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Donner Memorial State Park Visitor's Center Finally Open

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To get to Lake Tahoe from the Bay Area, one has to drive on the 80-E through the relatively small town of Truckee. It is the site of one of the most-publicized tragedies of American pioneer history, the Donner Party disaster.

Back in 1846, a group of settlers from Illinois and parts beyond -- numbering 87 total travelers -- left for California. However, due to an ill-advised "shortcut" through the Sierra Nevada mountains, an early November blizzard left them stranded near Truckee (now Donner) Lake. A rescue party did not get to the group until the middle of February of the following year. At the end of the ordeal, only 48 members of the party were alive, many of them having resorted to cannibalism to survive.

The story of the Donner Party, alongside the more general story of the hardships of westward migration, is the subject of the Donner Memorial State Park. And now, a new renovation of the park's visitor center -- 20 years after the original proposal and costing $9.6 million -- is officially open to the public:

The center's theme is Crossing Barriers Changes Lives. Exhibits include displays on the Donner Party, regional Native American history, construction of the transcontinental railroad through the Sierra by Chinese workers, and development of roadways over Donner Pass.

The park is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and there are camping facilities on the premises as well. For more information, and to reserve a campground, visit the official website.

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