Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Yellow primroses in Hidden Valley Regional Park, Nevada

Beautiful yellow primroses were flowering this May at the base of the slopes—just above the washes—in Hidden Valley Regional Park, east of Reno in Nevada.The flowers come in clusters, each flower with four petals. The stamens are yellowish white and somewhat shorter than the pistil, which is often quite long with a bulbous stigma (knob) at the tip (see the flowers at the upper left side of the cluster in the picture). Some basal leaves with red spots can be seen in the backgound, close to the sandy and dry soil. 

In Laird Blackwell's Wildflower Guide [1], I found a picture and description of the yellow club-fruited evening-primrose (Camissonia claviformis) of the evening-primrose family (Onagraceae), which closely matches the Hidden Valley flowers. But other sources are associating names such as browneyes or brown-eyed evening-primrose with the species Camissonia claviformis. Further, they include plants with white flowers [2,3]. Despite differences in common names and flower color, the bulb-tipped, female reproductive organe is always there and sometimes becomes the main focus [4].  

The yellow-flower-clustered primrose, shown above, is not the only evening-primrose growing in the Hidden Valley: hiking a few steps upslope, the tufted evening-primrose (Oenothera caespitosa) with large pinkish white flowers can be found: in May, Hidden Valley is primrose paradise!

References and more 
[1] Laird R. Blackwell: Tahoe WildflowersA Month-by-Month Guide to Wildflowers in the Tahoe Basin and Surrounding Areas. A Falcon Guide, Morris Book Publishing, LLC, 2007; page 35.
[2] CalPhotos: calphotos.berkeley.edu/cgi/img_query?query_src=photos_index&where-taxon=Camissonia+claviformis.
[3] CalFlora: Camissonia claviformis (Torrey & Fremont) Raven [www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/species_query.cgi?where-calrecnum=1410].
[4] Camissonia claviformis (Brown-eyed Primrose) [www.stanford.edu/~rawlings/kengif/camissonia.html].

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Milkvetch with cotton ball seedpods on dry slopes east of Reno

Milkvetch species are native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Hundreds of species have been found and classified between Alaska and northern Mexico, most of them in the western parts of this subcontinent [1]. Milkvetch (Astragalus) species belong to the pea family (Fabaceae).
Pursh's milkvetch (Astragalus purshii) is one example [2,3]. It likes dry flats and slopes and can be found, for example, at low, mid and high elevation below timberline in Great Basin habitats. The shown plants grow on slopes in the Hidden Valley Regional Park, Nevada. This species has pink-purple flowers. Stems and leaves are densely coated with white hairs. The seedpods look like small cotton balls—the reason for the common name woollypod milkvetch.

References and more
[1] USDA Plants Profile: Astragalus L., milkvetch [plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ASTRA].
[2] USDA Plants Profile: Astragalus purshii Douglas ex Hook., woollypod milkvetch [plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ASPU9].
[3] Laird R. Blackwell: Tahoe WildflowersA Month-by-Month Guide to Wildflowers in the Tahoe Basin and Surrounding Areas. A Falcon Guide, Morris Book Publishing, LLC, 2007 ; page 32.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hiking trails east of Reno: Hidden Valley Regional Park and above

Hidden Valley Regional Park is located east of Reno, south of Sparks, in Nevada. The open valley area of the park features short trails and loops such as the Mia Vista Trail, the Inner Loop and the South Park Loop, providing access to the playground at the end of Mia Vista Drive. The Highland Loop accesses the lower slopes of the Virginia Range with views of the Truckee Meadows and beyond. This loop also is your gateway, if you want to climb to the volcanic outcrops on the mountainside and further up to the ridge and the county line between Washoe and Storey County.

As Mike White writes [1], a bounty of unimproved trails wind up there. For example, the narrow path seen in the picture, crosses steep and crumbly slopes over an area of hydrothermally altered volcanic rocks. Such patches of bleached white, yellow to pale brown and red-stained  rocks and soil are characteristic for the Virginia Range and are also found along Geiger Grade. These alterations derived during geological activity in the past, when  hydrothermal solutions chemically attacked exposed minerals [2]. In spite of the arid and very acidic soil with pH values below 5.6 at some locations, juniper and pine trees cover many parts of the slopes and ridges. During spring plants such as apricot mallow, tufted evening-primrose and eyelashweed can be found here. 

Getting there
From the eastern section of McCarran Blvd. in Reno take Pembroke Drive, which is the eastward-heading continuation of Rock Blvd. Pass the Rosewood Golf Course (on your right), Steamboat Creek, Piping Rock Drive and then turn right into Parkway Drive. Continue all the way to the end and enter the park. There are various parking areas inside the park, providing convenient access to picnic tables, recreation grounds, equestrian facilities as well as hiking and biking trails. A board with a trail map is located at the southeast side above the horseman's area and below the water tanks.

References and further reading
[1] “Hidden Valley County Park” on pages 340 and 341 in Mike White's hiking guide Afoot & Afield • Reno-Tahoe • A comprehensive hiking guide. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, 2nd printing November 2008.
[2] J. V. Tingley, K. A. Pizarro, C. Ross, B. W. Putkey and L. J. Garside: Geologic and Natural History Tours in the Reno Area. Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, University of Nevada, Reno, 2005; pages 31 and 44. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Once enjoyable and used for gold panning: Joy Lake south of Reno

For a few years the Joy Lake neighborhood was the site of an authentic western ghost town, planned as a family attraction. Today, Joy Lake is a fishing lake south of Galena and the gated neighborhood of St. James's Village. The road named after this small lake, Joy Lake Road, ends for public traffic at the gate.  Before reaching the gate, however, you will pass the Brown's Creek Trailhead. From there, the Brown's Creek Trail provides access to the scenic forest and creek areas to the west of the lake. At a vista point a few steps off the main trail, where the pine forest opens to the manzanita and sagebrush slopes of Brown's Creek, you'll find views of Washoe Valley and the Virginia Range. Right there is an information panel, that gives details on Joy Lake (which you can't see) and the surprising story of the short-lived western town called Sundown Town:

Local Reno businessman George Carrell and partner Bob Talmadge, son of the famous comedian Buster Keaton, purchased 130 acres in 1960 and created Sundown Town. The park had 11 buildings including a jail, livery, saloon for kids, and a bar for adults.

One of the famous attractions was a Brahma Bull named Lightning, who was ridden with a saddle and taught to do tricks. The park had horse and burro rides as well as stagecoach and wagon rides. Joy Lake was used for water activities and as a place for visitors to experience gold panning.

Sundown Town closed in 1963, just three years after opening, but it provided a memorable western boomtown experience.

Try to listen, in your imagination, to the sounds of laughter, galloping horses, and echoing “YEEHAWS!” 

Keywords: outdours, recreation, tourism, history of Nevada, boom and bust, entertainment park, Buster Keaton

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Brown's Creek Trail

Brown's Creek Trail (south of Reno, Washoe County, Nevada) consists of a 2.3-mile-long loop trail, leading up and down on both sides of Brown's Creek. The loophead is reached after a 1.2 mile uphill-hike from the trailhead at Joy Lake Road. This adds up to a total trail length of a little less than five miles. In addition to hiking, allowed use of the trail includes mountain biking, equestrian and snowshoeing.  

Brown's Creek belongs to the family of parallel creeks such as Galena, Jones, Whites and Thomas Creek that run down—west-to-east—from the Mt. Rose Wilderness into the lower-elevation Galena/Reno area. 

The trail passes through pine forest with an understory of manzanita, sagebrush and bitterbrush as well as squaw carpet on the ground. My favorite stretch of trail passes through the riparian creek habitat, where aspen groups and dry-slope flora meet each other. Various species of birds and butterflies visit plants next to the running creek in spring. Patches of low-growing, white- and pink-flowered phlox can be found at many locations during this time of the year through summer.

Getting to the Brown's Creek Trailhead

Coming from Reno on State Route 431 (Mount Rose Highway), after passing the right-turn to the Galena Creek Visitor Center, turn left on Joy Lake Road. Follow this road through Galena neighborhoods, drive carefully over all the speed bumps and pass the bridge over the Lower Galena Creek Trail. After about 1.5 miles south from State Route 431, the trailhead is clearly marked by a welcome-sign. Parking is to your left and the trail is found across the street, starting out in southwest direction before it turns south toward the loophead and a vista point, which feature a bench and an interpretative panel informing about a short-lived ghost town attraction at nearby Joy Lake.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tracing and trailing the Galenas

The Latin word galena has its root in the Greek word galene for lead ore. In English, galena refers to lead sulfide (PbS), a bluish-gray to lead-gray mineral with brilliant metallic luster [1,2]. Galena is also known as blue lead or lead glance—and for some people Galena is just home. There is a Galena region in Western Australia, Galena Bay in British Columbia, Canada, and in the United States there are Galena-named towns, suburbs and places [3].

Nevada, for example, has two Galenas: one near Battle Mountain and one south of Reno (look out for the white letter G on a slope of the Steamboat Hills). The city of Reno also has a Galena High School. I am not sure, if every Galena town traces its name back to the lead sulfide mineral, but Galena near Reno does, although not in a glorious way: lead sulfide is part of the massive sulfide bodies and other by-products of gold- and silver-bearing quartz, diminishing its value by marginalizing the content of the precious metals and challenging their successful extraction. The mining operation at Galena was non-paying, as a State Historical Marker across the Lower Galena Creek Trailhead next to the Callahan Park explains:
Galena...was developed in 1860 as a mining property by R.S. and Andrew Hatch. The Hatch Brothers' quartz mill and smelter were among the earliest erected on this side of the Sierras [east of California]. The gold float from the local mines contained a heavy admixture of lead sulphide. “Galena,” which caused the mining operations to be non-paying. But the mills continued to operate...

Highlighting was done by the posting author. Notice the spelling sulphide, sometimes used instead of sulfide. The marker further informs that Galena developed into an important lumbering center and that the town boasted stores, lodging houses, a justice court, a school, saloons and homes, but was abandoned after two disasterous fires in 1865 and 1867. Today, Galena boasts castle-style homes, a golf course landscape and the bridge-rich Galena Creek Trail.

Keywords: etymology, geography, mineralogy, history, metal sulfides

References and more
[1] Galena [www.mindat.org/min-1641.html]
[2] Dictionary of Geology & Mineralogy. Second Edition McGrawHill, New York, 2003.
[3] Galena Historical Society: History Highlights, Galena Facts [www.galenahistorymuseum.org/galenafacts.htm].

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lower Galena Creek Trail: a trail of many bridges

The Lower Galena Creek Trail follows Galena Creek (who would have thought) along Callahan Park and through parts of the Montreƻx Golf & Country Club and small sections of riparian habitat. For this relatively short trail, the number of bridges is surprising: some you underpass and others you use to cross the snowmelt runoff, currently still wild and rapid. The bridges are good looking and well designed, blending in with the surrounding grandeur.

The trail leads to Joy Lake Road bridge, which you may underpass, depending on the water level (otherwise cross the elevated road). The trail continues further upcreek and ends after about half a mile at the left side of the creek. No more bridges and no connection to the upper Galena Creek and the Galena Creek Regional Park (not yet, are announced plans making any progress?), which is just a few steps away.  

Getting to the trailhead at Callahan Park
From State Route 431 (Mount Rose Highway) south of Reno, about half-way between U.S 395 and the Galena Creek Visitor Center, go south on Callahan Ranch Road. Pass Chatelaine Circle and Brookmeadow Lane on your right and find the trailhead parking on the right side just at the northeast corner of Callahan Park. There is a post at the beginning of the trail, telling you that the 1.7 mi (2.7 km) long trail (one way) between Callahan Rd. and Joy Lake Rd. is open for hikers, bikers and  equestrians (lead horses across the bridges!). The elevation gain is 615 ft (187 m) with a typical grade of 7.2 %.

References and more
[1] “Lower Galena Creek Trail” on pages 344 and 345 in Mike White's hiking guide Afoot & Afield • Reno-Tahoe • A comprehensive hiking guide. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, 2nd printing November 2008.
[2] Map: http://www.nvtrailmaps.com/pdfs/maps/lower_galena_creek_trail.pdf

Friday, May 6, 2011

Freestyle rolling on the Truckee River in downtown Reno

The Eighth Annual Reno River Festival  is just kicking off at the Truckee River Whitewater Park in downtown Reno, Nevada. Cold, white and fast is the water and high are the spirits of the kayakers performing in this year's competitions such as freestyle kayaking. You can watch maneuvering kayakers flip and roll at the river swells next to the open-air stage.

The water of the Truckee River in Reno has been flowing over 2,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) over the last days. Usually it is much less, but with still lots of snow in the Sierra and the recent sunny weather with higher temperatures, we can expect a continuation of high water levels and above normal cfs values.

Schedules and more
Reno River Festival (May 6 - 8, 2011) and schedule of events: www.rgj.com/section/events11or reno.metromix.com/events/fair_festival/reno-river-festival-central-downtown/2560047/content
RGJ Sports New - Fast & Furious: www.rgj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011105060326.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A mule deer herd west of Reno

After plenty of snow- and rainfall in northwest Nevada during early spring this year, the sagebrush and grass lands show their fresh greens. At lower elevation, the last snow patches are melting away, providing rich forage supply for mule deer.  The herd above was seen in the hills between Reno and Verdi, about two miles south of the Hole in the Wall.

The mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) is named after its large ears, resembling those of mules. They need to hear well to get alarmed in time when a mountain lion is near by. The pictured deer have a white muzzle contrasting with their dark nose. The tail is white, but black at the tip. Bucks develop antlers in summer, consisting of two upward-angled beams that fork twice into total of four points per beam [1].

Mule deer is indigeneous to western North America from Alaska and Western Canada through the Rocky Mountains and Western Plains States to Northwestern Mexico and Baja California [2].Various subspecies exist.While some migrate, others stay close to their home range. A deer herd migration corridor passes through the land west of Reno, connecting the Carson Range and Peavine area. After a Verdi/Boomtown fire in 2006, which burned 6,000 acres, it was feared that big-number deer herds would belong to the past [3].

The question is what a big number is and how many smaller, separated herds account for a big herd? This spring, obviously, smaller herds are frequenting the corridor. And it doesn't seem like they are much in a hurry.

Keywords: hoofed mammals, even-toed ungulates (Artiodactyla), wildlife, migrating animals

References and more
[1] Peter Alden and Fred Heath: Field Guide to California. Chanticleer Press, Inc and Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, Seventh Printing 2007; page 368.
[2] Odocoileus hemionus [www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/42393/0].
[3] Is the Nevada Deer Herd Doomed? [www.theoutdoorsforum.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=6078].

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Two Holes in the Wall between Reno and Verdi, Nevada

The Hole in the Wall is a popular destination for hikers and bikers between Reno and Verdi, just south of Mogul in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The forest begins about a mile away, higher up the hills and mountains slopes. The area around the hole features crumbly ground and sagebrush. This is not a mysterious sinkhole, but a man-made structure. There are two holes: one at the Reno-facing and one at the California-facing side. Afoot, they are about 20 minutes apart; meaning a walk over the steep hillside and downhill on the western slope, but certainly not through the tunnel, which has a lot of water coming through at times.

This tunnel is an underground section of the Steamboat Ditch, which carries water from the Truckee river for irrigation. Next to the ditch is a trail, on which you can hike to and from the hole; for example via Tom Cooke Trail, starting across the Truckee river at the Patagonia Outlet [1]. There are various shortcuts, when turning right, just a few steps after the beginning of Tom Cooke Trail. Bikers typically (and hikers and cross-country skiers often, too) start from near the intersection of  Plateau Road and Woodchuck Circle, where the Steamboat Ditch is undercrossing Woodchuck.

Back to the Reno-side hole: if you climb the dirt road to get above the hole you'll find a nice and easy trail on the left, going south, with views of the leveled, winding ditch. After less than a mile, this trail crosses another dirt road and continues as a small path along a creek towards the forest.

In case, you are getting interested in the ditch and its history, Marion Vermazen has researched details [2]. Marion also saw the second hole of the tunnel. Simply by looking through, she saw the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel.”       

References and more
[1] “Tom Cooke Trail to Hole in the Wall” on pages 233 and 234 in Mike White's hiking guide Afoot & Afield • Reno-Tahoe • A comprehensive hiking guide. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, 2nd printing November 2008.
[2] Marion Vermazen: Steamboat Ditch and the Tom Cooke Trail to Hole in the Wall, April 3, 2009 [marionvermazen.blogs.com/marions_blog/2009/04/steamboat-ditch.html].