Monday, May 29, 2017

Meeks Creek Waterfalls

The falling water of Meeks Creek taking different paths
The Tahoe-Yosemite Trail (TYT) connects Lake Tahoe's Meeks Bay with Tuolumne Meadows at Yosemite. Never been on this trail? What about exploring the first three miles of the TYT at its Meeks Bay beginning (or terminus). A hike to the Meeks Creek Waterfalls makes for an exciting spring outing, especially during the snow-melting season after a snow-heavy winter. 

Tumbling and splashing Meeks Creek
From near the Meeks Bay Campground, the TYT follows a gently ascending dirt road, which may still be wet—saturated with meltwater in May or June. Here, you will have a good chance to spot some snowplants that like to grow in the forest of various pines, white firs and incense cedars. Long cones fallen off sugar-cone pines can be found on the forest floor, which is covered with manzanitas and other brushes at certain places and almost barren at others. Corn lilies add their fresh green to areas with moist soil. 

At a marked junction next to a shallow lake or pond—after 1.5 miles from the Meeks Bay tralhead—the TYT starts a slightly steeper ascend through lush forest. The canyon of Meeks Creek is to your left. While you continue climbing you will get closer to the creek. The single-track trail runs roughly parallel to it. Follow the sound of rushing water and find the unmarked side-trip path that switchbacks down between boulders and brushes to where Meeks Creek is cascading through its rocky bed. Watch out for loose rocks and slippery spots. Expect droplets of water spray coming your way, which can be pleasant on a hot day. The mist also sustains the mosses you see hugging tree trunks and hanging from branches.

Zooming in on the down-streaming whitewater of Meeks Creek
There are no round-trip option. Return the way you came or continue on the TYT farther upstream to the Tallant Lakes, beginning with Lake Genevieve, followed by Crag Lake

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Galena Creek Nature Trail

Large granodiorite boulder fractured by frost wedging
My favorite season to walk the Galena Creek Nature Trail (GCNT)—southwest of Reno, Nevada—is spring, when the snow cover is receding and white water is rushing down Galena Creek. Consider the nature loop for a warm-up hike to get ready for the Jones White Loop Trail or an out-and-back trip to Church's Pond—or grab a Trail Guide brochure at the Galena Creek Visitor Center and simply explore the evergreens and trailside attractions along the nature path. Discover split rocks and trees with forked trunks and entertain in speculations on how bifurcation happens in nature.

The trail loops off and back to Bitterbrush Trail through forest of Jeffrey pines and various brushes. Along the trail you will find 18 sites with a marker referencing the interpretation section in the brochure. Let's have a look at some of the sites.

At the nature trail/Bitterbrush Trail junction next to the Galena Creek bridge you will see tobacco brush. This evergreen is common on open-forest slopes of the Carson Range; found, for example, alongside Kings Canyon Upper Waterfall LoopSnowbrush, its other name, highlights its inflorescences of long clusters with white flowers during bloom.

Ascending the nature trail alongside Galena Creek, which cascades downhill through the Mt. Rose wilderness from Tamarack Peak, you will soon get to the sites comparing Jeffrey pine and white fir. The brochure explains that Jeffrey pines are the dominant pine tree species in the park, distinguished by 8 to 10 inch long needles in bundles of three and 5 to 10 inch cones with in-turned prickles. Notice all the pine cones laying on the forest floor.

Jeffrey pine cone
Fallen-off cone of Jeffrey pine with in-turned prickles
The fir cones remain on the tree for a much longer time: after maturing, their scales are shed, leaving a central axis. Many seeds never germinate, but end up in the stomach of a squirrel.
Forked trunk of white fir

The right-side photo depicts trunk forking observed with several Galena Creek firs. According to the brochure “this is a rather odd coincidence. They usually grow tall and straight. Several other trees near the creek also have forked trunks. One possible explanation is that debris from past floods took the tops off these trees. When the top of a tree is cut off, growth occurs from remaining branches which fork into two or more trunks.”

From trees to brushes: continuing your round walk along the upper section of the nature trail, you will learn about sagebrush, Sierra willows, curl-leaf mountain mahagony, greenleaf manzanita and bitterbrush.

Bark and leaves of curl-leaf mountain mahogany
Bark and leaves of curl-leaf mountain mahogany shrub developing curled-up fruit tails in fall
Cinnamon-red bark of greenleaf manzanita branches
Descending back toward Bitterbrush Trail, you will pass the frost-wedged boulder shown in the top picture. This boulder is described in the brochure as a large granodiorite rock that “is fractured in several straight planes. If you squeezed the pieces together, they would fit very closely. This was probably caused by minute quantities of moisture getting into cracks in the rock and freezing. As the water turned to ice it expanded and exerted pressure on the inside of the rock great neough to cause it to split. This process is known as frost wedging. If you wonder where the trail went, just continue walking through the rock.”   

Walk through, don't get stuck and have fun with split-boulder squeezing!

GCNT map
Map with 0.7-mile-long Galena Creek Nature Trail (GCNT)


Getting to Bitterbrush Trail and the adjoining Nature Loop

Get to the South Entrance of the Galena Creek Recreation Area. Find the entrance about three quarters of a mile south (uphill on NV-431) from the North Entrance. The South Entrance is near the junction of Douglas Fir Drive with Mt. Rose Highway  (NV-431). For details and facilities, consult the zoomed-in map above or the Galena Creek Recreation Area map. To pick up a Galena Creek Nature Trail brochure, you want to first stop at the Galena Creek Visitor Center near the North Entrance. Galena Creek Park phone number provided on brochure: (775) 849-2511.