Applegate-Lassen Trail Nevada 2004
By Michael Green. Photos by Michael Green, Earl Minkler & Fred Cone.
History Re-visited: In August of 2004 the Off-Road Experience guided a small group across the length of the famed Applegate-Lassen Trail in Nevada. This wasn't our first trip across this old wagon route, but it was surely one of the best!
In recent years the Government has protected this area from future development... thus the trail should stay as it is. It is amazing that when you read about this trail, that so little has changed since the emigrants crossed through here more than 150 years ago! Reading what emigrants wrote in their diaries, as we pass the same spot they had troubles, or camped, or even died, makes it all that more interesting. This trip isn't about off-roading, but history. Join us we retrace history in Nevada.
Above/Below: Jesse and Lindsay Applegate headed south from Willamette Valley, Oregon, June 29, 1846. Seeking a less hazardous route to that region from the east. On July 21 they came to a large meadow on the Humboldt River, what is now nearby Rye Patch Reservoir. Thus they established the Applegate Trail. During the remainder of 1846 and for the next two years, Oregon emigrants successfully traveled this trail. In 1848, Peter Lassen, hoping to bring emigrants to his ranch, acted as a guide to a party of 10 to 12 wagons bound for California. He followed a route from here to Goose Lake where he turned southward over terrain that was barely passable. The emigrants suffered great hardships, many lives and livestock were lost. It became known as the "Death Route".
Here our convoy reads the Nevada Historical Marker at the beginning of our journey.
Friday, August 27th;
We departed the Ramada Inn in Lovelock at 8:00am and headed east on I-80. Our plan was to stop near Rye Patch Reservoir for fuel and ice. Like the emigrant wagon trains before us, we had concerns about crossing this portion of the state, ours being gasoline, whereas the emigrants were worried about water and suitable feed, thus we topped off our tanks.
We regrouped again at the historical marker (above), at what was once known as Lassen's Meadows. It was here the wagon trains and their human cargo would find suitable feed and water for their animals. The emigrant's that made it this far had normally been on the road for better than four months since their "jumping off" point in the east. Their animals were very tired and worn down, having little to eat since entering Nevada. Emigrants normally spent more than a few nights at the Meadows, resting both animals and themselves. The smarter ones would cut, dry and load hay for the journey ahead... while others hoped there would be feed along the trail ahead. Anything and everything that would hold water was filled for the trip across the deserts they knew lay ahead.
It was also here they would have to make a choice, "Which route do we take?" It was here that the emigrants on the California Trail, later known as the Donner Route, would have to make a choice; 1) They could continue west along the California Trail to Sacramento via Donner Pass, or 2) Continue west to the Humboldt Sink then turn south x southwest onto the Carson River Route, thus climbing the Sierra's over Carson Pass, or 3) Turn right and head west (x NW) via the Applegate-Lassen Trail. A tough choice for many, having no real maps of the routes, nor true information of the same. Sadly, in many cases the wrong choice was made. Our choice on this day was to head west via the Applegate-Lassen Trail.
In the late 1840ís a painted barrel was to be found here at the meadows, in it was mail and notes from those who had passed before. Those traveling east bound would take letters from the barrel addressed to families in the east... thus it became the first mailbox along the trail.
After a brief stop to read the historical marker, some driving instructions were in order and broadcasted over the radio... thus we turned north. We soon crossed the Humboldt River, also once known as Mary's River, and even Ogden's River, then passed the "Mud Route" trail. This was another leg of the California Trail, one that kept wagons away from the muddy banks of the river in wet periods. Our trail now swung due west, and like the wagons before us, our next watering hole would be some 15-miles distance, a tough pull for the often tired Oxen... and it is up hill all the way.
Below: Antelope Springs Marker. "From the Lassen Road... to a spring of good water on the left of the main road about a mile with a good road leading to the spring and the back onto the road... The water runs out of a bluff at the foot of the mountain." J.D. Randell Aug 15th, 1852
Like J.D. Randell and so many others, we too turned off the main road and made our way up to the springs. We did in deed find water, but experience will tell you it surely isn't enough water to feed a huge number of draft animals. While at the springs we found a number of emigrant graves, the most noteworthy being of Susan Coon (below), who died in childbirth in August 1860 at age- 40. The child survived and went onto California. A stone mason in the wagon train cut a stone during the night... thus leaving Susan alone. The family still maintains the grave. After paying our respects to Susan, we were again on our way. Soon we'd climb a long grade... making our way up and over Antelope Summit.
Below: Antelope Summit marker, "From Antelope Springs the road is somewhat uneven a few miles then there is a long hill to ascend when at the summit it is descending for several miles... Good wheeling the entire distance." Stillman Churchill, Aug 30th, 1849.