Truckee, CA: A Beautiful Mess

A quick two nights in Truckee, CA had us taking one of the most unique hikes ever … through miles and miles of graffiti-covered, abandoned train tunnels. It was a mess … but a beautiful mess!

It was slow going, due to a river-rock surface, standing water in sections, and the necessity to stop every few feet and gaze in wonder at the artwork.  Some was beautiful, some was not-as-beautiful, but the graffiti was certainly interesting and made the time fly by.

Some of the tunnels were pitch-black, but we knew enough to bring a flashlight.  In other sections, light filtered through holes in the walls.  Even more light came from breaks in the tunnels where sections had collapsed.

Aliens, robots, animals, even Krusty the Klown are marked on both smooth, and not-so-smooth, surfaces of the accessible portions of the tunnels. Surprisingly, there was only one instance of male genitalia (not shown here, since this a PG-rated blog).

We heard the chattering of “bats in the belfry,” but they did not bother us.  Even if we hadn’t heard them, we would have known they were here, by Finn’s overwhelming desire to roll in the guano every 20 feet. We left another Love Lock, the second of this trip, on exposed metal cables protruding from one segment.

Chinese railroad workers spent two years on Donner Summit, risking their lives (by accident, avalanche, pneumonia, explosion, disease, cold) to build the tunnels of the Transcontinental Railroad. 

Graffiti isn’t the only kind of mess. You may have heard of the Donner Party; this group found themselves in the ultimate mess. The Donner Memorial State Park pays homage to the ill-fated cannibals, a pioneer group of 80 people, who was stranded here during the terrible winter of 1846-1847. 

A toxic cocktail of extreme weather, bad decision making, and unfortunate events, led to the gruesome necessity of cannibalism to ensure survival, and to be able to stop chewing on saddle leather and tree bark.  Read a really good summary of a really messy situation in this article entitled “How to Survive Cannibalism in the Sierras.”  The monument to Pioneer Families honors all the many hardy emigrants who passed through this area, whether successfully or unsuccessfully.

The flat and scenic 9.6-mile Legacy Trail winds along the beautiful Truckee River to Tahoe City.  We buzzed down specifically to see something amazing:  a bear statue made of 205,000 donated pennies, set on their edges.

“Ursa Mater,” or more commonly called “Penny Bear,” and her cubs were carved from foam and then covered in concrete. Pennies were inserted to create the fur look in this 12’6″, 5400-pound behemoth.

This project took two people four months to complete, before it made its debut at the legendary Burning Man desert festival in 2017. It was extraordinary how the pennies really looked like “pet-able” fur in the light!

If you have a mess of spare change at your house, you too can do a project like this! I personally embarked on an ill-advised and time-consuming, but ultimately successful, project in which my stepdad and I laid over 19,000 pennies on the bathroom floor in our home.  The dark pennies were hand-colored with a Sharpie!

Granite Flat Campground was a bargain at $11/night with Philip’s senior discount, and we tried our best to ignore the mess of 24/7 traffic noise on the adjacent highway, in favor of the beautiful Truckee River just outside our campsite door.

That’s right folks, “Beautiful Mess” isn’t just a great Jason Mraz song, it’s also Truckee, CA. We’re popping across the state line just barely into Nevada next, to Virginia City and its haunted hillside! Oooooooh, spooky!

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