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Dog Valley Grade


The Dog Valley Grade is a historic highway corridor which connects Truckee, California east through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Verdi, Nevada.  The Dog Valley Grade was scouted in 1845 by Caleb Greenwood as a safer alternative to the Truckee River Canyon.  During the California Gold Rush the Dog Valley Grade would become a component of the Henness Pass Road and Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Road.  The Dog Valley Grade would later be incorporated into the North Lincoln Highway during 1913 and Victory Highway during 1921.  The completion of the Truckee River Highway during June 1926 bypassed the Dog Valley Grade.  The Truckee River Highway would become part of US Route 40 during November 1926.  

Featured as the cover photo is the descent along the Dog Valley Grade as seen in a photo taken by Josh Schmid.  The Dog Valley Grade can be seen below on a map published in the September 1950 California Highways & Public Works.  The map depicts the Dog Valley Grade as part of the Henness Pass Road and Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Road.  




Part 1; the history of the Dog Valley Grade

The first documented wagon crossing of the Sierra Nevada Mountains was made in 1844 by the Townsend-Murphys Party.  From the vicinity of modern-day Verdi, Nevada the Townsend-Murphy Party traveled westward via the Truckee River Canyon towards what is known now as Donner Lake.  This routing proved hazardous which led to an alternate routing being scouted through Dog Valley by Caleb Greenwood in 1845.  The Dog Valley Grade would be favored by most immigrant parties including the ill-fated Donner Party during the Fall of 1846.  

Much of the early history of the Dog Valley Grade is discussed in the September 1950 Centennial Edition of California Highways & Public Works.  The volume notes the difficulties faced by the Townsend-Murphy Party in the Truckee River Canyon and the utility of the Dog Valley Grade.  



The below illustration found in the September 1950 California Highways & Public Works depicts the Dog Valley Grade (1) from the Nevada state line west to Truckee.  The Dog Valley Grade is shown intersecting with the Henness Pass Road (2) in Dog Valley and then modern US Route 40 in Truckee.  



The utility of the Dog Valley Grade was further enhanced by the development of the Henness Pass Road.  During 1849-1850 Patrick Henness developed a Native American trail into what came to be known as the "Henness Pass Road."  The Henness Pass Road began at Truckee River in Verdi and climbed west through the Sierra Nevada Mountains via Dog Valley towards Camptonville.  The Henness Pass Road was surveyed as a possible all-year wagon road over the Sierra Nevada Mountains by D.B. Scott in 1855 at the behest of the California Legislature (from the September 1950 California Highways & Public Works).  Usage of the Henness Pass Road would peak during 1860-1868 when it was developed as a franchise toll road alternative to the Lake Tahoe Wagon Road.  


The Dog Valley Grade can be seen as a component of the Henness Pass Road on the 1857 Britton & Rey's Map of California.  The same map depicts the highway towards Donner Pass favoring the earlier routing through the Truckee River Canyon.  


The Dog Valley Grade would be connected to the Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Road (DF&DLR) during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad.  During 1861 the State of California granted the Central Pacific Railroad a 10-year franchise on toll rights to the Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Road (DF&DLR) which completed by 1864.  The DF&DLR was used to finance the Central Pacific Railroad's construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad from 1864 to 1868.  The DF&DLR was likely not tolled after the Central Pacific Railroad was completed over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via Donner Pass and the Truckee River Canyon during Spring of 1868.  The DF&DLR became a public highway in 1871 and was only loosely maintained given rail service had become the easiest form of transportation over Donner Pass.

The 1873 Bancroft's Map of California & Nevada depicts the Dog Valley Grade serving as the fork between the Henness Pass Road and DF&DLR.  

During 1912 Indiana Businessman Carl G. Fisher conceptualized the Lincoln Highway as a major transcontinental Auto Trail.  The Lincoln Highway was formally dedicated on October 31, 1913, and was aligned west of Fallon via split branches over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The original northern branch of the Lincoln Highway (displayed in blue) is shown on the Lincoln Highway Association's Official Map from Verdi, Nevada via the Dog Valley Grade to Truckee, California. 





The Dog Valley Grade is depicted as the major highway between Verdi-Truckee on the 1917 California State Automobile Association Map.  


The 1919 Third State Highway Bond Act added an addition to Legislative Route Number 38 (LRN 38) which defined a new segment of State Highway intended to replace the Dog Valley Grade:

"A certain highway Nevada and Sierra counties, running as follows: From a point in the town of Truckee where the present state highway branches at the subway under the Southern Pacific tracks going toward Lake Tahoe, continuing through the town of Truckee, crossing Prosser Creek and over what is known as the "Dog Valley Grade" as far as the state line about 1 mi NW of Verdi, Nevada..."

LRN 38 east of Truckee appears as a planned highway bypassing the Dog Valley Grade on the 1920 California Highway Commission Map



The Nothern Lincoln Highway can be seen using the Dog Valley Grade from Truckee east to Verdi on the 1920 Clason Roads of California and Nevada Map.  


The Victory Highway was formally organized during 1921 as a coast-to-coast highway aligned from New York to San Francisco.  The Victory Highway Association lived on after the creation of the US Route System and became the US Route 40 Association in 1938.  

The June 1924 California Highways & Public Works noted the initial grading LRN 38 between Truckee along the Truckee River to Boca was underway.  


The August 1924 California Highways & Public Works noted LRN 38 between Truckee-Boca was in the process being graded.  


The October 1924 California Highways & Public Works stated numerous contracts were underway on LRN 38 from Truckee east to the Nevada State Line. 


The June 1925 California Highways & Public Works noted surveys were underway to find the final location of LRN 38 within Truckee.  

The initial draft of the US Route System was approved by the Secretary of Agriculture during November of 1925.  The US Route System within California was approved by California Highway Commission with no changes recommended by January 1926.  The alignment of US Route 40 east of Sacramento was planned to follow the existing Northern Branch of the Lincoln Highway and Victory Highway over LRN 3, LRN 17, LRN 37 and LRN 38 to the Nevada state line at Verdi. 


Thusly US Route 40 appears on the 1925 Rand McNally Map of California east of Sacramento to Verdi.  Conceptual US Route 40 is shown following the Dog Valley Grade east of Truckee.

The May 1926 California Highways & Public Works noted LRN 38 in the Truckee River Canyon between Truckee and the Nevada state line as having been fully graded.  The new segment of LRN 38 is stated to have a planned opening on June 10th, 1926, as a bypass to the Dog Valley Grade. 


The completion of LRN 38 east of Truckee to Verdi by way of the Truckee River Canyon was featured in the June 1926 California Highways & Public Works.  The 19.1 mile long "Truckee River Highway" was dedicated on June 10, 1926, by California Governor Friend Richardson.  






The US Route System was formally approved by the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) on November 11, 1926.  The approval of the US Route System formally brought US Route 40 into existence east of Sacramento to the Nevada State Line.  Notably US Route 40 east of Sacramento to the Nevada State Line was referred to as the Victory Highway in numerous official documents into the 1930s.  US Route 40 from the outset of the US Route System was aligned through the Truckee River Canyon east of Truckee to Verdi.  

US Route 40 can be seen following LRN 38 east of Truckee via the Truckee River Canyon to Verdi on the 1930 Division of Highways Map.  


The bypassed Dog Valley Grade can be seen branching northeast from California State Route 89 near Hobart Mills to the Nevada state line on the 1935 Division of Highways Maps of Nevada County and Sierra County.  The Dog Valley Grade is displayed as a major Sierra County highway.  



In 1962 a portion of the Dog Valley Grade in Nevada County near Hobart Mills was inundated when Prosser Creek Dam was completed.  Modern Prosser Dam Road bypasses the eastern flank of the namesake reservoir and connects to Dog Valley Road.  Stampede Dam was completed in Sierra County during 1970 and would consume additional segments of the original Dog Valley Grade.  The modern Dog Valley Road has been realigned east of the Stampede Reservoir between Hobart Mills and Sierra County Route 860 (Henness Pass Road). 



Part 2; a drive on the Dog Valley Grade

During the summer of 2023 Josh Schmid drove the Dog Valley Grade east from the Henness Pass Road into Verdi.  All photos in this segment were submitted by Schmid.  Our photo tour begins at the intersection of Sierra County Route 270 (Stampede Dam Road) and Sierra County Route 860 (Henness Pass Road and Dog Valley Road) in Tahoe National Forest.


Dog Valley Road east of Stampede Dam Road enters Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and crosses the 6,539-foot above sea level Summit 2.   






Dog Valley Road continues east over Summit 1 and begins to descend via the course South Fork Dog Creek towards the Nevada state line.  










As Dog Valley Road becomes paved as it approaches the Nevada state line.  




Von Schmidt Monument Park can be found on Dog Valley Road at the Nevada state line.  The park contains a cast iron obelisk which was placed following the 1872-73 survey of the California/Nevada state line.  Numerous historical plaques regarding the history of the Dog Valley Grade can be also found. 











Dog Valley Road ends at Bridge Street in Verdi.  The original North Lincoln Highway/Victory Highway would have followed Bridge Street over the Truckee River and beyond US Route 40 towards Verdi Road.  The original bridge over the Truckee River was placed in 1860 by Felix O'Neil.  Likewise, the original community name for Verdi was once known as "O'Neil's Station."  The North Lincoln Highway/Victory Highway followed Verdi Road east towards Reno where it crossed the Truckee River again via a now removed bridge.  





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