Today was certainly the best day so far. First of all, this leg didn’t need to be one of those 10 – 12 hour days on the road. We did start off with a little hitch – a flat tire.
Luckily there was a Tires Plus right down the road from our hotel in Reno, but it did cost us some time.
We left Nevada, and entered California. The landscape improved drastically, and although the mountain driving is a bit rougher for the driver (a big thank-you to John), the beauty makes the long hours stuffed in a car a million times more pleasurable.
We only had one stopped planned, and that was to the Donner Memorial. I would think most people have heard of the Donner party which was a group of families who left from Springfield, Illinois and crossed the country, making their way to California. The name comes from George Donner, who eventually led the group. Most people will only remember one thing – that the group of early settlers to the west were reduced to cannibalism to survive being trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The story of what these people went through, what theyachieved in a time of covered wagons, and the hardship they endured, is much more interesting than just what they had for dinner. I think Mr. Dickens was impressed with the tale.
I will not give the full story here, if you’d like more details click here: Donner
The sight of the Donner encampment is now the sight of a memorial park. The camps of the families were actually spaced pretty far apart as by the time they had gotten to this point, after seven months of a long and arduous journey, already weak and hungry, they weren’t on the best of terms. The memorial itself sits at the site where the Breen and Murphy families camped. The group had come across some old cabins left from mountain men that had been there before. A short distance away is the site of the Graves/Reed cabin, and even farther way is where the Donner family set up camp in tents. The site rests on the edge of Donner Lake.
The memorial has a statue on a large stone plinth. The height of the plinth represents the height of the snow that winter in 1846/47. This statue also stands at the sight of the Breen cabin. There is a path that leads around the monument, and I have to say, we didn’t want to step off of the path, knowing that many of those people perished on that soil.
After a walk through the museum, and a short film about the Donner Party, we took a walk down a nature trail to where the Murphy cabin stood. There is still the remnants of the fireplace standing there. Not only were we standing on a historic site, but the site of a mass grave. We were actually standing on the grave itself. The survivors had been rescued in a series of three relief efforts. After the last survivor was rescued, a mass grave was dug in the floor of the Murphy cabin and most of the bodies were buried there. There were also some bodies buried at the other cabin sites.
The experience was interesting, awe inspiring, goose bump inducing, and a bit sad. Out of 81 people trapped on that mountain, only 45 survived.
After our exploration of the Donner Memorial, we drove around Donner Lake, pulled off to the side of the road, and hiked to a rock outcropping above a valley. It was a beautiful place to have a picnic lunch.