Nevada History by John C. Evanoff is excited to present this series of articles by noted author and poet, John C. Evanoff. John will tell us about Nevada history and cover some of the more remote and unusual things to see and do in Northern Nevada.

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Favorite Treks of Reno #5 of 10

September, 2009
By John Evanoff

September is my favorite month to begin looking for signs of autumn in the Sierras. The first burnt-orange and amber-yellow leaves of fall can be found in the higher northwest facing canyons so I dash out to take a few pictures and get a hike in at my fifth top ten trek. Take Highway 395 south to the Mount Rose Highway (NSR431) and head up the mountain to the summit. Just past the summit at 8,933 feet of elevation, you will see a road to the left going to Mount Rose Campground. The campground is open June 15th to September 15th. There are several spots for day use and a few for overnight camping. If the campground is closed for the season, you can park at the Tahoe Rim Trailhead just a short distance down the hill towards Incline Village. If you take the entire day to visit, you will be splendidly rewarded once you hike to the top of Slide Mountain, with fantastic views of Lake Tahoe, Mount Rose and the valleys below on the east side including the entire Truckee Meadows to the north, Washoe Valley and Pleasant Valley directly below and south into the Eagle Valley. Looking east down the canyons, you may see a few cottonwood beginning their change of color near Galena, Steamboat and Bowers Mansion. Ponderosa pine, white fir, lodgepole, juniper and quaking aspen dominate the entire area around Slide Mountain. You can occasionally find the three needled pines Jeffery, Washoe and Gray and the five needle pines Sugar and White Bark as well. A dirt road to the top of Slide Mountain from the campground just northeast of the restroom facilities allows you to get to the top without too much exertion. The road is traveled almost every day by technicians working on equipment located at the two different radio/television tower locations and a weather station atop Slide Mountain, so be sure to give them plenty of room as they maneuver the narrow-hair-pin-turns up or down. You can also view the top two ski lift towers and huts when you get to the top and look around. Once you have visited the top at 9,698 feet of elevation, you can move south and west on many different routes normally cleaned and cleared for skiers during the winter. As you traverse the many fairly wide ski-trails, you will begin to see several spots below on the northwest side of the canyons where the first autumn colors have begun to show. The aspen are always the first to change color, but on some occasions depending on weather, you will see the willows along the spring change as well. If you move down from the spring all the way to Ophir Creek, you will see more color changes in amongst the Manzanita. Although the change is very light, you will see some variations in amongst the sagebrush, bitterbrush and rabbitbrush. The trail down Ophir Creek to Upper Price Lake at about 7600 feet of elevation extends the trek and the visual color spectrum and is worth the extra effort. The Ophir Creek Trail eventually meets up with the Davis Creek Trail near Bowers Mansion. A spot just about a half mile above Price Lake goes through an entire stand of Quaking Aspen that have dates and initials cut into their bark from the early 1900’s. By the way, a trail near the Ophir Creek Trail was used by the Washoe Indians every summer for hundreds of years to get to Tahoe where the clan rested in cooler surroundings and fished and hunted amongst the shores of the lake. There is a large mound of small flat round rocks along the trail if you look hard enough, which indicates a spot where the tribe would rest for a night before moving the rest of the way over the hill. The shaman or chief of the clan would add one rock every year to the pile with a prayer to the spirits for good luck. The Washoe families of the Carson Valley and one other clan further south also had similar routes to the shores at Glenbrook and South Tahoe near Tahoe Keyes where the Truckee runs into the lake. These three spots have these rock piles at positions where the families camped overnight to rest. There are thousands of rocks on these piles so you do the math. Most probably, it took the families from the Washoe Lake area approximately three days to get from the valley floor to the shoreline at Lake Tahoe near Incline Village. I make the entire trek a full day affair from the Mount Rose campground to the top of Slide Mountain down the side of the mountain near the spring and then to the creek or along the ridge along the slide of Slide Mountain, down Ophir Creek and to the shoreline of Upper Price Lake and back again to the campground. By the time you get back to the campground, you could have a thousand pictures and memories. Most of the wildlife in the area is small but fascinating to view. The jays, Clark’s nutcrackers, woodpeckers, Goshawks and occasional golden eagle or mountain blue bird all make homes in the area and the chipmunk, squirrel, rabbit, deer, skunk and porcupine also spend the daytime moving around the trails. There are some bear and a few bobcat in these hills, but very few people have ever seen them up close. You may hear bear moving around at night though and if you do stay over, be sure to keep your food stored safely away from the sleeping area.

Although September is my favorite month for this hike, you can sometimes make the hike in October and early November when the colors can be even more dazzling. Be careful to watch the weather though. The Sierras along this part of the range sometimes influence low fronts tracking from the west and through a process called orographic lifting where air mass is forced from lower elevations and it cools to raise humidity, sometimes thunderclouds and dry lightning is created. The resulting thunderstorms can cause tremendous downpours and even massive flash floods. Some of these flash floods have dug out huge canyons on the west side of Mount Rose, but they have also contributed to the many rock slides on Slide Mountain. If you camp at Upper Price Lake, you’ll be very close to the dramatic slide. Price Lake was larger once but a portion of the mountain came down into the lake in the early 1980’s and pushed most of the water down Ophir Creek causing damage to roadways and a few houses. The other possibility of these thunderstorms is winds in excess of 70 mph. I’ve been on the trail in this area on several different occasions in the fall and been forced to hightail it to the car to get out of the weather. One year, in October on my birthday, I hiked to the top of Mount Rose and saw the weather created just like explained in less than an hour. Before I could get a thousand feet down the mountain in winds whipping up to 60mph and gusts of 80mph on the Mount Rose Trail, I was engulfed in clouds and lightning. I even hit the ground a half dozen times when I felt the hair on my neck stand up. Before I reached the trailhead road going back to the Mount Rose Highway, two inches of wet snow and hail covered the trail and lightning was all around me. I began running down the road from the trailhead fork and got to the car completely soaked. That was an interesting experience to say the least, but it exemplifies the reasoning behind carefully watching the weather. When conditions begin deteriorating, turn back to your camp or car before it gets ugly.

Preparing for your trek, take plenty of snacks (preferably fruit and nuts) and water. Do not drink any of the creek or spring waters unless thoroughly filtered through a good micro filter. Usually, I bring along about a half-gallon of water, but I also have a Katadyn mini-ceramic water filter which is only about half a pound and stores easily in the bottom of my backpack with my first aid kit, a pair of dry socks, emergency rain poncho, blister block, sunblock, deet, binoculars, compass, topo map, cell phone charger and an emergency tent. I always bring two cameras and I have my trusty walking stick which is one I made myself from a ski pole. Wildland fires in this area are a constant fear for the US Forest Service and Nevada Division of Forestry. A fire permit is mandatory and is part of the fee for overnight stays at the Mount Rose Campground.

If you just want to see fall colors and don’t want to take this hike or an extended drive, wait a month and take a late October afternoon or early evening stride through Idlewild Park. There, you’ll see all the rich bright colors of autumn all around the park and along the Truckee River and Riverside Drive. The maples, elms, alder, willow, ash, cottonwood, crabapple, mulberries, red oak, beech, hawthorn and hackberry all compete for spectacular changes as the weather cools and the result is a wonderfully brilliant visual spectrum. So, where do you guess where my fourth favorite trek is?

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