Saturday, May 6, 2017

Galena Creek Nature Trail

Large granodiorite boulder fractured by frost wedging
My favorite season to walk the Galena Creek Nature Trail (GCNT)—southwest of Reno, Nevada—is spring, when the snow cover is receding and white water is rushing down Galena Creek. Consider the nature loop for a warm-up hike to get ready for the Jones White Loop Trail or an out-and-back trip to Church's Pond—or grab a Trail Guide brochure at the Galena Creek Visitor Center and simply explore the evergreens and trailside attractions along the nature path. Discover split rocks and trees with forked trunks and entertain in speculations on how bifurcation happens in nature.

The trail loops off and back to Bitterbrush Trail through forest of Jeffrey pines and various brushes. Along the trail you will find 18 sites with a marker referencing the interpretation section in the brochure. Let's have a look at some of the sites.

At the nature trail/Bitterbrush Trail junction next to the Galena Creek bridge you will see tobacco brush. This evergreen is common on open-forest slopes of the Carson Range; found, for example, alongside Kings Canyon Upper Waterfall LoopSnowbrush, its other name, highlights its inflorescences of long clusters with white flowers during bloom.

Ascending the nature trail alongside Galena Creek, which cascades downhill through the Mt. Rose wilderness from Tamarack Peak, you will soon get to the sites comparing Jeffrey pine and white fir. The brochure explains that Jeffrey pines are the dominant pine tree species in the park, distinguished by 8 to 10 inch long needles in bundles of three and 5 to 10 inch cones with in-turned prickles. Notice all the pine cones laying on the forest floor.

Jeffrey pine cone
Fallen-off cone of Jeffrey pine with in-turned prickles
The fir cones remain on the tree for a much longer time: after maturing, their scales are shed, leaving a central axis. Many seeds never germinate, but end up in the stomach of a squirrel.
Forked trunk of white fir

The right-side photo depicts trunk forking observed with several Galena Creek firs. According to the brochure “this is a rather odd coincidence. They usually grow tall and straight. Several other trees near the creek also have forked trunks. One possible explanation is that debris from past floods took the tops off these trees. When the top of a tree is cut off, growth occurs from remaining branches which fork into two or more trunks.”

From trees to brushes: continuing your round walk along the upper section of the nature trail, you will learn about sagebrush, Sierra willows, curl-leaf mountain mahagony, greenleaf manzanita and bitterbrush.

Bark and leaves of curl-leaf mountain mahogany
Bark and leaves of curl-leaf mountain mahogany shrub developing curled-up fruit tails in fall
Cinnamon-red bark of greenleaf manzanita branches
Descending back toward Bitterbrush Trail, you will pass the frost-wedged boulder shown in the top picture. This boulder is described in the brochure as a large granodiorite rock that “is fractured in several straight planes. If you squeezed the pieces together, they would fit very closely. This was probably caused by minute quantities of moisture getting into cracks in the rock and freezing. As the water turned to ice it expanded and exerted pressure on the inside of the rock great neough to cause it to split. This process is known as frost wedging. If you wonder where the trail went, just continue walking through the rock.”   

Walk through, don't get stuck and have fun with split-boulder squeezing!

GCNT map
Map with 0.7-mile-long Galena Creek Nature Trail (GCNT)


Getting to Bitterbrush Trail and the adjoining Nature Loop

Get to the South Entrance of the Galena Creek Recreation Area. Find the entrance about three quarters of a mile south (uphill on NV-431) from the North Entrance. The South Entrance is near the junction of Douglas Fir Drive with Mt. Rose Highway  (NV-431). For details and facilities, consult the zoomed-in map above or the Galena Creek Recreation Area map. To pick up a Galena Creek Nature Trail brochure, you want to first stop at the Galena Creek Visitor Center near the North Entrance. Galena Creek Park phone number provided on brochure: (775) 849-2511.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Kings Canyon Falls: Upper Waterfall Loop

Upper Waterfall Loop trail
Upper Waterfall in North Kings Canyon

The Kings Canyon Waterfalls are a series of falls cascading down North Kings Canyon west of  Carson City, Nevada. The most scenic sites: the lower waterfall accessible via the 0.3-mile-long, hikers-only Waterfall Trail off Kings Canyon Road and the upper waterfall (shown above), which is the main attraction of the 4.4-mile-long Upper Waterfall Loop—a trail open to hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

From the trailhead at the end of paved Kings Canyon Road go uphill on the dirt road. Enjoy the view of the land of the former Borda Ranch to your left. Manage those rough wash-outs along the dirt-and-gravel path caused by all the water rushing down the road and across it during rain storms of the wet 2016/2017 winter season. After climbing for a little less than one and a half mile, you will arrive at the south end of the Ash To Kings Trail. For the next 1.8 miles, this single-track trail coincidences with the Upper Waterfall Loop. Leave the dirt road behind and travel the less demandingly ascending single track.  

A notice at the trail junction indicates that this is black bear and mountain lion habitat. A small herd of deer was crossing the trail further up when I came to a forested area. A mountain lion may have watched the deer. Most sections of the trail traverses sagebrush slopes featuring widely scattered pine trees, open enough to view spreading Carson City, the Virginia Range and the blue surface of Washoe Lake, which we missed last year.
Kings Canyon Road snaking eastward into downtown Carson City
View of Kings Canyon Road snaking eastward into downtown Carson City
Mingling with sagebrush and bitterbrush scrub is tobacco brush, also know as snowbrush.

Curled snowbrush leaves
Curled leaves of tobacco brush (snowbrush)
On the April day I hiked the loop the snowbrush evergreens were still weeks away from showing their fragrant white-flower inflorescences that often give the appearance of snow blankets. Instead, real snow fields were still shining on the ridges and upper slopes of the Carson Range. And patches of snow covered the forest trail near the upper waterfall. However, a few manzanitas, associating with the snowbrushes, were flowering: their clusters of hanging, rose-pink urns were moving back and forth in the cold wind.

Upper Waterfall Loop trail
Carson Range slope with switchbacks of the Upper Waterfall Loop trail
Above the upper waterfall, a wooden bridge crosses North Kings Canyon Creek. Soon, the trail reaches the junction, from where Ash Canyon is accessible via a 5.4-mile-long section of the Ash To Kings Trail, while the Upper Waterfall Loop starts descending on a steep dirt road with loose gravel. After 0.8 downhill miles, the trail meets the North Kings Loop. It takes another half mile to complete the loop hike. 

Accessing the Upper Waterfall Loop
Get to the waterfall trailhead at the end of the paved section of Kings Canyon Road, as described at the bottom of my previous “Kings Canyon Falls: Waterfall Trail and North Kings Loop” post.
The trail map below gives a nice overview of the waterfall trails and the locations of the lower and upper fall.

Kings Canyon Falls trail map
Map with trails to the waterfalls of North Kings Canyon Creek

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Kings Canyon Falls: Waterfall Trail and North Kings Loop

Lower Kings Canyon Waterfall
The Kings Canyon Falls trail system west of Carson City consists of loop trails and connector trails. The 0.3-mile-long Waterfall Trail connects the waterfall trailhead with a scenic fall of North Kings Canyon Creek. To see other falls and creek-sides, hike the 1.8-mile-long North Kings Loop or the 4.4-mile-long Upper Waterfall Loop. The latter loop trail has a junctions with the Ash-to-Kings-Trail.

The Kings Canyon area has seen a couple of devastating wildfires in the past. One happened on July 5, 1976. The Fallen Firefighter Memorial at the trailhead commemorates three firefighters that lost their lives during this fire, which was started by a careless camper who failed to fully extinguish his camp fire. The firefighters belonged to a crew of five. They died when their helicopter crashed approximately two miles west of the memorial site.

Across the memorial board you will find the Carson City Parks, Recreation and Open Space board with a map showing North Kings Canyon Creek and the surrounding trails. It reminds us that “clean drinking water begins here: The waterfall is an important source of drinking water for Carson City.”

The short Waterfall Trail is a single-track, hikers-only trail that switchbacks uphill to the lower Kings Canyon waterfall; the most easily accessible waterfall of the Kings Canyon Falls. On your way to this fall you will have passed the trail junction from where the North Kings Loop winds further uphill and into the canyon above the lower waterfall.

North Kings Loop: trail with view of Carson City and Virginia Range

Most sections of the loop trail lead over slopes with views of Carson City and the Virginia Range. Where the trail crosses the creek, you will encounter shrubs and cattails.

Cattails at North Kings Loop creek crossing

After a quarter mile from the creek crossing, the trail meets the Upper Waterfall Loop and continues 0.5 miles downhill on a dirt road, back to the trailhead.

Getting to the waterfall trailhead
From the Nevada State Capitol Building in downtown Carson City, take West King Street and go west. West King Street continues as Kings Canyon Road. Stay on the latter until it changes from paved to unpaved. Find a parking spot and walk up a few steps to the kiosk and firefighter memorial.  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

West-Levee hiking alongside the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area between Sacramento and Davis

Flooded Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area (March 2, 2017)
The Yolo Bypass is a flood control channel. The winter 2016/2017 saw many news-making floods in California and the Sacramento Valley got its share. Having recently driven over the Yolo Causeway between Sacramento and Davis, you will have noticed water on its south side—as far as the eye can see. Only a few trees are reaching out of the water for the sky.

Yolo Bypass west levee with inland sea
A great way to get close to this temporary lake is by hiking south on the West Levee. To your right you will see wet agricultural land. To your left the shallow water body continues far south, while the skyline of Sacramento is floating in the east. The snow-covered Sierra Nevada stretches along the horizon.

There are various signs alongside the levee indicating that the water level has recently been much higher. You may think of a straight, level levee walk as a boring outdoor experience. It is not. A levee hike is more than just an escape from urban life. There is plenty of wildlife to be seen. The Yolo Bypass coincidences with the Pacific Flyway. Migratory waterfowl and shorebirds can be observed. The water-surrounded trees and bushes are full of them. Egrets keep changing sides between the inland sea and the canals of the farmland. One egret was hanging out in the middle of the levee trail, like he wanted to say this is my world.

River otter torpedoing through Yolo Bypass mudwater
Obviously, river otters enjoy the shallow flood-ocean. I saw two otters playing on a tiny grass island. And a curious one visited me at the bottom of the levee; diving, then popping up again and looking at me. Its swimming resembled a circus performance, including torpedo-like forward moves, cutting through the surface of the water with breathing sounds, suddenly stirring the muddy water in swirls, disappearing underwater, then starting all over again. Not asking for rewards, but happy to be in a restored habitat.

After hiking for about an hour, the levee bends west and one arrives at a lonely, flood-protected house on the right side of the levee curve. Two palm trees are marking the place. A surprise discovery: a stone-carved sailing ship is ornamenting the lower section of the levee-side house wall.

Ornamental sailing-ship relief at the levee-curve house

Getting to the West-Levee access point
The West-Levee access point is located south of I-80, at the west end of the Yolo Causeway about halfway between Sacramento and Davis. 
Coming from Sacramento, take the I-80 exit “County Road 32A East Chiles Road.” Turn right at the stop sign and head south under the freeway. The underpass may be closed due to flooding (as it was for several days in February/March 2017). Find parking near (but not in front of) the levee gate.
Coming from Davis, take the I-80 exit “East Chiles Road” (next to the Fruit Stand) and turn left to get to the short, right-side levee incline and the levee gate. 

References and resources
[1] Mamma Quail:  No More Bypassing the Bypass: Hiking at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area [].
[2] Yolo Basin Foundation: About the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area [].
[3] California Department of Fish and Wildlife: Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area [].
[4] Overview map of the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area:

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Out of the canyon: Upper Evans Trail

Upper Evans Trail
Upper Evans Trail with views of Evans Canyon and the snow-covered Carson Range in the background

At the lower Upper Evans Trailhead
Upper Evans Trail is your way out of Evans Canyon north of Reno, where Evans Canyon Trail and Miners Trail close the canyon trail loop—at Trail Marker 6. This junction is located about one mile north of the Basque Sheepherder Monument. The lower Upper Evans Trailhead can also be accessed from the Vista Rafael Parkway.

A couple of switchbacks lead uphill between pine trees toward a hilltop of altered volcanic rock. Enjoy views of Evans Canyon, the Red Hills and the north end of the Carson Range. Alongside the brown-red outcrops, the single-track trail eventually broadens and continues in southwest direction.

Altered volcanic rock next to Upper Evans Trail
Soon, you will arrive at Trail Marker 17, a Y-junction with an option to take Reno Vista Trail and then “N” Trail to descend back into Evans Canyon. Otherwise, continue on Upper Evans Trail by taking the right fork. This single-track trail leads to UNR DH Trail, Keystone Canyon Trail and to the Hoge Road Trailhead.

I am not sure if there is a designated upper Upper Evans Trailhead. Each non-loop trail should have a second trailhead (or trail-end). But Upper Evans Trail loses itself by intersecting and merging with various other trails and dirt roads. Consider Upper Evans Trail as a warm-up trail, if your plan is to manage further distances and longer loops within the network of  Peavine Trails—the growing trail network west of Keystone Canyon.

With regard to mountain biking, Trailfork characterizes Upper Evans Trail as “fun semi-technical singletrack.” Its difficulty rating is “Blue” with a “Black Diamond” climb difficulty. The January and February 2017 snow and rain storms added some extra challenges such as trail cracking caused by runoff water.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Evans Canyon's Miners Trail

Miners Trail follows the west side of Evans Creek, roughly paralleling Evans Canyon Trail. Both trails provide access to other running, hiking and mountain-biking trails of the Peavine landscape between north Reno and Stead in northern Nevada.

Miners Trail between Reno Mizpah Trail junction and “Miners Junction”
At Reno Mizpah Trail junction
Miners Trail and Evans Canyon Trail share the same trailhead at their south end near the Basque Sheepherder Monument next to the Reno Sports Complex and the disc golf field. From the trail intersection at the north tip of the grove through which the Nature Trail loops, Evans Canyon Trail follows the bank of Evans Creek, while Miners Trail (and “N” Trail) ascend westbound—indicated by Trail Marker 10. Climbing a short section, Miners Trails continues as a level, multi-track trail. Pass by its junctions with Snake Run and Reno Mizpah Trail, which both lead downhill to Evans Canyon Trail. Shortly, Miners Trail switches back towards the canyon as a single-track trail and follows a line just above Evans Creek.
Evans Creek with Miners Junction”
Soon, you will arrive at the H-junction at Trail Marker 7. At this so-called “Miners Junction,” Miners Trail and Evans Canyon Trail meet, connected by a path across Evans Creek, which is dry most times of the year. But during snow melting or after plenty of rain the north-south flowing Evans Creek can result in getting your shoes wet while crossing. Return on Evans Canyon Trail, if you simply want to do the Evans Canyon Loop, as shown in the map of my Evans Canyon post. Otherwise, continue north along Miners Trail until you get to an open hill-side stand of pine trees. Here, you will find the older Miners Trail post surrounded by pine-tree twigs, as shown in the top picture.

Hill-side pine trees near the north end of Miners Trail
Ready for a larger loop: Find Trail Marker 6 directing you to Upper Evans Trail leading uphill to Reno Vista Trail and UNR DH Trail. They all traverse sage-covered landscape with open views, making it easy to spot a trail that takes you downhill and back to your starting point.   

Friday, February 17, 2017

Evans Creek and Evans Canyon Trail

Evans Canyon north of the Basque Sheepherder Monument at Rancho San Rafael, Reno, Nevada

Rancho San Rafael Regional Park extends up into the Peavine area, featuring a multi-use trail network north of Reno, Nevada. The north-south stretching Evans Canyon separates the neighborhoods west of North Virginia Street from the Peavine open-space hills, including the one with UNR's letter “N” on its southeast-facing slope.

Evans Canyon Trail is a popular running, hiking and mountain biking trail. Its south end can be accessed from the free parking area at the Reno Sports Complex—northwest of the N. McCarran Blvd./N. Virginia St. intersection. Follow the short trail that traverses the disc golf field and leads to the Basque Sheepherder Monument. Continue downhill to the creek and grove with a Nature Trail. There, a small panel introduces Evans Creek:

Evans Creek probably began to form about three million years ago by erosion of a small stream as Peavine Mountain uplifted along with the Sierra Nevada.

Most of the erosion in the canyon probably occurred during the Ice Ages, when precipitation was greater than at present. Periodic floods caused most of the erosion in the canyon and deposited the gravels in the streambed. 

Although Evens Creek is now covered with heavy vegetation, a future flood could wash away the streambed and the plants. New vegetation would repopulate the streambed, continuing a cycle millions of years old.

The trail downhill from the Basque Sheepherder Monument can get flooded.

Erosion is going on. The winter of  2016/2017 brought more precipitation than recent winters. The temporary streambed seen in the picture above functions as a dry trail most times of the year.

Evans Canyon Trail follows Evens Creek on its left bank for about half a mile. Then, the trail crosses the creek and continues to the H-junction—a cross-creek connection with the Miners Trail. This would be your point of creek crossing, if your plan is to do the Evans Creek Miners Loop bringing you back to the grove. Otherwise, you want to continue on the right side of the creek. Evans Canyon Trail ends where concrete stairs lead up to the Vista Rafael Parkway. But you do not need to return the way you came. Take the U-turn trail below the parkway to get to the Miners Trail and the Upper Evans Trail. The Miner's Trail takes you back to the Evans Creek Miners Loop—the Evans Canyon Loop shown in the map below. It is the nature of a trail network that you can enjoy multiple loop options.

The “You Are Here” point in the map is the trail intersection just north of the grove with the Nature Trail. The trail access information on the board posted at the intersection gives the following trail lengths:
  • Nature Trail: 1.1 mi
  • Evans Creek Trail: 0.7 mi
  • Evans Canyon Loop: 1.5 mi
You will find the names “Evans Creek” and “Evans Canyon”  being variously mixed into “Loop” and “Trail” phrases, depending on trail markers, maps and web sites you read. If in doubt which way to take, orientate yourself by the creek and you won't get trapped in the canyon.

Keywords: Reno, Washoe County, northern Nevada, recreation, outdoors, trail network.

Nearby trails and points of interest: