Sunday, June 19, 2011

From Curtz Lake down to the River: Carson River Trail

The Carson River Trail is a hiking trail in the Indian Creek Recreation Lands between the East and West Fork of the Carson River in California. This trail starts north of Curtz Lake, leading downhill for about two miles to the East Fork Carson River. The final third of the trail follows a rocky creek bed, which opens as you approach the Carson River. There you'll find a marker (see above) indicating that John C. Fremont and Kit Carson came through here in 1843-1844. The right picture shows the East Fork Carson River with a view south towards the mountains of the Mokelumne Wilderness.

Getting there
Follow the directions to the Curtz Lake Environmental Study Area and continue on Airport Road to the northeast corner of the lake until you see two signs to your right: both signs are on the same post, one saying Youth Conservation Corps Project and the other saying Carson River Trail - 2. I assume the number 2 means a one-way length of two miles. 2 hours down and back wouldn't be too far off, but I recommend to add more time and stay at the scenic river bank for some time.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Curtz Lake Environmental Study Area: Vegetative Trail, Soils Geology Trail and Aquatic Trail

The Curtz Lake Environmental Study Area on the east side of the Sierra Nevada near Markleeville in California features three interpretative trails: Vegetative Trail, Soils Geology Trail and Aquatic Trail. Along these trails you'll find interpretative signs describing plants, geological features and ecological points of interests. The Bureau of Land Management has placed a wooden board next to Airport Road across Curtz Lake, describing area use and history:

This study area was developed by the Youth Conservation Corps and the Bureau of Land Management during the summer of 1972. The trails will be used extensively for outdoor education programs by schools in the region and are open to the public for self-guided tours.

The map on this board (right picture) is sketching out the configuration of the three trails: the black line is Airport Road, southwest of which is the Vegetative Trail loop. After hiking (and studying!) about three quarters of the loop, you'll get to the Soils Geology Trail connection. After crossing Airport Rd. the trail takes you to interesting rock formations to your left (seen in the back of above's picture), while Curtz Lake can be seen through the trees. Depending on the season, aquatic trail takes you through the wet or dry land along the shore of Curtz Lake, where, for example, an interpretative sign informs about the pacific tree frog, an amphibian observable in the study area. 

Getting to Curtz Lake in the Indian Creek Recreation Area
The Curtz Lake Environmental Study Area is about an hour drive away from South Lake Tahoe. From Reno/Sparks via Carson City and Minden, it takes about twice as long to get there. On Highway 88 in Woodfords, turn south towards Markleeville. Just before getting to the entrance of Turtle Rock County Park, turn left at the sign for Airport Rd.  Follow this road for a few miles until you see Curtz Lake to your left and the wooden board of the study area to your right, where you'll also find a small parking area and the trailhead of the Vegetative Trail.  

Related Link
Curtz Lake Environmental Study Area:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hunter Creek Trail as part of the Rim-to-Reno Trail System under construction

Construction of the Hunter Creek Trailhead has been finished for some time. At the beginning of the trail, new signs now inform that the trail is under construction (5/23/11 to 6/30/11) to improve and expand the diverse recreational opportunities in the Reno/Tahoe area. The current construction project of the Rim-to-Reno Trail System is made possible by the service of AmeriCorps volunteers, the US Forest Service and the local community.

The Hunter Creek Waterfall hike takes two to four hours. I cannot wait to continue beyond the waterfall further up-canyon into the Mount Rose Wilderness, once further trail work and trail interconnections have been progressed.

Due to the current snowmelt, the stepping stones at the first crossing of the stream are flooded and this narrow, slippery  “bridge” is the preferred crossing. Other hiking options are available as well: walking down the canyon (turn right, U-turn-style, before arriving at the stepping stones) on a narrow path, you'll reach the Steamboat Ditch Trail after two to five minutes. From there, an easy hike (going west-northwest and always following the ditch) will take you to the two-holes-in-the-wall.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A collared lizard in the Spanish Springs Canyon, Nevada

Collared lizards are recognized by their distinct bands around the neck and shoulders. This one was seen in the Spanish Spring Canyon on the hills across the Pah Rah Range, south of the Golden Eagle Regional Park and Pah Rah Interpretive Trailhead. I am not a lizard wizard, but I think, it is either a western collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) or a black-collared lizard (Crotaphytus insularis) [1,2]. Both species are known to live in rocky desert habitat, where they can find boulders for lookouts and shelter.

The shown lizard enjoys the sunshine and the warmth on the rock surface—laying and watching. One can see his or her (how is the lizard's sex determined?) muscular hindlegs, which are much longer than his forelegs. Collared lizards are able to run considerable distances bipedally on their hindlegs [3]. What a nice jogging companion he or she could be! 

[1] Nathan M. Smith and Wilmer W. Tanner: A Taxonomic Study of the Western Collared Lizards, Crotaphytus collaris and Crotaphytus insularis. Brigham Young University Science Bulletin, Biological Series - Volume XIX, Number 4, April 1974 [].
[2] Peter Alden and Fred Heath: Field Guide to California. National Audubon Society, Chanticleer Press, 1998; page 255.
[3] Eric R. Pianka and Lauie J. Vitt: Lizards - Windows to the Evolution of Diversity. University of California Press, Berkeley, 2003; page 22.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wooly mule ears flowering on volcanic soils around Mt Peavine

The wooly mule ear (also spelled woolly mule ear) is a plant in the sunflower family (Asteraceae) that loves sunshine and volcanic soil, for example, the south-facing slopes of Mt. Peavine northwest of Reno. The flowers in the picture are growing next to the Halo Trail. They have large flower heads and soft-hairy, broad, erect leaves [1]. At this time of the year, they feel soft and smooth, but in fall, when dried up after a hot summer season (we have to wait and watch if that happens this year), they will have turned from silver-green to yellowish brown, will feel rough and crisp and make a rustling—often spooky—noise in the wind.

Sometimes, mule ears cover entire meadows or slopes. When you see such a field, you will—as Tim Hauserman noticed [2]—smell their strong odor.  Mule ears are also named wooly mule's ears, mountain mule ears and, scientifically, Wyethia mollis [3,4]. The reference to the mule, whose ears lend the plant its name, is always present. Mules are obviously inspiring animals. The mule deer is also named after the size and shape of the long ears of this enduring donkey-horse hybrid. And there is good chance that, on your next outdoors adventure in the Reno-Tahoe-Sierra Nevada area, you will see some of their namesakes (the American Mule Museum is going to be founded in Bishop, California: or a mule deer herd stepping over mule ears.

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 72.
[2] Tim Hauserman: The Tahoe Rim Trail. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, Fifth printing March 2004.
[3] USDA Plants Profile: Wyethia mollis A. Gray, woolly mule-ears [].
[4] Calflora: e: Wyethia mollis A. Gray, [].