October 1, 2011

Last Stretch of the California Trail

The picture above is of I-80 in Nevada where Hastings Cuttoff rejoins the Californai Trail for the last stretch of the journey west. For those who aren't familiar with it, Hastings Cuttoff was a proposed short cut that cut off almost 300 miles from the journey to California, saving travelers nearly a month of time. It is also a huge part of the reason for the Donner Party's ruin, as they were one of the first groups to take the trail, and in its fairly unexplored status, they had many setbacks.

Nevada is a lovely state. We were talking the other day about population growth and other matters, and the question of where we'd go to live to get away from people was posed. Malcolm said Alaska, but I don't want to be so far from family. My answer was Nevada.

Nevada is empty and remote. Perhaps that's why I like it. I read the other day that it averages 24 people per square mile, but they must all live in Las Vegas and Reno. In fact, according to a website, 2/3 of the states population lives in Las Vegas and 86% of the state's land is owned by the federal government! I'm convinced you could walk out across these hills for miles and miles and only the occasional fence and dirt road would give testament to human settlement.
From Hastings Cuttoff on west, I-80 follows the California Trail, traveling along the route of the Humbolt River.
Water is sparse in this environment. It is a land of sage brush, scraggly grasses, and rock. Harsh winters, dry summers, its a rugged land that appeals to rugged souls.

These wide open spaces are the homes to ranches, but from observation, it seems the bulk of the towns are mining towns, just as they have been for decades, since the discovery of silver in western Nevada in 1859. The Comstock Lode opened the doors to Nevada's future as a mining state. Everything from silver, gold, copper, lead and more has been and still are mined here! Mining remains a successful industry in this part of the country. In 2004, Nevada accounted for 8.7% of the world's gold production!
Driving through Nevada, especially when we get off the interstate and hit the back roads, I always feel a little bit like I've gone back in time. I think of Nevada as having never grown up from the old west. The rest of the western states "civilized," at least partially, but Nevada kind of held on to its western ways. Every space is so empty and rustic and rough. What few towns you run across are small and weathered. Bars are more prevalent than churches, and whore houses are easy to locate.
(I know because they openly advertise on the CB radio. As you approach almost every "major" town, the girls are on the CB chatting with the truckers and giving directions. )
A man (or woman) could lose themselves out here. Pack supplies on a mule and walk off into the hills and never have to deal with society again, except on rare occasions when you come back in to resupply. I honestly think there are a number of people out there that have done just that! I've heard that prospecting is still active here. And the Walmart in Winnemucca has an entire shelving unit dedicated to bulk dehydrated foods. Even if they aren't being hermits, stocking up is apparently a big must around here.

A mill at Toulon, NV used to process tungsten and precious metals. It was in use from 1892 into the 1930's.
At Lovelock, the trail splits again. One path went north to finish the journey. The other is now the path that I-80 follows, through Reno, past Donner's Lake where the wagon train spent that awful winter, across Donner's Summit and the Sierra Nevada mountains, and into California's rich fertile lands.

sunsets in Nevada are almost as spectacular as they are in Montana
We end up on this stretch of I-80 pretty often, and every time I find myself thinking about those earlier pioneers. How they must have struggled to cross this land, and were the rewards at the end of the trail worth it? They must have thought so. I still prefer the Nevada side of the mountains to the California side. So I'm always a little relieved to get our business done in CA and head back over the mountains, back into the remoteness, where I can breath a little easier, stretch out a little, drive in a more relaxed state, because I don't have very much traffic to worry over. Its just me and the road and a handful of other trucks making our way to the next destination, which in this case was home.

We're home for a couple days, waiting to deliver more sunflower seed in Fargo on Monday. I have forced myself to sit here and blog because I wanted to share these pictures and my thoughts on Nevada. The girls appreciate your attention because they have enjoyed my stillness. I have one wrapped around my neck, one curled up on the blanket near me, and the third....she's sitting in the sun on the back of the couch where Malcolm's asked her not to be. Well, its just for a momen so I'm leaving here there. She's happy.
But I'm done blogging now, and I'm going to sneak outside to absorb some fresh Montana air, sunshine, fall flavors, and a horse hug or two..or three..or...


Carol in Colorado said...

Thanks for sharing the history lesson on Nevada and the Donner Party. Enjoy your time at home while you can!

Michaele said...

A kindred spirit you are. Thanks for the info and sentiments about Nevada. I would love to spend more time there someday.

Louise said...

It sounds like you have to be a hardy soul to live in Nevada. I'm glad that there is some of our old West still left, somewhere. Wouldn't it be lovely to just camp out there for a couple of weeks. Of course, knowing me, I'd have to have a double thick air mattress, lots of blankets, good food, and a good chair. I'm not exactly the roughing it type.

I am glad to hear about all of the sunflower seed you are delivering. Prices here in the East are sky high, because the supply is so short. Hopefully, with the new crop in, they will go down, so that all the Eastern birds can eat hearty through the coming Winter.

TexWisGirl said...

what a lovely tour of nevada and al of it's beauty and harshness and isolation. i always think of the Ponderosa and the Cartwright family when i think of that state. Virginia City and Carson City and the silver rush... :)

enjoy your few days at home!!! i know you will!

Valerie said...

You make me want to get in the car and get there as quick as I can. Beautiful post. Tell the horsies hello for me.

Annette said...

We have family in Colorado so often head east out of California, across Nevada and Utah to get there. I don't think we've ever taken the 80 -- the 70 must be more direct to the Denver area. But, everytime we drive through an area like this (Arizona comes to mind), my husband starts talking about pioneers and the Wild West - and I think about them too. I guess the land speaks its stories and history to those of us that cross it.

frugalmom said...

I just recently read about the Donner party and their trek to go West. I cant even imagine the hardships and the struggles that they endured....how much willpower and determination they had to have possessed. It was cool to read about it briefly on your post.

I loved the pictures. Especially the one of the wagon tracks....makes you think.

Kristie said...

I have been a lurker for a little while now but as a native Nevadan I have to thank you for your beautiful post about my state. We absolutely still have the wild west spirit. Thank you for showing that the state is not all desert but has beautiful streams and sunsets. Hope you see the wild horses in your travels across the Silver State.

Dreaming said...

Enjoy your visit at home.

thecrazysheeplady said...

Great posts! Love George Winston and I too love autumn and winter best :-). Thanksgiving and Christmas should be every day, but the weather changing makes it feel different somehow. Thanks for sharing :-).