China Wall in the Sierras

Stanford Sierra Camp sits on the shores of Fallen Leaf Lake

In late July, project co-director Gordon H. Chang presented two talks on the Chinese railroad workers to Stanford alumni and friends at the Stanford Sierra Camp on Fallen Leaf Lake, near Lake Tahoe. Two hundred audience members attended the talks, which focused on the work the Chinese completed in the Sierras. Many in the audience had seen the rail line in the area above Donner Lake and near Truckee, but didn’t know its history.

Chang spoke about tunneling and constructing “China Walls,” the massive retaining walls that hold up parts of the rail line. The director of the camp noted that he had heard that several of the stone walls around the camp had also been built by Chinese. History was right there!


A plaque commemorates the building of the “China Wall” in the Sierra Nevada, a “railroad retaining wall…constructed of Sierra granite.” These structures helped the Central Pacific Railway (and later the Southern Pacific Railway) cross the mountains. (Source: UCSB)


An example of a retaining wall is visible in the background behind the plaque. (Photo by Wayne Hsieh)