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BRC President Visits the Historic Sierra Nevada Trail
On July 20, 2002--Jack Welch, President of BlueRibbon Coalition, spent a weekend of four-wheeling in the California Sierra Nevada Mountains, compliments of the Motherlode Rockcrawlers, a four-wheel drive club based in Jackson, California. Del Albright, Ambassador for the BRC, founder of the Friends of the Rubicon, and a member of the Motherlode Rockcrawlers, organized the weekend.
President Welch wanted to see some of the four-wheeling trails and discuss some issues that exist in California. He called upon the Motherlode Rockcrawlers to give him a first-hand visit.
The Saturday trip was over a trail known as the Deer Valley Trail, which is a special trail for a few different reasons. The Deer Valley Trail is part of a historic route once traveled by a local legend John C. "Snowshoe" Thompson.
In January of 1856, Snowshoe Thompson began a remarkable series of trips carrying mail across the Sierra Nevada Mountains on skis. He braved the winter storms on his ten-foot long skis, called snowshoes at the time. His skis were fashioned from recollections of his boyhood in Norway. The skis were very cumbersome and crude by today's standards. Made from green oak approximately ten feet long by six inches wide, they weighed 25 pounds!
During the mid-1850s, mail was being transported over the Sierra Nevada Mountains by horseback, mule, and later by wagon. Each winter, heavy snow blocked the flow of mail. The Mormon Emigrant route crossing over Carson Pass was often blocked with heavy snow and hit hard by the Sierra Nevada winter storms. "Snowshoe" decided to keep the mail flowing.
Thompson founded a foot route from Genoa, Nevada, the oldest settlement in Nevada, to Murphy's Camp in California. This route traversed less elevation in the stormy winter times. Regardless of the severity of the winters, the mail continued to cross the Sierras in this manner from 1856 until Thompson's death in 1876, at the age of 49. For more information on Snowshoe Thompson, you can visit the Genoa Courthouse Museum in Genoa, Nevada. Phone: 702-782-4325.
Today part of this route connects two east-west state highways in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, Highways 4 and 88. This part of Thompson's route has become known as the Deer Valley Trail. A significant feature of this trail is that it splits through the center of the Mokelumne Wilderness, separating it into two sections. It also starts and ends in two different national forests, the El Dorado National Forest and the Stanislaus National Forest.
In the summer the public enjoys the seven-mile trail, which travels alongside some of the most beautiful streamed meadows and through heavy forested rock sections. Mountain bikes, ATVs, four-wheel drive vehicles and horseback riders commonly use the trail. In the winter, the trail is a favorite destination for the snowmobile community.
Jack Welch was treated to a sample of one of California's best trails. The Deer Valley Trail is not well known like the Rubicon trail but is as historic and beautiful. Jack made the comment: "The Motherlode Rockcrawlers truly showed me a vastly beautiful part of the Sierras. I have never been confused about the need to keep our four-wheel drive trails open, but this trip really brought it home for me. It was such a great experience!"
Perhaps the historic significance of this route has been the only reason it remains open to the off-road enthusiast today. As more and more areas come under pressure to be closed, this trail, splitting a Wilderness area, will surely become the subject of a heated battle and is likely to become another pawn in the political public land debate.
On Sunday, the club took Jack on a rocky four-wheel drive trip to the top of Mt. Patterson, elevation 11,673 feet. Mt. Patterson is located in the remote Sweetwater Mountain Range, which divides the Sierras in California from the Sierras in Nevada.
This trip traversed the mountain range, passing through the mining ghost town of Belfort, California (1880), and many abandoned historic mining sites. Upon reaching the top, Jack and Del posed for a picture beside a flag that had been erected and dedicated to the victims of 9/11. The view is breathtaking, with the ability to see for miles in any direction. Jack said: "I've seen a lot of beautiful country from high places, but I can't recall any spot more beautiful, especially from a four-wheel drive rig on a legal road."
To reach the Deer Valley Trail from the Sacramento area, take Highway 50 east to the Jackson Highway. Travel east through Jackson to Angels Camp where you'll turn onto Highway 4 towards Ebbett's Pass. At Hermit Valley on Highway 4 you'll find a remote forested turnout that is the start of the Deer Valley Trail. It is well marked on local USFS maps.
Immediately the trail turns to rock crawling. The first 100 yards turns back the faint of heart, but shortly thereafter you're into moderate wheeling with scenery that knocks your socks off. The high elevation Sierra Nevada ecotype is lodgepole pine, red fir and pine forests that are interspaced with huge granite outcroppings. It makes for great wheeling.
The trail traverses the cherry stem through the Mokelumne Wilderness and ends up at Blue Lakes, a scenic lake wonderland owned by the utility company (PG & E). Fishing is great here, and camping is abundant. A high-speed dirt road gets you out of the Blue Lakes area to Highway 88 in Hope Valley. From there you can follow Highway 88 west back to Jackson.
For more information on the Deer Valley Trail, go online to: www.californiajeeper.com.
The Sweetwater Mountains are located between Wellington, Nevada, and Bridgeport, California, along Highway 395. Wellington is about two hours south of Reno, Nevada. From Wellington you head east and south to the Sweetwater Valley on Highway 338 towards Bridgeport. Once on Hwy 338, you'll find several four-wheel drive roads to give you an experience of the high desert, Great Basin country.
--Del Albright is a former member of the BlueRibbon Coalition Board of Directors. He now serves as the BRC Ambassador. For questions or comments on this article or related issues, he may be contacted through the BRC main office: P.O. Box 5449, Pocatello, ID, 83202. Phone: 208-237-1008, Fax: 208-237-9424. Email: