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Donner Summit, the Sierras, Mother Nature and History

Donner Lake is less than 100 miles from Sacramento. I have now travelled up to Donner Lake four times this year: twice in winter, twice in summer.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains has played an historic obstacle in settling California. One famous example is the tragic story of the Donner Party. Following bad advice about a short cut, and an early October snow  in 1846,  strand an unprepared group of pioneers. This tragedy ends with cannibalism for survival. Only half of the original emigrants made it to California. The top of the rock base represents the amount of snowfall that the Donner Party encountered. The pass through the Sierras was renamed for the Donner Party.

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Donner Memorial State Park

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Plaque lists members of the Donner Party that perished and those that survived. Plaque attached to the north face of the fireplace from the Murphy cabin.

Visiting during the snowy winter and imagining the area without the modern highway system the area looks daunting.

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Snow covered cabin provides an idea of how much snow can fall in the Sierras.

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Beautiful view, but slippery road.

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Winter driving can be treacherous. The snow shed used to cover the railroad track are visible from the road.

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The Sierra Nevada Mountains created the most challenge to connected the continent.

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I see a profile of a person’s face.

The hardest part of connecting the transcontinental railroad lay in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is the first time I visited the  Summit Tunnel, Tunnel #6. Walking through the tunnels built by the Central Pacific Railroad to connect east with west, it is hard to believe that the Chinese laborers hand drilled through 1,659 feet the Sierras in 15 months between 1866- 1867. It was dangerous work placing first black powder, and running out in time. The debris then had to be removed. Later nitroglycerin was used: more unstable, but more powerful. Many workers did not survive. The hard work of tunneling through granite, the blasting, and the risk of avalanches in the deep snow, and freezing temperatures  contributed to much loss of life. Work was finally completed in August 1867.

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Light at the end of the tunnel.

Walking into the tunnel I felt drops of water hitting my head. Dressed with a jacket, armed with a flashlight, prepared with my tripod I start walking.  Pretty flat terrain, so a flashlight is just a security measure.

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Textures and colors grab my attention.

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Love the textures

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Shapes and shadows 

Compare this image with the next one processed with HDR. Do you have a preference?

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Many families hike through the Summit Tunnels in the Spring.

 

This is a good location to utilize HDR (high dynamic range) technique. I already had my tripod, and the lighting ranged from dark to light. After shooting 5 images with different f-stops I brought my images into Photomatrix Pro 5. This takes the best from each image and merges them together for this affect.

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With a tripod this is a good place to use HDR

I always look for puddles and reflections.

 

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Captured a puddle reflections in the snow shed.

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Another reflection from a different angle.

The tracks not covered by the mountains had snow sheds built to keep the deep snow off the tracks.This was sometime successful, other times mother nature wins.

 

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I like the light coming from the snow shed door.

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Snow sheds erected to keep snow off the tracks. These tunnels are often not accessible in the winter.

In the spring and summer  the area attracts families, hikers, and photographers. This is a good place to visit to get out of the Sacramento heat.

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View of Donner Lake from the Tunnel Door during the summer.

Graffiti has found a home.  Some are artistic, some just making a statement that they were there.

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One abstract photo of the snow shed ceiling.

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Donner Lake in the summer. 

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Plenty of summer water activities on Donner Lake 

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A last look at Donner Lake in the summer months.

This area is amazing, and I will be back to take in more of the beauty, and history of this area that is only an hour and a half from my home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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