"Back on the Road..."
Day Four, Thursday – Gold Country:
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Dawn comes to Reno and I wake up. While Dee Dee sleeps, I head out for a walk. Basically, I wanted to see what the Truckee River and Riverwalk looked like in the light
It only took about ten, fifteen minutes to walk to the river, less to take my pictures and I was back to find Dee Dee still
A couple of hours later, the car's packed and we're having our Last Breakfast at Mel's before heading off.
Actually, I only have vague ideas of where we're going. My original "planning" for this trip, as has been mentioned, was vague at best and - worse - was based on a short three-day there-and-back. Well, this was now day four
and we still weren't heading back yet.
So after getting the obligatory picture of the "Biggest Little City" Reno sign and buying gas, we needed somewhere to go.
Well, while we weren't heading back yet, we also didn't want to get any farther
from home. I toyed with simply heading down the 395 towards Mono Lake (amongst other things), but this seemed somewhat "eh" to me at the time and
what little checking of motel/hotel prices I'd done before on my "come up the 395" version of the trip suggested that those prices were, well, really, really high.
I'd also considered heading north to check out Pyramid Lake - but that involved both getting farther away from home and
traveling over some really iffy roads.
That left heading back west over the 80. We climb high up into the Sierras and soon are pulling off at our first stop of the day, Truckee.
is a small town stuck almost right on the top of Donner Pass. Started in 1863 as a way station, built on lumber and the Transcontinental Railway
, Truckee has a definite flavor of the "Old West" about it.
Like many of the small towns we visited this trip, its downtown remains one of 19th
century buildings, all running along the main street whose point of focus is the train station (which - unlike many such stations - is actually still in use by Amtrak.
I wandered around (okay, mostly in the train station) for a bit while Dee Dee napped in the car.
We continue on, past Donner Lake (actually visible
when you do this during the day time) below us in the canyon. As we reach the top of the pass the canyon to our left deepens. About this time, I notice on the mountainsides across the canyon long, long "sheds." These are the old "snow sheds" that protected trains as they climbed over Donner Pass during the winter. This is
the route of the first Transcontinental Railroad
, after all.
The sheds are still there (long since upgraded to concrete!), though I believe the trains now take a different route as I saw
not a single train as we drove - and given how many trains pass through Reno a day, that suggests they aren't running on this old route any more. (I'm willing to be corrected on this, however here's this, "Summit Tunnel at Donner Pass"
which perhaps suggests I'm guessing correctly).
Driving down the other side of the pass I begin to get an idea. We're heading towards "Gold Country,"
after all and I start thinking (after studying the map) that if we just turn off here
, onto the 20, it will take us right into the heart of the area. I see towns with names like "Rough and Ready" and "Sucker Flat" and other 49er feeling places...
...oh, and it will take us west in a way we hadn't driven already. I hate going back the same way I came.
Of course, by doing this, we bypassed Gold Run (by less than twenty miles) - so I still
didn't get a chance to see it.
The 20 proves to be a narrow highway twisting along as it descends through broad forests into the foothills of the Sierras. Along the way, we can stop and see deep gashes cut into those forested hillsides by hydraulic mining: Not done for over a century now, but still scarring the landscape.
It's a nicely scenic drive
, but it seems to be taking longer than I'd figured. Of course that "figuring" is entirely composed of looking briefly at a map, but I had
hoped we'd be doing better touristy wise. Finally, though, we hit the small town of Nevada City
sits where the 20 and the 49 collide. A former mining town, while it now has a band of newer buildings surrounding its heart, that heart is still filled with buildings that date back to the 19th
That heart is also one of narrow streets that frequently involve grades that made me glad I'd gotten the transmission replaced on the Civic. Almost as soon as we hit the "Old Town" area, we spy a museum, tucked away in a tiny old firehouse. It's open, so we stop and walk over.
Wandering the Firehouse Museum
then takes up much of the next couple of hours. Oh, it's not that big - the 1861 firehouse is only about ten-feet wide inside and maybe fifty feet long, with a second-story is reached via a steep narrow set of stairs.
But they have a wide
range of artifacts, running from 1880s wedding dresses to Donner Party artifacts to a shrine from local mining-era Chinese "Joss House." And the staff (all one of her) was friendly, chatty, and informative. Amongst this information was the fact that the firehouse is the "most photographed building in Nevada City."
So I photographed it.
After the museum, we walked and drove around a bit more, passing an 1860s office building, an 1890s library, and a beautiful 1930s Deco-style courthouse (or, more correctly, a 1930s Deco remodel
of the 1860s courthouse).
Eventually, we have to leave Nevada City and jump back on the 20/49 to Auburn, another old (1848) mining town that we passed on our way east on the 80. I've tentatively pegged it as the place we're going to stay that night.
The road winds up and down through low hills, small towns, homes and shopping centers until it pulls into Auburn. At this point we start to play a game called "where the heck are the motels?"
is a fair-sized town but - somehow - we manage to not
pass a single motel as we drive through it. Soon, we find the "Old Town"
area but - again - we can't find a motel. Now I'm sure
there are some - more than "some," it's a tourist destination
after all - but by a miracle of navigation (exceeded only by the time I managed to not find a single
7-11 between San Luis Obispo and Monterey...) we avoid every one of them. Century old court-houses
we find - a Best Western?
Finally giving up, we jump back on the 80 heading west. We passed a lot of "X Motel, Next Exit" type signs on the way to Reno, so we figure we'll see somewhere to stop pretty soon.
"Pretty soon" turns out to be Rocklin.
Dinner that night was at Mountain Mike's Pizza
, a little ways further down the road. Frankly, in spite of good reviews, we weren't all that impressed: Service was slow and the pizza was just average. Heck, we actually didn't bother to finish
our pizza (which perhaps explains why I was eating cold pizza for the next two days of the trip...).
After a long soak in the room's jacuzzi, it's off to sleep.
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