the latest research trip — Donner Pass
September 23, 2015
I spent a few days last week in Truckee, California, researching the Donner Pass area for my current WIP. (Dark Divide, the new Cormac book, which some of you had a sneak preview of if you’ve been to certain recent readings.)
Irony abounds here.
There’s a Taco Bell not more than a quarter of a mile from the primary camp where the Donner Party wintered over, with disastrous consequences. There are at least four ski areas around the pass itself. I’ve been doing quite a lot of reading, and accounts of the Donner Party tragedy — which happened more than 150 years ago — make the area sound so remote and inhospitable. It’s part of the storytelling of the incident, to get across the sense of isolation and desperation.
But the thing about the Donner Pass is it’s about the easiest place to cross the north Sierra Nevadas. Lots of wagon trains went that way, even before the Donner Party. Then the transcontinental railroad. Then the first transcontinental highway. Then the interstate. I-80 runs pretty much straight over the primary site of the Donner Party camp. Now, the place is a congested tourist area. It’s a huge mental disconnect, between reading about tragic isolation to actually being here and not being able to shut out the noise of semi trucks roaring down the interstate.
It’s also a really massively beautiful area and I had a good time. The highlight was a 6 mile hike through some of the most gorgeous mountain forest I’ve ever been in. It was a research trip, but it was also a really nice vacation.