Ethan Rarick’s Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West is an intimate portrait of the Donner Party and their unimaginable ordeal in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Rarick, in researching his book, decided to retrace as much of the Donner’s trip as he could. In the interview below with radio host Dorian Devins, Rarick discusses his journey. Hear other Rarick clips here.
Transcript after the jump.
Dorian: You also traveled the route that the party had taken?
Rarick: I did. I went back to Independence, Missouri and then drove out from Independence out to Donner Lake. At times you can follow the route quite precisely. You can go to places where the stopped, you can go to things that they saw; court house rock, or independence rock, or chimney rock, terribly notable locales. There are places where you can actually see the ruts of the wagons. We know exactly where they went over the continental divide, it’s a place called South Pass. It was the easiest place to go over the continental divide, and so I hiked over the continental divide. The country still looks just like it did then, there’s nothing out there, still just as sparse as can be. So I followed them out as best I could. There are places where you can’t follow the trail, it’s now underneath a freeway or something like that, but still you just get a sense of the length of the trip and of the topography, you get a sense of what it was like to be up there that day going over the continental divide, hiking over the continental divide. It was just magnificent because as I say the country looks exactly the same, really. Nothing has changed, there’s nothing built, you can’t see anything. There’s one road off in the distance, but really you can imagine it’s 1846 again and you’re walking and you’ve already walked a thousand miles and you’ve got another thousand to walk. So you really do kind of get a sense of what these people had to go through.