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Highway Guide to the 1844 Frémont Route


Route 395, traveling north from Bridgeport to Dresslerville.

Just past Bridgeport look for a view of Bridgeport Reservoir to the east. The expedition camped there (now inundated) on January 25, 1844.

The highway continues up through Huntoon Valley and Pimentel meadows and passes through Devil's Gate.

Then you will pass the site of Fales Hot Springs, and, if the temperature is low enough, see the steaming Hot Creek. At the intersection of Burcham Flat Road, the expedition turned north, and followed this road (dirt) into Antelope Valley.

Route 395 soon turns north, and at Sonora Junction (Route 108 / 395), enters the canyon of the West Fork of the Walker River. It was named for Joseph Walker by Frémont. Look east, along the ridge on the opposite side of the river; that is where the expedition traveled. At approximately N38° 27' / W119° 27', the howitzer was abandoned, across the river, in the canyon formed by Deep Creek.

Or, near Fales Hotspring, look for Burcham Flat Road. It is unpaved, but it follows the routes of both Frémont in 1844 and Joseph LeConte in 1870. It is the ancient Indian route to Antelope Valley and was used by the first white travelers before a toll road was built throught the canyon in the 1920s. Where the road descends into Deep Creek, you will be where Frémont abandoned the howitzer in 1844. This view is looking North from Deep Creek. The West Walker is hundreds of feet below to the left.

go Frémont's Cannon (sound sample), by Richard Elloyan.

Just downstream, at about N38° 28' / W119° 27', the expedition route crossed the river and again follows Route 395. They camped on the 29th near the town of Walker. The route then follows 395 north through Coleville to Topaz, where the expedition camped of the 30th. Continuing north, the route was across today's Topaz Reservoir, past Holbrook Junction (Route 208 / 395), through Dead Horse Flat and Double Spring Flat to near Dresslerville. The camp of the 31st and 1st of March, was on the East Fork of the Carson River near the Lahontan National Fish Hatchery. Frémont named the river for Kit Carson.
From here the route ascends Indian Creek. It can next be picked up at Markleeville on Route 89. 

Route 89, Markleeville.

A pretty side trip on good road.
About a mile and a half below Markleeville, where Markleeville Creek joins the East Fork of the Carson River, you will see large grassy area. This was the site of the camp of February 2nd, and where the horses were grazed until the 15th or 16th while the road to the Pass was built through the snow.

TheExpedition route turns off from Markleeville onto Hot Springs road, and follow this road to Grovers Hot Springs State Park. The Expedition Camped here on February 3rd. A view of the route is seen from the meadow near the Hot Springs; it is straight up the rocky canyon to the west.
The route can next be picked up in Charity Valley.

Route 88, Hope Valley and Carson Pass.

A pretty side trip on good road. At Picketts Junction (Highways 88 / 89), travel west to Blue Lakes Road. Continue on Blue Lakes Road through Faith and then Charity Valley. The large, dark andesite Peak on the southwest side of Charity Valley is Markleeville Peak. The Expedition camped in the bottom of Charity Valley on February 4th. Taking the same road back towards Faith Valley (the route of the 5th), at N38° 40' / W119° 55' (below), you will have a view to the west of the route along the base of Elephants Back and of Red Lake Peak. The Long Camp site can be seen from here. Continuing on, the site of the latitude determination of the 5th is at N38° 42' / W119° 55'. The route is next picked up at Red Lake.

Highway 88 at Red Lake Reservoir.

At the pull out on Highway 88 just above Red Lake, looking to the southeast, is a view of the Long Camp, which was the advance camp from February 10 through the 19th. The grassy hill where the horses grazed is visible. Red Lake peak, from which Frémont and Preuss first saw Lake Tahoe, is in back of you.

Across Red Lake, is the expedition route to Carson Pass. It is also the original Carson Route of the Mormon Battalion and of the 49ers. At the top of the Pass, turn off to the left to the parking area which looks out over Red Lake. Looking straight down (view below), you see the early road marked by blazes on the trees.

Just up the road, at the very top of the pass, are the Snowshoe Thompson and Kit Carson monuments. This view was taken about 1949.

go Because of the way snow drifts deeply onto the Devil's Ladder route up from Red Lake, an alternate, and perhaps more likely 1844 winter route from Red Lake to the pass has been proposed by Peter Lathrop. This, and the route beyond the pass, will be developed.

From here the expedition turned north and moved along the lower flanks of Red Lake Peak onto [Little] Round Top Ridge toward the South Fork of the American River.
The Route is next picked up near Strawberry on US 50

Strawberry to Pollack Pines on US 50.

Just below Strawberry, are road signs for 42-mile Picnic Area, Sciots Camp, and 41-mile Cabin Tract. After descending from Carson Pass along [Little] Round Top Ridge between Sales Canyon and Strawberry Creek, the expedition crossed the American River near the 42-mile Picnic Area and camped at the 41-mile Cabin Tract. Frémont's determined latitude on the morning of February 24, 1844, was 38° 46' 58". The actual position is about N38° 47' 9" / W120° 09' 40". "Here, among the pines, the hill-side produces but little grass--barely sufficient to keep life in the animals."

Frémont didn't just sleep at 41-mile Tract in February, 1844;
he slipped on the ice and fell into the river. Kit Carson jumped in a helped him out..

They then followed along US 50 and descended to a Camp near Kyburz on the 24th.
There, on February 25, 1844, in the heart of the yellow pine belt, Frémont collected a specimen of Librocedrus decurrens (incense cedar) which made it back to Dr. Torry and survives in the collections of the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Most botanical specimins collected in this area were lost when a mule fell off the trail into the canyon near Rock Creek a few days later.

The next site is just below Riverton (where the highway crosses the South Fork of the American River. N38° 46' / W120° 27'.

Other than at Sciot's, Kyburz, and Riverton, most of the expedition route along the South Fork of the American above Coloma was well back from the river itself. The photo below, taken near Pacific, shows that there is, as Frémont commented, no bottom land upon which to travel.

From here it become difficult to view the route as it is hidden by trees along US 50. Near Bridal Veil Falls is a pullout that is worth stopping at. The expedition passed along the opposite mountainside. In view are the Doan Toll road built in 1860, and above that the old Lake Tahoe Wagon Route built in 1858 (the Pony Express Route), and still higher up, and difficult to see, the original Johnson's Cuttoff (wagon and stage coach road) descending Peavine Ridge which was built in 1852. The 1858 road was the primary supply route to The Comstock. Just downstream, and hidden from view, are the sites of Brockless and Bartlett's Bridges.

The last glimpse of the route in the So. Fk. Canyon is near Pollack Pines--looking miles out onto the north canyon wall. There are few local roads even today, it is very difficult to travel here.
The Route is next picked up at Coloma. See these old abandoned roads through the South Fork of the American River Canyon.

Coloma and Lotus on State Route 49.

Now traveling nearer, the river, the expedition passed through this valley on March 3rd. Gold discovery site at Sutter's Mill.
Next picked up below Folsom.

Folsom to Sacramento on US 50.

All along this section, bluffs are observed on the north side of the American River. The expedition traveled along these bluffs, and finally forded the River near where Sacramento State University is today.

The route then followed today's J Street to Sutter's Fort..

©1999, 2007
Bob Graham