Sunday, September 22, 2019

Cold Creek Trail 18E06

Cold Creek: unnamed waterfalls
Cold Creek Trail is a single-track trail leading from South Lake Tahoe, California, uphill to High Meadows. The 2.5-mile-long trail follows Cold Creek along the left (north) side. Almost level at its beginning near Powerline Trail, Cold Creek Trail continues as a sequence of switchbacks. It is popular with mountain bikers—and over certain sections quite a challenge. Hikers love this shaded creek & forest trail as well.

Cold Creek Trail near Powerline Trail
My Lake Tahoe Basin Trail Map marks Cold Creek Trail with two black diamonds—for “expert” use. Indeed, you need to master a few steep and rough rock jumps. I have seen many riders walking their bike at those locations. Half-way up you will pass by a few insignificant, yet beautiful waterfalls; where you may want to take a break and refresh. The trail mellows out as you are getting close to the meadows. Here, Cold Creek slowly meanders through brightening mixed forest.

Granodiorite rocks next to Cold Creek Trail
Cold Creek Trail ends at a creek crossing. Actually, it splits into two trails. One path continues uphill for another two miles to Monument Pass and the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT). The other, across the creek, starts out as High Meadow Road, which you can take to get back to South Lake Tahoe and Meyers. The latter also connects with the 3.1-mile long Star Lake Trail—accessing Star Lake, the TRT and the Freel Peak surroundings within the Carson Range

Cold Creek at High Meadows

Friday, August 30, 2019

On and off the PCT: climbing Mount Lincoln

Pacific Crest Trail south of Mount Lincoln
Looking south from Mount Lincoln: the PCT follows the Pacific Crest toward Anderson Peak
Mount Lincoln, like Mount Judah, is an easily accessible peak in the Sierra Nevada located south of Donner Pass—west of Truckee, California. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) passes through between these two peaks. The gap in-between is known as Roller Pass or Judah-Lincoln Pass. Whereas Mount Judah is accessible via the popular, well-signed Mt. Judah Loop Trail, which shares a 1.1-mile-long trail section with the PCT, “Mt. Lincoln Trail” is an unsigned use trail.

A snow-covered section of the PCT near Roller Pass
Mount Lincoln's east-side slopes: sections of the PCT still snow-covered (mid-August, 2019)
From the Donner Pass, hike south on the PCT for about three miles. Once you are leaving the forest of the Roller Pass area, continue on the PCT traversing the steep eastern slope of Mt. Lincoln. Watch out for the junction, from where a narrow trail winds up to Mt. Lincoln. With the ski lift installation on the top of Mt. Lincoln always in sight, it is easy to stay on track. The panoramic view is amazing.

Pacific Crest lichen
Lichen patterns on a rock next to Mt. Lincoln Trail with Anderson Peak and Tinker Knob in the background

The winter ski area boundary on top of Mount Lincoln

Sugar Bowl in August
Sugar Bowl summer-view from Mount Lincoln with Castle Peak in the far back

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Roller Pass—also known as Judah-Lincoln Pass

PCT at Roller Pass
If it weren't for the “Truckee Trail - Roller Pass” marker on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), most hikers would not notice they are passing a historical spot. The PCT—between Mt. Judah and Mt. Lincoln—is an almost level path through forest. Difficult to believe that the PCT here intersects an old wagon route.

E. W. Harris made three hikes to Roller Pass in the summer of 1977. He did review the history of emigrant parties in the Donner area and described the Roller Pass topography in detail [1].  The Roller Pass was discovered in 1846 by Joseph Aram, who was with a party of about twelve families on his way from Illinois to Santa Clara Valley [1-3]. Until then, the Donner Pass (Truckee Pass) was used to go west. Pausing at Truckee Lake (now Donner Lake), the Aram Party, guided by Chief Truckee, explored for an easier crossing of the Sierra Ridge. Referencing an article in the Journal of American History, Harris writes [1,4]:

Finally Aram turned to the southwest following Cold Creek to its confluence with Emigrant Creek and thence (presumably) to its head along Emigration Canyon. Here they reached the pass between Lincoln und Judah peaks, and found it incredibly steep for wagons, some 800 feet higher than Truckee (Donner) Pass, but in the final analysis easier for wagons.

PCT near Roller Pass with view of Mt. Lincoln
To get to “the pass between Lincoln and Judah peaks” today, follow the PCT south from the Alpine Skills Institute, 11400 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, CA 96161. It takes 1.3 miles to the first PCT/Mt. Judah Loop Trail junction and another 1.1 miles to the second junction. Continue southward on the PCT for a quarter mile and you will find yourself on Roller Pass—ready to begin your own analysis.

References and more to explore

[1] E. W. Harris: The Early Emigrant Pass between Mt. Judah and Mt. Lincoln.  In: Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, Spring 1979, Volume XXII, Number 1, pp. 31-39 . Link:
[2] Capt. Joseph Aram. Link:
[3] Roller Pass. Donner Summit Historical Scociety. Link:
[4] Joseph Aram,  “The Reminiscences of Captain Aram,” in James T. Watson, “Across the Continent in a Caravan,” Journal of American History, 1907, Vol. I., #4, 628.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Castle Rock hiking: Saratoga Gap Trail and Ridge Trail

Vaqueros sandstone with tafoni at Castle Rock Sate Park
Castle Rock Falls
A scenic, 5-mile-long hiking trip in Castle Rock State Park, California, includes a section of the Castle Rock Trail and the full length of both the Saratoga Gap Trail and the Ridge Trail. There is an Interconnector Trail between the latter two, allowing for an overall shorter loop. You want to extend? Just add in a side loop to check out the interpretive shelter near Goat Rock. Trail highlights are the Castle Rock Falls (early spring), the “tafoni-decorated” Vaqueros sandstone sites and the never-ending views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Big Basin and Monteray Bay.

This is a popular hiking and climbing area. As you get past the Interconnector Trail (post at its Saratoga Gap Trail junction shown on the left) into the Varian Peak area, you probably will experience less trail traffic. The waterfall and Goat Rock are the main attractors (and accessible in shorter time).

Don't miss the Patrick Charles Allen Memorial Grove of redwoods near the footbridge on Saratoga Gap Trail close to the Interconnector Trail junction. A short path leads down into a ravine with a redwood fairy ring.

As you continue on westward on Saratoga Gap Trail—now skirting Varian Peak—and leave the dense forest, the path winds through chaparral covering steep hillsides. The trail has rocky parts, under your foot (watch your steps!) and in front: you are approaching a Tafoni Cliffside. At some point you need to negotiate a narrow ledge, but a metal cable at the rock face helps you to stay on track.

Saratoga Gap Trail with tafoni cliffside in front
Back in the forest, the scenery changes from eroding sandstone to exfoliating bark: Pacific madrones are shedding their reddish-brown “skin.” 

Madrone trunk with peeling bark

Soon, you will be at the junction from where the Ridge Trails ascends towards Russell Point and continues along the ridge line toward Varian Peak and Goat Rock. There are a only a few vista points on this stretch of trail.

View from Ridge Trail: Can you trace the Saratoga Gap Trail winding through chaparral?
While Dan Seldows's Fraggle Rock Grove is a great spot to meditate in shade, the Emily Smith Observation Point and the scenic overlook near Goat Rock provide sweeping views of the San Lorenzo Headwaters Natural Preserve and beyond—one level up from the views you experienced along Saratoga Gap Trail.

At the Partridge Farm Interpretive Shelter—off the Ridge Trail near Goat Rock—you may want to rest and study the Castle Rock history. Between Goat rock and the shelter you will pass by yet another named grove: Ralph and Velma Angle Memorial Grove. I still need to find out, what this grove is about.

Partridge Farm Interpretive Shelter

The tafone of a nearby rock could also serve as a shelter. Its sandstone wall contains roughly spherical, differently colored masses, which—as I hopefully recall correctly from my geology lesson at the shelter—are termed cannonballs. At least, shape and size looks right.  

Tafone with rounded “cannonballs” in the wall

Past these outcrops, Ridge Trail descends over rocks and occasional stairs into the canyon of King Creek, where it meets Saratoga Gap Trail to close the loop. The park entrance at Skyline Blvd. is 0.2 miles away—uphill.

Getting there

From Saratoga Gap—the intersection of Hwy 35 (Skyline Blvd.) and Hwy 9—drive south on Hwy 35. The Main Park Entrance for Castle Rock State Park will come up on the right side after about two miles. The park brochure features a trail map:


Castle Rock State Park
15000 Skyline Boulevard
Los Gatos, CA 95030

More about Castle Rock State Park

Rebecca Pratt visited Castle Rock State Park recently and hiked there with Beatrix Jiménez from Sempervirens Fund. She writes about her nature experience and reflects on the past and future of the park in the Summer 2019 issue of Bay Nature. Link:

Friday, June 28, 2019

Humbug Trail: hiking to a granite-slot waterfall

Humbug Falls: water coming down a granite slot, falling and shooting through carved out channels

The Humbug Trail in California's Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park connects “The Diggins” with the South Yuba Trail. Also named Humbug Creek Trail, this 2.7-mile-long single-track trail between the North Bloomfield Road and the South Yuba River roughly follows a series of shafts. These are vertical openings once used to construct a bedrock tunnel—the North Bloomfield Tunnel—to drain water and mining debris. The trailhead is near the West Point Overlook south of Diggins Lake. It is accessible by driving 1.5 miles south-southwest Trailhead from the Visitor Center and Museum in North Bloomfield, once named Humbug.

Humbug Creek
The one-way distance from the North Bloomfield Road trailhead to the waterfall is 1.25 miles—less than the half-way distance to the Yuba River. The fairly level trail, which follows the steep ravine cut out by Humbug Creek, is shaded and variously lined by poison oak. Humbug Falls are a chain of waterfalls. The most interesting sections, in my opinion, are those where the water is not falling, but shooting through channels carved out off the granite bed. 

Hikers on Humbug Trail

Also interesting to see at Malakoff Diggins:

A trail map of Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park is available with the park brochure:

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Ghost town walk: Candelaria, Mineral County, Nevada

Walls, foundations, beams and sherds: Candelaria today
Window of a once commercial building
The Candeleria Hills stretch for about 20 miles from southwest to northeast—just northwest of the Mineral-Esmeralda County line 50 miles west of Tonopah. What has remained from the 19th-century activities in the Candelaria Mining District is found in this area of now-deserted desert hills [1].

Driving from Tonopah to Hawthorne on Highway 95, turn left at the sign for the State Historic Marker No. 92—four miles north of Redlich Summit between the Coaldale Junction (Hwy 95/6 junction) and the Tonopah Junction (Hwy 95/360). Find the marker with the title “Candelaria and Metallic City” to your right. It sketches the Candelaria mining history:
Seven miles to the west lie the ghost towns of Candelaria and Metallic City.

State Historic Marker No. 92
Candelaria was presumably named after a mine of that name located in 1885, and also after the catholic Candelmas Day. Metallic City, the “Sin City” of Candelaria, and also known as Pickhandle Gulch, lies 3.4 mile to the south Candelaria. The name, Pickhandle, was derived from the most popular weapon used for settling disputes.

In 1880, Candelaria was the largest town in the immediate area and boasted of having 3 doctors, 3 lawyers, 2 hotels, 6 stores and 10 saloons. Water piped from Trail Canyon in 1882 caused the price of water to drop from $1.00 to $0.05 per gallon.

The leading mine, the Northern Belle, was first located in 1864 (relocated in 1870). It is reported to have produced an estimated $7 million. Mainly in Silver.

Front side impression of a Candelaria building
The short-lived settlement developed from camp to boomtown in the 1870s and 1880s, when mainly German and Slovakian prospectors arrived at the silver deposits, which had been discovered by Mexican prospectors some years earlier [2]. To walk around the last standing walls (or have they been re-erected?) and the mill foundation, drive to the end of the paved road (six miles to the west of the historic marker), park your car and browse the area on both sides of the grave road, which once was—I guess—Main Street.
Foundations of Candelaria's ore-processing structures
Foundations of Candelaria's ore-processing structures
You will be on your own. No dedicated loop trail. No warning signs. No interpretive panels. According to Erik's post, Candelaria was the Saint City [2].  Erik believes that the above mentioned  Sin City (Metallic City) in the vicinity of the active Kinross Gold Candelaria Mine on Mt. Diablo has long bee removed [3]. 

Kinross Gold Candelaria Mine on Mt. Diablo


[1] Candelaria District, Mineral Co, Nevada USA. Link:
[2] Western Mining History: Candelaria, Nevada.  Link:
[3] Erik Engh: Candelaria and Metallic City - A Tale of Two Cities. Erik's Nevada Blog. Link:

West of the Candelaria ruins: Is this a more recent adit?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Hickison Petroglyphs Interpretive Trail

Stairs to petroglyphs and vista points
The Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area is a Great Basin prehistoric site located next to Highway 50 about 20 miles east of Austin, Nevada. When I arrived at the trailhead of the Hickison Petroglyphs Interpretive Trail on an early spring day in 2019, I made the same experience Valerie Norton described on a 2017 visit [1]: the brochure-box was empty and the panel with the trail gave no site details. Also, I couldn't find a website with a detailed map for the self-guided tour. Alongside the unpaved trail loop, sites were clearly marked by numbers. So, I keep my pictures marked accordingly with the hope of coming eventually across an interpretive map.

Hickison Petroglyphs Interpretive Trail between its trailhead and the first marked site
Lucky Gretchen: when she was visiting with her family, she found a brochure for pick-up and they all were in front of petroglyphs in just a couple of minutes [2]. She writes that the brochure describes the Hickison petroglyphys as typical of the Great Basin curvilinear style. Curvers and carvers are unknown.

Curvilinear carvings
The loop trail and the dead-end vista side trails make for a pleasant walk, traversing mostly open pine forest and providing easy access to the numbered petroglyph faces carved onto the rock slabs. There are distinctly different carvings: deeply carved, lightly carved, geometrically abstract and figure-representing. How much did erosion change the original carvings? How often were they modified or overscrawled? I think, I spotted some very recent “scribbles,” i.e. vandalizing scratchings.

The petroglyph site is named after ranch owner John Hickerson [3]. How did the name mutate to Hickison? The petroglyphs are said to give evidence of prehistoric hunting and dwelling sites dating back to 10,000 B.C., when the Great Basin was a “Great Lakes” area, including Lake Toyiabe and Lake Tonopah [3]. I wonder if the shorelines of those lakes were near the rock croppings in the period during which the Great Basin petroglyphs were created.

Rockscape view from vista point

Keywords: Nevada; Great Basin; National Forest; US Route 50; roadside attraction; prehistoric site.

Getting there

On your way from Austin to Eureka on Hwy 50, drive over Hickison Summit (6546 ft., 1995 m). Soon, on the left side of the road, you will see a large sign in the shape of an isosceles trapezoid with the longer of the parallel sides at the top. It reads “HICKISON PETROGLYPHS Recreation Area & Interpretive Site.” Turn left and follow the northwest-bound gravel road for a quarter-mile to the Interpretive Trail site and camping area [4,5].

Vista point canyon view south with Monitor Valley farther back



[1] Valerie Norton: Hickison Petroglyphs Interpretive Trail. “Moments in Dirt and Ink” Blog,  May 15, 2017. Link:
[2] Gretchen:  Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area, Nevada. “Desert Survivor” Blog, October 17, 2017. Link:
[3] Hickison Petroglyph Reacreation Area. Travel Nevada.
[4] Hickison Petroglyph Reacreation Area. Bureau of Land Management. Link:
[5] Map of Hickison Summit area including Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area