There is a lot to say about Summit Valley: the history of the dam and lake; the ice harvesting; early settlements; the first transcontinental railroad, highway, and telephone line; the many species of birds, plants, and animals, etc. It's a Sierra jewel.*
Here we talk about the emigrants and Summit Valley. The Sierra was the hardest part of the transcontinental crossing for the emigrants and getting up one of the three Donner Passes was very difficult. So we can imagine the emigrants' feelings as they crested the top of a pass and looked down on Summit Valley. There was water, there was grass, and even better there were fewer miles to their new lives. It was all downhill now to California!
For many though, it was snowing and cold. Winter was near and they'd just made it.
Wm. Todd said it well in 1845, “You can form no idea, nor can I give you any description of the evils which best us. From the time we left the [Donner] lake ….until we reached the top it was one continued jumping from one rocky cliff to another. We would have to roll over this big rock, then over that; then there was bridging a branch; then we had to lift our wagons by main force up to the top of a ledge of rocks…Three days…found ourselves six miles form the lake…you never saw a set of fellows more happy than when we reached the summit."
Edwin Bryant described arriving in Summit Valley after coming over Donner Pass in 1846, “Descending the rocky ravine a few miles, we emerged from it and entered a beautiful level valley, some four or five miles in length from east to west, and about two miles in breadth. A narrow, sluggish stream runs through this valley, the waters of which are of considerable depth, and the banks steep and miry. A luxuriant growth of grasses, of excellent quality, covered the entire valley with the richest verdure. Flowers were in bloom; and although late in August, the vegetation presented all the tenderness and freshness of May. This valley has been named by emigrants “Uber Valley;” and the stream which runs through it, … sometimes pronounced Juba…” Bryant saw the wildflower because he beat emigrants with wagons, having traded his wagons for mules at Ft. Bridger. (See What I Saw In California)
The route of the emigrants through the valley was along the south or left edge of the meadow. In those trees there is a beautiful original section of the original Emigrant Trail (to find that spot, look at our Introduction to Summit Valley brochure on our "Brochures" page or pick up a brochure at the DSHS). The emigrants then went to the saddle under the arrow point above and headed out through was is now Serene Lakes.
*to find out more about Summit Valley, go elsewhere on our website. You will find exhibits having to do with Summit Valley, articles in the Heirloom (look in the indices), and 20 Mile Museum signs.