, I’m with you – I don’t think they really understood what was ahead of them. Desert, mountains, desolation – all before the beautiful reward of California (and Oregon and Washington). Good thing they didn’t really know how hard it would be!

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