Tens of thousands of California ‘49ers crossed what is today Nevada from 1845 -1870. They followed the Humboldt River, which is the same route used by Interstate 80 today. They depended on the Humboldt River for water…until the river disappeared into the ground at the “Humboldt Sink” near today’s Lovelock. They then crossed a forty-mile desert to reach the next life-saving river….before they faced the intimidating mountains leading into California.
The Pony Express riders and stations in 1860 also faced challenging conditions. Their route was later followed by the old Lincoln Highway, and finally today’s US 50. The route is called, “The Loneliest Road in America.” But today’s pioneers can find a fun road trip on Highway 50.
No matter which direction you take down these historic routes, you will discover the bold, indomitable spirit of the pioneers is alive and kicking in Nevada today!
Discover Nevada’s Pioneer Trails…
THE CALIFORNIA TRAIL AUTO TOUR
1) West Wendover – I-80. California Trail pioneers crossed Salt Lake basin and entered present-day Nevada following the natural landmark Pilot Peak, that today can be seen from I-80 at Exit 398. Today’s visitors are welcomed by “Wendover Will,” the iconic neon-lit cowboy sign. The West Wendover Welcome Center is a great place for travel information and a fascinating look at the area’s history. The nearby 509th Composite Group Memorial Monument honors World War II air heroes and scientists. Just across the Utah border is the Historic Wendover Airfield and Museum and the Bonneville Salt Flats. West Wendover visitors can enjoy gaming at a variety of modern casinos. Top name entertainers regularly perform at the Peppermill Concert Hall. Nearby Blue Lake offers hiking trails and great fishing.
2) Wells – I-80. Pioneers sought the natural waterholes they called the Humboldt Wells at the headwaters of the Humboldt River. Visitors can discover this history at the Trail of the 49ers’ Interpretive Center.
3) Elko – I-80. The California Trail Interpretive Center features scenic galleries for living-history presentations on the California Trail. Please go to CaliforniaTrailCenter.org for information. The Sherman Station Visitors Center, housed in a 110-year-old ranch home, is a great place to go for travel information and local lore. The colorful Western Folklife Center features all things cowboy, including poetry, music and culture. The Northeastern Nevada Museum includes a portion of the Ruby Pony Express station and an extensive Western art collection. The Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum showcases cowboy history and gear. Elko is also a gateway to the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
4) Carlin – I-80. The town is near historic Carlin Canyon, a deep winding gorge that challenged California Trail pioneers and the first transcontinental railroad.
5) Battle Mountain – Visit the Battle Mountain Cookhouse Museum for unique exhibits and history.
6) Winnemucca – I-80. The Humboldt Museum features exhibits on area history and prehistory, including a prehistoric mammoth excavated from nearby Black Rock Desert. The museum grounds also include a historic church, the 1880’s Greinstein Building and the 1899 Richardson-Saunders House. The Winnemucca Visitor Center features a wildlife display and the fun-loving Buckaroo Hall of Fame. Winnemucca can also be home base for exploring nearby ghost towns. Visitors can find gaming and entertainment at a variety of modern casinos. Winnemucca is also the gateway for outstanding outdoor recreation and hiking at the Water CanyonRecreational Area, the Bloody Shins Trail, and the Winnemucca Sand Dunes.
Applegate and Nobles Trail routes – These alternative spurs to the California Trail led pioneers to northern California and southern Oregon. Today the routes pass through the Black RockDesert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails NationalConservation Area (NCA). Before traveling into the Black Rock Desert, visitors first need to visit the BLM office in Winnemucca for maps, tips and precautions.
7) Rye Patch State Recreation Area – Rye Patch Reservoir Road. Includes Lassen Meadows where pioneers found water and cut hay for their livestock. Today’s I-80 route follows the California Trail’s Truckee Route through present day Reno/Sparks and enters California east of Truckee and Donner Lake. The Beckwourth Trail goes north 25 miles on Highway 395 from Reno and enters California over the Beckwourth Pass.
8) Lovelock – I-80. Today’s trail travelers can see the Marzen House Museum. The California Trail’s Carson Route today roughly follows US 95 at Exit 83 to US 50 west to South Lake Tahoe
The Pony Express Auto Tour
9) Genoa- East of Lake Tahoe and US 50. The Mormon Station State Historic Park, once a trading post and Pony Express station, has been reconstructed and features a museum and visitor center.
10) Carson City – US 50. Nevada’s state capital city is home to the Nevada State Museum.
11) Virginia City – North of US 50 on NV 341. This historic mining town still resembles its boomtown days that began in 1859. The Virginia City Visitor Center is a good place for information on all the great places to visit. The Virginia City Outlaws offer daily family-friendly Wild West shows with professional actors. The Way It Was Museum is filled with history, artifacts, and a movie. The Bucket of Blood Saloon has been a favorite watering hole since the 1880s. The Mackay Mansion features original furniture and fixtures for an intimate look at the boomtown era. The Washoe Club Haunted Museum provides “other-worldly”experiences, while the Marshall Mint & Museum is all about gold, silver, dollars, and cents. Visitors can also see an authentic 1860’s stamp mill in action at the Comstock Gold Mill.
12) Fort Churchill State Historic Park – South of US 50 at Silver Springs on US 95. Once where pioneers and Pony Express converged, today the park has a visitor center, museum, picnic sites, camping, and hiking trails through the fort’s structures. Nearby is the Buckland Station that served Pony Express riders.
13) Fallon – US 50. Includes the Churchill County Museum. East of Fallon on US 50 is the Middlegate Station that once served the Pony Express, today serves “monster” burgers to modern travelers.
14) Austin – US 50. Stokes Castle bears testimony to former mining days.
15) Eureka – US 50. Features the Eureka Sentinel Museum and the Eureka Opera House built in 1880.
16) Ely – US 50. Founded in the 1870s as a stagecoach stop, today the historic downtown features murals, galleries, shopping and dining. The East Ely Railroad Depot built in 1905 is within the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark, called the best-preserved steam locomotive main yard complex where visitors can also ride on a steam train. Renaissance Village features living history presentations in restored frontier homes. The White Pine Public Museum includes a one-room schoolhouse, a part of the old Ely jail, fossils and much more. Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park still has the large beehive shaped ovens that processed silver ore in the 1870s. Ely is also the gateway for great outdoor recreation at Great Basin National Park, Lehman Caves, and Cave Lake State Park.