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US 395, Part 12: Washoe County (Carson City to Reno; NV 429, NV 430)

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[Reno-Carson City state highway, circa 1930.]

This segment of US 395 is now replaced by the I-580 southern extension, opened August 2012. The photography is being updated as I get time to make passes on the road. For now, the original copy remains.


Crossing the northernmost city limits of Carson City, we enter Washoe county. Pronounced WAH-show (not WAH-shoo), it was established as part of Nevada's original nine counties in 1861. Washoe county is named after the local Washoe tribe (apparently a branch of the Paiute according to some sources) who originally inhabited the area and today make up around two percent of the county's 339,486 [2000] inhabitants. It was further expanded by absorbing adjoining Nevada's Roop county in 1864, named for Nevada territorial governor Isaac N. Roop; Roop was also one of the original nine counties but originally incarnated as Lake county after the Honey, Pyramid and Winnemucca Lakes. As a historical point, Roop county originally entered California and encompassed Susanville, or what is now part of California's Lassen county. This bizarre border issue will be dug up again when US 395 re-enters California in Parts 15 and 16.

Washoe county's original seat was Washoe City, another city in the vicinity of Virginia City to the north that profited greatly from its mining activity. A significant local support community, the city was very important as a wagon stop for transport over the Jumbo Grade on the east side of Washoe Lake, but declined in prominence when the Truckee Railroad through Reno took over most of the logistics work. Reno became the county seat in 1871 (Parts 13 and 14).

Between the Carson City city limits (... never mind) and just south of Washoe City, US 395 is presently on a freeway alignment which will link up with the southern construction of I-580 as described in Part 11 and the US 395 freeway in Reno as we will talk about in Part 14. We will pass some of this construction on the way up, and rejoin the freeway when we get to modern US 395 through Reno in Part 14 as well.

Also in this section we will look at the entire old routing of US 395 bypassed by the modern freeway, which is preserved as modern NV 429. The picture at right depicts the old state highway in the area, probably no later than the 1930s, and likely was near that region or even on that routing given the presence of Slide Mountain in the southern-facing perspective.

The future of US 395 through this area is undoubtedly secure, but its future routing is a bit of a question mark. On the official NDOT I-580 planning site, US 395 seems to be shown in this detail map as separating from future I-580 in Bowers Mansion/Winters Ranch (near the northern terminus of NV 429) at Parker Ranch Rd, south of Washoe City, and continuing on its present-day alignment as an alternate route until its intersection with the freeway north of NV 431/341. NDOT's own internal route log, however, explains it quite differently. From the Bowers Mansion junction, future US 395 proceeds along future I-580 with the two routes co-signed. As for the old US 395 alignment, that has already been converted to state highway (similarly to US 395/US 50 in Part 11) and is now legislatively a new route, designated NV 430. To be sure, there is no proof of that presently in the field as everything that is or legislatively will be NV 430 currently bears US 395 postmiles (even old US 395 in Reno in Part 13), and the designation only appears on paper. The best guess for rectifying the two is to accept the NDOT route log as correct, and that the map on the I-580 home page merely reflects signage presently in the field with the proposed I-580 extension overlaid on top (the official I-580 home page doesn't say anything one way or the other otherwise).

Let it also not be underemphasized that Interstate 580 couldn't be completed too soon in the opinion of the local community (the estimated timeframe for completion seems to be around 2008). With five traffic fatalities along US 395 in 2005 alone, the Interstate bypass of Pleasant Valley and Washoe City is badly needed to reduce traffic volumes along what is now the busiest rural highway in the state according to NDOT. Part of the delay on the project, besides tussles over the right-of-way, is the significant engineering required to cross the region's large water-bearing canyons; the Galena Creek Bridge, for example, will be the longest concrete arch bridge in the country when built (see this NDOT simulated rendering). Strangely, despite the acuity of the need for upgrade, this section of "US 395"/NV 430 is not part of High-Priority Corridor #19, which does not start until we enter Reno.


Distance signage along the NB US 395 freeway leaving the northern city/county limits of Carson City. The portion of freeway from the end of (stealth) NV 529 to just north of the Washoe county/Carson City border was the first portion in Carson City to be converted to freeway, opened in 1964.

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This truck warning has relevance in a moment.

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Washoe county line.

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Exit 42 to Eastlake Blvd. This is the end of the 1964 portion.

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Fork 1: Old US 395 (NV 429/BikeRt 395)

At this point, we fork into old and new alignment. Let's do the old alignment first by exiting immediately onto Eastlake Blvd (unsigned junction NV 428). This old portion of US 395 was bypassed by the modern Lakeview-Winters Ranch freeway segment, opened in 1970. Originally, US 395 branched somewhat further west in a loop-like bend through the Bowers Mansion region, which we will demonstrate here. For its part, NV 428 feeds New Washoe City on the east side of Washoe Lake (hence the road name), while we will go around the lake on the west side instead.

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Note how Old US 395 is signed here (and the freeway entrance assemblies in the background). We will discover that this old alignment is actually very well indicated in the field. We turn left on to WB NV 428 Eastlake Blvd.

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As we duck under the highway, Eastlake Blvd will end at a T intersection with what is signed Old US 395. To find the southern terminus of this old alignment, we turn left first.

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The first sign that greets us is a BikeRt 395 shield, slightly different than the one we saw in Carson City. We will later see in Part 27 how important bike routes are to distinguishing old alignment. Although not always true, numbered bike routes (at least in the Pacific states) are often placed along previous non-freeway alignments of a particular route and this will become quite useful as we try to uncover older highway portions.

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As we head south again, we're getting very close to US 395 again. In addition, there seems to be a state highway sign coming up.

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That signage is at this single direction at-grade intersection with US 395 SB, showing an END sign and postmiles for NV 429 which is the actual legislative designation for Old US 395. It is signed as NV 429 over the entire old alignment along with BikeRt 395. The raison d'etre for NV 429, besides issues of relinquishment, is to function as a truck bypass for oversize or high-profile loads that cannot run on the freeway during high winds or inclement conditions (thus the truck signage we saw on the 1964 portion) since the old alignment is partially protected by its proximity to the mountains. Therefore, it will likely always remain some sort of state-maintained road.

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It's signed Old US 395 here too.

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If we turn right and travel down Hobart Rd, we see the continuation of BikeRt 395 to the south and west. Although the bike routes are normally very helpful for marking old road, in this case, this is one part where the bike route is wrong; it follows a meandering routing back into town that has nothing to do with old US 395.

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Turning back around to start north on NV 429. Note how nicely we start off parallel to Exit 42 again. For some reason, the postmile does not go to zero; this is probably due to some oddity with the boundary line for Washoe county and Carson City.

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NB NV 429 and BikeRt 395 Old US 395 parallel to the modern freeway. NV 429 is actually very well signed along the route.

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Jct NV 877 (southern end). This is a loop route serving Bowers Mansion, a large estate built in 1863 by Lemuel "Sandy" Bowers and his wife Eilley. It is probably the best and certainly best-preserved example of the wealth afforded those who struck it rich during the mining boom in the region. Sadly, after her husband died, Eilley fell on hard times and the estate was foreclosed upon. It was operated briefly as a resort, but otherwise lay mostly fallow until acquired by Washoe county, which then carefully restored the house, placed donated period furniture within it, and opened it as a county park.

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[Old US 395, 1950s, 96K.] Continuing NB on NV 429/BikeRt 395 Old US 395. Compare the last couple views along NV 429 with this Colourpictures Publishers postcard from the 1950s, showing this route and Slide Mountain in the background similar to what we do here (96K).

Slide Mountain is appropriately named -- about once a century, it releases a wave of mud and rocks down the sides into the valley below. The last time was in 1983, so you'd think people would have learned not to live too close. The Washoe Indians were well aware of its instability, christening it "the mountain that collapses on itself" and steering well clear of its base.

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PM 4.0. As you can see, this alignment did not lend itself well to expansion due to nearby houses and estates. There are also quite a few at-grade crossings with small local and private roads.

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Jct NV 877 (northern end). Note our proximity to the mountain range, as mentioned earlier.

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Still signed Old US 395.

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End BikeRt 395 as we approach the modern mainline ...

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.. and end NV 429 (note the Old US 395 marker at right), at PM 7.38.

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As we head south on the US 395 freeway to do the second fork, we pass this distance signage on the SB side.

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Fork 2: US 395 Freeway (Future I-580)

Now for the 1970 realignment and the modern freeway. This portion is a straight-shot along the west side of Washoe Lake, and will likely be incorporated whole into I-580 (thus, US 395 and I-580 will be cosigned over this portion). Starting here just past the Eastlake Blvd exit, we see the first US 395 shield on the freeway alignment and an NDOT sign test area on the right.

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Quick, what comes after South 12? (On the sign test area.)

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NB US 395 fwy.

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Exit 44 Bellevue Rd, a small local arterial. This is the only exit along this portion of alignment.

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A perspective on the lake from the overpass.

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Here we see Slide Mountain again, this time from the freeway.

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Continuing NB US 395.

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US 395 Expressway ("Stealth" NV 430)

Junction NV 429 (northern end), where our two forks merge. The US 395 shield looks a little swollen, doesn't it?

Note how US 395 starts to veer off to the east; this is approximately where future I-580 will separate, with I-580 and future US 395 proceeding more or less straight on. This is the southern terminus of unsigned NV 430, which takes over the current US 395 alignment despite US 395 signage and postmiles in the field.

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Washoe City, the old county seat. This is actually Old Washoe City; New Washoe City is east of Lake Washoe and traversed by NV 428 Eastlake Blvd. Old Washoe City is considerably less habited in the present day.

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Passing through (Old) Washoe City.

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Unsigned junction NV 428 Eastlake Blvd as we circle northeast around the north shores of Washoe Lake and Little Washoe Lake.

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Summit (barely signed).

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Coming down the hill into Pleasant Valley.

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Visible construction on the Galena Creek future I-580 crossing.

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Close up on the arch, as of summer 2009.

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Veering more towards the north at PM 11.0. Again, note that the postmile says US 395, despite the route now being NV 430.

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Entering Pleasant Valley. This is another small community on the north side of the lake. I guess it's pleasant.

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As mentioned above, this is a very busy piece of road through here.

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It is very heavily (perhaps even fricking heavily, as the gate suggests) patrolled by Nevada Highway Patrol and residents are very concerned about the risk of injury from speeding motorists. For this reason, I-580 is generally regarded as a good thing by the local community. Part of this sentiment may have inspired the author of the Highway 395 comic book to rename Pleasant Valley to Death Valley in his introduction.

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Approaching the junction with Mt Rose Hwy (going west). Heading east along Geiger Grade Rd, as the sign indicates, leads to Virginia City and the historic mining district. There is a turnoff south of here for Steamboat Springs as well (not to be confused with the Steamboat Springs in Colorado), a small collection of local hot springs discovered in 1860. Most of the panache of its early days is gone, but the springs still survive.

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Interesting transposition on the sign. Not a palindrome, but the juxtaposition is intriguing. NV 431 runs along the Mt Rose Hwy and NV 341 the Geiger Grade Rd. Why the two are not combined into a single route number is unclear to me. NV 431 is an important route to the local ski resorts, including its namesake, Mount Rose, which it crosses at 8,911' (the mountain itself is 10,778'). Over the summit, it will wend its way down towards Lake Tahoe and Incline Village. We will travel a little of it in Part 14 when we get to the US 395 freeway in Reno.

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Entering southern Reno city limits.

Continue to Part 13

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