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Tahoe Nugget #118:

Sierra Graffiti Ain't Bad
August 2, 2007

Provocative title, I know, but before you jump to the conclusion that I've traded my mountain mentality for a hoodie and can of spray paint, take a look at some of the graffiti on display in the closed Union Pacific Railroad tunnels on Donner Pass. Some people may argue that graffiti is another form of public art, but let's face it, when it's done on private property without permission, it's vandalism and a crime.

Yesterday I rode my mountain bike for several miles through the concrete snowsheds and railroad tunnels. Since some sections are pitch black, I wore a headlamp to light the way. The last train roared through this stretch in 1993 and then Union Pacific removed the rails and ties. At one access point (where people sometimes enter in their cars), the right-of-way is posted No Trespassing. But since the line runs through rugged, open country, there are plenty of ways to access the tunnel system where there are no warning signs. I'll describe the dramatic construction and history of this section of the first transcontinental railroad in a future Nugget, but this missive focuses on the impressive graffiti that adorns the bottom six feet of the concrete walls of the sheds and tunnels.

I don't approve of "street artists" practicing their "art" on public or private property, but as I rode my bicycle through the railroad tunnels there were many places where my headlamp lit up striking and colorful images. Kind of like the paleolithic paintings in the Lascaux Cave in France, but with a grungy, post-modern flair. I am sharing only a few of the many examples that were on display. In one way, the negative connotation of the graffiti in the tunnels pales in comparison to the huge physical and environmental impact that occurred during the construction of the railroad where unbelievable amounts of native rock was blown to bits. Obviously, the unnaturalness of the railroad structures will long outlast the ephemeral paint lining the interior walls.

Photo #1: The graffiti at this tunnel entrance looks like a train of colorful images heading into the darkness.
Photo #2: This interesting piece was about 6 X 4 feet in dimension
Photo #3: Great use of color and an alpine theme too!
Photo #4: This scene depicts two graffiti artists as opponents armed with their spray cans. The figure on the right represents "Badjer" who does some of the most interesting work.
Photo #5: This one caught my eye. Not only is the visual action right on the money, it makes me think there are some women artists roaming those tunnels. Don't know why that should surprise me.
Photo #6: Chipmunk and graffiti in harmony








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