Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Orange lichen and juniper berries along the Bailey Canyon Creek Trail, Virginia Range, Nevada

The hills and mountain ranges surrounding Truckee Meadows (Reno/Sparks) appear monotonously yellow-gray at this time of the year, especially without any lasting snow cover. Yet, displays of color can be found by hiking into nearby valleys and creeks. A variety of colorful lichen, mosses and pale-blue juniper berries dot the base and slopes of Bailey Canyon. This canyon is located in the Virginia Range southeast of Reno between Steamboat Creek/Pleasant Valley and Virginia City. The limited floor of the canyon, which exhibits a V-shaped cross-section, is a dry wash (weather-related exceptions apply). Currently, a few frozen water puddles are present and provide a hint that occasionally water is flowing through. The narrow trail frequently crisscrosses the stream bed. The orange lichen was seen at the bottom of a rock amid the stream bed. The canyon slopes feature outcroppings of rock composites and pinyon-juniper forest. The juniper brushes show an abundance of berries, reflecting in the sunshine. The juniper berries have the size of blueberries, but taste bitter and are not true berries: they are the seed cones of these coniferous plants. Bailey Canyon, a Nevadan Nature Trail!

Getting there 
From South Virginia Street at the Summit Sierra Shopping Mall take Virginia City HWY (Route 341) and, after half a mile, turn right on Toll Road. Follow this road until the pavement ends and find parking (see TopoZone and Bailey_Canyon - Washoe,Nevada maps). Unfortunately, there is no trailhead. Walk south on the dirt road until you arrive at some horse stables. Try to find a path to the right, cross the creek and find yourself on the trail. Although the beginning no-trailhead and no-signpost experience may feel discouraging, the trail now becomes clearly visible and closely follows the canyon bed. No beginning, no end? Based on some local maps, I am assuming that the trail will eventually connect with the Washoe and Virginia Road and Ophir (Jumbo) Grade, taking you either (if turning west) to the eastern shore of Washoe Lake or (if turning east and climbing uphill) to Virginia City and Gold Hill. I still have to give it a try.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Society, Reno, Nevada

The Wilbur D. May Arboretum in Reno is located southwest of the intersection of North McCarran Blvd. and North Virginia Street. The arboretum is a living museum featuring plants in a transitional zone with an arid climate between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Great Basin Desert [1]. In addition to local species, the arboretum also showcases plants native to other parts of North America, such as the shown honey locust from Illinois (tolerating drought and poor soils), and shrubs and trees from around the world.

Information about upcoming events, workshops and volunteer opportunities is given by the nonprofit May Arboretum Society, which recently premiered its new website [2,3].
A panel at the arboretum informs that it was initially created in 1982 through funding from the Wilbur May Foundation in memory of Wilbur D. May, a generous philanthropist during his lifetime, who left a legacy to the community with the May Center. Further, the panel describes the extreme locality conditions under which the plants—although being nursed—have to grow and delight visitors: 

The Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden is located at an elevation of 4,600 feet on the foothills of Peavine Mountain where the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range meets the Great Basin Desert. Daily temperature ranges can fluctuate 50 degrees [Fahrenheit scale] or more and the average annual precipitation is only seven inches. The majority of the precipitation comes in the form of rain and snow in the cool winter months with hot, dry summers and strong winds throughout a majority of the year. Very few plants can survive in these conditions without human assistance.

Not much precipitation in any form has come so far in this winter's months.

References and links
[1] Washoe County Nevada > Regional Parks and Open Space > May Arboretum: www.co.washoe.nv.us/parks/arboretum/arbor.html.
[2] Lenita Powers: Wilbur D. May Arboretum blooms online  [www.rgj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012302050022].
[3] May Arboretum Society: mayarboretumsociety.org/.