Snowshoe’n Form

Making trails in the snow.

It has been so nice to have snow this year, not least (although certainly neither most) because it has given us a chance to go out snowshoeing a number of times in great conditions. And I’m sure there will be more. On a recent Sunday, I went up Thomas Creek. It was a nearly perfect after-snowfall day with little flurries blowing through all afternoon, and even on the main trail I got to make fresh tracks for myself.Now, when ya gotta toot yur horn ya gotta toot it BIG TIME. So I’m gonna go way out on a limb here and announce, loud and clear, that I firmly believe that I have something to offer to the world when it comes to snowshoeing. I’m not saying I’m the only one, but judging on the tracks I see around, I’m definitely in the minority. See, people treat snowshoeing and walking in the snow with pasties pasted firmly on your footsies. And they try to walk normally in snowshoes. But you can’t walk normally in snowshoes. The width of the shoe keeps you from using your hips correctly. In my case, when I first started, I came home from a long day and realized that my hips hurt much more than they should have. I thought about that gait and realized that the unnatural gait had strained me. So the next time I went I tried to figure out how I could reduce that strain. And now you’re gonna hear what I came up with.

Snowshoeing is much more like slow dancing in the snow than walking. And even more so, it’s like walking the catwalk in the snow. In slow motion, well, in motion that won’t get me panting, I lengthen my stride and try to really sashay my hips so that instead of having two distinct tracks in the snow, I have a wavy single track.

A tale of two trails.

This works best in fresh snow, and with fairly short snowshoes. But let me tell you, I think this method of snowshoeing is first off way more fun and artful that trudging in the snow, that it saves a lot of hip pain, and that it provides a better and more reasoned activity.

And don’t hesitate to strut your stuff on the snow-catwalk!

Cedarville Days and another account of Massacre Lake

Above Fandango Pass in Modoc National Forest in the Warner Mountains.

Have spent this long holiday weekend at a friend’s family’s second home in Cedarville, California. It is near and dear to my heart and a place that Renee and I tend to spend a good bit of time exploring around. It has been a really fantastic weekend spending time with friends new and old and coming even closer to this special place. I know that John C.  Frémont was the first Anglo to write about this place and so did a little research in which I randomly found another, quite varied account of the events that happened at Massacre Lake that I wrote about previously:

One of a large party of California-bound emigrants passing through Nevada near the present California State line found what he thought was gold bearing quartz. This being about the time of the great California gold rush when men’s thoughts were permeated with dreams of the fabulous wealth of Western hills, groups of the emigrants straggled while searching for further evidence of the precious metal. Paiute Indians attacked the disorganized party in force and in a fight of several days duration; forty- men were killed, besides a number of women and children. Less than two-thirds of this big party got through, minus most of their livestock and personal possessions. Massacre Lake in this section owes its name to this running fight with the Indians and to the lives lost in other surprise Indian attacks in the same vicinity.

The northern Warner Mountains, looking toward Oregon.

Climbing into Reno’s Fiery Past

Clark Mountain from near Washington Hill.

There is a mountain in the Virginia Range I’ve been interested in for a while. I call it The Old Mother Who Sleeps and Wants to Be Left Alone, but it’s known by most people (who know or care) as Clark Mountain. It is the highest northern Virginia Range mountain and always intrigued me. I tried climbing it one day with Coco early this year, but we turned back as the day was getting late. This interest turned into something like full-blown obsession after Renee and I attended the National Earth Sciences outing held by the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology earlier this fall. At the Lagomarsino/Long Valley stop, the instructors explained that the mountain is actually an old volcano, one that would have predated the rise of the Sierra and, when it was active, would have overseen a landscape similar to the Cascades.

Looking toward the first ridge from the Nature of Art in McCarran Ranch.

So on a recent Sunday, I decided to scale it again. The SummitPost directions for the peak give its hike starting point as the Lagomarsino trailhead, but I wanted to try the peak from the McCarran Ranch side. From McCarran Ranch’s eastern trailhead I walked west along the river, past the Nature of Art, which I always love to pass (although hated to see the damage wrought in a small wildfire there this summer), and then turned south and climbed up what is aptly called Giant’s Throne Canyon on my TopoMaps app and which climbs behind a spectacular rocky ridge that also, on the other side, serves as the backdrop for a brothel.

Giant’s Throne Canyon.

Following this canyon is beautiful but a bit rough, but eventually you climb up to a power line road and follow that across two more ridge saddles (which was great for NaNoWriMo write-walking) before hitting the highest saddle from which you leave the road and climb south-ish toward the actual peak. Which was frankly pretty treacherous stone fields.

On the power line road through the final canyon with the peak beyond.

Lunch spot in the last canyon before making the summit climb.

On the way down I took the first canyon I descended into, on TopoMaps called Chalk Bluffs Canyon, and for just summiting the mountain this would have been a much easier up-and-down route. It had a well-used horse trail that seemed likely to have been an old road although it wasn’t as scenic as the Giant’s Throne. Emerging from the canyon there is a lower power line road that takes you back to McCarran Ranch. For me this was a solid late fall day-long hike and rough. I would recommend to hike it with a friend in case you twist your ankle in the loose rock.

The final summit approach just a loose rock field.

I wanted to learn more about the mountain’s volcanism, but have been finding online sources pretty few and far between. In “Geology of the Virginia City Quadrange, Nevada,” I learned that the mountain is one of four vents of the Lousetown Formation. Here is the best description I found of the volcanism, although it doesn’t mention the mountain specifically it is talking about Lagomarsino/Long Valley when it says “here”:

Much of northwestern Nevada is covered by lava flows hundreds to thousands of feet thick that erupted throughout much of the Oligocene and Miocene epochs of geologic time (about 35 million to about 7 million years ago). These rocks comprise most of the Virginia Range south of here and the Pah Rah Range to the north. As you drive along the Truckee River canyon between Reno and Fernley, most of the rocks you see exposed in the canyon walls and slopes are this type of andesitic (medium silica content) volcanic material. The lavas and tuffs came from volcanic eruptions that occurred as a result of subduction of the Juan De Fuca tectonic plate to the west under the edge of the North American plate, causing the ancestral Cascade volcano chain to actively erupt over much of northwestern Nevada. (Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology link here.)

Last light back in McCarran Ranch.

It was a great climb, and even better to climb so deep into this area’s past.


Check out Renee Handstands!

As anyone who knows us probably knows, Renee loves to handstand in strange, usually remote, places, and I love to take pictures of her doing this. We feel like the project really expresses us, our love for place, for shifting perceptions, and for having fun! A while ago I started posting them to a blog,, and then, as usually happens, I let it slide, then I picked it up again, this time trying to write a little bit more of a story to go along with the picture. Here’s a description of some of the thinking behind the blog

So, if you enjoy Renee’s handstands, and maybe even my commentary, give the blog a like or a follow. New posts will go up every Wednesday morning at 10!

Nature, Art,  Dabayóduweʔ

Renee and I went out east on the Truckee River and helped out on The Nature of Art yesterday. It’s a blend between a piece of art and a site for habitat restoration. The artists, Daniel McCormick and Mary O’Brien, were great people and knowledgeable and it was a treat to spend time with them. We learned to make willow wattles (bundles of willow that are the sculpture’s body) and planted some willows along its base. The sculpture itself was a long wave that reflected for me the shape of a fallen tree, the effect enhanced by a cottonwood skeleton at its head that the artists hope will one day attract nesting birds. It also will slow down water and eventually return to itself through the willows. Next we visited another sculpture-in-progress, this one an upside down y-shaped structure composed mostly of old dry cottonwood that extends down a bank and has log arms extending into the water. It will provide habitat for critters and then willows and there was scat showing that western pond turtles have been using it already.

Afterward, never having visited it before, Renee and I walked part of the trail running through the rest of the Nature Conservancy’s McCarran Ranch Preserve, a stretch of the river from near Tracy on the east to near Mustang in the west. It winds along the river and the restoration is pretty amazing given the descriptions that our host recounted from the beginning of the project. He said that when they began it was nothing but abandoned fields, leveled, overgrown in thick mats of tall white top. Now, under the occasional shade of still leafless giant cottonwoods we hiked through deep sagebrush and willow patches and passed a fair number of users, mostly fishers and bicyclists. One guy was fly fishing in the middle of the river with his very happy dog swimming alongside.

As part of research for another post I’ve been introduced to a bit of Washo vocabulary lately. Walking along the river, among so many remains of humanity’s continued reliance on this area as a route and a resource, I envisioned its human history: when the Washo were the main people along its banks, through emigrants and gold/silver seekers, to Wal-mart trucks and Tesla. I’d learned the name that was given to it by its most recent users (us)—the Truckee—but what about those who were here before, the Washo? (The names given to it by other earlier users are disappeared, dispersed forever.) I found the first, most likely version, dabayóduweʔ [Note: symbol at end is not a question mark, but a symbol representing a glottal stop] at the University of Chicago’s Washo project website via Wikipedia. I have also found another possibility, wahku wa’t’a, at the Truckee Donner Historical Society, Inc. site’s Chief Truckee page, but doesn’t seem as authoritative although that site had very interesting accounts of the naming of the Truckee, the most literary being that tro-kay is a Paiute word for “all right” that, when the tribal leader who became known as Truckee said it and then turned out to be right about sweet water to be found at dabayóduweʔ, it became what the newcomers called him and he took to it as a name. These tiny pinpricks of investigation send the feelers for more writing, more exploring.

Nature and art and the names of places, watching birds and cutting willows to make living art. Seeing landscape transform, seeing it cut into the world, the detritus, the memory of humanity’s imprint dumped, piled, leveled everywhere, but underneath, the river channel still leaving a mark. Mary O’Brien told us about a photo that had stuck with her as they planned the project. It was from the early 1990s when the whole area was abandoned and choked by invasive weeds. Below the superficial imprint of “history” the aerial shot showed an outline of the original channel. Like a shadow below, in the same way that dabayóduweʔ is there. The Washoe people have inhabited the Great Basin for 6,000 years, and, while their names are unknown maybe, they still have the power to fire the mind. A great day talking with and helping people who are using creativity, imagination, knowledge and beauty to help the river transform afresh.

A Day in the Humboldts

A little hidden window rock

On Sunday, Renee and I set out to climb Star Peak, the highest point in the Humboldt Mountain Range and an “ultra-prominence” peak, with more than 5,000 feet of prominence (don’t ask me to explain exactly what that is, but more or less–I think–the distance from bottom to top with no intervening peaks). Either way it’s been one we’ve been wanting to explore for a while and so were very excited to check it out. We approached from the east side of the range via Star Canyon. First off, it is just such a treat to see a green spring in Nevada; secondly, the bottom of the canyon was gorgeously in bloom adorning  the crags of what was once a major silver mining area turned ghost town in the space of about 5 years.

“Downtown” Star City

We climbed up along the remains of Star City and past what seemed to be innumerable tailings piles from what I imagine must have been the Sbeba mine.


Basques Carved Trees in My Backyard

Aspen groves in the Pine Forest Wilderness

Top seems to be man with pack animal? bottom woman in formal pose

1916, most of the carvings are too old to decipher


I think this one is a dog


Classic one


Not sure what these ones are

 Basque sheep herders were well-known for carving their names and images (women mostly) into aspen trees on their lonely summer stays in the mountains. I didn’t know much about them growing up, but working at the Center For Basque Studies I’ve learned a lot more about them and gotten pretty interested in them (although somewhat hypocrtitically it bugs me when I see modern carvings). There definitely is an artistry to a lot of the Basque carvings and they bring a completely different era to light.

This past weekend Renee, Coco and I had a chance to hike into the eastern side of the brand new Pine Forest Wilderness, up Chicken Creek and over into the highest reaches of Leonard Creek. At Leonard Creek’s mouth on the valley floor is the ranch that has been in my family since around 1918 (and my grandfather homesteaded on the creek even earlier), hence the southeastern slope of Pine Forest being my “backyard” and the route we followed a fairly common route for buckarooing in the fall, trail rides, and hiking trips. 

So you can imagine how surprised I was, when we got into the high meadows on an early spring before the trees have budded, to notice that many of the aspens had been carved. The earliest for-sure date we saw was 1916, but one that was very hard to read may have been from the 1800s. And there were lots of them, many women but other figures too, so old they were really hard to distinguish in many cases. 

It was really humbling and illuminating to find these arbor glyphs, powerful testimony of the history of what I’ve always unselfconsciously considered to be “my” mountain. To think about those shepherds working for and or knowing well my grandpa and my dad. And from the numbers and long range dates (from what I think is the late 1800s to the 1940s), just how much the mountain has been used and to imagine what kind of community there must have been up there when there might have been several different bands of neighboring sheep. 

A powerful reminder that everywhere holds surprises and that I always have very much to learn.