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US 395, Part 10: Douglas County (Nevada State Line to US 50/Carson City, Old NV 758)

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Our first county in Nevada is Douglas county (41,259 [2000]), part of the original nine counties in Nevada established by the territorial legislature in 1861. Named for statesman Stephen A. Douglas, most remembered for his presidential debates with Abraham Lincoln, it was the site of some of Nevada's earliest settlements in modern-day Genoa (former Mormon Station) during the 1850s. Nowadays, most of the population and services have shifted either north to Carson City, the state capital, or south-centrally to Gardnerville and Minden, which was designated the county seat in 1916 (population 2,836 [2000]).

US 395 remains single-lane-per-direction until north of Minden, when it turns into an expressway-style alignment into Carson City and its southern junction with US 50. This junction has more or less stayed in its original form since US 395's original signage through Nevada except for improvements to both highways for widening and straightening, although there is one important development we will discuss in the next Part that will change everything.

North of the state line, US 395 is carried on old NV 9 and NV 3. These numbers have not existed since US 395 was first extended into the state in 1934-5, but for completeness, US 395 is carried on NV 3 from the state line (more accurately Holbrook Junction with NV 208) to Reno, part of a larger route stretching from Reno to Oasis, CA and modern CA 168 via Holbrook, Yerington, Tonopah and Goldfield; and then on the entirety of NV 9 from Reno to the California state line.

Crossing the state line. Nevada uses these flashers to warn for chain conditions, which are often required during the winter.

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Topaz Lake, the Nevada side.

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Turn off for the boat launch and Nevada resorts.

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View of the Nevada side of Topaz Lake as we start our ascent out of the Antelope Valley.

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First US 395 shield over the state line. I really dislike the non-cutout style US shields. Fortunately, we'll get to rejoin our old cutout friends in not too long.

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Distance signage leaving Topaz Lake.

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PM 1. After the 1978 Nevada great renumbering, Nevada now uses a California-style postmile system. I talk about this a bit on the glossary and conventions page.

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Advance signage for the first state highway junction (NV 208) to Yerington, just shortly after crossing the state line. The Nevada state route marker is just a silhouette of the state.

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Nevada signs their junctions copiously. If you miss the turnoff, it's not NDOT's fault.

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Distance signage leaving NV 208.

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The grade climbing out of the Antelope Valley is quite steep and most cars will need to downshift. There are passing lanes at intervals. During the winter, chains are often required.

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Curving around the summit into the Carson Valley.

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Oday ouyay peaksay igpay atinlay? (Or perhaps a poor emulation of those funny streets in Bishop [Part 6].)

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Caltrans maintains this pass alert sign with NDOT permission on the SB side; although this has been replaced by a modern flasher, I'm keeping this old picture up since I like the button copy. Again note how CA 120 is "To Yosemite" and not "Tioga Pass" (a recent change in this 2007 image; you can see the greenout), and a platform for whatever poor schlub had to drive out here and change the placards.

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There are certain weather patterns where you just point your finger and say, "God's right there right now."

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Officially the Carson Valley, one in a string of a great many things that we will find named after Fremont's famous scout Kit Carson. We'll talk about him more in Part 11 when we get to his namesake city.

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Gardnerville. One of the earlier settled regions in Douglas county, it is named for John M. Gardner, who placed his homestead nearby in 1861. In 1879, the Gardnerville Hotel, blacksmith shop and saloon were built along the main road in town, which we now know is US 395.

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Passing through the outskirts.

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Entering town proper.

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[Gardnerville 1948 postcard, 95K] US 395 takes a very sharp turn through the middle of town. Watch carefully. Gardnerville is interesting for housing a large Basque ghetto, the children of sheepherders who immigrated to the United States from Spain over a century previously. Many local landmarks are still run by these families. While driving through, compare the modern downtown with this 1948 Burton Frasher postcard (click the thumbnail at right for a 95K full view).

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Junction NV 756, passing into Minden. Minden, the county seat, was established by H. F. Dangberg in 1905 to provide terminal facilities to the Virginia & Truckee Railroad; Dangberg named it for a German town near his birthplace and deeded the lot the courthouse now stands on to the county when the new seat was declared in 1916.

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Turnoff for the local municipal buildings.

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Particularly in Minden, many of the old buildings are still up like these.

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Itildo Realty, next door to Merely Adequate Parking.

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NV 88. If this route number looks weird, you're right -- there aren't too many two-digit state routes left in Nevada. This one is historical and one of the uncommon cases where a route keeps its number crossing the border (it will become CA 88 past the stateline). NV/CA 88 is the modern inheritor of the Carson Emigrant Trail south of this point, crossing the Carson Pass in California (8,573'). Because it bypasses the American River valley (and US 50), portions of CA 88 carry an ALT US 50 designation for use as a secondary route when the river floods. Alternate US 50 in California is quite interesting from a roadgeek perspective; see Dan Faigin's info page on US 50 and ALT US 50 in California.

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Turnoff. The Carson Emigrant Trail is obviously another Kit Carson-ism but was only partially due to his efforts. Although based on the eponymous Carson Pass, it only became as important a crossing as it was thanks to Mormon settlers and the leftovers of the Mormon Battalion who not only established a trail from then-Old Dry Diggins (modern Placerville, CA) through the pass to the Carson Valley, but even built a wagon route over the route in the process in 1848. By 1849, it was the major settler and wagon route by far and would remain so well into the following decade.

The Mormon Battalion, as a footnote, was a band of Mormons specifically released by Brigham Young into the service of the US Army for the Mexican War, probably as an attempt to curry favour with the bureaucracy. Their only contribution to the war effort was a separate wagon road built under the command of Col. Stephen Watts Kearny and his Army of the West, because when the Batallion finally arrived in California, the Mexican War had already been concluded and the unit never actually saw combat. They were honourably released from service in 1847, and when trying to return to their fellow Saints in Utah from Sutter's fort where they were staying, they constructed their own new crossing to avoid having to use the Donner Pass to the north (in those days considered a harrowing trek, now traversed by Interstate 80 and the remnants of US 40); thus was the Emigrant Trail constructed. Despite its significance, it was was not without its costs, as three of their number scouting the territory were massacred by a band of Indians at what was then sorrowfully christened Tragedy Springs upon the discovery of their naked, bloodied bodies in a shallow grave.

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Advance signage for NV 757. This route is poorly marked and does not even appear on some maps. It is only a connector to NV 206 which feeds the western edge of Douglas county, including CA 207, the Kingsbury Grade into Lake Tahoe (thus the sign). The Kingsbury Grade was the original toll road ca. 1860 over the Daggett Pass (7,334') and remains the only direct connection to Tahoe from the Minden-Gardnerville region.

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Distance signage north.

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Turnoff to Genoa, Nevada's first permanent settlement founded 1851. To be sure, Genoa's original inhabitants were hardly the first white settlers in the region; Abner and Thomas Blackburn established a small post about a mile north of where Genoa is now in 1850 but abandoned it around three months later (and lost most of their livestock to a Bannock Indian raid while on their way back to Salt Lake City). Thus, it was not until the founding of Mormon Station, as it was first called, that there would be a permanent settler presence in the part of then-Utah territory that would eventually become Nevada. Mormon Station and its original fort were established by Mormon settler John Reese, his brother Enoch and others of his band of Mormon traders as a trading post and rest stop for the wagon routes (including those coming up the Emigrant Trail). However, some of the stream of visitors simply decided to stay put and Mormon leader Brigham Young sent Orson Hyde to the region to survey a townsite in 1854. Under Hyde's design the humble post became a small town, which Hyde (later a regional judge) renamed Genoa in 1856 after Christopher Columbus' Italian city; a cove in a nearby mountain reminded Hyde of Genoa's harbour and he named both that peak (9,150') and the settlement for the famed city. It became the county seat of the new Carson county in 1854 as part of Utah territory, and when Utah was sectioned into Nevada, it became the seat of Douglas county in 1861.

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[Google erroneous NV 758, 2006.] Detour: Genoa (Old NV 758)

Since it's a nice little drive and a chance to save an old if minor highway, we'll visit it. Note the sign saying NV 206 -- this is fairly recent; previously, NV 206 did not intersect US 395 until Jacks Valley Rd south of the Carson City limits. Until that change, this was NV 758, and the route did not intersect NV 206 until we actually get to Genoa. The postmiles now say NV 206, but for a long time NAVTEQ and Google Maps still displayed it as NV 758 (right).

Note that unlike the Italian city, Genoa is pronounced ge-NO-a, not GEN-oa.

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Signage outside Mormon Station State Park. A trailblazer for NV 206 can be faintly seen in the distance; this is the end of former NV 758.

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Genoa today (in much better shape than Bodie [Part 8] with hardly any "arrested decay" here); it is naturally only a shadow of its former self. Its decline started in 1857 when Brigham Young called the Saints home to Salt Lake City, believing that a showdown with the federal government was imminent, and most of the Mormon inhabitants obediently followed his order and sold their holdings (often at a loss) to return to Zion for the anticipated defense. With their departure and the discovery of the Comstock silver lode in nearby Virginia City in 1859, the town would lose its pre-eminence as the prospector trade attracted people north to more mining-convenient cities like Carson City and boomtowns such as Virginia City itself. Despite becoming a stop on the prestigious Pony Express line in 1861, Genoa's days of glory were largely behind it and it persisted on in semi-obscurity until the turn of the 20th century.

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In 1910, Genoa suffered a further hit in a most ignominious fashion when a local resident, tormented by bedbugs, lit a pan of sulfur under his bed in a desperate attempt to smoke them out and wound up lighting the entire bed on fire instead. It killed the bedbugs, all right, but the resulting blaze also took out half of the already-ailing business district, the entire county courthouse, and Reese's original Mormon Fort (shown here in replica), which had been already variously replaced by multiple structures as varied as a restaurant and a pig barn. This was probably the final blow to the city, as Minden and Gardnerville to the south were increasing in size and eclipsing the former frontrunner, and Minden was given the task of county seat in 1916. Genoa now lives on with a smaller contingent of residents and as a state park, with the rebuilt Mormon Fort shown here resurrected in 1947-8, along with the oldest operating saloon in the entire state of Nevada (clearly not established by the Mormons): if you fancy an antiquated shot of whisky, do stop in at the Genoa Bar for some hair of the dog that bit you.

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End Detour

NV 759, another minor route, to the local airfield.

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Beginning the climb out of the Carson Valley, which strictly speaking, Carson City isn't in. (One of those little geographic inconsistencies, I guess.)

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Crossing the Carson River.

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Little more than a creek, even when the rainfall is better, it wends its way to the east of the city it shares its name with.

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Entering the state capital.

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City (and county) limits.

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A little something for the otakus in the audience.

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Advance signage for the intersection with US 50 at the south end of Carson City.

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Parallel to this, our first look at Bike Route 395. This will become more important in the next several Parts.

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Coming up on the intersection.

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Junction US 50. We proceed northbound as co-signed EB US 50/NB US 395.

Continue to Part 11

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