Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Back to the Golden State

The final part of the adventure began when I flew into Los Angeles on Monday 27th March 2017 and picked up my hire car for the long drive up to Sacramento, stopping at a motel overnight on the way. On Tuesday 28th March I briefly called in at Pollock Pines to see Jim and Ginger before driving on over the Sierra Nevada as I wanted to visit a few places I had missed out on in the autumn.

There have been unusually heavy snowfalls this year so I was glad I had made it over the Sierra Nevada before the snows set in last year or I would have been trapped on the other side well into June.  The photo below shows the depth of snow still existing near Echo Summit at the end of April .....
....amazing to think that part of the trail leads off to the right of the photo and through the trees.  The huge snowbank did not exist then, and an idea of scale is given by the car on the road in the middle distance.
At the foot of the Sierras on the other side I stopped at the site of Meyers Pony Express station, on the shorter but steeper route over the Kingsbury Grade from Genoa to Stateline.  I had taken the longer route via Woodfords.  It is now the location of Lira's Market, though there is a small monument in front of the store....
 On reaching Carson City I managed to find the monument to the Carson City Pony Express station...
Not sure what the photo-bombing dalek is.
Nothing remains of the original Pony Express station, which may have been at the site of this car park a couple of hundred yards to the south which is located on Carson St between 4th and 5th Sts....
As territorial capital and the first large settlement the pony express reached after galloping across the Nevada desert from Salt Lake City, Carson City was a natural location for a home station.

I also had a vain attempt to find Ormsby House which was the home of the Major Ormsby who led the ill-fated expedition against the Paiute in May 1860 which was one of the factors sparking the Paiute war.  It is only later that I have realised I was being directed to a large modern hotel/casino (which has been closed for years) on the corner of Carson St and 5th.  For anyone who is interested, the old house was in a different location on the corner of Carson St and 2nd and was demolished in the mid 1900s.

After a night at Petra's house near the Washoe Lake which is now full of water again, I made an early start on the morning of Wednesday 29th March.  My first stop was Dayton, as when I rode through in October I had not realised there were still remnants of the old Pony Express station there.  Attached to the old Union Hotel is a freestanding wall which is part of the old station.  In this view of the back of the hotel it can be seen clearly as the old stone wall with an archway to the left, attached to the back of the Union Hotel which is on the right...
The Union Hotel is currently being renovated by its new owners, and according to their website the plan with the Pony Express station wall is  ".. to repoint the stones, rebuild the window and add a concrete beam to the top to hold together the loose bits and prevent rain from seeping into the interior of the wall"
A view at the front of the hotel - remnants of the stone side wall of the old station can be seen in the gap between the wooden buildings.
 As can be seen from the water tower....
 ...Dayton still strongly disputes Genoa's claim to be the first settlement in Nevada!

A long drive east across the desert and up a gravel track brought me to ruins of Sand Springs Pony Express station, which we had not had time to visit when we followed the trail in October.  To recap on its history, it was built in March 1860 by Division Superintendent Bolivar Roberts.
The view below shows the dark station walls.  The low dip in the right hand side of the skyline is Simpsons Pass where the power station we camped beside is sited. The Pony Express riders followed the trail off to the right to cross the alkali flats in the middle distance and over the pass to Carson Sink.  We followed the route of the re-ride which skirts the alkali flats off to the left and runs along the base of the Cocoon Mountains on the horizon.
 The station had been covered by sand and lain lost and undisturbed for years.  Then in 1975 it was rediscovered by a team of archaeologists from Nevada State University and the following year was excavated and stabilised.  Unfortunately the black basalt walls have been degraded in places by sightseers scrambling over them, and there are now notices exhorting visitors to refrain from this activity.
As an outlying station in a godforsaken spot, relying on a sulphurous water supply and under constant threat of Paiute attack, it is perhaps not surprising that some of the most common artifacts dug up here were empty liquor bottles.  Supplies of fodder and food (as well as the demon drink which they had sworn on a bible not to imbibe!) had to be brought in by wagon pulled by horses or oxen.

The room below in the southwest corner was one of the living areas and contained a fireplace in the far corner.
It was originally part of a larger room with a wooden floor, but was later divided into two (the end of the dividing wall shows at the bottom right of the photo). It is thought the second room was later used for battery storage when the Transcontinental telegraph came this way. 

This room in the northwest corner was used as a smithy and cooking room...
It contained a shallow stone well, and wire and iron hooks found here suggest that there was a device to raise water.  A firepit was used for blacksmithing and cooking.   Besides these rooms there was space for tack and storage, stables and an additional corral within a basalt stone wall. 

By the time Sir Richard Burton came through the station was "roofless and chairless, filthy and squalid with the smoky fire in one corner and a table on an impure floor, the walls open to every wind and the interior full of dust"   This condition was probably partly due to the ravages of Paiute, though it was never attacked when the station hands were 'at home'. 
One of the original station masters was Montgomery Maze.  He was holding the fort when Pony Bob Haslam made the return journey on his famous 380mile ride and persuaded Maze to accompany him to Carson Sink, having found Cold Springs burning and the station keeper dead..  He later became a rider on this section, riding from Friday's to Reese River.  However it was he who was involved in the infamous shooting of H Trumbo at Smith's Creek, and although he was not actively punished, he was 'let go' from the employ of the Pony Express shortly after. 

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