Last year, after we had visited Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, we decided that we would drive back to our hotel in San Francisco on I-80, by Donner Pass.
To be honest when we made the decision it was kind of on a whim, my traveling heart wanting to see more of California and the beautiful area that we were surrounded by, and my mom always willing to go on an adventure. I had absolutely no idea the extreme beauty that was still to meet us that day after we had experienced the awe and wonder of Emerald Bay.
It was the best decision.
I can’t recommend a trip to Emigrant Gap enough. Located along I-80 in California the views just driving to Emigrant Gap are so stunning and the pictures above show just a few shots that we saw of the beautiful countryside. As we drove along we just kept saying, “oh my… absolutely gorgeous”, “oh my goodness this is beautiful” and were literally speechless at the beauty before us.
Since teaching about the westward expansion in AP US History years ago, I have always wanted to see Emigrant Gap. Emigrant Gap is a ridge that is famously located along the California Trail. It is located to the west of what is now referred to and called Donner Pass.
Emigrant Gap is famous in tales of westward expansion mostly because of the cliffs that are so steep in this area that forced the pioneers in the 1840s to lower their wagons on ropes in order to continue westward. This section of the pioneer trail was also where pioneers were emigrating from the United States to California (as California was part of Mexico at that time).
The feat of lowering wagons on ropes was something that I honestly had not thought that much about when I was a high school student. My history teacher at the time seemed to just gloss over the fact and paint the picture that the ropes were steady and the wagons were easily lowered down. This could not have been less true.
When I was teaching this section of history I learned that was simply not the case at all. Despite all that the pioneers encountered along their journey (sickness, starvation, praire fires, bears, fights with specific Indian tribes, etc.) one of the most dangerous parts of the journey came when the pioneers encountered this section of their journey with lowering the wagons in these steep cliffs.
Now, I will be the first one to admit that when I showed portions of Into the West to my students the scenes that depicted this section of lowering the wagons caused us to giggle a bit. The “mountain” and “cliffs” in the show looked like a tiny hill about 10-20 feet high and at one point one of the main characters was idly standing on the hill watching a wagon break loose from its ropes and head towards her (yes, eventually hitting her). After I had tried to explain the incredible thing that the pioneers had done, the bravery that they had, and the incredible task of lowering the wagons, the scene did seem to downplay the severity of this task (and may have prompted the infamous “Into the West mock video” that made us all laugh).
BUT standing in that space, overlooking Emigrant Gap last year, I realized how wrong both my high school history teacher and I had been. The task was anything but easy and anything short of being incredible. As I stood staring out at the rolling mountains, one after another, with the dramatic cliffs and high peaks I was stunned at the brave, courageous, and arduous task that the pioneers encountered.
It was absolutely amazing and incredible to stand in this place of history that was not only beautiful, but incredibly inspiring.
To think about all that the pioneers encountered along their journey and then to think about facing this section of land – so close to where they were trying to go and yet still so far- this task would have seemed daunting and overwhelming. It was completely inspiring to stand in this area and pay tribute to those courage few who accomplished this. It was also absolutely inspiring. We saw this just a few days before “courtney the portney” was placed and standing there reminded me to be courageous and face the “mountain” that was there before me.
If you ever get the chance to drive along Interstate 80 in California and see Emigrant Gap, I can’t encourage you enough to go visit. You will walk away inspired, encouraged, and in awe of not only the beauty before you, but the incredibly bravery of a generation past.
Author: My name is Rebecca and I am an author, artist, blogger, speaker, and traveler, who delights in finding grace in simple beauty and ordinary days as I fight Lyme Disease.