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Explore the storied past of California and neighboring Nevada – from Reno and Lake Tahoe to Donner’s Pass, old mining towns of Nevada City and Grass Valley, plus museums and historic sites of Sacramento.
Day 1: Susanville
The earliest residents of the area were the Washo and Paiute Indians. Issac Roop, from Shasta, became the first white settler in Honey Lake Valley (Susanville) when he arrived in 1853 and built a hotel to serve the travelers on the Noble Emigrant Trail. A year later, Peter Lassen arrived and in 1855 struck gold. The area was so remote the settlers formed their own government and territory, calling it the Territory of Nataqua. It included portions of Nevada.
Roop took on the county, state (Nevada), and federal government in a short-lived “Sagebrush War.” He called his cabin Fort Defiance. After a few shots were exchanged between Roop and the county sheriff, it was over. Boundary lines were redrawn making Roop’s territory part of Lassen County. He named the town after his daughter.
Visit the Railroad Depot on Richmond Road. Roop’s Fort, built in 1854 and the Lassen Historical Museum, (530) 257-3292, on North Weatherlow have pictures and Native American artifacts from early days. Historic downtown offers several walking tours. Eagle Lake, north of town, is California’s second largest natural lake and a favorite for fishing and water sports. For hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter, the Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail offers 25 miles of beautiful backcountry scenery. Beginning in Susanville, the trail follows the old railroad bed through Susan River Canyon to Fernely. Depart on US 395 south to Reno.
Day 2: Reno
Spend the day in Reno. Start with a walk along the two-level Smith Truckee River Walk between Virginia and Sierra Streets. Nearby, the Virginia Street Bridge has lots of history. Reno founder, Myron Lake bought the original log structure in 1861 and started charging toll for everything using it. It made him wealthy, but terribly unpopular. Continue east to Mill and Lake Street for Harrah’s National Automobile Museum. Parking available at Mill and Museum drives. Over 200 vintage cars, from 1890 to present day, are displayed in street scenes from the periods. The collection is a small portion of the more than 1,000 owned by the late William F. Harrah. Admission fee.
Newland Heights, Reno’s historic section where many of the houses were designed by Nevada’s well-known architect Frederic DeLongchamps, is on the bluff above the Truckee River, west of Sierra on Court Street. The highly recognized Reno Arch sits astride Virginia Street on the north side of the river at 3rd, between Harold’s and Fitzgerald’s Casinos. The $35 million National Bowling Stadium is at Center and 4th. At 1650 N. Virginia is the Nevada Historical Society Museum, a virtual gold mine in understanding the history of the state. In Washoe county’s Rancho San Rafael Park, 1502 Washington St, take in the May Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, May Great Basin Adventure, a kids historical theme park with lots of hands-on exhibits, and the May Museum.
These attractions are named after Wilbur D. May, long-time resident of Reno and heir of the May Department Store empire. In Sparks visit Victorian Square, the city’s main casino area. Stopping at the Sparks Information Center and Chamber office in the old Southern Pacific Depot, at the corner of Pyramid and Victorian avenues, will include a visit to some old train cars, the remnants from the city’s railroad past. Next door is the Sparks Museum, filled with historical artifacts. The National Air Race Museum & Hall of Fame, 1507 Hymer, is a real treat for those who love flying. Depart on I-80 for Truckee.
Day 3: Truckee / Lake Tahoe
This historic town was on the California Emigrant Trail. It is named after Truckee, a Paiute chief who guided the first white settlers over the Sierras in 1844 and also the father of the great chief Winnemucca. Nearby Donner Lake & Pass memorializes the Donner family, most of whom lost their lives in a severe snow storm while trying to cross these mountains in 1846. The Donner Memorial State Park, (530) 582-7892, and the Emigrant Trail Museum, three miles west of town off I-80, tell their dramatic story.
Take a walking tour of Commercial Row, Truckee’s historic main street, that includes the old Truckee Jail, (530) 582-0893, built in 1875, the Southern Pacific Depot built in 1896, the Rocking Stone, one of 25 such stones in the world, naturally balance on a larger rock underneath it. Other historical buildings to see are Gray’s Log Cabin, I.O.O.F Hall, and the Capitol, all built between 1863-early 1870s. Fifteen miles south of Truckee on 89 is Tahoe City and beautiful Lake Tahoe, the largest and second deepest alpine lake in North America. It is 22 miles long, 12 miles wide, 1,645 feet deep, with 72 miles of shore line.
Between Truckee and Tahoe City are two world class ski resorts: Squaw Valley, (530) 583-6955, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, with 33 lifts on six separate Sierra peaks, covering 4,000 acres, and Alpine Village, (800) 441-4423, with 12 lifts, over 100 runs, covering 2,000+ acres. They offer year-round activities. From Tahoe City, take the 72-mile shoreline drive around the lake. Another option is on board a North Tahoe Cruise boat, (530) 583-0141, from Roundhouse Mall in Tahoe City. When driving, tour the historic Ehrman Mansion in Sugar Pine Point State Park, (530) 525-7232, the 38-room Vikingsholm Mansion and Emerald Bay State Park, Tallac Historic Site, (530) 541-5227. They recall the early, opulent days of lake culture. Continuing east is South Lake Tahoe, (the Tahoe Queen paddle wheeler, (530) 541-3364 departs from Ski Run Boulevard marina) Stateline, Zephyr Cove, Vista Point, Spooner Junction, where you take NV 28 past Incline Village around to Kings Beach and 267 to Truckee.
Day 4: Auburn
Head west on I-80 over Donner Pass. Nevada City and Grass Valley, two of California’s oldest and most productive gold mining towns that still reflects the culture of the Mother Lode era are west on 20. Grass Valley’s downtown district dates back to the 1850s when underground mines produced over $900 million in gold ore. The Empire Mine site is now part of the 780-acre Empire Mine State Historic Park and is open to visitors. Located on the southeast side of town, the Park includes the marvelous stone mansion of the former owner and the incredible rose garden surrounding it.
The town’s name came from early immigrants passing through on the main California Trail known as the Donner Trail. They often used the surrounding meadows to provide fodder for their horses, oxen and cattle. At one time Grass Valley, Nevada City, and Rough & Ready all seceded from the Union. The area offers shopping in unique shops, hiking and biking. Staying on I-80, visit Old Town Auburn, (530) 823-3836, with its mid- 19th-century buildings that today houses shops, restaurants and boutiques.
Browse the Gold Country Museum, 1273 Hight Street, (530) 889-6500, to see a simulated mine shaft and the processing used in gold mining. The Bernhard Museum, 291 Auburn-Folsom Road, was built as a hotel in 1851 but now is a winery and Victorian-era museum. Take I-80 south for Roseville and visit the Roseville Telephone Museum, 106 Vernon Street, (916) 786-1621, for a visit to the early days of telephones. Continue on I-80 to Sacramento.
Day 5: Roseville / Sacramento
California’s capitol city has a colorful and interesting history that can still be seen by a visit to Old Town Sacramento stretched along the Sacramento River, between Tower and 1st Street Bridges. A self-guided walking tour brochure is available at visitor center on Front and K Street. California State Railroad Museum, 125 I Street, (916) 445-7387, the largest interpretive museum of its kind at 100,000 square feet is nearby. It houses 21 restored locomotives, rail cars and exhibits about the Transcontinental and Sacramento Valley Railroads.
Other historical attractions to visit are: the Sacramento History Museum, 191 I Street, (916) 264-7057, that exhibits articles from everyday life of area residents; Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park, 27th and L Streets, (916) 445-4422, the early domain of founder John Sutter, who in 1839 began construction of his adobe walled compound; B. F. Hastings & Co. Building, 2nd Street at J, (916) 445-7387, home to companies such as Wells Fargo and the final station for the Pony Express and the first transcontinental telegraph line; and the California State Indian Museum, 2618 K Street, (916) 324-0971, with its excellent collection of Native Americans historical artifacts. The Blue Diamond Growers Visitors Center, 1701 C Street, (916) 446-8439, is the largest almond processing plant in the world and you can take home some treats from its popular gift shop.
See the California Automobile Museum, 2200 Front Street, (916) 442-6802, with its extensive collection of antique Ford automobiles and trucks, and the Crocker Art Museum, 2nd & O Streets, (916) 808-1179, the first public art museum in the West opened in 1872 which just recently opened a $100 million expansion bringing a modern feeling to a historic building. Sacramento Southern Railroad, (916) 322-7112, runs 45-minute weekend journeys downriver from May through September and in the spirit of selected holidays such as Halloween and Christmas.
Day 6: Yuba City / Chico
Depart on 99 for Chico, passing through historically significant Yuba City/Marysville/Sutter area. Red Bluff was laid out to be a gold-rush development. Today it is an agricultural center. Red Bluff, named after one of the Donner Party surviving members, was a primary trading center for the northern mines. Chinese-Americans and visitors come for the Bok-Kai Festival, centered around the Bok Kai Temple. Sutter is where grapes were introduced in 1872 to California. Continue on 99 to Chico, founded in 1860 by John Bidwell who came west in 1841 as part of John Bartelson’s party from Missouri. The Chico Museum, 141 Salem Street, (530) 891-4336, shows the history of the town.
The Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park, 525 Esplanade, (530) 895-6144, is a three-story Italian villa built by Bidwell in 1868. The National Yo-Yo Museum, 320 Broadway, (530) 893-1414, features the Duncan Family collection of yo-yos dating to the 1920s. Look for the murals in downtown Chico. The chamber has maps available. See the 3,600-acre Bidwell Park, known as the town’s “crown jewel.” Originally a part of Bidwell’s huge Rancho del Arroyo Chico, Annie Bidwell began donating it in 1905.
Day 7: Red Bluff
Take 99 to Red Bluff. Visit the William B. Ide Adobe State Historic Park, (530) 529-8599, named for the California Republic’s only president. An 1846 adobe pioneer house is on site. The area’s antique shops attract all types of collectors. Take 36 through Chester and Westwood into Susanville.