We know history is always a destination draw; it provides connection to place and recreates the circumstances that drew others before you. This is true of Tahoe’s history and it’s rife with drama, hope, despair, and even crime. Add in the theatrical backdrop of mountains and the stage is set for the past to come to life. Here are three of our favorites.
The Infamous Donner Party
It seems people have always flocked to California, and the 1800s were no different. Westward migration meant a better future and prompted entire families to gather their belongings, form a wagon train, and make the 2,500 mile journey west. It was that same call of promise the ill-fated Donner Party answered. As the story goes, after a number of mishaps, errors, and delays, the 91 members of the Donner Party found themselves too late to cross the Pass in 1846. Winter’s fury hit hard that year and they were trapped. When rescuers arrived four months later, only 49 had survived and the story they told became a well-known tale. Donner State Memorial Park now protects the site and is home to the Emigrant Museum. Visitors can combine two passions, hiking, and history, to view artifacts, visit historic structures, and stand next to a 22’ tall monument, the same height the snow reached that fateful winter.
Squaw Valley, Site of the 1960 Winter Olympics
Despite being the most under-developed option to hold the 1960 Winter Olympics, Tahoe’s Squaw Valley was awarded the games. That was in 1956 and they had four years to transform into a venue worthy to host 665 athletes from 30 nations, the staff to pull it off, and the crowds expected to attend. Squaw Valley would go on to build an intimate setting for the games and, in characteristic California style, hire Walt Disney to produce the opening and closing ceremonies. But that was then, this is now. You can view the Olympic sites beginning with the Olympic flame, which has burned continuously since 1960. It’s at the entrance to Squaw Valley on highway 89. From there, continue to the Village and head to High Camp. Panoramic views from the cable car mark your ascent to the site of the Olympic Ice Pavilion, open year-round, and the Olympic Museum. Plan to spend the day: High Camp boasts a pool, spa, restaurant, and views.
At the corner of Spring and Jiboom streets in downtown Truckee sits the historic jail. Built in 1875, the jail remained in operation until 1964. Through the years, many famous bad guys (and gals) spent a night or two or fifty behind the three-foot thick walls and 200-pound riveted steel door including “Baby Face” Nelson, “Ma” Spinelli and “Machine Gun” Kelly. Now a museum, the jail is open during summer months.