Thursday, October 28, 2010

Off the trail, through the air … ouch!

Truckee in California is getting ready for Halloween. Wizards and witches keep flying in. But flying into Truckee can be tricky. This witch took an unexpected path and got stuck. By looking at her boots, you can tell that hiking wasn't her thing. At least, she found a nice look-out spot—but, my guess is, her glasses are broken, if nothing else.

Where else does one want to get stuck, if not in Truckee?

Getting there, finding her
Go to the intersection of Donner Pass Rd and Bridge St in central Truckee. Look around for the party (actually a line) of white ghosts. That's where the pole dance on a broomstick is happening. You might discover other curiosities as well.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

At the edge of the Truckee River canyon along the Sawtooth Trail

The Sawtooth Trail is located in the Tahoe National Forest south of Truckee in California. I am not sure if the trail is named after the many U-curves along its path or after some of the tooth-shaped rocks at the edge of the Truckee River canyon. Anyway, there are nice views from the canyon edge of the trail. Other sections of the trail loop through Jeffrey pine and white fir forest and manzanita areas. Mountain bikers love the curvy nature of the trail.

Getting to the trailheads
From the intersection of Donner Pass Road and Bridge Street in downtown Truckee, drive south on Bridge, cross the railroad track and continue until the road bends eastward and continues as Brockway Road. Turn right at Palisades Drive, which continues as Ponderosa Drive by making a slight left turn. Pass Pine Cove Road to your right and then take Silverfir Drive. Go west for less than half a mile and turn left at Thelin Drive. After 0.1 mile take 06 Fire Road on the right, pass the steel gate and drive to the beginning of the dirt road, where you'll see the first parking area and trailhead. There are other Sawtooth Trail access points further south, which you can reach by car if you follow the dirt road. The trail itself is a well-marked single-track trail.

Maps and trail review
[1] Map with Truckee dirt trails:
[2] Sawtooth trail:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thornburg Canyon Trail southwest of Markleeville, California

The Thornburg Canyon Trail connects Markleeville with the Pacific Crest Trail and the Upper and Lower Blue Lake area in the Mokelumne Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada. For an out-and-back day trip, the trail section between the trailhead east of Markleeville (see below) and a scenic saddle about five miles to the west is a good selection. This hike has been classified as moderate [1]. But you may find yourself as the only lonely hiker or group for the day on this not so frequently visited trail. It is easy to get lost, since the trail is nowhere marked and rows of fallen trees can make it difficult to keep track.

Along the trail, you'll find magnificent views down into Pleasant Valley and up towards rock pinnacles and walls with caves. From the saddle, you'll see the characteristic volcanic-plug column of Jeff Davis Peak. With the exception of the saddle area, most sections of the trail go through pine and hemlock forest and a small part cuts through manzanita-covered slopes.

Getting to the Thornburg Canyon trailhead from Markleeville
Drive west on Hot Springs Road and, after about one mile, turn left to follow Pleasant Valley Road to Sawmill Road. Drive to the end of Sawmill Road, take the dirt road FS 071 and follow Spratt Creek. The unpaved road crosses the Creek a few times. Depending on the clearance of your vehicle and the time of the year, you may chose to find a parking spot and continue by walking or to drive all the way to the closed steel gate and the Thornburg Canyon Trail board, where the trail begins for non-motorized traffic and where you'll find a booklet to sign in for a visitor permit.

[1] “Thornburg Canyon” on pages 290 and 291 in Mike White's hiking guide Afoot & Afield • Reno-Tahoe • A comprehensive hiking guide. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, 2nd printing November 2008.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Trails of climate change: bristlecone pine trees

Bristlecone pines can live for thousands of years. Some Great Basin bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) are around for over 4,000 years [1]; the record holder is about 4,840 years old [2]. By hiking in areas with stands of bristlecone pines, one easily gets the Methuselah impression by simply looking at the trees, such as the ancient pine shown and photographed a few years ago in the Patriarch Grove of the White Mountains northeast of Owens Valley in California.

Pinus longaeva is found in high-mountains regions from eastern California through south and southeast Nevada to Utah (map on page 3 in [1]). Getting that old, these pines have experienced climate changes long before humans took notes. But the trees keep record—indirectly, at least. The wider an annual growth ring, the faster the growth in that year. Dendrochronologists can thus relate speed of tree growth with time and dates. Further, a significant correlation between tree-ring width and mean air temperature has been found for pines at the tree line [2]. Interestingly, pines at the tree line in California and Nevada developed wider rings during the second half of the 20th century than during any other fifty-year period of the past 3,700 years. Since only pines at the tree line show this pattern, it is difficult to disentangle various factors such as temperature (milder climate), humidity (wetter weather), and carbon dioxide content of the air, which may all contribute to the reported faster growth of the otherwise slow-growing trees. Overall, bristlecone trees seem to benefit from global warming effects and may outlive humans. But the trees are good survivors without global or local warming as well!

Keywords: botany, forests, tree line, longevity, survivability, Pinaceae

References and further reading
[1] Ronald M. Lanner:
The Bristlecone BookA Natural History of the World's Oldest Trees. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana, 2007.
[2] S.R.:
Fine Times for Pines. Natural History October 2010, 119 (1), page 12.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Go gulling and check out your gullability

A gull is a gull—but what kind? About fifty gull species (Larus spp.) are recognized worldwide and around twenty species visit or live in places in California such as the San Francisco Bay Area [1]. The current Bay Nature issue features an instructively illustrated table of nine seagull species [2], providing an excellent source for comparing gull species as adults as well as in their first, second and third year. During the first years the plumage typically changes from brown to the gray or white color that gull feathers show in maturity. Successful gulling depends on the description of shape, color and patterns of the bills. Differences are nicely illustrated in the “gull-ability table.”

The Western gull and the California gull nest in the Bay area, where they are seen year-round [1]. Others are seasonal residents such as Heermann's gull (Larus heermanni), which mostly stays in S. F. Bay habitats during summer and fall months. This bird species is named after physician and naturalist Adolphus Lewis Heermann (1827-1865) [3], who also is remembered in the name Dipodomys heermanni for the Morro Bay kangaroo rat. Names of other gull species indicate size (Bonaparte's gull), bill features (ring-billed gull) and diet (Herring gull). Some species interbreed, challenging our gullability even further.

Keywords: ornithology, avian species, migratory birds, birding

References and further gulling
[1] Joe Eaton:
A Squabble of GullsGrudging Respect for Hardy Survivors. Bay Nature October-December 2010, pp. 30-35.
[2] John Muir Laws:
Test Your Gull Ability. Bay Nature October-December 2010, page 36.
[3] Bo Beolens, Michael Watkins and Michael Grayson: The Eponym Dictionary of Mammals. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2009; page 183.

Friday, October 1, 2010

September brush fire leaving Huffacker hillsides blackened

In the middle of September in 2010 a brush fire swept through parts of the Huffacker Hills in Reno, Nevada. These hills are in close neighborhood to residential and business districts of southeast Reno, just south of the Rattlesnake Mountain, and provide popular spots (benches and picnic tables) and short trails for a lunch-time break. During spring time wildflowers such as the Beckwith Violet are abundant.

During and after the fire the trailhead parking lot at Alexander Lake Road was closed for the public and reserved for fire fighting crews. No causes have been reported and the trailhead area and all trails are open again. The currently blackened hillsides will temporarily be covered by snow during the coming winter month. Thereafter, lack or appearance of next spring's wildflowers should indicate, if the fire has caused long-term damage or some soil regeneration effect.