Emigrant Trail We Visited: 8-23-2001


From Fallon: Varies

4WD or high clearance desired

What Was

Two of the main routes for emigrants coming from the east to California and points West cut across the northwest portion of Churchill County. Most of the route through the County was one of the worst feared sections, passing through the infamous Forty Mile Desert.

The Truckee Route was one of the earliest routes, established in 1844. Later, in 1848, the Carson Route was created.

For as long as these links to the End of the Oregon Trail pages last, this page gives you some idea of what it cost to outfit yourself for a journey like this. This page give you an idea of what the wagons were like, and why they were designed like they were.

"Imagine to yourself a vast plain of sand and clay; ...the stinted sage, the salt lakes, cheating the thirsty traveler into the belief that water is near; yes, water it is, but poison to the living thing that stops to drink.... Burning wagons render still more hideous the solemn march; dead horses line the road, and living ones may be constantly seen, lapping and rolling the empty water casks (which have been cast away) for a drop of water to quench their burning thirst, or standing with drooping heads, waiting for death to relieve them of their tortures, or lying on the sand half buried, unable to rise, yet still trying. The sand hills are reached; then comes a scene of confusion and dismay. Animal after animal drops down. Wagon after wagon is stopped, the strongest animals are taken out of the harness; the most important effects are taken out of the wagon and placed on their backs and all hurry away, leaving behind wagons, property and animals that, too weak to travel, lie and broil in the sun.... The owners hurry on with but one object in view, that of reaching the Carson River before the boiling sun shall reduce them to the same condition.... The desert! You must see it and feel it in an August day, when legions have crossed it before you, to realize it in all its horrors. But heaven save you from the experience. " -Eleazar Stillman Ingalls, August 5, 1850

This is a description of the trail as it crosses the northern part of Churchill County, where Interstate 80 goes now:

"West of Lovelock US 40 leaves the Humboldt River to skirt the southern edge of the Trinity Range and cross the old Forty-mile Desert; the highway pursues a course considerably north of the early road, one route of which went south and one just north of the Humboldt Sink. Early travelers knew that their last water before crossing the desert was to be found in the Humboldt Slough, which drained south. "Even the very wagons seem to know that we are off today for the great adventure-in sand, volcanic ash,' alkali, furnace heat, and the stench of putrid flesh-We crossed along the edge of an immense baked plain with the fetid stinking slough for a guide, although the wreckage along the way almost paved our route. ... It must have been here that one emigrant said he counted a dead animal every 106 feet." The beasts died of various causes, among which was the poisonous water in this stretch. Of the water flowing into the Sink itself. Mark Twain wrote that he and his prospecting friends tried to drink it, but it was like drinking lye, "and not weak lye, either." They put molasses in it, they tried pickles, they made coffee of it-but as one of them said, it was "still too technical." - The WPA Guide to 1930's Nevada

What is

The discarded wagons and personal belongs are gone now, save for a few hidden, rusty pieces of metal. The bones of the animals have long ago been picked clean and faded into the desert. The graves of those who died are hidden among the sage. What you see now- besides thousands of tire tracks running every which way- is pretty much what the first travelers saw when they came though- except for the nice flat road.

Sand sand sand- bring 4WD and supplies.

This monument to the California Emigrant Trail is about a mile west of Highway 95 almost 20 miles south of the junction with Interstate 80. The monument behind the larger monument has the inscription. Why there are two, we don't know, and we didn't care- anything providing shade out here is a good thing.
A wagon-eye view of the Emigrant Trail, about twenty miles north of Ragtown. Travelers still had a long journey ahead of them.
Getting closer now, only about ten miles away from Ragtown. A Trail marker is off to the right. It was hot this day- if it weren't for our ATV's, cell phones, and 20 gallons of chilled Gatorade, we might have experienced something close to what they did back then.
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