Checking out the Carson & Colorado RR Tunnel

Boundary Peak Nevada View from the C&C railroad bed on Montgomery Pass.
(Click picture for a larger image.)

One of the great advantages four wheeling has over regular road trips is the ability to go places and see things that you can’t normally. Ghost towns, discontinued mines, remote campsites, mountain streams and meadows—among other scenic areas—are within our reach.

As part of my ongoing scouting, I’m always looking for new trails and destinations. Many of my excursions occur over several days, but I also seek shorter routes. One day, I crossed over the bed of the Carson and Colorado railroad. There was a marker and a brief history of the now ghost railroad. I became really fascinated by railroad history in general and C & C line in particular. I wanted to know how much of the railroad bed existed, old stations still stood, and how accessible they are today.

During various trips last year I travelled almost the entire length in Nevada and California. The old route offers an interesting lesson in railroad history because of its importance in the development and growth in the southwest.

This year I decided to organize a trip to one section I could not previously find: the tunnel cut through Montgomery Pass.

History of the Carson & Colorado railroad

The C & C began operation in August 1883. Interestingly it was owned by the Virginia and Truckee RR (V&T) – a short line serving the Comstock mining district in the Carson City and Virginia City NV area. To save money, it was designed as a narrow gauge (3 ft. wide) railroad. Covering about 300 miles, the railroad ran from Mound House, Nev. to Keeler, Calif. Its primary function was to haul the vast minerals, mainly gold and silver, from the mines in Nevada. It also served the Ranchers and farmers hauling agriculture products to markets in the east.

The rail line climbed to more than 7,100 feet as it worked its way through Montgomery Pass. It is there that engineers cut the only tunnel to maintain about a 2% grade needed for the route. (It is that tunnel that is the focus of a recent expedition.)

The name C&C came from the original plan to build the railroad from the Carson River to the Colorado River.

Southern Pacific purchased the C & C railroad in 1900, and in 1905 converted 140 miles of track in Nevada to standard gauge. Most of that track was abandoned in the 1930s and ’40s. The final run on the narrow gauge track occurred on April 29, 1960.

steam locomotives, narrow gauge railroad First train through the Montgomery Pass tunnel
(Courtesy of Eastern California Museum)

Route to the C & C railroad tunnel

Thanks to Roger Mitchell’s guide book Great Basin SUV Trails Vol. II, I mapped out a route from Bishop, Calif., to the tunnel. [Note: you can reach the start of the trail head from Tonopah, NV as well.] It proved to be just as interesting as I imagined. It’s a relatively short drive (as four wheeling goes), and the trail is in good shape.

The drive from Bishop to the trail head took about an hour. We drove US6 for about 50 miles to a point near [N37 58.338 W118 19.785] where the old railroad bed crosses the highway almost at the top of Montgomery Pass.

Although the trail is in pretty good shape, you definitely need a 4WD vehicle. Driving was smooth overall, though you need to use compression braking while changing grade in the mountain passes.

four wheel drive cars, four wheel off road Deep cut through the mountains.
(Click picture for a larger image.)

I was continually amazed at the condition of the trail, especially over old washes. Engineers many years ago filled in and leveled those sections. The fill, 10-15 deep in places, was just as solid and stable as the day it was built. It’s a testament to their engineering and construction ability.
history of the railroad, railroad history Well-constructed fill.
(Click picture for a larger image.)

The north end of the tunnel is about 2.2 miles in. We were there in 45 minutes. There were some truly awesome views of the White Mountains and Sierra Nevada Mountains on the way in. The tunnel can no longer be safely entered. By traversing down a steep bypass, we dropped to the lower RR bed as it winds out of the south entrance on the mountain contours. A very short drive put us at the south entrance. We chose not turn retrace out path but follow the south bound RR bed until in came out again on the highway.

Total distance to and from the highway was about 4.5 miles. We averaged around 3 mph, so the railroad part of the trip took about 90 minutes. But that includes stops for picture taking and walking around. After returning to the highway, we headed back to Bishop.
steam locomotives, narrow gauge railroad North Entrance to the C&C tunnel
(Click picture for a larger image.)
steam locomotives, narrow gauge railroad South Entrance to the C&C tunnel
(Click picture for a larger image.)

The entire drive was approximately 150 miles, and took about [4.5 hours]. Most vehicles can make that with a tank of gas. Prepare as you would for any other drive in the remote areas. On your return to Bishop, stop at the C&C Railroad Museum in Laws, CA. (Laws was a major station on the California section just east of Bishop.)

Driving the old railroad beds adds an interesting dimension to four wheeling. These old beds tie together so many historical places and events. The C & C tunnel near (Bishop/Montgomery Pass) offers a unique and fascinating look at railroad history in the southwest. I suggest you consider it the next time you’re looking for a day excursion when you are near Bishop, Calif., or Tonopah, Nev.

# # # #

Lower Desert
Mojave Desert
(Click picture for a larger image.)

Related Articles from Badlands Off-road Adventures

Did you miss the previous article?

Some Upcoming Events

(click on the link for details)

Garfield Flats, NV
(Click picture for a larger image.)

Here is a quick summary of upcoming events.
  1. May 31 Tire Repair & Hi-Lift Mini Clinic - Hawthorne

  2. June 07 Getting Started Off-Road - LA area:
  3. June 08 Day 2 Getting Started Clinic- Mojave:
  4. June 09 Basic to Advanced Winching & Recovery Clinic
  5. June 14 Starting Rock Crawling - Lucerne Valley:

  6. July 12 Getting Started Off-Road - LA area:
  7. July 13 Basic to Advanced Winching & Recovery Clinic
  8. July 19 Starting Rock Crawling - Lucerne Valley:
  9. July 26 Wine Safari Adventure


Wine Safari July 26

We have a big event coming up in July - The Wine Safari! We let our Wine Master have the last two summers off but it is time for her to go back to work. The Wine Safari is still a few months away but you need to start planning and put it on the calendar.

Wine Safari

Don't miss the Wine Safari. Click here for all details.
Our Wine Master will have a whole new bunch of bottles and some old favorites to taste. Make it a get-away weekend. Camp with us or stay in a local motel.

Register now.


Rubicon Trail Adventure August 11- 14, 2014

The Rubicon Trail
Since we are talking about big events and planning, you should consider, signing up for one of the Rock Crawling clinics. They are good practice and will help you shake down your rig for the Rubicon trip. There is one in June and one in July.

I would like to know if you are planning or thinking about going on the Rubicon.

Here are more details on the Rubicon trip

And here are the two rock classes.
  1. June 14 Starting Rock Crawling - Lucerne Valley:

  2. July 19 Starting Rock Crawling - Lucerne Valley:

Winch Recovery Bandana & Winching DVD

Winching Recover Bandana
Click for higher resolution image
We have our new stock with many new colors (Red, Orange, Green, and Blue) on hand. The Bandana is packed full of useful information and is a quick reference in the field when no DVD player is available."

The Bandana layout follows the “Vehicle Recovery Plan” with pathways to more detail. A unique section of the Bandana, gives the steps for a “Winch Rigging Check: Walk through” so that you verify every element of the rigging before you commit to the pull. Stuff this in your recovery kit and you will always be ready!

Pick up or order the Winching DVD too! There is no substitute for hands on training. If you can, sign up for one of Badlands Off-Road Adventure’s Winching Clinics.

Warning – the Bandana and DVD are not a substitute for proper training and use of quality equipment that is used within the bounds of their safe working load. We advise you to use the information provided in both the Winching Recovery Bandana and the "Basic to Advanced Winching and Recovery DVD" at your own risk. We cannot control the quality and specifications of the equipment used and the methods actually employed.

Winch Recovery Bandana Order Button

Order a Basic to Advanced Winching & Recovery DVD too!

Winch DVD
(Click picture for more details)

I hope to see you on the trails!
Tom Severin, President
Badlands Off Road Adventures, Inc.
4-Wheel Drive School
Make it Fun. Keep it Safe.
If you find this information valuable, please pass it on to a friend. You can forward them the email. If you received a forwarded copy of this newsletter and would like to subscribe for yourself, go to: www.4x4training.com/contacts.html and follow the instructions to join our mail list.
Want To Use This Article In Your Magazine, E-Zine, Club Newsletter Or Web Site? You are welcome to use it anytime, just be sure to include the following author/copyright information: Tom Severin, 4x4 Coach, teaches 4WD owners how to confidently and safely use their vehicles to the fullest extent in difficult terrain and adverse driving conditions. Visit www.4x4training.com to develop or improve your driving skill.

Copyright 2014, Badlands Off-Road Adventures, Inc.

Back | Phone 310-374-8047