VERDI, Nev. (News 4 & Fox 11) — Interstate 80 has been closed over Donner Pass at least three times in the month of January. Many drivers searching through an alternate route through the Sierra are ending up stranded in the snow on Dog Valley Road near Verdi.
"If weather conditions are bad enough and a major thoroughfare like I-80 is closed, what do you think conditions are going to be like on a single-track dirt road that winds its way through the mountains? They're not going to be safe."
Washoe County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Bob Harmon said Search and Rescue volunteers have been up the dirt road at least six times since January 1 and rescued at least 20 people.
The latest rescue efforts came on Tuesday. Crews responded to Dog Valley Road not once, but twice, on reports of cars getting stuck in the snow.
"When Interstate 80 is closed, Google Maps wants to take them this way," Search and Rescue volunteer Jack Wayman said, "and even with signs that are posted saying 'don't go this way,' 'don't trust your GPS,' they're still doing it."
Many drivers- some of them behind the wheel of big rigs- are using navigation systems to search for alternate routes through the Sierra. This comes as more people are putting their trust in technology when they travel.
"There are probably multiple GPS systems that are showing there's a road up here;" but Bob Harmon said it seems more often than not, Google Maps are leading drivers astray.
The Washoe County Sheriff's Office spokesperson said, "we're attempting to contact Google- you know, Google maps that shows this is an alternative route- to see if they can do something to indicate road closed."
In the meantime, Search and Rescue crews will continue to rescue people on Dog Valley Road, but they're worried it's only a matter of time until someone gets stranded for too long. Harmon said, "they are genuinely concerned that at some point, we may have a situation where this treacherous road turns tragic and we're trying to do all that we can to avoid that."
Search and Rescue officials advise staying in your car until help arrives if you get stranded while driving in winter weather. They said they will not tow your vehicle out if you become stuck on Dog Valley Road. Many drivers have had to wait for snow to melt and then call a tow truck to retrieve their car from the dirt road.