Of the fourteen or so trans-Sierra passes (*), one is not paved - the Henness Pass Road. Interestingly, the past two club meetings were at campgrounds which were roughly at either end of the Henness Pass Road. Stampede Reservoir, the location of our August meeting, is near the eastern terminus of the road in Verdi, NV. New Bullard's Bar Reservoir - September's meeting site - is about four miles from the village of Camptonville, CA - the western end of the road. Any claim of riding all the trans-Sierra passes must include the Henness Pass - in my opinion.
Originally a trail first used in 1849, the Henness Pass Road stretched over the Sierra Nevada via the 6700 foot Henness Pass, down the ridge between the North and Middle forks of the Yuba River.
The road route is believed to be designed by Patrick Henness in 1849 or 1850. In 1852, construction on the primitive road made the route over Henness Pass into a toll road passable for wagons. Records show that as early as 1850 the road was already heavily used. By 1859 the rush for gold in California was waning. By mid-year, silver was discovered near Reno, and the exodus of miners from California to the big Comstock Silver Bonanza was on.
Henness Pass Road, with its easy grades and established mining camps and stage stops along the way, became one of the more popular routes to the Comstock. Traffic along the road became so heavy that it was suggested that freight wagons travel by day, and passenger stagecoaches at night. Demands for road improvements were constant. Numerous companies were formed in the late 1850s through the early 1860s to construct new portions of the road as well as to make improvements on the existing road.
The Comstock mines in Virginia City, isolated in the high desert, were served only by supply wagons that by necessity had to cross the Sierra Nevada. While the mines flourished, so did the freighters and stages that used the road. But, as mining production dwindled, the boom turned to bust. Then, with the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1868, the need for horse drawn freighting over the Henness Pass Road became obsolete almost overnight.
During the 1950s, the federal government planned to realign and widen Highway U.S. 40 over Donner Pass to Reno. A group was formed whose proposal was to have a modern highway follow the old Henness Pass route instead of the U.S. 40 route. This proposal was not accepted, and Highway 40 eventually was replaced by Interstate 80 over Donner Summit.
Starting from the west, there is a paved alternative at the western end of the road called Ridge Road. It starts at Highway CA-49 just south of Camptonville, and reconnects to the Henness Pass Road about 18 miles to the east. Don't miss the left - then right - turn on Pliocene Ridge Road at the turnoff to Forest City. Continuing straight at this intersection will take you to the town of Alleghany. About three miles east from this intersection, the Pliocene Ridge Road reconnects with the old Henness Pass Road. Another two miles and the pavement ends. Here, the road splits in a fork. The right-hand fork is the old Henness Pass Road. Of course, the paved Ridge Road aside, the purist GS rider will want to take the entire length of dirt on the old Henness Pass Road beginning in Camptonville.
Continuing east from the end of pavement, about 15 miles of dirt road follows until arriving at Jackson Meadows Reservoir. Here, there is another paved alternative all the way to Hwy CA-89, but the original dirt section closely parallels this paved section. A short distance south on CA-89, there is a sign at the turnoff to Kyburz. The old Henness Pass Road continues east through Kyburz, which is another point of historical interest. The road is gravel and dirt the rest of the distance through Sardine Valley to the intersection of county road 270 near Stampede Reservoir. Then continues on through Truckee Meadows and Dog Valley to the eastern terminus of the road at Verdi NV.
No tour route from Tuco would be complete without a recommendation for food. In Camptonville, there's "Burgee Dave's at the Mayo" - a tavern located in the old 1850s Mayo building - a great place for lunch before the ride, or to end a ride if coming from east to west on the Henness Pass Road. Outside dining is available, and beer and wine is served.
There are numerous points of historical interest along the Henness Pass Road including the gold rush towns of Forest City and Alleghany. As a history buff, I recommend checking them out.
For more information on the Henness Pass Road, Forest City and Alleghany I recommend the US Forest Service - North Yuba Ranger Station in Camptonville at the intersection of Marysville Road and highway CA-49. Call 530-478-6253 for business hours. The station has detailed brochures which are attributed to the information I wrote here. Glenn Sundstrom - the district supervisor and resident Archaeologist - is a wealth of local historical information about the Henness Pass and the Gold Rush era.
-- Tom 'Tuco' Harris