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Tahoe Nugget #144

Donner Graffiti at Risk?
August 2, 2008

In early July a doctor from the Bay Area hired me to lead his family and their friends on a guided tour of the Donner Summit railroad tunnel system. After the merger of Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads in the mid-1990s, a portion of the line was abandoned and the tracks and ties removed.

It's safe to walk there now and the area is one of my favorite places to explore in the Tahoe-Truckee area. Constructed by Chinese laborers for Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860s, it's part of the country's first transcontinental railroad.

The summit area is rich in history and this hike offers a first hand look at the evolution of transportation over Donner Pass, from gold rush-era stagecoach roads and 19th century railroad construction using picks and black powder, to the modern superhighway, Interstate 80, that cuts right through the Sierra.

In addition to all of the historical features in the area, I also really enjoy the "graffiti" murals that adorn the concrete walls of the tunnel system that once protected the track from winter avalanches. Today the walls serve as an expansive canvas for talented artists who spray up some stunning color murals. (Please see Tahoe Nugget #118 for my thoughts regarding graffiti and private property as well as more photos of the tunnel art.)

On July 31, 2008, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law legislation that requires those convicted of vandalism to remove the graffiti and keep the tagged surfaces clean for one year. The measure was sponsored by Las Angeles, which has seen a significant increase in graffiti in the last three years, from 25 million square feet of painted surface in 2005 to 31.7 million square feet this year.

To give you an idea of how bad the situation is in L.A., in 2007 the city received reports of graffiti at 653,520 locations, 40,000 more than the year before. The new law makes it mandatory, instead of discretionary, for a court to order a defendant who is convicted of graffiti vandalism to clean up or repair the property when feasible.

I do support the measure and I hope that it becomes an effective tool for controlling the explosion of gang-related graffiti that blights our urban landscapes. However, I hope law enforcement continues to look the other way when it comes to the spray painted murals hidden deep in the darkness of the Donner Summit railroad tunnels.

Photo #1: Bring a flashlight if you intend to walk all the way through the tunnels. 
Photo #2: Black hipster with evil twin of "Speed Racer" in background.
Photo #3: Self-portrait?
Photo #4: Cover art for Grateful Dead album?
Photo #5: "You want some of this?"
Photo #6: Tool of choice.
Photo #7: My graffiti collages make for an "edgy" wall decoration that stimulates conversation.

Nugget #144 A RR Tunnel entrance

Nugget #144 B Black hipster

Nugget #144 C Bad Jer Grafitti

Nugget #144 D Devil grin

Nugget #144  E Black Man Hand

Nugget #144 F Graffiti spray can

Nugget #144 G Grafitti Collage 1


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