502. Humboldt River Approach

California Trail at Stop #2 by Susanne Reese

Directions from Stop #501 Halleck to Stop #502 Humboldt River Approach

From Halleck, drive back onto I-80 and head east toward Wells. Drive 30 miles on I-80. Take exit 351 West Wells. At the bottom of the off-ramp turn left onto Humboldt Ave. Drive 0.8 miles to the first stop sign on 6th Street. Turn right onto 6th St. Drive 0.25 miles on 6th St. until you reach the Lake Ave. intersection. Turn left onto Lake Ave. Drive over the railroad tracks and drive until the intersection with 9th St. is reached. Turn Left onto 9th St. Drive to the end of 9th St. and turn right onto Wells Ave. Wells Ave will rapidly turn into a dirt road. Drive for 0.4 miles and veer left when the road splits. Drive for 1.7 miles across the flat and up the hill toward the radio antennas. Three quarters of the way up the hill you will see a dirt 4x4 road cross, the road you are driving on. This is the trail. Park on the side of the road. Look for the Trails West “T” marker on the left off the main road. If you drive past the power line up on the hill you drove a few hundred feet too far.

Humboldt River History

Emigrants took the main branch of the California Trail from Fort Hall (near present day Pocatello, Idaho), through Thousand Springs Valley to this location. Several trails made their way down to the Humboldt Wells in the valley below, which is a major source of the Humboldt River. For many miles this 4x4 road is the actual path of the California Trail. For emigrants, good grass and water were major concerns. Animals pulling wagons needed to be hydrated and well fed to cross the arid landscape. Many rested near the wells to take advantage of the plentiful resources in the desert oasis. Today the Humboldt Wells have been transformed into ponds used for agriculture.

1849 emigrant Amos Batchelder describes the wells: “We obtained our water at this place from several springs of a peculiar character. They were from 10 to 20 feet deep, and about 6 feet in diameter across the top, but appeared to be larger beneath. Three of our mules, in attempting to drink from one of them, were precipitated into it, at different times, and were completely immersed. They were drawn out, after exploring the regions below, by means of halters, without injury.”

The Humboldt River cuts through the many north-south oriented mountain ranges that occupy the Great Basin. For 300 miles, emigrants walked westward on the banks of the river. The river disappears in a fertile plain known as the Humboldt Sink, located near present day Lovelock, Nevada. Water levels in the Humboldt River vary significantly de-pending on the time of year and location. In some locations, men drowned while crossing the river. In other sections, flow was miniscule. Samuel Clemens - more popularly known by his pen name Mark Twain - commented… “…one of the pleasantest and most invigorating exercises one can contrive is to run and jump across the Humboldt River till he is overheated, and then drink it dry.”

As the river flows west, alkalinity levels in the water increase. Many became sick from the foul tasting alkaline water. In busy years, 40,000 emigrants and twice as many animals drank, defecated, and perished in the fragile river system during a three month span, making the water quality even worse in the river. The polluted water had devastating impacts on local tribes who relied on the river and marshes to survive. The foul water was commented on by many. Coffee was a popular drink along the river. A strong coffee could mask the poor flavor of the water.