Where the Heck is the Truckee Meadows?

Every time I tell people I’m from the Truckee Meadows Branch of ASCE, I always get a funny look and the response, “Where is that?”  So today I’ve decided to give you a short history lesson to explain where the Truckee Meadows are and why we have embraced that name for our Branch of ASCE.

Truckee River Watershed
Map of the Truckee River watershed (Image Source: USGS)

Truckee is a town in Northern California just outside of Lake Tahoe.  The Truckee River runs from Lake Tahoe through Reno and terminates in Pyramid Lake.  The original residents of the Truckee area were Native Americans from the Washoe, Maidu, and Paiute tribes.  This location was a major thoroughfare for explorers in the 1800s trying to make their way to California.  Truckee is about 8 miles from the Donner Pass where the infamous Donner Party got stuck in the winter of 1846 and were forced to eat each other to stay alive (I’ve come to find out that only kids in California and Nevada have to learn this tragic story in their 5th grade history classes).

The name Truckee has an interesting history.  According to the Truckee-Donner Historical Society, explorers in the 1800s came into contact with the Paiute chief who acted as their guide to the area.  The chief continually used the Paiute word meaning “all right” which sounded like “tro-kay.”  Everyone thought the chief was telling them his name, which ultimately translated into the name “Chief Truckee.”  The chief liked the name and kept it.  For the remainder of his life, he helped many explorers traverse the Sierra Nevada Mountains, including John C. Freemont.  One emigrant group was so appreciative of the chief’s help that they named the Truckee River after him.  Eventually, the original settlement of Coburn Station was renamed Truckee in 1868.

The Truckee Meadows is the valley that spans the cities of Reno and Sparks along the Truckee River.  The Truckee Meadows Trail was utilized by travelers in the late 1800s and was a significant landmark after crossing large expanses of desert.  Today, the Truckee River is still a significant attraction to the towns of Reno and Sparks and a beautiful feature of the area.  It is a recreational center of the Truckee Meadows and serves as a wonderful backdrop to the trendy Riverwalk District.

Truckee River
The Truckee River in downtown Reno (Photo Credit: Darron Bergenheier)

I belong to the Truckee Meadows Branch of ASCE, which geographically encompasses all of Northern Nevada except the State Capital of Carson City (the Capital Branch services that small area).  I’m not sure specifically why we were named the “Truckee Meadows Branch,” so I’ll go ahead and draw my own conclusions.  The Truckee Meadows is a historic and scenic location of Northern Nevada that translates to beauty, recreation, and vitality.  Let’s be honest…the name “Reno” doesn’t necessarily convey that same feeling, does it?  I think the name “Truckee Meadows Branch” was aptly selected to incorporate our heritage and culture to our vision of ASCE and Civil Engineering as a profession.


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