Sierra Nevada history

We're on our way to Timbuctoo!

In 1850 Timbuctoo, like most Gold Rush towns, built itself from the wealth generated by gold panning. It is located on a bluff above The Yuba River, close to the gold bearing sand bars, but high enough to avoid flooding. Once the easy gold was panned out, they moved on to hydraulic mining of the bluffs around 1854. It's through this method of extraction that Timbuctoo gained its fabulous wealth.

Hydraulic mining in Timbuctoo.

Hydraulic mining in Timbuctoo.

As the town grew, it built a theater that could house 800 people, a bank, bakery, hotels, even an ice skating rink! The wealth continued to flow until 1884 when downstream farmers sued to end all hydraulic mining in the state. The hydraulic mining was causing massive amounts of sediment to move downstream causing flooding and a loss of agricultural land. It was also making riverboat travel difficult as sandbars would form and re-form making navigation tricky. The District Court in San Francisco agreed and shut down all hydraulic mining. Timbuctoo was doomed!

Timbuctoo in 1862. The stage is passing in front of Stewart’s Wells Fargo Store.

Timbuctoo in 1862. The stage is passing in front of Stewart’s Wells Fargo Store.

The court ruling putting an end to hydraulic mining caused Timbuctoo to decline as miners their families and the businesses that grew up to support them moved away. Soon there was very little left of the town. During the 20th Century, there was an effort to preserve what little was left. Stewart's Wells Fargo Store was the most robust of what was still standing. The remaining townspeople had it preserved with a new roof and commemorative signs.

The preserved Stewart’s Store in 1945.

The preserved Stewart’s Store in 1945.

During the early part of the 20th Century, Timbuctoo enjoyed something of a revival as a historic stop on the road. It became quite popular with people looking for the story of California's history. Before 1980 the main road passed through town, thus making it much easier for people to stop and check it out. When Highway 20 was re-aligned in the 1980s, it bypassed Timbuctoo, and like so many other Gold Rush communities that have had the main road realigned away from town, it faded away.

Stewart’s Store today.

Stewart’s Store today.

Soon the impetus that had driven the people to try and save the remaining structure(s) also died, and rumors of gold in the walls of the old building brought vandals, and they tore the old structure down. Now there are no standing structures from the early days, just a crumbling mass of bricks. You have to see the old photos and drawings of the town to get a feel for how wealthy and busy Timbuctoo was.

Monica checking out the old bridge crossing of The Yuba River.

Monica checking out the old bridge crossing of The Yuba River.

There is so much to explore near Timbuctoo. The road coming in from the west passes over the Yuba River, where you can see the support of the old bridge that crossed the river. The Town of Samrtsville is just a mile or so from Timbuctoo and has a great story of its own. Is it spelled with a "s" or not, Smartville? A little further lies Rough and Ready, a town that also built itself from gold, as well as it's spot on the old Emigrant Trail to Johnson's Ranch in Wheatland.

Timbuctoo in the 1860’s and the exact same spot today, 2018.

Timbuctoo in the 1860’s and the exact same spot today, 2018.

Here is a short video, less than 5 minutes, concerning our adventure at Timbuctoo.

A lost section of Highway 40 at Eagle Lakes Road.

Monday took us to the high country for one last chance to enjoy it before the first snow of the season, maybe on Thursday. Monica and I had On Yesterday, Monday, we had intended to visit Yesterday, Monday, we had intended to visit Prosser Reservoir, just north of Truckee, to follow the old Emigrant Trail. We never made it! We usually pick some destination as a goal, but if we find something else along the way that interests us, we will change plans, and that's what happened Monday.

Eagle Lakes exit on the eastbound lanes of Interstate 80.

Eagle Lakes exit on the eastbound lanes of Interstate 80.

On the way, we had decided to visit Eagle Lakes Road, just of Highway 80. If you turn right after exiting the freeway, you have access to the original Lincoln Highway. There is a T marker there indicating it was also the Truckee Trail Emigrant route. We had made that visit a couple of weeks ago but now wanted to turn left and cross under the freeway as we had seen some homes there, between the two expressways. The area is so narrow and surrounded by cliffs that Interstate 80 has two routes over this place. One is the eastbound lanes and the other the westbound lanes, separated by about a quarter mile. Between these two expressways, the south fork of The Yuba River passes, with a few cabins built along the river. Just as we were passing across the river, we noticed another road, which I assumed to be a lost section of Highway 40, the highway that predated Interstate 80.

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Highway 40 was built in 1926 and operated as an Interstate highway system until the present Interstate 80 was constructed in 1956. Highway 40, in many cases, followed the old Lincoln Highway, which was America’s first transcontinental automobile road. In this area of The Sierras Highway 40 followed the Yuba River, while The Lincoln Highway and the emigrant trail avoided the steep, narrow canyon and followed a route on a ridge top.

On this map you can see the amazing number of trail and routes through this narrow gap in the mountains. The red line is the lost section of Highway 40 we walked. The blue line in the Emigrant Trail and the original alignment of The Lincoln Highway. The yellow line is The Union Pacific Railway, and the white lines are the two sections, eastbound and westbound of Interstate 80. What’s no shown is the oil pipeline and cable lines that also transverse this spot. Amazing place!

On this map you can see the amazing number of trail and routes through this narrow gap in the mountains. The red line is the lost section of Highway 40 we walked. The blue line in the Emigrant Trail and the original alignment of The Lincoln Highway. The yellow line is The Union Pacific Railway, and the white lines are the two sections, eastbound and westbound of Interstate 80. What’s no shown is the oil pipeline and cable lines that also transverse this spot. Amazing place!

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Once we left the car and started walking down the old roadbed, we were greeted by this fantastic rock retaining wall. They had to do this as there was no other way to support a road in this narrow canyon. It appears that after highway 40 the people who built Highway 80 decided to split the expressway and avoid this tight place. The old roadbed runs about a quarter mile to an old bridge crossing which has had the bridge removed. The remains of the bridge were used to make a retaining wall for the new Interstate 80.

Old site of Highway 40 bridge, with present day Interstate 80 bridge, westbound lanes behind.

Old site of Highway 40 bridge, with present day Interstate 80 bridge, westbound lanes behind.

What a fantastic find for us. I imagine very few people have seen this as most are speeding by on Interstate 80, and there are no services at The Eagle Lakes exit. It's fun to explore these old sections of road as you can hear the present travelers speeding by on the Interstate, oblivious to the history around them. This spot is an example of why we "slow down and take the road less traveled".

Here is a short video of our Eagle Lake Roads adventure.

Searching for the Emigrant Trail, Mt. Olive Road, Nevada County

Monica and I spent Monday at Yuba Gap, in the high country of The Sierra, looking for the old "Overland Emigrant Trail." While we didn't find any "T markers," we did spot a stone obelisk on Laing Road. You wouldn't know what this thing was unless, like us, you had seen them before with their sign attached, as this one in Bear Valley does. I'm not sure whether these signs are being stolen, or fall off, but we have come across more of these markers without their signs than with them.

Concrete marker with sign

Concrete marker with sign

The next day, Tuesday we stayed a bit closer to home and tried to locate the trail in the foothills above Grass Valley. We had read the descriptions of how the path followed Lowell Ridge before dropping down towards Chicago Park area. The name Mount Olive stood out from our research so when we found the road we drove it! Coming down Mt Olive Road, it makes a sharp right-hand turn, and that's when Monica saw the "T marker." We are on the trail!

Monica and T Marker for Mt. Olive

Monica and T Marker for Mt. Olive

Something looked different about this marker. It seemed it faced in an odd direction, east. Hard to read. There was also a large pile of gravel in front of it. We took some pictures and proceeded down Mt. Olive Road looking for more signs of the trail. Once at home we opened up Emigrant Trails West webpage, looked up the Truckee Trail, and the picture of this particular T marker was there! However, a house has been built right on the trail. I have put two pictures up, one from the Trails West webpage, and our photo from Tuesday. This house is entirely new, as it also does not show up on Google Maps.

Photo from Trails West webpage.

Photo from Trails West webpage.

Our day was complete, as we found another section of the trail. What's worrying though is the rapid pace of development going on in the foothills of The Sierra. It's quite a desirable place to live, and we saw many new homes popping up here and there. Our concern, as history buffs, is what will people do with these old places and trails. Some don't even know what they are building on, or in some cases, don't care. How can we preserve these beautiful pieces of history, without denying people their private property rights? As fan's of the trails, it's a bit of a shame to see them paved over and in some cases forgotten.

The same spot as above but now with a house.

The same spot as above but now with a house.

Verdi, travelling through history

Recently Monica and I visited Verdi, Nevada, looking for the east end of The Lincoln Highway in California. The Lincoln Highway was America's first transcontinental road, running from New York and ending at Lands End, San Francisco. Construction began in 1913 and tied together various roads and pathways into one traversable route. Before that, if you wanted to cross the country, you were on your own.

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Here in California, there were two routes over The Sierra. One traveled from Reno through South Lake Tahoe and down the present Highway 50, while the other passed north of Tahoe through Truckee and down roughly where the present day Highway 80 runs. Eventually, the Lincoln Highway was taken over by more modern numbered highways, and soon many sections of the old road were abandoned.

It’s these old sections of road that appeal to us. Often they pass through places that were once centers of activity, and now are bypassed and forgotten. Verdi Nevada is one such place. It’s where the Lincoln Highway leaves California and enters Nevada at the Von Schmidt Borderline on Dog Valley Road.

Most people driving on Interstate 80 quickly pass through Verdi on the way to Reno, just a few miles away. Those of us interested in California history feel the pull of this old town and its history. A place that was for over 70 years was a center of traveling activity, with The Central Pacific Railroad passing through, as well as The Truckee route of the famous Overland Emigrant Trail, and of course The Lincoln Highway and the later Highway 40. Once Interstate 80 was built by the old town in the 1950's it's fate for the next 70 + years was sealed. The city seems to be growing again, with transplants fleeing the higher living prices in California.

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We arrived in at Vedi, Nevada in October to find the mountains and landscape awash in color. Having grown hungry, we found a picnic table at Crystal Peak Park right on The Truckee River. Turns out that right across from the table was a Trails West "T" Marker! We were picnicking on the old Truckee Trails famous 27th crossing! Right in front of us 170 years prior the first emigrants traveling across the country passed this way. The Donner-Murphy party, as well as thousands of others, made the last crossing of the river right here. Talk about a history buffs dream picnic table!

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A couple of miles from Crystal Peak Park we found the California Nevada borderline on the old Henness Pass trail. Now known as Dog Valley Road, at one time it was teeming with thousands of travelers headed to a new life in California, or a few years later headed from California into Nevada for the great Silver rush of the Comstock Mines. Now it's a lonely spot missed by most people. Our kind of place!

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The Von Schmidt borderline is a fascinating place. California and Nevada had been going back and forth about where the actual border between the states was. In 1872 a San Francisco civil engineer named Allexey W. Von Schmidt was retained to find the boundary and mark it with metal obelisks, one-mile apart. The project was never completed as Von Schmidt ran out of funds and the state wouldn't cough up any more. Here is a link to more info concerning The Von Schmidt Borderline. http://bit.ly/2NZmUVi If you read the article link some photos look to be taken not that long ago showing the obelisk behind a chain link fence, having been rammed by a pickup truck. Not sure when it was done, but the new protective barrier and cage are very well done. Someone has taken the time to put this very historic spot back into shape. Now it can remind others just how important this place was.

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We headed up Dog Valley Road a bit, but it's so bumpy, and our time was running short, that we decided to turn around before the summit and head back down to the borderline. Keep your eyes open as we spotted a Trails West "T" Marker which can be found on our map. Both Monica and I have great fun trying to spot these "T" markers, as they are generally right on the old trails, which often don't run right where the present day road is. Great fun is reading the quotes printed on the signs, generally from a traveler passing this way over 150 years ago.

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Be sure to check out the "center" of the old Verdi. The Verdi Historic Museum is there and bit the first generation, and later incarnations of the Lincoln Highway pass through here. The first person to cross the country by Motorcycle, George Wayman, traveled here in 1906 on his way from San Francisco to New York. They have a sign there commemorating the feat.

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We will be going back to Verdi one of these days. There is so much to explore there, and we want to drive from Verdi up and over Henness Pass to Truckee on the old road so we can complete our ongoing history map showing the route of The Lincoln from Auburn to Verdi and The Von Schmidt Borderline.