The 40 mile desert was the most feared stretch of travel for the pioneers in covered wagons traveling the California Emigrant Trail, more so even than the Sierra. This waterless "Dry Drive" extended from the end of the Humbolt river at the Humbolt Sink to the sparkling waters of the Truckee River East of present day Reno. Wagon trains typically took 2-3 days to cross, carrying water, grass for their oxen, and pulling their wagons across the shrubby desert and the blindingly white salt flats. Many parties were forced to abandon their animals, wagons, and even members of their parties as they succumbed to the harshness of the high desert. Mark Twain remarked that "we could have walked the forty miles and set our feet on a bone at every step". 170 years later, there are still remnants of abandoned wagons and grave markers strewn across the flats.
Additional information can be found here https://www.californiatrailcenter.org/40-mile-desert/
For purposes of the FKT, the route follows the Truckee Trail markers T-1 through T-13 set by the Emigrant Trails West historical society (https://emigranttrailswest.org/). Starting at marker T-1 and finishing when you touch the waters of the Truckee River near marker T-13, you are free to devise your own route between markers, following the myriad dirt roads or traveling cross country, with a few caveats. First is that the route must stay south of Highway 80 and cross the Fernley sink (salt flat) between markers T-9 and T-10. Second is that there is no linear travel on paved roads, except between markers T-7 and T-8, and near marker T-10 where private property makes this restriction impracticable. To honor the historical nature of the route, this is intended to be done unsupported on a warm day, carrying all water and other supplies from start to finish. Start must be in the morning, no earlier than sunrise. Bringing a couple yoke of oxen is allowed if desired.
Map of markers can be found here: https://caltopo.com/m/B8MK
-Submitted by Sean Ranney
Thanks for doing all the recon and creating this route, Sean! It was a fun one to plan.
Sean, thanks for putting up this route - I don't know that I would have ever though of doing this stretch otherwise. I hiked the route in almost exactly 12 hours over Thanksgiving weekend, so I guess I'll have to come back in the heat some time ;-). My only significant deviation from the posted route was jumping over to the north side of I-80 about 5 miles before T-10 because of water in the flat.
I enjoyed experiencing all of the different surfaces that I walked across during the day, the salt flats being the most foreign to me. I spent most of the time contemplating the historical significance of the trail, and trying to see the sights through the eyes of someone whose life depended on the reaching the Truckee river.