Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hanging Out in Reno, A Place of Contrasts

We're spending a week in Reno, NV. Why Reno?, you might ask. We are both city-born and lived dozens of years in San Diego so we have an appreciation for cities and enjoy exploring them. Back roads and back country are our favorite landscapes, but we like to throw in a little variety here and there. This will be our last big city before we head into the small towns and quiet spaces of Northern CA and Eastern OR.

Reno probably hates this description, but it really does seem like Las Vegas' little sibling. Casinos abound and the whole party lifestyle that goes along with them, and the pawn shops and homelessness too. The city works hard to make it a pleasant place to visit and there are some interesting sights here and there...and that's our job as retired, fulltime RVers: to seek out the funky, interesting things each place we visit has to offer.

The Truckee River runs right through downtown Reno, making it the town beach on a sunny day!

The bus depot even has some fun art!

Great mural harking back to the old days in Reno.

Every old town in the West has at least one elaborate old church!

Even though we appreciate and enjoy cities, we do love the peace and quiet of the outskirts of any town. And one of the great things about Reno is it's proximity to the Eastern Sierras and Lake Tahoe. With the temps pushing 80 it was time to head for the hills. We chose a six mile loop hike at about 9,000 feet, using the Mt Rose Summit Trail and the Tahoe Rim Trail. Fortunately we keep extra jackets, gloves and ear bands in the truck because when we arrived at the trail head it was 46 degrees and windy, something we hadn't fully considered before we left the RV!

Early on the trail we had an amazing view of the snow capped Sierras in the distance
with Lake Tahoe in front (and blending in to the mountains!) and Tahoe Meadows below us.

As we headed around the North side of the mountain we encountered a lot of snow!

At just about halfway we reached pretty Galena Creek Falls. 

The view from the top of the falls was wonderful!
Mt Rose and views into Reno in the distance, a colorful meadow below us.

This little beggar came very close looking for a handout.

Beyond the falls we encountered a great deal of snow. Hans is searching for footprints.
Fortunately someone who knew the trail had recently passed through ahead of us.

Our lunchtime view.

As we wrapped around the South side of the mountain Lake Tahoe came into view again.

This was an excellent hike in the mountains with only 500 feet of elevation gain. You can also hike to the top of Mt Rose which reaches 10,776 feet and is a ten mile round trip.

We are staying at the Grand Sierra Resort Casino. They have a rather large RV park right along the Truckee River (and its bike path). We're really enjoying their very pleasant pool facilities. More exploring ahead...

Monday, May 26, 2014

Carson City: An Outdoor Lovers Paradise

We're wrapping up a 10 day stay in Carson City and have enjoyed ourselves immensely! Turns out this area cares a lot about their outdoor recreation. There are miles of existing trails and several groups are working hard to build even more. We talked to several friendly local hikers and mountain bikers on the trails and found that whether you like to hike, run, mountain bike or enjoy winter sports, you will be happy here.

The Carson Valley Trails Association builds and maintains trails in and around the huge valley South of Carson City. Muscle Powered Carson City works with the City on trails in the immediate vicinity of town. This Carson City link lists dozens of trails, including many around nearby Lake Tahoe.

The low hills surrounding Carson Valley are sage-covered and offer expansive vistas of the many snow capped peaks in the Sierras and beyond. When the weather warms up you can head up the forested trails all the way up to Lake Tahoe country, or just drive up to Tahoe and start your hike at 6500 feet.

Here's some shots from a few hikes close to Carson City:

Bullocks Oriole in the sage brush of Jacks Valley.

It's been a pretty dry winter so the Sierras have less snow than usual for May, but they still make a pretty picture!
Locals told us some years they'll be surrounded by snowy peaks all summer.

Coming off the Clear Creek trail the clouds were building up to the East.

The beautiful Long Nosed Leopard Lizard
Hiking Ash Creek Canyon will get you up into the trees.

Poor quality cell phone photo...but we were cracking up at these deer peering over the top of a hill at us!

A short distance North of town is Davis Creek Regional Park. This was our access point for an eight mile round trip hike up Ophir Creek Trail to Rock Lake. Though Ophir Creek trail continues all the way UP to Tahoe Meadows, we were plenty happy with the eight miles we was pretty strenuous!

An interesting thing about Ophir Creek Trail, it passes through an area devastated by an enormous landslide in 1983. At several places along the trail you can see evidence of ongoing slide activity in this granite landscape.

The decomposing granite walls of this canyon are extremely unstable.

Ophir Creek flows through this canyon full of granite boulders from landslides.
Slide Mountain above was the site of the 1983 landslide and is so unstable it has not completely reforested.

Ophir Creek had a decent amount of water in it and would have made a great destination hike itself at about 2.5 miles in.

Just beyond Ophir Creek I commented to Hans that even though we were climbing at least we had short stretches of up tempered by short stretches of easy. I spoke too soon! A little over three miles in we came to a very steep rocky section, at least 10% grade, that seemed to go on forever...though it was probably less than a third of a mile.

At least we had pretty sarcodes to enjoy on the climb!

Nice views too!

And then we came to Rock Lake!
It's a small lake, but it really lives up to its name.

Any rocks that had been underwater at some point were red,
all rocks beyond the high water line were typical gray granite!

One of the best things about Rock Lake were the lily pads!

The snake was pretty cool too!

We have really enjoyed our stay in Carson City, so much that we just may come back through here in October, we've got lots more trails to hike! Silver City Auto Body did a great job on the damage to our truck, so now we are back in action and our truck is good as new.

We stayed at Camp N Town, a basic full hookup RV park at the North end of town, with the delicious Pho Country restaurant right across the street. Though right in town, the RV park was quiet and convenient and turned out to be a decent, no frills, place to stay.

Next up: Reno, NV, a nice short drive of about 30 miles!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Touring Tahoe

Gorgeous Lake Tahoe is just over the hill from our current home base in Carson City, NV. You can drive 72 miles around the entire lake, making it a perfect long day trip for us...especially since we have a rental car this week (might as well put the miles on someone else's car).

It had been at least 40 years since Hans visited Lake Tahoe and probably 20 years for me. We were both a little disappointed at how built up it is (commercial and private properties) and how hard it was to find FREE places to stop and enjoy the lake. This is also a year-round tourist destination so the only solitude to be found is probably deep in the boonies away from the lake.

Pretty Emerald Bay.

River cruise boat leaving Emerald Bay and entering Lake Tahoe.

After driving about three quarters of the way around the lake we decided to head inland for a hike. The Glen Alpine trail head, near Fallen Leaf Lake, gives access to miles of trails in the Tahoe back country. The drive to the trail head was neat, turns out there are many private homes along Fallen Leaf Lake, once past them, the road follows lovely Glen Alpine Creek and even has a spectacular waterfall.

We parked at the trail head next to pretty Lilly Lake and headed two miles up a much worn gravel road to the site of the former Glen Alpine Springs. In 1863 a "Soda Spring" was discovered and turned into a fancy resort with curative mineral springs. The scenery along this short stretch of "trail" was gorgeous and we wished we had more time to explore further into the Desolation Wilderness.

My favorite kind of scenery!

We even surprised this snake in the water...we never knew snakes would swim in super cold water!

Beavers are active here!

We saw these strange fungi-looking plants in a couple of places around Lake Tahoe.

Turns out they are Sarcodes.

The dining hall at Glen Alpine Springs.

We're in marmot country and this guy came very close hoping for a handout.

There were many waterfalls along Glen Alpine Creek, this was the largest we saw right along the road.

For us, Lake Tahoe's greatest charms are in the back country, further from the crowds. It's hard to imagine what it's like around here during ski season or over a summer holiday weekend. If we return we will seek out the trails on the edges and hope we arrive early enough to find a parking space!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Welcome to Carson City, NV

I have just a few more thoughts to pass along about our drive across Nevada on Highway 50, the Loneliest Road. (You can read more in Part 1 and Part 2.)

On the last portion of our drive, from Austin, NV to Carson City, NV, we dropped in elevation from about 6,500 feet to 4,600 feet so the terrain went from a lovely, springtime sage green to a rolling landscape in many shades of brown. Nevada is famous for its wild horses and we saw a band of five almost as soon as we hit the road, and spent the rest of the drive searching diligently for more. Beautiful creatures!

Signs warning of wild horses are common throughout Nevada.

One thing that made the drive especially interesting was the Pony Express Territory CD. We were given this free audio disc at the Ely Visitors Center and listened to each track as we neared the destination along the road. This was a very well done road trip CD, combining history and current attractions, and gave us information on sights we'd likely plan to explore further if we pass this way again.

Sand Mountain Recreation Area just East of Fallon, NV.
Sand is blown into and trapped in this one small area just off highway 50.

We're now settled in Carson City for at least nine days while our truck is repaired from being hit in an RV park in Escalante, UT. We've got a rental car and we intend to do some serious driving in that car, once we get beyond a day or two of rain.

Even before the truck got damaged we intended to spend a week in Carson City. It's the capitol of Nevada, has lots of interesting history, and sits right on the Eastern edge of the mighty Sierra Nevada Range.

The downtown district has a wealth of beautiful old homes making a it a wonderful place to walk. We were amazed to walk street after street full of lush green lawns and gorgeous gardens, we haven't seen this much grass anywhere in the West. I later read that even though there is not a serious water shortage at this time, people are starting to talk about the need to plan for the future and start xeriscaping.

The Nevada State Capitol building is hidden among the trees in a beautiful park setting.
Enormous trees are common in the old downtown area.

There are many well preserved Victorian homes/businesses.

The Governors Mansion.

We took a drive up to Virginia City, a Silver boomtown dating to the 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode. Though the town was extremely touristy, the number of old buildings still standing was very impressive. Some fully restored, some looking quite rustic.

On the drive to Virginia City we saw a number of cars and people stopped along the side of the road...
turns out it was a wild horse sighting traffic jam! 

Several blocks of neat old buildings line the main drag of Virginia City.

Some beautifully restored mansions can be seen on the side streets.


After walking the town we continued up highway 341 to make it a loop drive. Finally, we spotted some wild horses in a beautiful setting without dozens of other people stopped to gawk...we got to gawk at them all by ourselves!

The Sierras loom in the distance as these wild horses graze peacefully on a high sage meadow.

Now we've got a day or two of rain so we'll get some shopping done (Carson City has everything you could possibly want, including Trader Joes), I'll get a hair cut, Hans will work on his ailing laptop, and there's even some time for a little cooking, my favorite rainy day past time!

These Banana Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins have no added fats and very little sweetener.

Rosie was wiped out by two days in a row of over 150 miles each...she is catching upon some much needed rest!