I have wanted to take the old highway, now Scenic Highway U.S. 40, for a long, long time. I have driven by Donner Lake many times, even driven along the lake a few times…but never could I remember driving Old U.S. 40, which sort of disappeared in 1960 when I-80 opened…like many of those old highways which were replaced by the Interstates.
I told Marcia that I wanted to title this post: Donner Lake – More than a Meal, but she said that “it would be in bad taste”, and then realized what she said. So I changed it to “Amazing, just Amazing”…but don’t tell her, I really liked my first choice better. But first things first…we started our day a bit further to the east.
First we went over to Boca Reservoir, which has been around…well….as long as Marcia has been alive. And the sign below looks like it has been around for 75 years too!
But the reservoir is way, way down. Compare it to this picture below. The white arrow in the picture below is where we took the pictures above. What a difference! Just shows you how BAD the water situation is out west.
But the low water level did not stop people from enjoying it.
Here you can see cars right up next to the shore. It is hard to make out, but to the far right just this side of the tree line is another NF Campground that we wanted to check out. We decided with the low water, and lack of shade, we are better off where we are, so we will come back to Granite Flat on Friday for the weekend (3 days) and we have reserved the same spot we are currently in.
But others are enjoying Boca Reservoir…it is low, but it is also not crowded, and my guess is the fishing is better because there is less natural food for the fish to feed on….and this lone jet ski was all we saw out in the lake.
We drove west on I-80 and took exit 174 for Old Donner Road, and for a number of ski resorts such as Sugar Bowl and Soda Springs. Along the scenic bypass, there are numerous information markers along the way. We did not stop at all of them, but those that we did were interesting and contained no graffiti.
You quickly come to Summit Valley, and you can see Lake Van Norden. Many people know about the Donner Party, but some forget that they were following a route used by many to get to California. Summit Valley was a huge relief for them since they had been going over rocky areas for many days…and had more still in front of them to conquer.
Sugar Bowl Ski Resort is California’s first destination ski resort, which could only be reached by the Southern Pacific Railroad for many years. They had the first ski lift in California, and first Gondola in the West. Still privately owned, it is still one of the closest ski resort to San Francisco.
By the time you take exit 174, you are nearly at the 7200 foot Donner Summit, so the climb on Scenic 40 is not bad at all.
But once you get over the summit and Donner Lake comes into view, it is best to follow the 25 mile speed limit down, it is a windy road…not good for RV’s, that’s for sure….although it is probably doable with smaller ones, and we did see a shorter Class A driving down it.
The road leads from the top, all the way to the water’s edge below.
You get a wonderful view of the old SP Railroad line. The snow can be so deep in this area, although it has been lacking for a few years now, but it is so high they build much of the railroad through the mountain, and covered much of the rest of it with these protective sheds.
Here you can see shed, a tunnel, and what they call, “The Chinese Wall”, erected to protect the trains from snow slides.
The area has many areas for rock climbers, hikers, and there are areas to park along the way to partake in this activity. (Picture right shows parking along the road at the base of the mountain).
But the highlight of the drive by far are the many views of Donner Lake and all the scenery which surrounds it, and the Donner Memorial Bridge, aka: Rainbow Bridge, aka: Donner Summit Bridge, which opened in 1928 and designed by Norman Raab who is best known for the bridges he designed for the Pacific Coast Highway. This bridge, however, is curved, and climbs in elevation, a great accomplishment for its time.
Some claim it is the most photographed bridge in California outside of the Golden Gate bridge. Above is a 1960 postcard (from Internet), and you can see why it is such a scenic bridge. (I did not care to traverse the rocks to get this picture…thirty or forty years ago I might have…but not now.)
Eventually you get to the bottom, and there are many views of Donner Lake which you drive the length of. You cannot drive all the way around the lake because there is a area within the State Park which they have blocked off to keep people from driving around it. Unfortunate if you ask me.
At the state park they just opened a new visitors center, opened earlier this month.
It is a first class visitors center, with many interactive displays and videos. We watched a video about Old Highway 40 that we had just driven, and it was very interesting. Of course, there is a full display explaining everything you would want to know about the Donner Party, the cannibalism, and trials and hardships they faced that cruel winter. But they also focus on the entire emigrant trail, showing the routes, the hardships, and the accomplishments of the many would pioneered over the pass on their way to Sacramento, San Francisco, and other areas of Northern and even Southern California.
This window frames the famous Donner Party Memorial which has sat on the grounds for a hundred years.
The memorial which one could nearly drive up to before is still a wonderful feature of the park, and they are still working on some of the landscaping up around the monument.
It is an amazing tribute to those who passed through this area, and for the Donner Party which lost many lives during the harsh winter of 1846–47. Thirty nine of the eighty seven members of the Donner Party did not survive.
We left the puppies in the motorhome, and rushed back only being gone just under three hours. Later we decided to make a quick trip to Burger Me.
We both had a burger, Marcia having the Italian Stallion, while I had a basic Bacon Cheese Burger. She had Sweet Potato Fries, while I had the regular fries. What did we think? Marcia finished her entire burger less the bun, and some of the fries. I finished all of mine. Both were very good, and we were pleasantly surprised as how nice the staff was…each and everyone one of them who we interacted with. This is a basic “order yourself” type of place, and they were busy, but the food was out quick, hot, fresh and good. You can see why they got a top ten award from D.D. and D., also known as “The Three D’s”.