"I don't believe I have adequate words to describe the real beauty of Donner Pass. As we stood looking down I had a floating sensation... I lost all fear as I looked at one of the most beautiful blue lakes (Donner Lake) I have ever seen. Everything below us seemed suspended in shimmering light." - Thornton Round, 1914, from The Lincoln Highway California.
Donner Pass is beautiful but its uniqueness comes from more than beauty. Its history is unique. You can stand on Donner Pass in the same place that Native Americans crossed for thousands of years, in the same place the remnants of the Donner Party crossed or that the first wagon train, the Stephens Party, (Stephens Peak is nearby) used. From that place you can see the first transcontinental highway and the first transcontinental railroad. Under your feet, or nearby, are transcontinental fiber optic cables and a gas pipeline. Overhead you can see the transcontinental air route and even higher, at night, you can see passing satellites.
A Good Story
Look east to Donner Lake and then right. That is Schallenberger Ridge. Moses Schallenberger and two companions stayed behind with most of the Stephens Party wagons in 1844. When his companions decided to follow the main group in to California, Moses remained alone for the winter. He ate coyote ("stringy") and fox (edible) and survived in a little cabin that would be used by part of the Donner Party two years later. Moses was 17 years old. His friends came back for him in the spring and together they hiked over the Summit snow down to California. The Native Americans stripped the wagons - the first vehicle thefts in California?
Things to do right here
There is so much to do here: bike ride Old 40 to Cisco and back, watch the rock climbers, explore the petroglyphs, look for old ads painted on the rocks, trace the Lincoln Highway, check out China Wall, hike up Donner Peak (or Judah or Stephens or... ) Crazy snowboarders board down the rocky crags on the south side of the pass. You might not want to do that.