Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sierra junipers with curved and contorted branches near Noble Lake

John Muir refers to the western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis), a burly conifer he calls red cedar, as a stubborn wrestler unwillingly accepting its fate in rocky, high-altitude landscapes with frequent storm and avalanche exposure [1]. This extreme environment shapes alpine junipers into striking forms of odd proportions. Young trees typically show a pyramidal crown, which becomes rounded and irregular in old trees [2]. The thick branches are often curved or contorted and lichen overgrowth occurs on furrowing or dying branches in the canopy, as seen in the top picture. The smooth bark of young trees turns gray and flaky with age. John Muir writes [1]: “The bark is of bright cinnamon color, and, in thrifty trees, beautifully braided and reticulated, flaking off in thin, lustrous ribbons that are sometimes used by Indians for tent-matting.”

Western juniper seed cones (female cones) mature over a two-year period into juniper berries containing one or two seeds: the berry-like cones are initially 2 mm in diameter, growing in two seasons from purple-red to blue or purple with a glaucous bloom, subglobose to ellipsoid, fleshy or pulpy, more or less resinous, eventually dry, falling soon after ripe [2]. Mammals and birds exploit the blueberry-sized berries as food crop. 

The pictures herein were made on a hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) between Ebbett's Pass and the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. At the upper Noble Canyon, near Noble Lake, two steadfast junipers grow on granite where the PCT winds upward the eastern canyon slope, on which no other trees seem to endure.

References and more to explore
[1] John Muir: The Mountains of California. The Century Company, New York, 1894. Note: see pages 144 to 146  in the Penguin Classics Book print of 1985 with an introduction by Edward Hoagland.
[2] The Gymnosperm database: Juniper occidentalis Hooker 1838 [http://www.conifers.org/cu/Juniperus_occidentalis.php].

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Around Ebbett's Pass: waterfalls and flash floods during summer

Ebbett's Pass or Ebbetts Pass is part of a scenic landscape in Alpine County, California. The pass is surrounded by historical landmarks and sites, ancient volcanic peaks and rock formations, alpine lakes and canyons. The Carson-Iceberg Wilderness is located south of the pass and can be accessed via Noble Lake by hiking from the Ebbett's Pass Trailhead southward on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

By scanning the ancient volcanic landscape, you may imagine how lava was flowing here in the past. These days, water is flowing down the slopes. The top pictures shows a small waterfalls trickling down (prior to a later thunderstorm) some granite rocks and cliffs. At other locations streams of snowmelt water flow downhill between eroded volcanic debris. You will have to cross several streams along the trail on your way to the upper Noble Canyon and Noble Lake. During summer and fall, these runoffs are typically slow-flowing and quiet—sometimes dried-out. But they may quickly turn into stronger ones during a summer rainfall, hailstorm or severe thunderstorm.

A weather pattern of common afternoon thunderstorms is known for this area. On July 21 of this year, we experienced such a thunderstorm with dark clouds gathering and colliding above us—almost out of nowhere, while hiking on the east-facing slopes of the Pacific Crest. The result was some rain followed by a long-lasting pour-down of pea-sized hailstones. The most striking phenomenon was how soon water—not much of which is getting adsorbed by the small amount of soil in this landscape—started flooding down from all sides. The picture above shows gray-brown water rapidly flowing over the PCT, which literally disappeared at those sections. Returning to the Ebbett's Pass Trailhead by crossing over several of those muddy streams was more risky than we thought it would be. What looked like a good stepping stone in the flowing water or mud, often turned out be a sliding rock—fortunately, still moving slow enough to jump off onto less slippery ground. Yet, the danger of encountering a heavier mudflow or a small landslide between the trees and over the forest openings became real.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, Alpine and Tuolumne County, California

The Carson-Iceberg Wilderness spans both the eastern and western slopes of the Sierra Crest south of Markleeville in Alpine County, California. The Carson-Iceberg area was designated as a wilderness in 1984 and is today managed by the Toiyabe and Stanislaus National Forests [1-3]. Several hiking trails lead into and through this magnificent wilderness of geologic anomalies, ancient volcanic peaks and distinctive rock formations.

The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail runs for over 26 miles within the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness [2]. Coming from the north, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) enters the wilderness near Wolf Creek Pass a few miles south of Noble Lake. At the Ebbett's Pass PCT trailhead, an information board provides the following summary:

The Carson-Iceberg Wilderness was added to the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1984. Its 161,181 acres are managed jointly by the Humboldt-Toiyabe and Stanislaus National Forests. It gets its name from the distinctive iceberg-shaped granite formation on the south-central boundary of the Wilderness and the Carson River, named after renowned 19th century explorer Christopher “Kit Carson.

The distinctive iceberg-shaped granite formation, The Iceberg” on the southern boundary near Clark Ford Road shows distinctive features of past glaciation activity [1]. The name Carson, which refers to the mentioned, early western frontiersman and scout, is difficult to overlook on maps of eastern California and northwest Nevada: West Fork and East Fork Carson River, Carson Valley, Carson City, Carson Range. From the valley up to the icy ridges you always get reminded you are in Carson territory.

Keywords: wilderness area, geographical names, American history.

References and more to explore
[1] Sierra Wild:  Carson-Iceberg Wilderness [www.sierrawild.gov/wilderness/carson-iceberg].
[2] USDA Forest Service: Carson-Iceberg Wilderness [www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/stanislaus/recarea/?recid=15109].
[3] Wilderness.net: Carson-Iceberg Wilderness [http://www.wilderness.net/NWPS/wildView?wid=102].

Pacific Crest Trail (PCT): Ebbett's Pass to Noble Lake

Noble Lake is a small alpine lake situated between Tyron Peak (9,970 ft.) and Highland Peak (10,935 ft.) in the Sierra Nevada, just west to the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Ebbett's Pass (8,730 ft.) to Asa Lake and the Highland Lakes passes Noble Lake along its east side. This stretch of the PCT (about four miles between the Ebbett's Pass Trailhead and Noble Lake) shares its route with the Mokelumne Coast to Crest Trail (MCCT) [1].

The trail leads through open forest and meadows between the Pacific Crest and Noble Canyon. A junction with the Noble Canyon Trail is reached on the western canyon wall (don't worry, you mostly hike on a gentile, well-graded path with scenic switchbacks) after about three miles south from the Ebbett's Pass Trailhead. Hikers enjoy the expansive views of mountain ridges with craggy, ancient volcanic peaks, steep slopes, wild cliffs and brecciated rock formations. The top picture shows the PCT just north of Noble Lake. This switchbacking trail section on the eastern side of Noble Canyon is more exposed than most other parts—no trees except a few western junipers hanging on to the granite. Little Noble Lake is—in my opinion—not as impressive as its name suggests. But its surroundings are.

For a detailed trail-side description I highly recommend Joe's Trail Tales post (including many pics and a video), highlighting the spectacular display of sub-alpine wildflowers and the interesting geological features seen along this PCT section [2]. “Joe's tale” notes the highly eroded volcanic landscape through which the trail leads and winds.

Getting to the Ebbett's Pass Trailhead in Alpine County, California
This trailhead is found next to California State Highway 4 between the small town of Markleeville and the ski and snowboard resort of Bear Valley. Coming from Markleeville along the East Fork Carson River and driving the narrow, curvy road up to Ebbett's Pass, you'll see the sign (shown above) on the left side of the road, a short distance northeast of the actual Ebbett's Pass. Turn left and follow the short gravel road to the paved parking area. A short trail (0.2 mi), beginning at the information and sign-in board, connects this point with the PCT. At the junction, turn left onto the single-track trail for a southbound hike to Noble Lake. A good topographic map is included in [3]. You will need to fill out an available wilderness permit form only, if you park at the trailhead and plan to stay on the trail overnight.

References and more to explore
[1] Mokelumne Coast to Crest Trail: Highland Lakes to Ebbetts Pass [www.calaverasoutside.org/USFS_HiLk-EbPa.pdf].
[2] Joe's Trail Tales: Ebbetts Pass to Noble Lake [http://www.bigtreestech.com/trails/2010/08/04/ebbetts-pass-noble-lake-trail/]
[3] Ebbetts Pass to Tyron Peak [http://tahoetowhitney.com/Ebbetts%20Pass%20to%20Sonora%20Pass/Ebbetts_to_Sonora_Maps/ebbetts-pass-tyron-peak-topo.html].

Monday, July 22, 2013

Glaucous larkspur at Tahoe Meadows

Mountain larkspur at Tahoe Meadows

Glaucous larkspur is a common wildflower along streambanks and amid bogs and wet meadows around Lake Tahoe [1]; such as Tahoe Meadows south of Mount Rose and Relay Peak in the Carson Range of northwest Nevada. This mid-elevation area between Incline Village and Reno features an Interpretive Loop Trail and other trails (including a section of the Tahoe Rim Trail), where interesting flowering plants are found, including elephant's heads. The tall and robust larkspur plants that may reach up to six feet (three meters) will not be missed by those hiking these trails in summer.

Glaucous larkspur has densely flowered racemes—many inches long. Each blue-purple flower is attached to the main stem via a long pedicel. The flowers consists of a backward-projecting spur, about two centimeters long, five sepals and four petals. The upper two petals are lighter in color or even white (right-side picture above). The leaves show a maplelike structure—palmetely divided and toothed (see picture below).

Glaucous larkspur, also spelled glaucus larkspur, has other common names such as tower larkspur, mountain larkspur and Sierra larkspur [2,3]. Its scientific name is Delphinium glaucum. This species is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).

References and more to explore
[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 83. 
[2] Native Plant Database: Delphinium glaucum S. Wats.  [www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=DEGL3].
[3] Calflora: Taxon Report 2638: Demphinium glaucum S. Watson [www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/species_query.cgi?where-taxon=Delphinium+glaucum]. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Elephant's heads at Tahoe Meadows

Elephant's head's trunk (Pedicularis groenlandica), Tahoe Meadows

Flowers of elephant's head
Elephant's heads grow in moist mountainous area such as the Tahoe Meadows south of Mount Rose and Relay Peak in the Carson Range, where they can be found during summer months in forest openings of the Loop Trail System including the Interpretive Loop Trail. Flowering plants are easily recognized by their purple-pink, bilaterally symmetrical corollas. The upper corolla lip curves upward, resembling a beak or trunk. The top picture shows such a beak with the stigma protruding through its tip. The common plant name is explained by the combined appearance of this tiny trunk and the lateral flower lobes shaped like miniature elephant ears: elephant's head, also elephant head. Typical plants grow erect and have long, fern-like leaves (picture below), pinnately divided into sharp-toothed lobes [1].

Sharply-toothed fernlike leaf of elephant's head plant

Two elephant head species occur together in Oregon's Cascade Range and in the Sierra Nevada: Pedicularis groenlandica (elephant head, bull elephant's-head or elephanthead lousewort) and Pedicularis attollens (little elephant head or little red elephant) [1,3]. The interpretive panel for the Interpretive Loop Trail indicates the occurrence of P. groenlandica in the Tahoe Meadows—that species that also is found in arctic regions of Canada and Greenland (hence its scientific name) [4-7].

Both P. groenlandica and P. attollens are pollinated by bumblebees (Bombus species): the former by dorsal (nototribe) pollination, the latter by forehead pollination [2,3]. These two angiosperm species make an interesting example for plant-insect coadaption combined with plant speciation. The Pedicularis-type pollination mechanism has been described by Verne Grant [3]:

Pedicularis groenlandica and P. attollens grow and flower together in the same alpine meadows in the Sierra Nevada, CA. Both species are pollinated by bumblebees but are mechanically isolated [...]. The mechanical isolation is reinforced by strong ethological isolation based on flower constancy. Individuals of Bombus bifarius distinguish the two Pedicularis species by their floral features. Some individual bumblebees visit P. groenlandica selectively, bypassing plants of P. attollens in their rounds, while other individual bees forage exclusively on P. attollens. Lapses of flower constancy in which an individual bumblebee crosses over from one Pedicularis species to the other occur but are rare.

Pedicularis-type pollination works via a mechanism that “isolates” plants into (sub)species: the contrasting elephant head species are both pollinated by the same pollinator species (Bombus bifarius and B. flavifrons), but pollen are deposited and picked up on different parts of the bumbleebee's body depending on the particular Peducalaris species. 

Keywords: bumblebee flowers, pollination ecology, reproductive isolation, evolution, botany, northwest Nevada.

References and more to explore
[1] Richard Spellenberg: North American Wildflowers, Western Region. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2001; pages 770-771.
[2] Lazarus Walter Macior: The pollination ecology of Pedicularis (Scrophulariaceae) in the Sierra Nevada of California. Bull. Torrey Bot. Club April-June 1977, 104 (2), pp. 148-154 [www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2484360?uid=3739824&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21102474310391].
[3] Verne Grant: Modes and origins of mechanical and ethological isolation in angiosperms. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA January 1994, 91, pp. 3-10 [www.pnas.org/content/91/1/3.full.pdf]. 
[4] Plant Life: Elephant Head, Pedicularis groenlandica Retz. [montana.plant-life.org/species/pedi_groenla.htm].
[5] USDA Plants Database: Pedicularis groenlandica Retz., elephanthead lousewort [plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=PEGR2].
[6] USDA Plants Database: Pedicularis groenlandica Retz., Elephant's Head [ucjeps.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/get_JM_treatment.pl?7177,7471,7479].
[7] 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 70. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Woody-fruited evening-primroses west of Relay Peak

 Woody-fruited evening-primrose (Oenothera xylocarpa) flower
Woody-fruited evening-primrose (Oenothera xylocarpa): aging flower turning scarlet Woody-fruited evening primroses (Oenothera xylocarpa) are rare on dry and sandy flats and slopes in northeastern Tahoe at mid and high elevation [1]. The shown parts belong to plants that were found growing in forest openings—often in association with lupines—at high elevation along the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) between Relay Peak and the Slab Cliffs, in the Carson Range northeast of Lake Tahoe in northwest Nevada.

The small plants bear large yellow flowers. The showy flowers have four petals each. They are short-lived, often lasting only for a night. They then turn scarlet, bend and finally lay down onto the ground as if they want to fall asleep. A central plant stem is missing, but each leave is attached to a rhubarb-red petiole, which visually continues on as the main axis through the leaf blade. The typically flat and dense rosette of leaves builds a circular pillow arrangement for the aging flowers. Particularly interesting are the many deep blood-red spots—on average lentil-sized and blurry-edged—that spread out over these basal leaves. 

woody-fruited evening-primrose (Oenothera xylocarpa) leaf with typical blood-red spots

The literature on this rare evening-primrose species, whose common name is also written as woodyfruit evening primrose [2-4], is sparse. Based on a map showing the distribution of different Oenothera species in western North America, O. xylocarpa is found in three locations including northeast Tahoe in Nevada and two High Sierra areas further south in California [5].  More detailed, Warren L. Wagner writes (on pages 334 and 335 in [5]):
Oenothera xylocarpa has a presumably relictual distribution in the Sierra Nevada of California and Nevada, at 2250-3050 m. It is restricted to granitic gravels, sand, or pumice in forests of Pinus jefferyi or Pinus contorta subsp. murrayana / Abies magnifica. It must have been more widespread at one time but now occurs in three disjunct areas: 1) Mount Rose, Nevada; 2) southern Sierra Nevada, Mono County from Crestview to Casa Diablo; and 3) southern Sierra Nevada, primarily Inyo County, Big Whitney Meadows to Volcano Meadows and Casa Vieja. Oenothera xylocarpa may have been more widespread in the past and subsequently with episodes of mountain building and cooling and drying of the climate, populations of O. xylocarpa have become progressively more restricted to marginal substrates not inhabited by other species. Now it occurs only on very porous substrates, and has a disjunct range corresponding to the distribution of those substrates.

Keywords: wildflowers, evening primrose family (Onagraceae), porous soil, Carson Range, Reno-Tahoe.

References and more to explore
[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 91. 
[2] Encyclopedia of Life: Oenothera xylocarpa [http://eol.org/pages/582890/overview].
[3] USDA PLANTS Profile: Oenothera xylocarpa Coville, woodyfruit evening primrose [plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=OEXY].
[4] Jepson Manual: Onagraceae [ucjeps.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/get_JM_treatment.pl?5263,5471,5501].
[5] Warren L. Wagner: Systematics of Oenothera Sections Contortae, Eremia, and Ravenia (Onagraceae). Systematic Botany 2005, 30 (2), pp. 332-335 [si-pddr.si.edu/dspace/bitstream/10088/7592/1/bot_Wagner_2005_Oenothera_Pachylophus_et_a_HI.pdf].

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mountain violets west of Relay Peak

Yello, purple-veined flower of mountain violet (Viola purpurea), North Tahoe

Mountain violets (Viola purpurea) are common on dry slopes and in forest openings throughout Tahoe at mid elevation [1]. The shown plants were found at relatively high elevation along the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) between Relay Peak and the Slab Cliffs, in the Carson Range northeast of Lake Tahoe in northwest Nevada.

Mountain violet (Viola purpurea) along Tahoe Rim Trail

The small plants bear green, round-to-oval leaves that are deeply veined. Leaf veins and stems give the plant appearance a purplish tint. Also, the yellow flowers display brown-to-purple veins—mostly on their lower petal (top picture). The two upper petals show brown-purple splotches on their backside, seen in the picture below and in the picture above, in which the curled petals of the left flower reveal the darker underside coloration. The Latin word for purple is purpura, explaining the scientific species name.

Mountain violet (Viola purpurea) flower with brown-purple splotches
Viola purpurea is also known by the common name goosefoot violet. This violet species is found in foothill and mountain habitats of the western United States, including the Great Basin and the Sierra Nevada, for example also south of Tahoe in Yosemite [2]. 

Keywords: wildflowers, violet family (Violaceae), Carson Range, Reno-Tahoe.

References and more to explore
[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 54. 
[2] Russ Cary: Yosemite National Park Mountain Violet (Viola purpurea)  [www.yosemitehikes.com/wildflowers/mountain-violet/mountain-violet.htm].

Monday, July 8, 2013

Brewer's lupine in the sub-alpine region of North Tahoe

Brewer's lupine (Lupinus breweri) inflorescence

Brewer's lupine (Lupinus breweri) grows in masses on dry, rocky flats below timberline throughout Tahoe [1]. The plants shown here were found along the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) around Tamarack Peak and Relay Peak. Especially, the trail section between the Mt. Rose Summit Trailhead and the waterfall, on which the TRT coincidences with the Mt. Rose Trail, leads across forest openings with eye-catching, silver-green mats of low-growing Brewer's lupines. In addition to northwest Nevada, this lupine species is native to parts of California and Oregon—particularly mountain forests [2-5].

The picture above shows a raceme densely populated with blue flowers. Each flower has a white patch on its banner. The flower racemes rise slightly above the basal leaves, each of which being composed of five to ten silky-hairy leaflets. The picture below demonstrates leave and flower size by having a penny placed inside a mat. Due to its carpeting growth pattern, Brewer's lupine is also named matted lupine. Several variations of Lupinus breweri are known [2].

Mat of brewer's lupine (Lupinus breweri) with racemes of flowers

References and more to explore
[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 62. 
[2] Encyclopedia of Life: Lupinus breweri [eol.org/pages/640971/overview].
[3] iNaturalist: Brewer's Lupine (Lupinus breweri) [www.inaturalist.org/taxa/77853-Lupinus-breweri].
[4] USDA PLANTS Profile: Lupinus breweri A. Gray, Brewer's Lupine [plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=LUBR3]. 
[5] Jepson Manual: Fabaceae, Legume FamilyL. breweri A. Gray [ucjeps.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/get_JM_treatment.pl?3691,4023,4048].

Ginny Lake east of the Slab Cliffs ridge

View of Ginny Lake and Tahoe Meadows from Tahoe Rim Trail over Slab Cliffs ridge

Seen from the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) along the Slab Cliffs ridge, Ginny Lake is a blue speck within a green meadow of the Carson Range. The eastward looking view in the picture above roughly follows a diagonal from Ginny Lake to Washoe Valley and the Virgina Range. East of Ginny Lake are private forest lands. Further in the distance, the Mount Rose Highway is cutting through. Beyond the highway one can see Tahoe Meadows flanked by Slide Mountain. From the eastern edge of Tahoe Meadows, Ophir Creek follows its canyon downhill— passing Rock Lake and DavisCreek Regional Park—into Washoe Valley and Washoe Lake.    

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Slab Cliffs between Relay Peak and Mud Lake along TRT

Slab Cliffs

The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) section that is indicated as Slab Cliffs on the handout map “Brockway Summit to Mt. Rose Trailhead” is a scenic ridge with an open forest and interesting craggy rock structures. This area can be reached by hiking downhill from Relay Peak for about two miles. While following the well-graded switchbacks you will enjoy varying views of the Mt. Rose Wilderness. Looking south towards Lake Tahoe, you won't miss the north-facing slab slopes nearby. Once on the ridge of the Slab Cliffs, scenic vistas of little Ginny Lake and the Tahoe Meadows are coming up. The Slab Cliffs are rough terrain, but the trail across the ridge is easy and relaxing. It takes you to dramatic red and black volcanic rock formations, a spring and the junction from where the abandoned Western States Trail descends across private property to Incline Lake, the Tahoe Meadows Loop Trail System (including the Interpretive Loop Trail) and the Upper Ophir Creek Trailhead. The picture below shows a view in opposite direction over the Mt. Rose Wilderness and beyond into California and the landscapes east of Truckee.

View from Slab Cliffs ridge into Mt. Rose Wilderness

During summer and fall backpackers enjoy the campsites of Gray Lake between the Slab Cliffs and Rose Knob. This lake is accessible via a 0.5 mile sidetrip off the TRT using the old Western States Trail [1]. Mud lake, as you may guess by its name, gets quite small in summer or disappears altogether.

In case you didn't plan an overnight stay and want to return via Relay Ridge to your starting trailhead, a 800-foot climb takes you back—the same way you came—to the top of Relay Peak.

[1] Tim Hauserman: The Tahoe Rim Trail. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, Fifth printing March 2004; page 107.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Tahoe Rim Trail: Relay Ridge and Relay Peak

TRT along Relay Ridge and Peak, northwest Nevada While many hikers climb Mt. Rose in the Carson Range for spectacular views of the Reno-Tahoe area, an ascend along the new section of the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) to the top of Relay Peak can be as rewarding. On a clear day, the Mt. Rose Trail can be crowded and you'll never be alone on Mt. Rose. On Relay Peak, there is a good chance that you will be there just by yourself or share this magnificent vista point with your hiking partner or group only. Relay Peak (elevation of 10,335 feet) is almost as high as the Mt. Rose Summit (elevation of 10,778 feet).

TRT Relay Ridge and Relay PeakTo get onto Relay Peak, you want to leave the Mt. Rose Trail at the Tamarack Peak waterfall and follow the TRT. At the shown signpost—3.2 TRT miles away from Nevada's Mt. Rose Summit Trailhead along State Route 431 and 0.8 miles away from the waterfall—the TRT intersect with the dirt road section of the “old” loop trail around Tamarack Peak. From here, the recently opened, well-graded, two-mile-long ascend will take you into the Mt. Rose Wilderness west of the ridgeline with the AT&T relay microwave tower [1]:

While the top of the ridgeline provides an excellent location for receiving radio waves, it is unfortunate to see a large ugly tower in this incredibly beautiful location. Near the tower you reach a junction with a broad gravel road, which is still used by vehicles for administrative purposes.

In my opinion, the tower is not as ugly as that conglomerate of installations on Slide Mountain. However, the abandoned dirt road, leading to the tower and once “serving” as a TRT section, makes Tim Hauserman's past dissatisfaction with the hiking conditions between Frog Pond and the ridge (the 1.3 mi section) understandable. He wrote [1]:

I hope that eventually the Tahoe Rim Trail Association will be able to replace this long journey on a utility road with a trail. With the beautiful terrain in this bowl, a well-developed trail which switchbacks its way up to Relay Peak would be impressive.

His vision has finally come through. Now hikers may use the new 2.2 mi TRT section. Mountain bikers and horseback riders are not allowed and still need to travel the broad gravel road. The TRT route is an even longer journey, but along a large, scenic switchback, getting you close to Mt. Houghton in the north and then south to Relay Peak. Impressive, indeed!

Along the ridge, the single-track TRT skirts the relay tower on the west side: the top picture shows the trail, tower and Relay Peak in the background. The picture below shows the final ascend to Relay Peak. Along the ridge and on the peak, hikers have views of surrounding peaks, including Mt. Houghton, Mt. Rose, Slide Mountain and Rose Knob. Lake Tahoe is to the south. In northwest direction one is able to scan a large part of the Mt. Wilderness and see Truckee, Donner Lake and Castle Peak in the distance.

Keywords: trail planning, TRT, vista points, Relay Ridge.

[1] Tim Hauserman: The Tahoe Rim Trail. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, Fifth printing March 2004; page 110.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Blue flax (Linum lewisii) along Mt. Rose Trail

Prairie flax, Lewis flax

Blue flax is occasionally found at high elevation such as the shown plants growing on Mount Rose near the timberline. Blue flax is native to the continents of the northern hemisphere: Linum perenne L. to Eurasia and Linum lewesii Pursh to North America. Both species are known by the common name “blue flax,” but the American species is also called Lewis flax or Lewis' blue flax, wild blue flax and prairie flax for distinction [1-5]. The main difference is that L. perenne is heterostylic (varying in form or length of flower styles), while L. lewesii is homostylic (having styles of the same form or length) [2].  Linum perenne has been introduced from Europe to North America—referred to as 'Appar' blue flax [2].

Lewis' blue flax

Native Americans cultivated Lewis' blue flax, used their seeds as food source and wove the tough stem fibers into fishing nets, ropes, and other cordage [1]. Flax species typically show excellent cold winter and drought tolerance. The durable Lewis' blue flax species prefers ridges and dry slopes, including those of the montane zone of the Carson Range in Northwest Nevada. Their narrow lanceolate leaves stay in close proximity to the stems, which rarely stand straight up, but rather lean at an angle, like those in the picture above. Flowers are found to be pale or steely blue with a white-to-yellow colored center. The five petals are veined in darker blue.

Keywords: botany, systematics, taxonomy, nomenclature, Reno-Tahoe flora, Linaceae (flax family).

References and more to explore
[1] Lewis and Clark Trail: Lewis as Botanist [www.lewisandclarktrail.com/nativeplants.htm].
[2] USDA Plant Guide: Blue Flax and Lewis Flax [www.fs.fed.us/rm/boise/research/shrub/Links/Plant%20Guides/flax_plantguide.pdf].
[3] Calflora Taxon Report 4908: Linum lewisii Pursh [www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/species_query.cgi?where-calrecnum=4908].
[4] The University of Texas at Austin, Native Plant Database: Linum lewisii Pursh [www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=LILE3].
[5] 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 44.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Mount Rose, Carson Range, Northwest Nevada

Mt. Rose, Carson Range, Nevada
Mt. Rose in the Carson Range is situated between Truckee Meadows (Reno, Sparks) and Incline Village in the northeast corner of Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The core of Mt. Rose is composed mainly of granitic rock. In addition, this mountain displays several features that hint at ancient volcanic activtity [1]:

The Lower slopes of Mount Rose, and most of the long, lower ridge of the Carson Range to the north, are draped with Tertiary volcanic rocks. The top of Mount Rose is also capped with a layer of Tertiary volcanic rocks. These rocks weather to dark gray and brown, causing the peak to appear darker than other nearby peaks in the Carson Range.

Mt. Rose summitSeveral hiking trails lead to the saddle-shaped peak of Mt. Rose, which can be reached from Galena Creek Park via the Jones Whites Loop Trail (JWLT) and Church's Pond, via the Thomas Creek Trail further north and from locations along the Mt. Rose Highway (State Route 431). The climbing trips starting at the Mt. Rose Highway have been described in detail as Trip 9 “Southeast Ridge of Mt Rose” (5.4 miles, out-and-back) and Trip 10 “Mt. Rose” (9.8 miles, out-and-back) in Mike White's Reno-Tahoe hiking guide [2]. Trip 10 is by far the most popular option since it includes an easy hike along the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT): a semi-loop around the northeast base of Tamarack Peak. This trail section through open hemlock and pine forest takes you to a seasonal waterfall. From there, the trail continues through lush meadows over tributaries of Galena Creek to a marked junction, from where the “real ascend” onto Mt. Rose begins. The Mt. Rose Trail is well marked—and typically well travelled. Don't expect to be alone on the summit.

Mount Rose U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey Reference MarkWith an elevation of 10,778 feet (TRT handout “Brockway Summit to Mt. Rose Trailhead”), the summit offers a panoramic 360-degree view with the Virginia Range in the east, Lassen Peak in the north (on a very clear day), Truckee, Donner Lake and Castle Peak in the west and the Lake Tahoe scenery in the southwest. On my last visit in June this year, I found a nicely assembled rock sculpture, shown in the right-side picture above with the snowy slopes and peaks of the Desolation Wilderness in the background. Unless some tired hiker is sitting on that particular summit rock, you should be able to spot the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey Reference Mark fixed thereon (left-side picture above).

References and more to explore
[1] J. V. Tingley, K. A. Pizarro, C. Ross, B. W. Purkey and L. J. Garside: Geologic and Natural History Tours in the Reno Area. Expanded Edition (Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology Special Publication 19), University of Nevada, Reno, 2005; page 29.
[2] Mike White: Afoot & Afield. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, 2nd printing 2008; pp. 246-249.

Tamarack Peak Waterfall at Galena Creek's upper end

Waterfall along Tahoe Rim Trail northeast of Tamarack Peak

A seasonal waterfall at the northeast side of Tamarack Peak (elevation 9,897 feet) between Slide Mountain and the Mt. Rose Wilderness is contributing headwater to Galena Creek. The waterfall is found along the Mt. Rose Trail. The section of the Mt. Rose Trail between this waterfall and the “Mt. Rose Summit” Trailhead along Mt. Rose Highway (State Route 431) is also part of the new Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT). Originally, the TRT was skirting the south side of Tamarack Peak—as a gravel road between the Tahoe Meadows Trailhead and Frog Pond.

TRT signpost next to Tamarack Peak WaterfallOn warm, sunny days the scenic and refreshing waterfall is turning into a gathering point and shower hub. For some hikers, it's their destination. For others, it's the actual starting point of (or returning point from) more elaborate hiking and climbing. The trail signpost there lists some destinations with hiking distances: 2.5 miles to the top of Mt. Rose, 3.5 miles to Relay Peak, 18.5 miles to the Thomas Creek Trailhead north of the Jones Whites Loop Trail and also 18.5 miles to the Brockway Summit Trailhead (see Martis Peak Fire Lookout), which is 18.5 trail miles away, located along Highway 267 between Truckee and Lake Tahoe's Kings Beach State Park.

Keywords: hiking, outdoors, waterfall, nature hub, Nevada.