Highway 88 Carson Pass History Volcano Book

Have you seen the Volcano Telephone Book for 2014?  The beautiful cover was designed by my hubby, Steve Farrell.  We wanted to continue with the history theme from last year’s book.  We had a lot of great feedback from that.  You can read that story here on my blog:

This year’s subject was Highway 88.  It’s such a cool highway and we love it so much.  I think we could drive up there every day in every season.  With our photography business, we DO drive up Highway 88 a lot.  Here are just a few of our photo sessions from this area:  http://farrellphotography.net/high-sierra-portraits/

We both loved the journey that this story took us on.  We learned about some super interesting things.  One thing that I have always wondered about was the “Mormon Emigrant Trail”.  I’ve seen the sign for YEARS and I’ve always wondered what the story behind that was.  I enjoyed reading about it.  This story led me to meet a wonderful lady, June Sommerville.  She lived and worked at the Kirkwood Inn for many years and she had a ton of fun stories to tell.  What a lady.  This story led me to read several interesting and informative books about the gold rush.  One in particular that I loved by J. S. Holliday, “The World Rushed In”.  He put together diaries and letters that really made me feel like I took the journey across the plains.    The following is the story that I submitted for the inside story of the 2014 Volcano Telephone Directory.  This is my unedited version.



Carson Pass Highway 88

Carson Pass is a year round highway that will take you through some of the most beautiful country on earth! The High Sierras are filled with amazing vistas, lush forests, crystal clear lakes and so much more. In the summer, it a very popular area for camping, hiking, fishing and many other outdoor activities. In the winter, you can go snowshoeing, ice fishing, skiing, snowboarding and winter sports at Kirkwood Resort. As if all of this is not enough, there is an abundance of interesting history all around.

This high mountain pass has been well traveled for thousands of years. The Native Americans spent summers in the high country. Most of the wagon routes followed the trails that were established by the Native Americans. Carson Pass is named for Kit Carson, a man who was quite well known in his day as an adventurer, trapper and trail guide. Carson was the guide for Captain John Fremont on several government exploring expeditions. When Fremont’s group crossed the top of the pass, Kit Carson slashed a mark on a tree along with his name and the date. This marking has been removed from the tree and is preserved. It can be seen at the Sutter’s Fort State Historic park in Sacramento. There is a marker located at the parking area of the Kit Carson Monument above Red Lake This is the origination of the name Carson Pass. It was also area that Captain Fremont saw a large lake in the distance. He was the first American to see Lake Tahoe.  The photo below is one that I took with the view from the marker at Carson Pass.


In 1848, the Morman Battalion had gathered in Pleasant Valley, near Placerville after serving the United Stated in the Mexican-American war of 1846. After being discharged they made plans to join their families in Salt Lake City Utah. The party consisted of 47 men, at least one woman, 17 wagons, 150 horses/mules, and 150 cattle. They planned to take the Carson Pass route and sent their leader and two others to scout the way. Many days passed and the scout party did not return. After search parties failed to find the scouts, the group decided to undertake their journey. A few days in to the trip, they came across a fresh grave and found the missing scouts. A new grave and marker were put in to place and the group moved on. Today you can find a replica of the marker at Tragedy Springs in the Silver Lake area.

It took the Battalion 30 days to blaze the trail of 170 miles over the Sierras. The trail was known as the Mormon Carson Emmigrant Trail and became a very well traveled route. As word spread about the newly cleared path, many immigrants, travelers and gold seekers changed their plans to take the new route. Today, the Mormon Emigrant Trail joins Highway 88 at Iron Mountain Road. It is used as alternate route for Highway 50.
I made a video of the story following the route of the Mormon Emigrant Trail.  You can watch it here:

As wagon travelers and gold seekers headed west, they heard stories of the high mountain passes. When they arrived at Red Lake, the steepest, most difficult part of the journey was ahead of them. The only way was was up! “The Devil’s Ladder” trail is a climb over 700 feet up very steep mountain. Ropes were wrapped around trees to help hoist wagons up the grade. It was called “Devil’s Ladder”. A monument was placed at the top of the climb. You can find the marker at the top of Carson Pass on Red Vista Road. The view from the marker is straight down. It’s hard to imagine trying to bring everything you own up that mountain. In fact, it was at the bottom that many items could be found discarded as each traveler had to decide what was most important to bring up the steep and treacherous trail.


Because the Devil’s Ladder was so difficult to travel, there was often a long wait. Sometimes as many as 250 wagons were in the lineup, waiting for their turn. Even today, scars on the trees are visible where the ropes were tied to give leverage as the wagons were pulled up the steep embankment.

Over all, the Carson Pass was used by tens of thousands of immigrants and gold seekers. Way stations and travel stops began appearing to serve the weary travelers. Some of those travelers chose to settle in the high sierra mountains, establishing large plots of land. Many of their descendents still have those land parcels today. One such ranch was established by Zac Kirkwood. His land is the location of the current Kirkwood Ski Resort. The Kirkwood Inn is located next to Highway 88 in Kirkwood. The rustic log cabin is a popular stopping place for travelers. It was built in 1864 as “Kirkwood Station”, by Zak Kirkwood. In the northeast corner of the barroom, three counties intersected. The survey stakes were located inside the Inn for Amador County, Alpine County and El Dorado County. The lines have since been moved to accommodate the inn. The Kirkwood Inn serves lunch and dinner with a rustic setting that will take you back in time. From the rough hewn beams to the roaring fire, it’s easy to imagine a different time. Artifacts from history are displayed throughout. It truly feels like traveling back in time.

Grayscale Kirkwood Station IMG_3342

Drawing of the Kirkwood Inn by June Sommerville.

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