Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On the Emigrant Trail: the Donner Party Memorial at Donner Memorial State Park

The Donner Party was a group of emigrants from Springfield, Illinois—or immigrants to California, from a West Coast viewpoint—who was heading west in the summer of 1846. They took the Hastings Cutoff through Utah and Nevada. This rugged trail caused delays and they did not reach the Sierra Nevada crossing until November, when they were trapped by snow and forced to make a winter encampment near Donner Lake. Thirty-five of the party died and the last survivor was not brought out before April of the next year [1].

The Donner Party Monument is dedicated to memorize this fateful event of 1846 and 1847; as the plaque on the back says: “In Commemoration Of The Pioneers Who Crossed The Plains To Settle In California.” The tall and erect sculpture shows man and wife with children. Looking west they do. Not frightened, but hopeful, caring for each other, touching hands. She is holding a baby and he is equipped with pioneer gear at the waist belt. 

Getting there
The Donner Party Memorial and the Emigrant Trail Museum are located next to the entrance of Donner Memorial State Park at the eastern tip of Donner Lake, where Interstate 80 and Donner Pass Road are next to each other. From central Truckee, drive west on Donner Pass Road. The monument is visible from the road to your left, just before you reach the Donner Memorial State Park entrance and Donner Lake. Coming from Sacramento, going east on I-80, you have two options: (1) leave I-80 above the western tip of Donner Lake and continue east on Donner Pass Road along the lake past the Donner Memorial State Park entrance until you see the monument to your right, or (2) take the next exit, which is very close to the monument, and turn west onto Donner Pass Road to find parking and access to the memorial and museum on the left side. Note: unexpected snow is possible in May, June or October and winter enthusiasts expect snow from November to April.

Donner Party Reference
[1] William Bryant Logan and Susan Ochshorn: The Smithsonian Guide To Historic America - The Pacific States. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York, 1989; pages 148-150.

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