On the Pony Express route to Genoa, Nevada

This post is part of the April 2015 A to Z Challenge. Find the challengers via the Blog Sign-Up or on Twitter using #AtoZChallenge

Nevada, I found, is one of the states that would be perfect for me! I love hot and dry summers and desert landscapes, but then you also have Lake Tahoe, loads of hiking opportunities and a history full of native Americans and aliens (in every sense of the word), gold rush and ghost towns.

The settlement of Genoa, just east of Lake Tahoe, claims to be Nevada’s oldest permanent settlement. Founded in 1851, by Mormon pioneers, it came to be known as Mormon Station, a popular and vital trading post and rest stop on the California Trail.

Entering Genoa, the oldest town in Nevada. When it was founded, Genoa was still part of teh Utah Territory. Copyright Cornelia Kaufmann
Entering Genoa, the oldest town in Nevada. When it was founded, Genoa was still part of teh Utah Territory. Copyright Cornelia Kaufmann

Driving into historic Genoa feels like stepping back in time, especially when you started your journey in such popular tourist places as Reno (about 70km north) or Zephyr Cove / Stateline on the shore of Lake Tahoe (32km west across the Carson Range). The Mormon Station burnt down a long time ago, but the town kept its country charm with rustic wooden store fronts, Victorian architecture including a courthouse, and Nevada’s oldest “thirst parlour.”

The Genoa Bar & Saloon was established in 1855 and has counted  Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt and Johnny Cash among its patrons.

Today, this is an idyllic Old West village with its frontier charm, but back before cars and highways this really was the frontier. When you stand at the old Mormon station grounds and look westward, you’ll see the Carson Range – the eastern fringe of the imposing Sierra Nevada.

But it’s not trading that Genoa was famous for. Oh no. For two brief years, 1860 to late 1861, Genoa was a relay station of the legendary Pony Express and the last station westbound before the riders entered the Sierra Nevada. So it’s easy to imagine that you follow the route of this famous courier service while you drive along Nevada State Route 206.

However, Genoa is also famous for another bit of historic mail delivery. For twenty years, John “Snowshoe” Thompson, a Norwegian-born pioneer, delivered the mail between Placerville, California and Genoa, even in the snow and never got paid for this service. Following the Lincoln Highway and Eldorado Freeway, that’s a 125km one-way journey  today. Thompson managed this in 2 to 3 days on foot, or rather, on “snowshoes”. They were something he knew from Norway. Today he is considered the Father of Californian cross-country skiing!

A statue of him stands near the Mormon Station in Genoa today.

And it’s pronounced “juh-NO-uh”, by the way. Just like Nevada is pronounced “Ne-Va-Duh” and not “Ne-Vah-Dah.”

(And for the record: “It’s Levi-O-sa, not Levio-sA.”)


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