Saturday, April 25, 2015

Hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding near Carson City: Clear Creek Trail

A switchback of Clear Creek Trail near Jacks Valley

Desert peach and bitterbrush
Clear Creek Trail is a scenic multi-use trail through sagebrush-bitterbrush steppe and pine forest between Jacks Valley and Clear Creek Valley—southwest of Carson City, Nevada. This 10.5-mile-long path is open to hikers, mountain-bike riders, equestrians and dogs [1]. There are great view points along the trail: Knob Point being one of the highlights. Don't expect any short-cuts, circular round-trip options or escape routes. Various trail sections go through private land. At intersections with private roads, signs are asking you to please keep on trail. Clear Creek Trail is clearly marked and well maintained.

Some visitors don't get very far beyond the sandy slopes of the Habitat Mangement Area just north of Jacks Valley Road. This area is dominated by rabbitbrush, bitterbrush and sagebrush covering hillsides and surrounding granite boulders. Almost everywhere, you can enjoy the magnificient views of Jacks Valley and the distant peaks of the Carson Range. In mid-spring, fragrance-rich yellow-blooming bitterbrush and pink-blooming desert peach turns this brush desert into a flower garden.
To Knob Point

The trail distance from the trailhead at Jacks Valley Elementary School to Knob Point is seven miles. Once you are entering the open pine forest after about three miles from the trailhead, you may find some shade next to a manzanita shrub under some pine trees. Watch out for rattlesnakes during the hot season, especially in the late afternoon and evening.

To Clear Creek Valley View Point
Clear Creek Trail gently winds its way uphill between Jeffrey pines and white firs. Occasionally, you might spot an incense cedar, most likely between Knob Point and Clear Creek Valley View Point further north. Hikers often make Knob Point their destination and turning point. I have never met hikers, but frequently pairs or groups of mountain bikers along the view-point-to-view-point section of the trail. From the junction of the main trail and the short side path to the view point, Clear Creek Trail continues ascending alongside the slopes of the Carson Range until it reaches its highest point of 6200 feet at the south fork crossing of Clear Creek. The north fork crossing follows soon.

The two creek crossings differ from what you experience elsewhere along the trail. These small riparian zones feature stands of aspen, willows and horsetail next to the flowing—or trickling—water. Over the final stretch, the trail coincidences with  the Old Clear Creek Road for 0.8 miles. The singletrack trail then continues for half a mile on the left side of this road, now with traffic noise from Highway 50, which can be seen further uphill. From the End of Trail sign, it is only a short distance to the  Highway 50/Tahoe Golf Club Drive interchange.

Make the end your beginning
In case you are planning to discover Clear Creek Trail from the Highway 50 side, notice that parking space is very limited. Traverse the dirt road south of the small reservoir and head forward toward the little, red Hot Voltage hut with the sign Confined Space Do Not Enter. Continue on the right side of this facility along the narrowing dirt road and you will encounter a post with a Welcome Trail Users... note. This is the End of Trail trailhead—a trailhead that, due to landownership realities, seems randomly placed. Trail distances are given: 3.5 miles to Knob Point and 10.5 miles to the other-end Jacks Valley Trailhead. The Knob Point round trip from this north trailhead is only seven miles, about half of what it takes when starting from Jacks Valley.

References and other resources
[1] Clear Creek Trail Information:
[2] Bike Carson - Clear Creek Trail:
[3] Ride Report: Clear Creek Trail - Carson City, Nevada:
[4] Clear Creek Trail
[5] Carson Valley Trails Association - Clear Creek

Explore some other trails established by the Carson Valley Trails Association (CVTA):

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Clear Creek Trail's lower section: wide open views of sagebrush/bitterbrush steppe, the Genoa fault surface and the Carson Range

Weathering rocks along Clear Creek Trail with snowy Jobs Peak and Jobs Sister in the background

Once, a sagebrush/bitterbrush steppe plant community dominated the foothills north and south of Genoa between the Carson Range and the Carson River in Nevada. This ecosystem has been turned—in most parts—into ranchlands, golf course fields and gentrified neighborhoods. If you like to explore still existing sagebrush/bitterbrush steppe in the Reno-Tahoe area, then the Jobs Peak Ranch Trail area and the Jacks Valley Habitat Management Area provide great open spaces to do so.

The Jacks Valley Habitat is now preserved to protect wildlife such as visiting mule deer and other game. The lower section of the 10.5-mile-long Clear Creek Trail gives hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders access to the scenic brushland hills with variously-shaped, weathering rocks.

In April and May you will witness the fantastic flower display of pink-blooming desert peach shrubs. In contrast, bitterbrush has yellow flowers. On warm, sunny days in mid-spring the air is filled with their rose-like fragrance. Bitterbrush seeds are prized by birds, rodents and harvester ants. Rodents prey on and distribute the seeds. The bitterbrush twigs and the dark green, extremely bitter leaves provide vital proteins for deer and antelope [1].

About one-fourth of the Clear Creek Trail snakes through the steppe, gently ascending from Jacks Valley Elementary School and the trailhead at Jacks Valley Road towards the pine forest slopes. Viewing south, you will see Jacks Valley, Carson Valley and the snowy peaks (during winter and spring) of the Carson Range, such as Jobs Peak and the slightly higher Jobs Sister. You can trace the Genoa fault line where the valley planes intersect the steep mountain front.  The Genoa fault is part of the Sierra Nevada Frontal Fault Zone. A strong earthquake with a magnitude of about 7.5 is believed to have occurred along the Genoa Fault within the past few hundred years [2].

Jacks Valley seen from Clear Creek Trail
Jacks Valley with Carson Range and Genoa fault line

The Clear Creek Trail travels through land of the Toiyabe National Forest and also through private land. As you are leaving the steppe and entering the open pine forest, the trail intersects with unpaved cross roads, where signs ask you to keep off those roads to respect private-land ownership.The trail continues to wind up to Knob Point, a beautiful view point from where you can see across the Minden/Gardnerville area to the Pine Nut Mountains. Continuing on to another another vista point, you will be able to view Clear Creek.

Getting to the Clear Creek Trailhead on Jacks Valley Road
From Carson City, drive south on Highway 395. Go past Topsy Lane and turn left onto Jacks Valley Road. Go west for 1.5 miles. Soon after passing the Jacks Valley Elementary School (or parking there; read below) you will arrive at the right-side parking strip next to the grey gate saying Road Closed. Non-motorized traffic passes through the opening on the left side of the gate. The brown Jack's Valley Habitat Management Area board and the trailhead kiosk are standing behind the gate and fence.
From Genoa, drive north on Jacks Valley Road for about six miles. Find the trailhead on the left side just after the road bends northeast, past Bavarian Drive and the fire station. 

Jacks Valley Trailhead at Jacks Valley Elementary School
Instead of using the Jacks Valley Road trailhead, you may want to make the nearby trailhead, about 0.3 miles further east, at the southwest side of Jacks Valley Elementary School your starting point—the real beginning (or end) of the trail. This site has plenty of room for horse trailers.

Clear Creek Trail is open year-round.

References and more to explore
[1] J. V. Tingley, K. A. Pizzaro, C. Ross, B. W. Parkey and L. J. Garside: Geologic and Natural History Tours in the Reno Area.  Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology Special Publication 19. University of Nevada, Reno 2005 (see page 116 and other pages). 
[2] Alan Ramelli: Prominent Fault Scarps in Western Nevada. Nevada Geology. Quarterly Newsletter of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology. Spring 1992 [].
[3] Clear Creek Trail Map:
[4] Carson Valley Trails Association - Clear Creek Trail: