Few wagon wheel ruts worn into the barren landscape more than a century ago remain accessible for curious rut rats to trace on foot. Many are on private property; others are buried under blacktop or shopping malls.
The 1844 Emigrant Trail-Truckee River Route in California’s Sierra Nevada is easily visible gouged into granite boulders near the Big Bend Ranger Station. Located in Placer County on old Highway 40 at 49685 Hampshire Rocks Road, the California Historic Landmark 799.2 plaque in front of the Big Bend Visitor Center estimates that more than 30,000 travelers used this trail on their way to the gold fields.
Follow a wheelchair accessible path from the parking area to the bridge. Look under the bridge over the Yuba River.
A quarter mile north from the Visitor Center at Loch Leven Trailhead, park at east end of parking area and look north for a dark stake among boulders to begin trail. Walk northeast looking for green metal markers on trees. Follow wagon wheel ruts over granite. Return to original stake and walk northwest following markers to Yuba River and Big Bend Campground Bridge.
Anza-Borrego Desert in southern California is another great location where it’s easy to see and touch wagon wheel ruts on dusty trails in barren landscape much as it was during the 1850s.
The San Felipe Valley Stage Station (1858-1861) (CHL 793), built at the southern trail of explorers, trappers, soldiers, and emigrants where it crossed ancient trade routes of native Indians, was later used by Banning Stages and the military during the Civil War.
0.9 miles North of Highway 78 on San Felipe Road
Plaque on northeast hilltop.
Vallecito Stage Station (1852) (CHL 304)
An important stop on the first official transcontinental route, the Butterfield Overland Stage line, and southern emigrant caravans.
19 miles North of Vallecito at Southwest corner of Highway 78 and Route 2.
Also see Vallecito Stage Station County Park, Route 2
Butterfield Overland Mail Route (1858-1861) (CHL 647)
Blair Valley; marker at top of Foot & Walker Pass.
Box Canyon (1847) CHL 472)
See rough, hand-tool cuts carved by the Mormon Battalion in January 1847 on the rocky walls for their wagons to pass through the narrow gorge, thus opening the first road into southern California.