Local Spotlight: Johnson Canyon—The Story of Albert JohnsonJohnson Canyon, a popular outdoor recreational hub, is easily accessed via the Donner Lake exit off Interstate 80.
The Wendin Way Trail runs through Johnson Canyon and connects with the Donner Lake Rim Trail (DLRT). Welcoming and versatile, it allows for the enjoyment of hikers, runners, and mountain bikers; providing a scenic and up-sloping path, challenging through 500 feet of gradual elevation gain.
The Truckee Donner Land Trust acquired the land in 2006 and is now seeking to formally change the original name of the Canyon from Negro Canyon to Johnson Canyon (it is identified on maps as the latter).
The Canyon was named after a historical figure who lived in the region for over forty years through the second half of the nineteenth century. He was an African American named Albert Johnson and was a beloved local who cherished his life in Truckee, which provided him with an abundance of "God’s richest blessings—health, freedom, contentment, an abundance of fresh fish and wild fowl...."
Johnson moved to Truckee from Kentucky via Panama and San Francisco at which point he established himself by working in various hotels and as a cook on a Lake Tahoe steam boat. According to the Truckee Donner Historical Society, he became "...well known for his fishing abilities and was a trusted guide and also as an amenable host at the Donner Hotel and Saloon."
It was on Donner Lake that he led fishing parties where he was able to utilize his fishing prowess, demonstrating to guests proper angling technique and a keen sense of where to find Donner's population of trout.
Johnson loved living and working in, not to mention preserving the nature that surrounded him, including its wildlife. An 1890 article in the Morning Union described Johnson helping out some Quail that were ill-equipped to complete the journey across Donner Lake. The article states:
“Quail are coming over the mountains in considerable numbers. In attempting to fly across Donner Lake many fall in and are drowned. Albert Johnson saw a whole covey fall in last Sunday. He succeeded in rescuing quite a number.”
During a particularly harsh winter in 1911, Johnson—93 years young at this point—was stranded for nearly a week on the West end of Donner without food or wood. According to the Truckee Republican, a group of men forged their way to Johnson's cabin (then a landmark) at the end of the lake to rescue "Old Albert" and bring him into town.
Later that year it reported: "Donner Lake Famous Figure Passing Away at County Hospital in Nevada City." The Sacramento Union also reported on his passing: "Negro Boniface is dead at 94: Albert Johnson, found destitute in mountain hotel, dies in county hospital."
Next time you're looking for a great outdoor experience, hike the Wendin Trail up through Johnson Canyon. It is a picturesque, peaceful, and exhilarating path that never fails to reward those who frequent it. You will likely see deer and several bird species, and there are several Donner Lake vistas.
If you go, you will notice a special energy there...and upon leaving, you will be thankful you went; your sense of health, freedom, and contentment all recharged.