Thursday, September 18, 2014

Yahi Trail alongside Big Chico Creek in Upper Bidwell Park

Chico Canyon, south rim and Sierra foothills
Chico Canyon, south rim and Sierra foothills seen 
from Yahi Trail in upper Upper Bidwell Park

Yahi Trail post
Most trails in Upper Bidwell Park—east of Chico, located at the northeast edge of Sacramento Valley, California—are open for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.Yahi Trail is for pedestrians only. This path between Big Chico Creek and the Upper Park Road connects various scenic spots of the Chico Canyon. The Upper Bidwell Park section of the Cico Bike Map provides an excellent overview of the trail network and on where bicyclists can access points of interest along Yahi Trail, named Lower Yahi Trail in the map.

The trail begins about half a mile east of the designated parking area E, the trailhead for Monkey Face climbers and a gateway to the northside bike paths of Chico Canyon and its north rim. From the parking area, follow the Upper Park Road and veer right once you get to the signed Yahi Trail. Wooded glens are lining the banks of Chico Creek. You'll find places for wading, dipping and even swimming.
Big Chico Creek at Bear Hole

As you hike further upward, the creek narrows at places. You'll find water holes—some quiet, some whirling—and channels through which the water is jetting. Don't ignore the signs that warn you about Extreme Water Dangers. Respect the wild nature of the creek, although the creek and creek-sides have been cultivated for over hundred years. The most popular hole is Bear Hole with its bathing and swimming holes (!), Lovejoy Basalt linings and a few fig trees.

Hiking (not swimming) deeper into the canyon gets you to Salmon Hole and Devil's Kitchen. Between the parking lots P and Q, Yahi Trail is closely following the Upper Park Road. There, the views into the canyon and over cliffs and spires are breathtaking. Turkey vultures like to soar this area, looking for carrion. Topographically, this is the southwest tip of the Cascade range. Chico Canyon's south rim, which you see across Big Chico Creek and the dense canyon forest, belong to the Sierra Nevada range. But whatever range, Chico Canyon makes for a world by itself.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Monkey Face in Upper Bidwell Park, east of Chico in California

Monkey Face northeast of Horseshoe Lake in Upper Bidwell Park, Chico
Monkey Face, Upper Bidwell Park, Chico, California
Whether in caves or canyons, magic light casting and the readiness for imagination often trigger humans into seeing animal shapes and faces among stand-still rocks. Monkey Face of the Upper Bidwell Park in Chico Canyon belongs to such a vision. Park visitors and hikers love to climb on top of its head, from where they enjoy amazing park and canyon vistas. And by scanning the rim of the canyon, other rocks may join the illusionary zoo.

The Chico Bike Map shows Monkey Face being surrounded by unpaved mountain biking and hiking trails including North Rim Trail, Maidu Trail and Upper Trail. Monkey Face is located northeast of Horseshoe Lake. For a short, direct hike to the Monkey Face rock formation, the designated parking area E near the Rod & Gun Club is your starting point. The picture above was taken from Lower Trail near the parking area. The trail to Monkey Face's top can't be missed, as you are hiking face-to-face with Monkey Face. Stay on the designated trail and respect the natural environment. Erosion damage caused by crisscrossers is evident all around. Who wants an angry-looking Monkey Face?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Chico Bike Map: a great resource for bicyclists, hikers and pedestrians

Bike trail in Upper Bidwell Park
Bike maps assists bicyclist in selecting bicycle routes for the daily commute and recreational travel. The Chico Bike Map of 2014 provided by the Butte County Association of Governments (BCAG) and the Butte Regional Transit (B Line) is an excellent example. This map features bike paths, bike lanes, bike routes, pave and unpaved connectors, bike ways and bus routes through and around the city of Chico in California.

The Chico Bike Map includes a special inlet of the pedestrian-only campus core of Chico's California State University (CSU). Why is such an inlet part of the bike map, when riding of bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, unicycles, scooters and Segways is prohibited on the inner campus? Because the campus offers over 25 bike parking sites, which are all shown on the inlet.

The detailed Chico Bike Map is also a great resource for those who like to stroll, walk or hike. What I like most about the map is that one of its sides is dedicated to the Lower Bidell Park and the Upper Bidwell Park. The Bidwell Park maps make it easy to find picnic sites and places of interest such as the Nature Center, the World of Trees, Horseshoe Lake, the Observatory, the Rod & Gun Club, the Golf Course, the Disc Golf area, the Monkey Face rocks and the Bear Hole. These sites are connected by bike trails and pedestrian paths. Further, there are mountain biking trails alongside the Chico Canyon rim. Trails are color-coded by difficulty. 

I got my bike map from the Chico Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center in downtown Chico (441 Main Street, Suite 150 | Monday-Friday 10:00 am - 4.00 pm). Page 1 of the map is available online.

The Chico Bike Map suggests the following Cycling Web Links for Chico, Butte County and beyond:
Bicyclists know that they are expected to be predictable, alert and lawful. Bicyclists and pedestrians have the right to expect the same from motorized traffic participants. 

Keywords: Chico campus, CSU, Bidwell Park, Chico Canyon, bicycling, tandem cycling, mountain biking, sustainable touring.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Feather Falls Loop Trail with a 3.5-mile-long and a 4.5-mile-long semiloop

Feather Falls with gliding and cascading water
The Feather Falls Scenic Trail is a 9-mile-loop trail in the Feather Falls Scenic Area of the Plumas National Forest in the northern Sierra Nevada, California. This trail connects the campground at the trailhead near the southern boundary of the Scenic Area with the Feather Falls overlook and the upper Fall River. Feather Falls Trail includes a Lower Route and an Upper Route to the waterfall. An USDA document classifies the 4.5 mi upper trail as moderate and the 3.5 mi lower trail as strenuous.

A short walk from the trailhead gets you to the Y-junction, at which the two semiloops begin.
Feather Falls overlook platform
The shorter lower route (the sign says 3.3 instead of 3.5 mi) is a lot of down and up and up and down. If you prefer a more leveled path, you may even want to consider the longer upper route for both your out and return trip. At the junction where the semiloops rejoin, I did not find any trail post or markings. Forest all around and no hint of a waterfall. But don't worry. Climb the short incline and a few switchbacks. Soon, you will see and hear the falling water.

All sections of the Feather Falls Trail are well maintained. There are benches at various locations—including the unmarked junction. Interpretive panels along the trail sections inform about Frey Creek, Bald Rock Dome and the Middle Feather River. And, of course, about the main attraction:

Feather Falls, on Fall River, plunges 640-feet and continues one-half mile where it meets the Middle Fork Feather River, and Lake Oroville. Feather Falls is the sixth highest waterfall in the United States, outside Alaska, and the fourth highest in California.

The water of the Fall River is cascading down a steep, south-facing cliff. The spraying water is likely to reflect and refract sunlight during your visit on a sunny afternoon, adding a rainbow to your waterfall pictures. The longer you watch, the more interesting patterns you will notice. Where the water glides over polished patches of sloping rocks, it dynamically covers the rock surface with a white plumage.

The overlook platform provides the most impressive vistas. When you are making your final steps towards the waterfalls alongside the safety-railing on the left side of the trail, you might miss the Overlook sign, while proceeding straight to the Fall River's edge. At the Overlook sign, follow the given direction downstairs to the overlook platform “hoovering” in front of the steep wall with the falling river.

Getting to the Feather Falls Trailhead and and its campground
Get to the junction of Lumpkin Road with Forbestown Road between Hurleton and Forbestown east of Oroville. From this junction, follow Lumpkin Road for about twelve miles until you get to the Feather Falls Scenic Area sign (right picture). Turn left. A narrow road leads you downhill for 1.5 miles to the Feather Falls Trailhead Campground and the trailhead parking area. The trail starts at the northern end of the parking area at the tip of the U-turn around the restrooms.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Feather Falls Scenic Area, northeast of the Lake Oroville reservoir in California

Spraying water of the Feather Falls with a rainbow segment

Exposed Bald Rock Pluton: Bald Rock Dome, Sierra Nevada
Bald Rock Dome
The Feather Falls Scenic Area of the Plumas National Forest is named after its landmark water fall site: the Feather Falls on Fall River plunging over 200 meters into a steep canyon. Feather Falls is the fourth highest waterfall in California. The current drought of the western United States is leaving its mark on Californian reservoirs, such as Lake Oroville southwest of the Scenic Area. The reservoir, located in the Sierra foothills downstream from the junction of the major tributaries of the Feather River, is showing a very low water level this year. But the Feather Falls keep plunging—until now.

Fall River, Feather Falls Scenic Area, California
Fall River flowing near Feather Fall's edge
The wild and scenic rivers within the boundaries of the preserve of the Feather Falls Scenic Area include the Fall River and a section of the Middle Fork Feather River, separated from each other by the Watson Ridge and converging at the upper end of Lake Oroville. On its way through a canyon, the Middle Fork Feather River flows to a point where it drops like a veil. That broad waterfall is called Curtain Falls. It is located east of Bald Rock Dome, which can be “visited” via the Dome Trail and seen from certain locations along the Feather Falls Loop Trail. At the Feather Falls Trailhead, you will find the following Scenic Area summary:

The 15,000-acre Feather Falls Scenic Area was established in 1965 to “preserve its unique beauty for public enjoyment and inspiration.” The Scenic Area is a part of the canyon of the Middle Fork Feather River, and three of its tributaries Fall River, Little North Fork, and South Branch. Outstanding features within the Scenic Area include spectacular granite domes and picturesque waterfalls along the Middle Fork Feather River, and Fall River.

The history of the Feather Falls area goes back 140 million years, geologically speaking. Around that time, the two-mile-wide Bald Rock Pluton was formed deep in the Earth's crust and became composed of both resistant and softer, more erodible parts. Millions of years later the pluton surfaced with the rise of the Sierra Nevada. Thereafter, millions of years of weathering removed soft parts and exposed granite portions of the old pluton. Some of those gray exposures, like Bald Rock Dome, took the shape of a polished head or crest. Half Dome and El Capitan in Yosemite National Park were similarly formed via pluton uplift and subsequent erosion.    

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Between the Five Lakes basin and Twin Peaks: Sierra crest's Ward Peak

Lichen-interspersed rock-wall edge of the Sierra crest north of Ward Peak
Top of Ward Peak with antennae installations
Ward Peak is located at the top of Alpine Meadows, south of Squaw Peak and the Five Lakes basin, and north of Twin Peaks. Ward Peak's top is settled with communications antennae. A ski lift of the Alpine Meadows Ski Area brings winter athletes up there during the snow season. The ski runs are on the east side of Ward Peak. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) traverses the west-side flank of Ward Peak, alongside which warning signs mark the ski area boundary and discourage skiers to proceed farther into the Granite Chief Wilderness.

Ward Peak belongs to the north-south trending Sierra crest northeast of Lake Tahoe. Over certain sections, the ridgecrest exhibits sharp, wall-like rock formations, which are covered with lichen and fight erosion. The PCT stretches alongside these edges. Hikers on the crest trail always—assuming good weather conditions—admire the panoramic grand vistas of the western Sierra Nevada mountain ranges and canyons reaching for Central Valley. Certain points of the PCT also offer eastward views down onto Alpine Meadows and over Lake Tahoe with the Carson Range at the horizon.

To explore this fascinating section of the Pacific Crest, take Five Lakes Trail to the lake basin. From there, the Five Lakes Trail continues towards a T-junction with the PCT (see map). Turn left at this junction. The southbound PCT soon crosses Five Lakes Creek between alders. Then, climb the steep forested hillside via an array of switchbacks. After this two-mile ascend, the PCT continues across open slopes with occasional, low-growing pines. If you pause to look back, you will see Squaw Peak, Squaw Valley High Camp and KT-22 to the north. Walking southbound, you will see Ward Peak with its installations. Eventually, Twin Peaks will also come into view. And on a blue-sky day, hiking along the “crest of the crest” shall inspire you to find your balance between Heaven and Earth.

Twin Peaks seen in the south from the PCT west of Ward Peak

Friday, August 29, 2014

From Alpine Meadows Road to the Five Lakes basin: Five Lakes Trail

South-facing slope of the KT-22 mountain between Squaw Valley and Bear Creek valley
KT-22 slope and rock sculptures above Five Lakes Trail

Young black bear
American black bear cub
Five Lakes Trail is a scenic trail connecting the valley of Bear Creek, northwest of Tahoe City in California, with the Five Lakes basin as well as with hiking trails and campsites above and beyond the Five Lakes (5Lks). This cluster of  subalpine wilderness lakes are nestled in a granite basin, interrupting the cliff-structured Pacific Crest. The lakes are found amid shade-throwing pine and fir forest, making them a popular short-hike destination in the North Tahoe area.

The 2.5-mile-long climb to the small lakes begins at the Deer Park Drive/Alpine Meadows Road trailhead. It leads through light forest and continues across the open south-facing slope of the KT-22 mountain, famous for its ski runs. The upper chairlift station of Squaw Valley's KT-22 can be seen from parts of the Five Lakes basin. While hiking across the shrub-covered KT-22 slope, you will notice gray- and beige-colored boulder-composed rock columns reaching the the sky [top picture]. Looking southwest, you won't miss the forest-free ridgecrest with communications antenna-littered Ward Peak above Alpine Meadows Ski area.

One of the Five Lakes
Your climbing effort will be rewarded by an easy walk when you get passed the slope with its switchbacks. You will enter the Granite Chief Wilderness with a forest of red firs. The first lake is not very far away, just on the left side of the trail. Various unmarked trails along lake shores, between granite boulders and through the forest connect the lakes with each other. On a warm and sunny day, you will never be alone here. Visitors like to relax near the water and browse the surroundings—and American black bears also love this place.

If you continue along the main path, Five Lakes Trail will take you to a connector trail with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) or to the upper lake of the Five Lakes, from where the trail also continues to the PCT with options to hike into Whiskey Creek Valley (detailed description follows below) or uphill to the Sierra Crest, Ward Peak, and Twin Peaks farther south.

Getting to the Five Lakes Trailhead and 5LKS Trail
sign directing to the Five Lakes
Get to the Alpine Meadow Road/Highway 89 junction between Truckee and Tahoe City. This junction is about one mile south of the Squaw Valley Road/Highway 89 junction. Cross the Truckee River on Alpine Meadow Road and follow it for about two miles. The marked Five Lakes Trailhead is next to the Deer Park Drive/Alpine Meadows Road junction. You will find a board with a trail map at this trailhead. The Five Lakes Trail signpost indicates that the 5LKS  trail continues on into the Granite Chief Wilderness, to the Pacific Crest Trail and towards Whiskey Creek. You will also get informed that the 5LKS Trail “is located on private property” and asked to respect property owners rights by staying on the trail. Further, you will be warned to not touch unexploded military shell and explosives used for snow avalanche control. When finding such a device, its location should immediately be reported to Alpine Meadows Ski-Patrol (530-5834232).

Trail map with Five Lakes basin, Whiskey Creek and Ward Peak
Hiking map with Five Lakes basin, Whiskey Creek and Ward Peak

Camping next to Five Lakes Creek or at Whisk(e)y Creek Camp
Camping and campfires have been banned near the Five Lakes. But there are forest campsites west of the lake basin along Five Lakes Creek and around historic Whiskey Creek Camp. Mike White, in his Afoot & Afield Reno-Tahoe hiking guide (Wilderness Press, Berkeley, 2008), explained how to get there:
Backpackers in search of a campsite must proceed westbound on the main path from the largest lake [Upper lake of the Five Lakes], to a crossing of Five Lakes Creek and then a three-way junction. Turn left (southwest), and traverse a patchily forested hillside for a quarter mile, to a T-junction with the PCT. By turning left on the southbound PCT, you can quickly reach a passable campsite near the crossing of Five Lakes Creek. A right turn on the northbound PCT leads out of the forest and across shrub-covered slopes, down the canyon of Five Lakes Creek until the trail returns to forest cover and arcs around the lower slopes of Squaw Peak to a well-signed junction. Following directions for Whisky Creek Camp [more commonly spelled Whiskey Creek Trail] turn left and follow switchbacking trail to a crossing of Whisky Creek [Whiskey Creek]. Just up from the crossing is the forested flat of Whisky Creek Camp, where three historic structures occupy the south side. Camping is not allowed within 250 feet of the structures, so look for shady campsites at the north end.

The PCT Whiskey Creek Trail post at the well-signed junctions, in fact, gives directions for both Whiskey Creek Camp and Diamond Crossing. The historic structures remain from the Basque sheepherder's days. They include a bunkhouse, storage shed and a roofed stove—still in good shape, but not available for use anymore!

Related Posts
[1] Five Lakes basin: more than just lakes.
[2] 5 Lakes Trail is both spectacular and accessible.
[3] Hike the Spectacular Five Lakes Trail Near Alpine Meadows.
[4] My Favorite - The Five Lakes Hike.
[5] Five Lakes Hike, Lake Tahoe.

Friday, July 25, 2014

From Round Top Lake to Fourth of July Lake

4th of July Lake
Fourth of July Lake and Summit City Canyon

Fourth of July Lake is a small, picturesque lake within the Mokelumne Wilderness some miles southwest of the Carson Pass Information Center. This subalpine lake is accessible from trailheads at Carson Pass, Woods Lake and Upper Blue Lake. By starting out from Carson Pass, your hike will turn into a scenic four-lake trip, including shallow Frog Lake, Winnemucca Lake and Round Top Lake. The latter being backdropped by the steep walls and talus slopes of The Sisters. Your destination lake is reached by hiking about 1,000 feet downhill the south-facing slopes of The Sisters into a steep, crater-like amphitheater.

Leaving the open forest of gnarled whitebark pines at Round Top Lake behind, an almost level trail with panoramic vistas leads around the west-facing shoulder of The Sisters. Fourth of July Peak is coming into view. Continue on between the latter and The Sisters until you reach the saddle-ridge, from where you get your first glimpse of the bottom stage with forest- and shrub-rimmed Fourth of July Lake.

Fourth-of-July-Lake hikers and backpackers love to mention the 1,000-feet-drop, which both downward and upward is not as bad as it may sound. Approaching the lower ranks on a hot and sunny day, you certainly will enjoy the shade provided by small and large conifers. Your efforts will finally be rewarded when you are invited to wade or dip into the cold lake water. There is a short stretch of a beach along the western shoreline (see picture below). Fourth of July Lake's inlet is at this beach side. The lake's outlet into Summit City Creek is at the east side, near your arrival point and the Y-junction with a trailpost giving direction for the Summit City Canyon trail.

Fourth of July Lake's beach side
Your climb back up will be eased thanks to the many switchbacks and the soul-refreshing display of wildflowers you probably already admired when coming down. The more elevation you gain, the more you will feel the strengthening of the cooling Sierra wind— taking away your sweat, but not your impressions of an inspiring lake dramaturgy.

For further inspiration, I recommend Kevin's Hiking Page > Fourth of July Lake. The trail from Carson Pass to Fourth of July Lake and further south into Summit City Canyon is a section of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail (TYT), connecting Lake Tahoe with Mt. Whitney for backpackers.

Geographic keywords: 4th of July Lake, Carson Pass Management Area, Mokelumne Wilderness, Eldorado National Forest, Sierra Nevada, California.

Fourth of July Lake's outlet into Summit City Creek

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

From Winnemucca Lake to Round Top Lake

Round Top Lake, Eldorado National Forest, California
Round Top Lake and The Sisters, Sierra Nevada, California

Path to Round Top
Path to Round Top
Glacially formed Round Top Lake in the Sierra Nevada is named after the impressive Round Top mountain, which comes into focus while hiking from the Carson Pass Information Center on Highway 88 via Frog-Lake to Winnemucca Lake. The lake's namesake can also be seen from further away; for example, from the saddle between Carson Pass and Meiss Meadows. This is Sierra crest territory with ancient volcanic summits such as Round Top and The Sisters. The latter are seen in the top picture, backdropping Round Top Lake with its dark, craggy, north-facing cliffs and seasonable, bright snowfields.

The near-timberline Round-Top-Lake area is reached by either ascending from the Woods Lake Campground or from Winnemucca Lake. Taking the Winnemucca route, you need to cross the outlet at the northwest corner of Winnemucca Lake, from where you will hike the one-mile-long trail to Round Top Lake.The trail ascends across open slopes to a granite ridge. From the ridge crest, you will head west between shrubs and occasional whitebark pines until Round Top Lake comes into view.

On a warm summer day, you will find hikers and backpackers taking a break in the meadows around the blue-green lake. Others may attempt to climb to the top of Round Top, by taking the path next to Round Top Lake's inlet—shown in the right-side picture above. This unsigned trail leads to a saddle between Round Top and the east Sister. From there, magnificent panoramic views will be enjoyed, whether you manage to continue your summit climb or start your return. 

Round Top lake is a cirque lake (see, for example, Round Top Geologic Area), carved out of the bedrock underneath an Ice Age glacier, whose tremendous weight forced it downhill from its position between and aside Round Top and The Sisters.

Geographic Keywords: alpine lakes, extinct volcanoes, Eldorado National Forest, Mokelumne Wilderness, Carson Pass Management Area, California.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

From Frog Lake to Winnemucca Lake

Winnemucca Lake with snow fields and Round Top cliffs
Picturesque Winnemucca Lake is located 2.4 hiking miles southwest of the Carson Pass Information Center. To get to this alpine lake, hikers and backpackers follow short sections of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail (TYT). If you haven't been on any section of these long-distance trails before, the trail from Carson Pass via Frog Lake to Winnemucca Lake is your chance to take your first steps on both trails—and possibly meet heavily packed PCT or TYT thru-hikers.

According to hiking-blogger Liz, the popular Carson-Pass-to-Winnemucca-Lake trip is an easy hike with many opportunities to take wildflower pictures [1]. The path from Frog Lake to Winnemucca Lake traverses open hillsides northwest of the Elephants Back lava dome, a landscape “brimming with vibrant, colorful wildflowers. Scarlet gilia, Indian paintbrush, blue flax, sierra lilies, and numerous other species are scattered as far as the eye can see. As the trail edges along the western flank of Elephant's Back, there are a few flowing streams and wet areas where you can encounter lupine, columbine, monkeyflower, and, if you're lucky, small blue butterflies called Melissa Blues.” [2]

Winnemucca Lake is backdropped by Round Top, an ancient craggy volcanic vent. During spring snowmelt, water runs and falls down its dark cliffs into the lake. From its outlet at the northwest corner, you may want to continue your hike by climbing up and experience the next-higher-elevation lake—Round Top Lake.

As with the name “Frog Lake” (compare Frog Lake in the Mokelumne Wilderness with Frog Lake east of Castle Peak), the name “Winnemucca Lake” is ambiguous. There has been a shallow Winnemucca Lake on the dividing line between Washoe and Pershing counties in Nevada, which now is a dry lake bed [3]; still called Winnemucca Lake when it seasonably fills up with some water.

References and more to explore
[1] Liz: Carson Pass to Winnemucca Lake: Mokelumne Wilderness.
[2] Pinnacle Lake Tahoe Getaways: Carson Pass to Winnemucca Lake - Lake Tahoe Hiking Trails.
[3] Wikipedia: Winnemucca Lake. (accessed July 20, 2014).

From Carson Pass to shallow Frog Lake

Shallow Frog Lake
Frog Lake filling a shallow depression in an open bowl

The Carson Pass area features various hiking trails connecting trailheads and campgrounds with historic sites, lakes and grand vista points. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) passes through. Northbound, it leads to Meiss Meadows, connecting with the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT), Echo Summit, Round Lake and Dardanelles Lake. Southbound, a 5-mile-long hiking trip will take you to Forestdale Divide, on which you will pass Frog Lake after about one mile.

Small, deep-blue reflection pond next to PCT
Starting on the west side of  the Carson Pass Information Center, you will find an information kiosk with a trail map, notes on the PCT history and local natural history. Not very far from this trailhead you will pass a pond with an unusually deep-blue body of water, reflecting surrounding conifers. 

Entering the Carson Pass Management Area [1], you will reach Frog Lake by ascending a few switchbacks through thinning forest—while being treated to sweeping views of ancient lava domes and craggy volcanic vents such as Round Top.

The shoreline of Frog Lake consists of coarse-grained sand and granite boulders. Its water may change from clear to muddy, after slowly drying up towards the end of the summer season. Mike White writes [2]:

Frog Lake [...] fills a shallow depression in an open bowl dotted with widely scattered pines. Lacking a permanent inlet and outlet, Frog Lake develops a muddy bathtub ring by the end of the summer.

But don't bring your bathtub scrubber! The frogs may not like it. Speaking of frogs, during my visit I didn't see or hear any frogs—only resting two-legged visitors busy with lunch break conversation.

The Frog Lake in the Mokelumne Wilderness is not the only Sierra Nevada lake with this name. There is another Frog Lake north of Donner Summit and east of Castle Peak: scenic Frog Lake Overlook can be reached via various hiking routes. 

References and more on staying and hiking in Kit Carson County
[1] Up and Over Carson Pass: (scroll down to find a Carson Pass overview map with lakes and trails).
[2] Mike White: Afoot & Afield. Reno-Tahoe. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, 2nd printing November 2008; page 303.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

From Carson Pass to Meiss Meadows

Iris-lined Pacific Crest Trail over a scenic saddle 
north of Carson Pass
The trail between the Meiss Meadows Trailhead near the Carson Pass Information Center and the Meiss Meadows area makes for only a tiny fraction of the 2,663-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It is one of those sections that does not trace the crest, but stretches or winds over undulated meadows and saddles between diverse mountain peaks and volcanic outcroppings. Hiking northbound to Echo Summit, you will see Red Lake Peak and Stevens Peak to your right.  Once you have passed the grass- and willow-lined pond on the left-side of the PCT, you will enjoy the nearly level walk over the saddle—with views of the Lake Tahoe basin to the north and mountains including Elephants Back, Round Top and Fourth of July Peak to the south. Also, Caples Lake is easily recognized within the forest landscape.

Monument plant 
(Swertia radiata, Gentianaceae)
During the late spring and early summer season, the saddle floor is covered with wildflowers such as mule ears, lupines and paint brush. For a short distance, the path is lined with blue irises on both sides of the PCT (see top picture). And dense iris patches occur all around. Occasionally, a  monument plant, also called deer's tongue, is “towering” over a flower carpet.
Historic Meiss cabin
From the saddle, the PCT continues downhill into Meiss Meadows and the headwaters of the Upper Truckee River. About three miles from the Meiss Meadows Trailhead, you will reach the Meiss Family Cabin—to your left off the PCT. What today looks like an “unspoiled ecosystem” was for some time a cattle grazing ground and a summer residence of a “pioneer family” from Europe.

From the trail junction near the cabins, you may want to venture further north along one of the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) branches—either northeast-bound towards Round Lake and Big Meadow or northwest-bound along the PCT/TRT trail section to Showers Lake and Echo Summit.

Keywords: Outdoors, hiking, backpacking, high-elevation meadowland, Meiss Country, Alpine County, Sierra Nevada, California.

Getting to the Meiss Meadows Trailhead and PCT saddle west of Red Lake Peak
The trailhead parking area is located 0.2 mile northwest of the Carson Pass Information Station. Currently (summer 2014), a $5-per-day fee applies to both the Carson Pass and the Meiss Meadows Trailhead parking area. The northbound single-track PCT is well-signed. At its beginning, the trail traverses a conifer forest above Highway 88. Then, a few switchbacks across a hillside lead hikers toward the saddle with many views.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Franktown's Musgrove Canyon Road closed for mountain biking and backcountry hiking?

Lewers Creek, east-side Carson Range, Nevada
The Musgrove Canyon Road climbs away from Washoe Value, skirts the southwest corner of Franktown and leads into the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. This gravel-road trail into the Carson Range, popular with mountain bikers and backcountry hikers, connects Washoe Valley with the Tahoe Rim Trail section between Tahoe Meadows and Spooner Summit. However, it is currently interrupted along a short stretch that bends through Franktown territory between the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park and land of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. After about a one-mile climb, a new gate blocks the road where it is getting close to the canyon stream of Lewers Creek (picture above). A sign says: Private Property | No Trespassing | No Bicycling | No Hiking | No Hunting | No Fishing.

Years ago, Mike White referred to Franktown's recreational-access problems in the chapter Trip 20: Musgrove Canyon Road to Twin Lakes of his hiking guide [1]:

Getting onto public land from Franktown Road around the upscale homes and sprawling estates lining the country lane has been a bit problematic over the years. Residents successfully blocked the state's desire to build a bike lane on the edge of the popular roadway in the past and still don't seem ready to invite any type of recreationists into “their” backyard. Supposedly, the Forest Service has successfully negotiated public access to the Musgrove Canyon Road that travels over their land and onto state park property.

Was this a half-way, only temporary success? A look at the hiking map shows that the design of a few switchbacks through the sagebrush scrub south of the road could solve the problem. This mountainside belongs to the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. But I am not aware of any plan to do this. Why is it so difficult to create a great hiking and mountain biking environment around Franktown, while Genoa, another scenic and historic site at the east-side bottom of the Carson Range, has just done that. Genoa is surrounded by a trail system, which integrates this old settlement with nearby points of interest and trails, including the serene Genoa Waterfall, the Discovery Trail, the Sierra Canyon Trail and the River Fork Ranch's East Brockliss Loop and West Fork Trail

To access the highlights and remote areas off Franktown in the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, there are alternative routes and trailheads—such as the Hobart Road trailhead in the Lakeview Estates Subdivision described in “Ghost of a Sawmill” next to the trail from Hobart Road to Hobart Reservoir. Continuing your climb from the “Ghost of a Sawmill” further up into the Carson Range forest and alongside granodiorite formations, you will get to the Hobart Reservoir and the Red House in Franktown Creek.  From the Red House, you have two trail options to connect with the Musgrove Canyon Road/Twin Lakes trail—you will follow or cross Franktown Creek without ever passing through off-limits Franktown property.

Keywords: recreational access, hiking, backcountry, mountain biking, property rights, Franktown, Carson Range, Nevada, trail networks.

[1] Mike White: Afoot & Afield Reno-Tahoe: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, 2nd printing November 2008; pp. 269-270, map on page 262.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Cross Peak trail loop west of Reno's Caughlin Ranch neighborhood

Cross Peak's reflection rocks with Peavine mountain in the background

View of Cross Peak from Alum Creek
Cross Peak is a rock-outcrop hill next to the Caughlin Ranch neighborhood in west Reno, Nevada. On its top you'll stand or sit next to the eponymous cross, a two-dimensional tree sculpture and a metal box with a sign saying “Reflection On Cross Peak.” Inside this box you'll find a notebook filled with reflections—and you are invited to enter your own. The cross and the bookbox is a memorial to a Reno family [1]: be respectful!

There are various ways to get to the top of Cross Peak—but no trail posts [1,2]. The easiest way is to follow the paved green-belt trail from Betsy Caughlin Donnelly Park uphill along Alum Creek. This trail underpasses the Mc Carran Boulvard just north of the Mayberry Landing Boutique Shopping Center. Following this trail along the creek you will arrive at a couple of ponds and the “Juniper Trails” board next to the Caughlin Parkway. This location, or the Caughlin Athletic Club further up, would also be good places to start your Cross Peak visit. Going uphill from the Caughlin Club, you will pass an interpretive stand of Jeffrey Pines, walk through a tunnel underneath the parkway and then arrive at a junction, from where the paved trail continues over a bridge to your left and an unpaved trail continues along the creek. Cross Peak is coming into view: the right-side picture above was taken there. Follow the unpaved path winding through the creek between pine trees. After a short distance a narrow trail is branching off. It leads you out of the pine grove and upward alongside the right slope, intersects a dirt road and then takes you straight up to the top of Cross Peak. Time for rock climbing and reflections. From the top, the trail continues downhill on the south slope, connecting you with the creek trail. Turn left along the creek to get back to the paved trail and the Caughlin Ranch green belt. 

More to explore
[1] Ryan Bailey: Cross Peak. Ryan Bailey's Blog, August 5, 2010 [].
[2] Summit post: Cross Peak [].

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Are lakes in Washoe County such as Rock Lake in the Carson Range drying up?

Rock Lake in the Carson Range near Ophir Creek Trail between Davis Creek Regional Park and Tahoe Meadows
Rock Lake showing its eponymous rocks (March 16, 2014)

Lakes in Washoe County, Nevada, are showing significant variations in their water level—not only seasonably, but also when compared year by year. Washoe Lake, which is a shallow body of water with a maximum depth of just a few feet, has completely dried up in the past. Dry Pond, located southwest of Reno and northeast of Mount Rose, has been seen wet in spring 2008, but less so during spring seasons thereafter. In compliance with its name, Dry Pond mostly stays dry. Church's Pond, a few miles southwest of Dry Pond in the Mount Rose Wilderness, also seems to have, on average, less water each year.

Rock Lake, located in a fragile and mountainous landscape between Washoe Lake and the slide side of Carson Range's Slide Mountain, is known for the beautiful pads of yellow water lilies that cover the water surface between the shoreline and the multitude of rocks that characterize its lake scenery. With lower water marks, Rock Lake's rock are getting more exposed. On March 16, this year, I found the lake shrunken down to puddles, wondering if there will be blooming water lilies this summer.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A large fence going up around the arboretum at Reno's Rancho San Rafael Regional Park

The Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden is a mosaic of groves, gardens and interpretive sites featuring native plants and treasures from around the world. The landscaped park contains expensive flora, botanicals, benches and memorial sites. Washoe County parks operations superintendent Eric Crump estimated the value of trees and shrubs at the arboretum at nearly $3 million. Unfortunately, a spruce tree was stolen last December and other types of theft and destruction have occurred. To deter vandalism, the high black fence is constructed—a $30,000 project. Does it make sense? According to information in a recent Question & Answer column in the Reno Gazette-Journal, the park will not be locked and, initially, not completely be enclosed by the fence.

Loving open space? Find parks, preserves, forests and trails at Explore Reno-Tahoe and beyond.

Ask the RGJ: Why the fence at Rancho San Rafael? Reno Gazette-Journal, February 12, 2014, 3A.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

“Beer & Wine” snow sculpture created during Carve Tahoe event, Northstar California

This snow sculpture with the title “Beer & Wine” was created by Team California/Netherlands at the international snow sculpturing event Carve Tahoe: “A dance between an elegant wine opener and a beer can opener. A juxtaposition of masculine and femine.” On a sunny Saturday (Feb. 1, 2014), visitors were strolling and dancing around this snowy juxtaposition and seven other striking creations—all made out of the white stuff that seems to become a rarity in the Reno-Tahoe landscape: Team Tahoe Truckee's The Fish Eaters, Team Yukon Canada's The First Killer Whale,Team Mongolia's Battle, Team Japan's Dream Telescope, Team Finland/Czech Republic's Handicrafts, Team Germany's Reflection and Team USA Wisconsin's Reflection

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“Dream Telescope” snow sculpture created during Carve Tahoe event, Northstar California

This snow sculpture with the title “Dream Telescope” was created by Team Japan at the international snow sculpturing event Carve Tahoe. The snow artists—Yoshimasa Tsuchida, Teruyasu Matsumara and Shin Ozaki—introduced their work as follows:

The Dream Telescope can see into the future by sharpening the senses, imagination, and living together with nature. Rather than promote the development of science and technology, how can you create your own Dream Telescope?

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“Handicrafts” snow sculpture created during Carve Tahoe event, Northstar California

The picture shows the snow sculpture named “Handicrafts.” It was created by the binational Team Finland/Czech Republic at the international snow sculpturing event Carve Tahoe. Visitors could walk around this and seven other sculptures standing next to the Northstar Village near Truckee, California.

The artists—Saila Hastrup, Minna Eloranta and Jan Laštovičkar—reflected on their creation by writing:

In a world of machine made items that are less unique, durable and special, this sculpture is designed to remind us of the value and beauty of handicrafts. 

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Team Germany's “Reflection” snow sculpture created during Carve Tahoe event, Northstar California

Team Germany's abstract snow creation “Reflection” is the second sculpture at Carve Tahoe having this title. The other Reflection sculpture at the international snow sculpture event at Northstar California was created by Team USA Wisconsin.

Friedemann Theil, Lothar Luboschik and Detlef Schurtzmann of Team Germany explain the geometry of their sculpture as follows:
The mirror surface of snow cuts through the sculpture. Separated but in a fixed relationship. Top and bottom are identical. and in absolute line. Different viewing angles change balance and harmony. 

Sunshine and rising temperature will change everything else!

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“The First Killer Whale” snow sculpture created during Carve Tahoe event, Northstar California

This snow sculpture with the title “The First Killer Whale” was created by Team Yukon Canada at the international snow sculpturing event Carve Tahoe. Visitors could walk around this and seven other sculptures standing next to the Northstar Village near Truckee, California.

The snow artists—Donald Watt, Ken Anderson and Michael Lane—introduced their work as follows:

There was [a] man who became a castaway on an island. He wanted to get back to the mainland and his people. He felt that if he carved a fish from the wood on the island he could ride it back to the distant shore. He carved many different fish from different kinds of wood. None of them had the spirit inside them to awaken the wood and save the man. That was until he carved his fish from Yellow Cedar and the wood was full of a spirit. When he cut the hole in the fin it came alive and he was able to hold on to its fin and ride back to the safety of the mainland.

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Team USA Wisconsin's “Reflection” snow sculpture created during Carve Tahoe event, Northstar California

This snow sculpture is named “Reflection,” capturing “the magic of the moment, the memories of life's journey.” It was created by Team USA Wisconsin at the international snow sculpturing event Carve Tahoe. Visitors could walk around this and seven other sculptures standing next to the Northstar Village near Truckee, California.

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“Battle” snow sculpture created during Carve Tahoe event, Northstar California

The picture shows the upper part of the snow sculpture named “Battle.” This detailed composition was created by Team Mongolia at the international snow sculpturing event Carve Tahoe. Visitors could walk around this and seven other sculptures standing next to the Northstar Village near Truckee, California.

The artists—Batmunkh Govisaikhan and Altanbayar—explain the sculptured battle as  “legendary Mongolian knights overcoming evil to bring back peace.”

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“The Fish Eaters” snow sculpture at Northstar California

This snow sculpture with the title Kooyooe TuKaduThe Fish Eaters” was created by Team Tahoe Truckee at the international snow sculpturing event Carve Tahoe. Visitors could walk around this and seven other sculptures standing next to the Northstar Village near Truckee, California.

The artists—Ira Kessey, Ed Winslow and Mark Davis—introduced the fish eaters as follows:

In the early 1800s a young Paiute Indian Chief and his Tribe were living in the Pyramid Lake region. The 121 mile river that flows into the unique lake also starts at another unique lake. The crystal clear jewel is Da Aw...Lake Tahoe. There are many accounts of how Chief Truckee got his name, but his reply of Tro Kay or To ge'yee, in the Paiute language meaning “All Right.”

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Off the Steamboat Ditch Trail: a once-yellow-painted concrete arrow helped airmail pilots finding their transcontinental route

The history of the Emigrant Trail and the fate of the Donner Party around Donner Lake and Roller Pass south of today's Mt. Judah Loop Trail is well known and belongs to common lore of Reno-Tahoe residents. The above-the-ground version of transcontinental ambitions is much less known: in the 1920s, when transcontinental paths and railroad connections had been well established, U.S. airmail pilots began navigating between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Next to the Washoe County Regional Parks & Open Space Department at Plumas Street in Reno, a plaque marks the site of the Reno Air Mail Field (now the site of the Washoe County Golf Course), which was once operated by the United States Post Office Department Trans-Continental Air Mail Service. The plaque tells us that the first scheduled mail-plane landed there on September 9, 1920. The above picture shows the plaque's relief sculpture illustrating a historic U.S. airmail plane (top picture).

East-pointing arrow with Verdi Range in the background
Such open-cockpit biplanes were typically flown by young, military-trained pilots. A system of concrete arrows and airmail beacons was then installed across the United States [1]. Guy Clifton writes that to help fliers “successfully navigate the route between New York and San Francisco, the arrows (usually painted yellow) and an accompanying tower equipped with a gas-powered beacon were installed at roughly 10-mile intervals across the country.” [2]

Steamboat Ditch Hole and trail ascending to the arrow
One of those ground-based landmarks for flight guidance still exists between Reno and Verdi off the Steamboat Ditch Trail above the two holes in the wall. The right-side picture shows the steep trail ascending from the Reno-side hole to the ridge. Once on top, turn right and follow the dirt-road trail north to its end. While enjoying views of the Verdi Range, Peavine Peak and the Truckee River, you may finally realize you are treading or standing on a concrete slab, unless you already saw it on your approach. That's it: a weathered and cracked arrow (shown above) pointing towards northwest Reno, Elko—and New York. Hikers and mountain bikers are often coming up and meet for a “break at the arrow.” Obviously, there are higher locations all around. But, I guess, the actual arrow-site was chosen to direct planes along a flight closely following the Truckee River Valley.

From the east, planes came via Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, across Nevada to continue to San Francisco, California [3]:

The initial westbound trip was made at the rate of 80 miles per hour and was flown without a forced landing, either for weather or mechanical trouble. The plane carried 16,000 letters, which arrived in San Francisco 22 hours ahead of the best possible time by train, had the train made all its connections.

Like the early emigrants and Pony Express riders, the pioneer pilots had to manage all kinds of weather and sometimes fight a blizzard. Infrequently, the arrows must have been covered by snow and pilots only had landscape features and the beacons to spot for orientation. With the emergence of the radar era, the arrow-beacon system became obsolete.  To commemorate the pre-radar navigation system, the preservation of the slowly sliding Reno concrete arrowthe Steamboat Trail Arrowwould be a nice achievement. Guy Clifton writes about Nevada history buff Marvin Mattson, who likes to see this happen:   

The ultimate goal, he [Marvin Mattson] said, would be preserving a unique piece of Reno and Nevada history. While there are many historical markers and references to the Pony Express route and former stations in Nevada, there is little recognition of the airmail service.

I guess, there is some difficulty in convincing people to preserve concrete slabs. But it should be worth while to keep history visible within our landscape. And outdoor enthusiasts will certainly appreciate a concrete arrow viewing terrace above the Truckee river.

View of the Truckee river from the site of the concrete arrow
Keywords: aviation history, air mail, transcontinental flights.

References and more to explore
[1] Concrete Arrows and the U.S. Airmail Beacon System:
[2] Guy Clifton: Pointing the Way. Mysterious concrete arrow tells of Reno's airmail history. Reno Gazette-Journal, January 12, 2014, pages 1D and 4D (also see the online update, January 15, 2013).
[3] Air Mail Pioneers: