Sacramento Pass


Sacramento Pass is Nevada's most easterly summit on US50. It connects the amazing emptiness of Snake Valley with a more photogenic valley, Spring Valley. Along the way it passes the peaks in Great Basin National Park, including Wheeler Peak, 13063 ft, albeit at quite a distance.



1.(5100ft,mile00.0) START-END EAST: jct Ut159 - US50, just east of Ut-Nv line
2.(5600ft,mile07.5) jct with Nv487 on left to Baker
3.(6810ft,mile15.6) dirt road on left is CR38, Osceola Rd
4.(7136ft,mile17.9) TOP: point of highest elevation
5.(6080ft,mile21.7) jct with CR37 on right
6.(5780ft,mile29.9) START-END WEST: jct with CR38, Osceola Rd on left


Approaches

From East. On a bike tour you would be better off coming down this way, because of the usually strong, westerly winds. But my route happened to go up this side, so this is the way I will describe it. East of the pass, Snake Valley is such a large, sweeping emptiness, that it becomes monotony, verging on the spectacular. An undeveloped entrance to Great Basin National Park has a pleasantly understated appearance, when compared to the circus atmosphere of many, more famous parks. The road travels up the shallow slope of the alluvial fans, surrounded by sagebrush hills. Slowly, to the left, the highest peak in Great Basin National Park begins to show a sliver of a north face, a hint of a high alpine world behind slopes of brush forest. In June there are only specks of snow left even on the highest peaks. At the junction with Osceola Road a small sign gives a short, but concise history of the area and the pass.

As the road approaches the summit, the straight line of the road becomes concave downward, going over the summit in smooth parabolic regularity. There is a sign on top, that can be seen for quite a distance before passing it.






top: the last descent into Spring Valley
middle: going west to east with Spring Valley in the background
bottom: the top

From West. (described downwards) One large sweeping curve is the stage for the visual introduction to Spring Valley, I think one of Nevada's most impressive sweeping panoramas. The road passes one farm house of sorts on the way down, but the valley itself appears devoid of human signs - for now, just a sign stating "Spring Valley", about a quarter mile from the road. The distance between the sign and the road seems in proportion to the size of the valley itself.

The road rounds an impressive rock outcrop to the south, and then - surprise - a gale force head wind blowing in your face like a furnace that's gone cracy - at least that was my experience during a ride in mid June. To add another insult, there is a small climb here too - just as the signs of human habitat, or more correctly intervention, become more apparent. The road makes it's way by a large wind farm, that is harvesting the same force that's making life difficult at the moment, the aforementioned strong hair dryer breeze. A right turn at the junction with this end of Osceola Road leads to a section of US50, crossing the valley straight as a ruler. On the bike it feels like the profile reaches a low point immediately after the jct with Osceola Rd. On the profile it looks like the real low point is located before this turn.


left: US50 heads across Spring Valley straight as an arrow
right: Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park from the west side of Sacramento Pass 

Historical Notes

Early Cross Country Routes. Today this pass carries the majority of traffic through this part of Nevada. But historically another crossing to the north was more popular, Schellbourne Pass.

Sacramento Pass is mentioned in several sources as being scouted by Howard Egan in 1855 in order to drive cattle from Utah to California. Later this general route became the most important transportation route for a decade, before the transcontinental railroad was finished. But Sacramento Pass was not the first choice for this route. Again Schellbourne Pass to the north, today a dirt road, was more commonly used.

Still, this history of this gentle gap is closely tied to the "Central Overland Route", as this road between Utah and California became known. In 1857 and 1858, there was a confrontation between the state of Utah and the US federal government. On this occasion, one of lieutenant James Simpson's  tasks was to resurvey a route from south of the Great Salt Lake to Genoa, Nevada. He generally followed Egan's old route, again using Schellbourne Pass instead of Sacramento Pass, but he did survey Sacramento Pass. On this occasion they also climbed Wheeler Peak. Following the survey, the army built a wagon road over Sacramento Pass. US50 stays south of the Central Overland Route until they touch again on Emigrant Pass.

Mining Boom. Why would a town, reaching a population of 1500 rise up in the dessert of Nevada, an area which today is still advertised as the loneliest highway in the US ? Gold - of course. Between 1872 and 1877 gold was mined in the town of Osceola from Snake Range gravel. The town was located on the eastern approach near the junction with Osceola Road. Compared to other Nevada mining booms and crashes, this one actually boomed the longest, all the way into the 1920s.

Modern Roads. During the time when naming transcontinental automobile routes became a popular thing to do, the the first such named coast to coast route, the Lincoln Highway, also used Schellbourne Pass. It took until after WW2 for Sacramento Pass to be included as part of US50, It was the paved in 1947. During this era a roadside Inn stood near today's junction with Osceola Road on the east side. It served ranchers and miners until the 1960s. Gas was also available nearby. Today cyclists detour away from US50, to Baker and Garrison, just to get water.


A Dayride with this pass as intermediate summit is on page: Osceola Road s(u)

 

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