Go hiking south of California’s Hwy. 88 and Silver Lake, in the Sierra South of Lake Tahoe. Walk along a rough jeep road on a rolling ridgecrest with distant views. Where the jeep road ends, continue up a slope to its top. You are on the crest of a high divide. The view opens up to the north past blue Caples Lake 1,700 feet below. You notice a post in the ground to your right. You investigate and find a historical marker here in the wilderness: You are standing on the mid-1800s Emigrant Trail into California.
You gaze down the long, steep slope: Wagon trains came up this?! Then it hits you: You are standing on ground where wagons once rolled. You are now physically connected to the hopes, dreams and sweat of countless families and individuals toiling across a continent and over this mountain range to start a new life. Where you stand, wagon wheels rumbled as real men and women coaxed oxen and mules over the top of the long grade. Over the top and bound for California!
This happened to me in the mid-’80s or early ’90s while scouting for a church-sponsored backpacking camp. I happened on what looked like a jeep trail southwest of the pass and followed it. As I walked, I noticed small trail markers high on the trees along the side. After reading the historical marker on West Pass, I realized why they had been placed.
Nonprofit Trails West has provided a virtual tour of the Carson Emigrant Trail. The ascent toward Carson Pass and West Pass begins a bit over half-way down the long web page. The view across Caples Lake from West Pass with the marker is what I saw. It’s a gift to see it again.
I believe each of us is fully part of our marvelous world at the deepest level; when we experience the mountains with their beauty and wonder, we consciously participate in their reality. When we can empathize with the experiences of those who have come before us, it makes the experience that much richer.