Monday, November 14, 2011

Spanish Springs Trailhead has been dedicated

One, two, three ... the Spanish Springs Trailhead has been dedicated in the presence of a small crowd on a sunny Saturday morning. This trailhead will provide future access to trails through open space along the west side of Spanish Springs Valley in Washoe County, Nevada. Currently,  there are existing dirt roads and crisscrossing tracks. Trails still have to be designed and built. The site offers great views across the valley to Sugarloaf Peak and to the Pah Rah and Virginia Range further southeast. Spanish Springs Trailhead may eventually be a gateway for hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders to an area much larger than the currently targeted 330 acres, which are part of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. These acres are surrounded by further BLM land and the Reno Sparks Indian Colony to the north. Hopefully, trail connections to Lemmon Valley and the envisioned Sun Valley Rim Trail will become true.

Getting there
From Sparks drive north on Highway 445 (Pyramid Highway), pass Lazy 5 Regional Park and turn left on Eagle Canyon Driven. After about two miles turn right on West Calle de la Plata (direction for Spanish Springs Airport) and then turn left on Fuggles Drive. Carefully drive through the neighborhood, turn left on Kinglet Drive, drive uphill to the end of the road and housing development and find parking to your right.

Altered andesite buckwheat in the vicinity of Reno

Altered andesite buckwheat (Eriogonum robustum) of the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae) is a narrowly restricted endemic that occurs in hydrothermally altered andesite areas of the Reno/Sparks area in northwestern Nevada [1-3]. The shown plants grow in Reno's Red Hill area.

Altered andesite buckwheat can be found on dry andesite soil at low elevation including the Red Hill area and slopes of Mt. Peavine and the Geiger Grade [2]. Notice that it also is known under the vernacular name Geiger Grade buckwheat. The plants have leaves that are matted with felty hairs, resulting in a greenish white to silver color.

Altered andesite buckwheat is closely related to Lobb's buckwheat (Eriogonum lobbii), which is found at higher elevation: Whereas Lobb's buckwheat is locally common in alpine and subalpine environments, altered andesite buckwheat is narrowly restricted to cold-desert environments [1].

Andesite is a very finely crystalline extrusive rock of volcanic origin, solidified from molten lava at the Earth's surface. In composition, andesite can be considered an intermediate between basalt and rhyolite: it is composed largely of plagioclase feldspar with smaller amounts of dark-colored mineral [4,5]. Andesite is typically lighter colored than basalt, having a color from dark gray-green to lighter gray, brown or red. The name Red Hill makes a reference to the rust-red color of its hill sides.  

Keywords: botany, biogeography, taxonomy, geology

References and more to explore
[1] K. F. Kuyper, U. Yandell and R. S. Nowak: On the taxonomic status of Eriogonum robustum (Polygonaceae), a rare endemic in Western Nevada. Great Basin Naturalist 1997, 57 (1), pp. 1-10 [].
[2] 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 53.
[3] J. D. Morefield: Current Knowledge and Conservation Status of Eriogonum robustum E. Greene (Polygonaceae), the altered andesite buckwheat. Nevada Natural Heritage Program, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, 1550 East College Parkway, suite 145, Carson City, NV 89706, December 2000 [].
[4] Dictionary of Geology & Mineralogy. Second Edition McGrawHill, New York, 2003.
[5] 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.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

To the top of Slide Mountain

Mount Rose Ski Tahoe is a ski resort in the Carson Range between Lake Tahoe and Reno/Sparks in Nevada. The actual ski facilities are located around the north-facing slopes of Slide Mountain, which, with an elevation of about 9,700 feet, is not as high as Mt. Rose with an elevation above 10,500 feet. Whereas Mt. Rose, nearby Tahoe Meadows and the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) are summer destinations for scenic hiking, Slide Mountain is the hot spot of the snow season, during which ski lifts take you to the top. Hiking the top of Slide Mountain, which is loaded with towers, antennas, various buildings, cable wheels and the upper stations of chairlifts, is not too popular, but possible. From the Mt. Rose Campground it takes less than an hour to ascend a dirt road (service road, normally without motorized traffic in summer) to the top. There, you get nice views of Mt. Rose, Truckee Meadows and the Virginia Range. Boards, displaying panoramic maps of the mountain slopes, introduce the ski bowls and downhill courses— from beginner to expert runs—with self-explaining names like Macho Bowl, Waterfall, Six Gun, Bullwhip and Wild Card.   

Getting to Mt. Rose Campground (closed in winter)
The campground is located a short distance off State Route 431, across the Mt. Rose Summit parking area. To avoid crossing the highway, parking at the Tahoe Meadows Trailhead is suggested. From there, go northeast, follow the TRT and Mt. Rose Campground Trail (length 0.4 mi) to the campground, cross the campground and turn right on the service road.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pinemat manzanita (Arctostaphylos nevadensis) in the Carson Range

So Many Manzanitas. That is the title of a chapter in a book about gardening of native plants in California [1].  There are over 50 manzanita species (Genus: Arctostaphylos, belonging to the heath family, Ericaceae) and many have been considered for horticulture.

Manzanitas are native to California, Oregon and bordering areas including some corners of Nevada [1-4]. Pinemat manzanita is a mountain dweller loving open slopes and rock terraces in coniferous forests. The shrubs shown here grow next to the Tahoe Rim Trail at an elevation above 7,500 feet, south of Heavenly in the Carson Range, a few miles away from the California-Nevada stateline. They are rugged and undemanding plants, adapted to a special habitat with a snow-rich winter season and dry, hot summer months. Pinemat manzanita is an evergreen shrub, having the manzanita-typical shredding or smooth twigs with orange to brown color (picture above). The fruits are and berry-size “little apples” (picture below): spherical drupes of yellowish red to brown color when ripe.

Pinemats often grow near or between rocks, but also on crumbly soil, which they cover as dense mats—naturally providing erosion control.  

References and more to explore
[1] N. Nevin Smith: Native Treasures. University of California Press, Berkeley, 2006.
[2] USDA & NRCS Plant Guide - pinemat manzanita, Arctostaphylos nevadensis A. Gray:
[3] Ericaceae:,3454,3507.
[4] Arctostaphylos nevadensis A. Gray - pinemat manzanita:

From Heavenly to the East Lake Reservoir in the Carson Range, Nevada

An out-and-back hike to the East Lake Reservoir from Heavenly covers between 7 to 8 miles, of which over six miles are along the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT). The hike begins with a climb (less than half a mile) to the single-track TRT.  A new TRT section goes westward, connecting with the Edgewood Creek and Van Sickle trails. To get to the East Lake Reservoir and beyond, you'll go east, take the switchbacks and then hike south between granite boulders and light as well as dense forest parts. The open forest sections feature displays of pinemat manzanita on the ground and views through the forest into Carson Valley and eventually towards Carson Range peaks such as Monument, Jobs Sister and Freel Peak, which all reach heights above 10,000 feet.

When you get to the point where the TRT continues on a dirt road, descending into Mott Canyon, you want to turn right on that ski area service road. Posted signs, warning about the danger of touching unexploded explosives (red or yellow devices) for snow avalanche control, will remind you that you are in an area with winter activities. A short ascent, more ski lifts and the small East Lake Reservoir should come into view between the trees. You can walk around the lake or explore further maintenance roads of the area. At the lake you'll pass the Dipper Express and Comet Express ski lift stations, large information boards with a winter landscape map & facilities and the East Peak Lodge and East Peak Grill, build half-way into the reservoir. Closed, of course, during the hiking season: you are depending on the drinks and food you brought with you.

Getting there
The trailhead for this trip is variously referred to as Kingsbury Grade South or Daggett Pass South. You are getting there from State Route 207 (known as Kingsbury Grade) between Stateline/South Lake Tahoe and the Carson Valley. At the pass, turn south onto Tramway Drive, which becomes a narrow one-way road winding through the Heavenly Resort. Eventually, you arrive at a sharp turn and find yourself driving north on Quaking Aspen Lane. There, you should see the Stagecoach Express ski lift to your right. Park nearby. At the wall on the right side of the lift facility is a small box with handouts for the TRT section Kingsbury South to Big Meadow, made available by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association ( are ready to climb up the creek.

Notes, references and updates
[1] See the description of  the trail between the Stagecoach Express ski lift in Heavenly to the saddle near Peak 8611, given by Mike White in  Trip 10Chapter 6,  in his Reno-Tahoe hiking guide Afoot & Afield, Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, 2006. 
[2]  See a similar description in section five of Tim Hauserman's guide The Tahoe Rim Trail, Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, 2004 (fifth printing).
[3] Trail Information - Kingsbury Grade to Big Meadows - 23.1 Miles: