Led by his late 19th-century Appleton's guidebook, Michael Portillo sets off on a 1,000-mile American adventure to discover how the railroad conquered the wild landscapes of the West and transformed Californiainto America's wealthiest region, one which has
revolutionised the world.
Beginning in the Silver State of Nevada, Michael takes to the skies over the dramatic Sierra Nevada mountain range. At Lake Tahoe, he hears of the first white explorer, dubbed 'The Pathfinder', who learnt the lay of the foreboding land and paved the way for the first settlers to arrive. Travelling on the historic Virginia and Truckee heritage line, Michael heads for the vast deposits of silver and gold ore that built Virginia City, once dubbed the richest place on earth. At Chollar Mine he explores the short-lived mining boom and meets a pistol packin' preacher when he swings by the Silver Queen saloon.
Crossing the border into the Golden State of California, he ascends the 7,000ft granite cliffs to the Donner Pass where ambitious plans to plough a rail route through the rugged terrain were made a reality by Chinese labourers, at huge human cost. In the spirit of Western horsemanship, Michael ends this leg in Colfax and gets in the saddle for a spot of cowboy dressage.