Monday, July 23, 2007

Uncle Dave and the "Donner Party"

This past weekend I was climbing up in the Donner Memorial State Park at Donner Summit. This state park was named after the ill fated Donner Party. The Donner Party was a group of California bound American settlers caught up in the "westering fever" of the 1840's. After becoming snowbound in the Sierra Nevada in the winter of 1846 - 1847, some of the emigrants resorted to cannibalism. Although this aspect of the tragedy has become synonymous with the Donner Party in the popular imagination, it actually was a minor part of the episode. There were truly spectacular views of Donner Lake from the Summit climbing areas (photo) although the heat was a little hard to handle even at 7000 feet. The climbing, on Granite, was good but really paled in comparison to the huge and enormously impressive granite domes of the Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite NP, where I spent the previous weekend.

The Donner Pass is where the First Transcontinental Railroad in the United States crosses the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This railroad linked the Eastern United States to California and the Pacific Coast and was completed in 1869. Its completion initiated a nationwide mechanised transportation network that revolutionized the population and economy of the American West. This network caused the wagon trains of previous decades to become obsolete, exchanging it for a modern transportation system. To protect the railroad and keep the tracks open year round, wooden sheds were constructed over the tracks (see top right photo below) especially during the heavy winter snowfalls.
Even more interesting is my recent ascension to the ranks of Uncle Dave - WOW do I sound old now! My niece, Teyha, was born on 16th July and weighed in at a health 7lbs something. I look forward to meeting her very soon but until then we will both just have to get by on on photos and stories alike.