Saturday, September 19, 2015

Day 20 - Thursday, September 17 - Reno, NV, Lake Tahoe, San Jose, CA

Starting mileage:  5797 Starting time: 8:00 am

Ending mileage:  6137 Ending time: 8:00 pm
Travel mileage:  340 Travel time: 12 hours

It has been nice during this trip that we've been able to change our plans on the spur of the moment. We had planned today to travel to Lake Tahoe and then arrive fairly early in San Jose. While we were at Lake Tahoe, Carmen was "Googling" the history of mining in the area and we decided to go to Carson City, NV which wasn't that far away. This resulted in us crossing mountain passes through the Sierra Nevada three times in different places.

The scenic route from Reno to Lake Tahoe took us over the Mt. Rose pass at 8100', the highest year-round pass in the Sierra Nevadas. The view looking back towards Reno is quite spectacular. It was also chilly at only 37 degrees, the third time we've encountered this temperature at high elevations. Coming down the other side, the views of Lake Tahoe below are spectacular.

While traveling along the east shore of Lake Tahoe we stopped at a rest area where there are great views of the lake and a number of information plaques about the history of the region. Mining in Nevada required huge amounts of timber for shoring up the mines and fuel for steam-powered pumps. The nearest forests were around Lake Tahoe and 98% of the trees were cut in the 1850s and 1860s. It is hard to imagine all of the lumber being hauled up over the passes and down to the other side. Fortunately, the largest lumber baron wanted to save the environment for his descendants and protected the remaining old-growth forest and kept Lake Tahoe from being used as a water source for far away regions.

We took route 50 back over the mountains to Carson City. This is a 4-lane highway so the traveling was pretty quick, only taking 30 minutes. In Carson City we stopped at the Chamber of Commerce for maps and information. We decided to visit the Nevada State Museum which is in the old Carson City mint building. It was really a worthwhile visit. In the basement there is a replica of the gold and silver mines, illustrating the shoring and mining operations - I wouldn't have wanted to work in the mines! Upstairs there is a history of the settlement and geology and mineral exhibits. It is hard to keep track of the geology with volcanic activity, huge seas creating sedimentary rock, more volcanic activity and collisions of the tectonic plates forcing mountains up.

The main precious metal in Nevada was silver and the mint's operation depended on which political party in Washington was in power. The Democrats favored gold which resulted in the mint almost ceasing operation. The Republicans favored silver which resulted in the mint operating at full capacity. The mint was unusual as it handled the whole process from refining the silver and gold to producing coins. It finally ceased operation in 1893.

Our route from Carson City took us along the original Pony Express route of 1860-1861 which goes through the earliest settlement in Nevada in the 1840s where there is a quaint little town.

We crossed the mountains a third time over the Carson Pass at 8600'. By the time we got there it was mid-afternoon and the temperature was up to 60 under sunny skies. This follows the route used by Kit Carson and his party. It is extremely rugged with many bare rocky slopes although there are also high meadows and lakes above 7000'.

We didn't want to take the most efficient route to San Jose which would take us on the freeways around San Francisco at rush hour so we took I-5 down the valley east of the metropolitan area. This gives one a better feel for the importance of agriculture as we traveled around 50 miles with lush farms on both sides growing cherries, apples, strawberries and many other crops. These are all irrigated via aqueducts bringing water from a long distance. A lot of water must be lost through evaporation from the open aqueducts. Along with billboards asking people to conserve water there are billboards supporting the importance of agriculture. 

The hillsides are golden-brown with grass, almost no trees or other vegetation. Many areas were black from fire but at least these are easier to fight due to the low grass and easier access. There were also handmade signs in many places thanking the firefighters. 

Day 20 route

Reno valley from Mt. Rose pass

Lake Tahoe

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