Donner Pass: History, Nature, & Graffiti Beauty

It’s my senior year at Cal
tunnel, and I have been coming up with a few MUST-DOs before it is time to leave …

So, as I Googled “Top 10 Northern California Places to See” I discovered Donner Pass. I cannot believe that I have never EVER heard of it before. Since I didn’t know of anyone venturing here before, and because I had the privilege to do so, I feel that it is incumbent upon me to share this opportunity with you all. Let me try to tempt you …

Standing at an elevation of 7,065 feet, just off of Interstate 80, Donner Pass is a mountain pass in the northern Sierra Nevada, right above the beautiful Donner Lake, in the vicinity of Lake Tahoe.lakeeee

Now, for some history (because I am a sucker for history, especially concerning California). Donner Pass is extremely important for Californian history because pioneer emigrants had to drive their wagons over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Beginning in 1844, pioneers used the head of what is now called Donner Lake to navigate over the Sierra Nevada Mountains when the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party followed the Truckee River to find the nook in (what is currently called) Donner Pass.

Donner Pass got its name in November of 1846 when the Donner Party found the pioneer route locked by snow, and was forced to spend the entirety of winter on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Tragically only 45 out of 81 emigrants survived to reach California; some reports say that they had to resort to Cannibalism to survive.
Donner Pass also holds the powerful but sad history of the Central Pacific Railroad. In 1868, after almost 5 years of construction on the behalf of Chinese workers, the Sierra Nevada Mountains finally so-happyyyyyhad the completion of the Central Pacific Railroad. This construction was made possible by the construction of the “Chinese Walls” which were constructed by workers who toiled from sunrise to sunset, six days a week, 52 weeks a year, on the Central Pacific Railroad. More than 8,000 Chinese workers worked for years to build this railroad from Sacramento to Utah. These workers endured what I would call the impossible, from avalanches, blasting accidents, rock slides, blizzards, and prejudice…

The tunnels at Donner Pass hold so much history within its walls. I was awestruck by the pure majesty and enthralling beauty of it all as Matty and I explored …

There’s a turnpike just off of the I-80, where you will see quite a few cars parked near a sketchy-looking porta-potty. From the parked spot, you will go towards Donner Pass which will be evident by the number of
people climbing there, as well as the deep tunnels that are visible from the I-80. Please note that there are no trails to the top, and you will have to do a steady upwards climb to get to the top. I am SUPER grateful that Matty was there to help me out, because as many of y’all know, I am a MAJOR KLUTZ and would have, without a doubt, fallen and sustained cuts and bruises. After about 20 minutes of climbing uphill, you are faced with two choices: (1) go to the tunnel well lit, or (2) go to the tunnel with mystery and darkness.


Matty & I chose to explore the mysterious and dark tunnel first, and I was really pleasantly surprised by what we discovered. Graffiti. I do not think that Donner Pass is regularly patrolled by police or even highway patrol, and the walls of Donner Pass were completely
FILLED with spray paint. Normally, I am not a fan of graffiti at all, but I do have a few exceptions: street art facesand self-expression. While many of the graffiti on the inside of Donner Pass is admitted “graffiti” I was really surprised by some of the talent exhibited in some of the works of graffiti. It was truly wonderful – how did they do that with spray paint? What was their inspiration? How long did that masterpiece take?

Matt and I went deeper and deeper into the tunnels for about 50 minutes one way and decided to turn back when we came to a pitch-black tunnel. [We weren’t THAT chicken, y’all… it was really REALLY dark!!]
After we came to our orred-dressiginal location, we decided to try the other tunnel. Rather than going into the tunnel, we decided to go ON TOP OF IT!! ‘Cause we are major rebels and all about breaking the rules 😉 Kidding. While the wind was super fierce and I felt like I was going to be knocked down, the battle against the natural forces was so worth it for this image featured here. Like the images I saw in the Donner Pass tunnels, this image was so gorgeous and detailed, right down to the strands of her hair.

While I do not consider myself to be an art person, I urge all artists and art-appreciators to go check out Donner Pass because even a non-artist like myself appreciated the graffiti art displayed on the tunnel walls of Donner Pass.

For nature-lovers, history enthusiasts, & adventure-seekers (which I am!!! And Matt, obvi) this is a must! If you live in Northern California, you have to check Donner Pass out!

P.S. BRING A JACKET! Or TWO! It is freezing up there!!!! Gloves would also be awesome. A flashlight is also a plus, because you can light the way in the tunnels!







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