Hillside Trails

If you are pressed for time, or just want to revisit the content, this page allows you to view the text and images available on the hillside trails interpretive signs. The initial gravel trail is 0.1 mile from the edge of the plaza to the fork next to the storage shed. The right-hand fork is a 0.3 mile loop, and the left-hand fork is 0.4 miles (one-way) to the top of the hill.

Signs A & B provide a trail map and safety information:

  • Bring: Hat, Water, Sunscreen
  • Be sure someone in your party knows where you are going and when you will be back
  • Trails close 30 minutes before the Trail Center and parking lot closes
  • Pets must be on a leash
  • No motorized vehicles or bicycles
  • Please stay on the trails
  • Leave any artifacts you may find where they lie
(C) Hastings Cutoff & the Donner Party

(C) “Take the Regular Wagon Track and Never Leave It” (James Clyman to the Donner/Reed Party, 1846) – Have you ever had to make a decision based on conflicting advice from knowledgeable people? Have you ever chosen the path less traveled and regretted it? The Donner Party faced precisely this situation: follow the established trail or try the new “short-cut” proposed by Lansford W. Hastings, the well-known author of The Emigrants Guide to Oregon and California. Today when we take a bad short-cut we may arrive late at our destination. For the Donner Party it meant starvation in the Sierra Nevada.

South Fork Canyon; The end of the Hastings Cutoff
View from Sign C
Trail between signs C & D
(D) Relics of the Past

(D) In the year 2000 the hillside you stand on was home only to the herds of Maggie Creek Ranch. In 1800 it was home to the Western Shoshone, who harvested plants and animals and made stone tools in the shadows of the rock formations before you. Before the Shoshone roamed these hills they were home to miniature horses, now extinct 10,000 years. If you find relics of the past, leave them where they lie. All paleontological and historic artifacts on public lands are protected by law. They belong to generations as yet unborn.

Arrowhead, grinding stones, horseshoes, glass bottle
Miniature horse (Eohippus) bones
(E) What the Pioneers Didn't See

(E) Much that you see in this valley has remained unchanged since the days of the pioneers, but there are significant changes that may not be apparent at first glance. This ecosystem has been changed. Invasive exotic plants have been introduced that have had a dramatic effect upon the landscape. One consequence is that wildfires today are much larger and occur more frequently than they did in the nineteenth century.

Canada Thistle
Cheat Grass - This fast-growing Eurasian plant quickly took over the southwest

Cheat Grass grows much faster and denser than native bunch grasses, and will carry a fire over thousands of acres. Public land managers are working to restore this landscape.

(F) Native Peoples of the Humboldt

(F) Imagine seeing a steady stream of covered wagons where you now see the traffic on I-80 and the Union Pacific Railroad. Instead of traffic noise you would hear the shouts of emigrants, the bellowing of oxen, and see clouds of dust. Now imagine you are a Native American whose ancestors used the resources of this valley to provide for their families for thousands of years. Would you see progress or devastation? Would you be worried about how you would feed your family in the wake of this migration?


Would you be angry? Would you expect to be compensated for the loss of game and destruction of forage?


“Here we came to the river but we found about 200 wagons encamped and the grass was all gone.” – Henry C. St. Clair, 1849

Sarah Winnemucca: Native American Rights Advocate
(G) The Corridor that Connects a Country

(G) And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea “America the Beautiful” – For the pioneers of the nineteenth century and the motorist of today alike, the Humboldt River Valley is the natural corridor that connects the old East and the new West. Without this narrowing sliver of water westward expansion would not have been possible and the world today would be a very different place. What was once a natural path for wildlife became home to the Western Shoshone and the Northern Paiute. Pioneers following the Humboldt River linked California to the United States. In front of you Interstate 80 connects San Francisco to New York City. Look up and you may see the vapor trail of a jet high above, still following the Humboldt River and joining the country from ‘sea to shining sea.’

American Progress: John Gast, 1872