503. CA Trail and CP Railroad

Chinese Central Pacific RR workers in Northern Nevada

Directions from Stop #502 Humboldt River Approach to Stop #503 CA Trail & Central Pacific R.R.

Continue driving up the hill toward the radio antennas. At the crest of the ridge the road will split in many directions. Take the road that veers furthest to the left. Pass by the radio antenna and drive straight for 1.1 miles until you reach the end of the road. There will be a steep descent during this segment. At the end of the road, turn left onto N Metropolis Road. Drive for 1 mile. When you start curving around the hill to your left, slow down. Along this curve you will see a dirt road on your right that merges into the curve at a sharp angle. Turn right onto this dirt road and park. The Trails West “T” marker is 0.4 miles down the rutted dirt road. You may hike or drive this road at your own risk. Reaching the marker is not necessary.

Site History

From this vista you can see the sage covered landscape the pioneers followed along the Humboldt. 1849 pioneer Peter Decker describes the trail on July 9th: “Have a fine windy day, road passed along a bottom which begins to show a deep narrow stream which seems to head at the spring and pond at last nights camp (at Humboldt Wells). We call this the Mary’s or Humboldt River. Road very good but awful dusty it being several inches in deept, blows constantly in our face in perfect clouds. On our right and left are mountains whose snowy sides and tops sparkle in the hot sun.”

In the early 1860s, travel on the California Trail was light. However, later in the decade, use of the trail increased greatly with the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. Instead of California bound wagons occupying the trail, eastward bound supply wagons from California covered the route, carrying construction materials for the railroad. The original Central Pacific Railroad grade from 1869 was built on top of and next to California Trail for many miles heading west from here. In the winter of 1868-69, thousands of laborers, mostly Chinese, built the railroad bed and laid rails where the dirt road you are standing on exists today. Legend has it that the winter was so cold that workers had to use black powder to blast the frozen ground and loosen it up for digging and moving. When the Central Pacific met the Union Pacific at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869, America’s first transcontinental railroad was complete. This event greatly shaped the history of the United States. Travel along the entire 2,000-mile long California Trail took an average four-to-six months in a wagon. With trains this distance could be covered in a week. The trip was also much cheaper. Train passengers didn’t need to purchase six months of food, ox teams, and wagons for their journey across the West.

The beginning of the railroad was the end of the trail. After 1869, the California Trail was utilized as a road connecting newly established farming, mining, and railroad towns. In 1926, the Victory Highway followed the path of the California Trail and railroads along the Humboldt River. Around the same time, the first transcontinental U.S. airmail route flew above the valley. In the 1970s, I-80 was built along the same path, ensuring that the Humboldt River valley in Northern Nevada will remain an important route for western travel.

Directions from stop #503 CA Trail & Central Pacific R.R. to I-80

Continue driving east 2.2 miles on N. Metropolis Rd. You are driving back into Wells. When you reach Lake Ave turn right. Drive over the train tracks and turn left when you reach 6th Street. Drive 0.8 miles until you reach the flashing red light at the intersection of 6th Street and US -93. Turn right onto US-93. The on-ramps for I-80 will be 0.1 miles down US-93 south. We hope you enjoyed your stops along the California National Historic Trail. We wish you safe travels and “Happy Trails!”