Water, water, art


The braided hump in the lower left of the photo appears to be one of the Nature of Art installations that Renee and I volunteered on in 2015. At least I want it to be! 

We went out and walked along the Truckee River from the western end of McCarran Ranch yesterday to soak in a little bit of the water that is flowing into the heart of the Great Basin, and will maybe recharge our aquifers and build our water tables (I’m not expert, this is just what I hope will happen), and refresh our hearts.



Volunteering with artists Mary O’Brien and Daniel McCormick in 2015 (they are the people on the left). The photo above was taken from somewhere near the cottonwoods in the distance. 

McCarran Ranch has been the site of extensive, well, first landscape restructuring to straighten the river, and then, more recently, landscape restructuring to restore the river’s natural flow patterns, part of which mean diffusing the water out and slowing it down at times of high water flow. A part of this landscape work involved the Nature of Art, which Renee and volunteered for and I’ve written about before here and more briefly here.


The first impression of walking into the western end of the McCarran Ranch is that the work they have done is paying off. From the quick channel dropping water straight into the preserve, it almost immediately becomes diffused and spread out across the whole floodplain. While this is certainly no scientific observation, it seemed pretty clear that the work was doing what it was intended to do (we were also all the way across the plain from the main channel, so again this is just anecdotal).

Then walking along we saw an elongated hump out on across one of the slower moving channels. With the high water it was hard to say for sure, but we were fairly convinced that it was one of the Nature of Art installations, the first one that we volunteered on helping making willow wattles (written about in the post linked above). Whether it really was or not, it made us feel so good to see that and believe it. To believe in the power of people coming together to make a difference in our world, and in the power to revision a world in a different way that combines beauty and respect, and to see WATER!!!

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.


How to Read the American West: Indie Bookstores and a Day Out in Reno


Reno bike day fun day. Headed from the museums up into the Carson Range foothills for a baby shower/bbq.


Our Independent Bookstore Day goodies and purchases, including How to Read the American West in the foreground.


A dose of Reno pride on Holcomb Street as we ride by. Much food for thought after beginning my reading.

This past Saturday, Renee organized a full Reno day for us, we left the house at 8:15 headed first stop for Sundance Bookstore, which was celebrating National Independent Bookstore Day with a free goodie bag giveaway to the first 25 customers. We were officially first, arriving about 10 minutes before the store opened (although not by much). I love browsing in Sundance and indie bookstores in general. In contrast to a chain store, where I feel drowned and need to just get what I’m looking for and get out, a friendly bookstore like Sundance invites browsing and reflection. Browsing, one book caught my eye, How to Read the American West: A Field Guide by William Wyckoff. I’d never heard of the author before, but I’m very interested in interpretations of landscape and so I snapped the book up (and a signed copy to boot!).

From Sundance (after a detour for tea and coffee in the neighborhood), we rode up to UNR and took part in Free Museum Day. We visited the Natural History Museum, the Keck Geology Museum, the Anthropology Museum, the Library Special Collections display and the Nevada Historical Society. The collection (and the live animals!) at the Natural History Museum were great, but my imagination was more caught by the geology museum, set in an old building and filled with dazzling (literally in many cases) specimens from Nevada and around the world, and the Nevada Historical Society, especially its Reno exhibit.


A Reno divorce era newspaper article, with an oddly worded caption and a divorcee riding a cow into a bar, six guns blazing.


The Phone Booth, great neon sign at the Nevada Historical Society.

From there, onward up through subdivisions built into the slopes of the Carson Range to a baby shower, then back down the hill to Craft Wine & Beer‘s Txakoli Festival. Afterward we were pretty beat and had a leisurely afternoon ride home. Even though we’d been on our bikes since early morning, we weren’t quite ready to call it a day and so we rode out our neighborhood dog walking site/elementary school and sat along the old farmland beyond the school and watched the moonrise over Hidden Valley and the Virginia Range.

I’ve been reading in How to Read the American West and it is a really interesting and a bit more rigourous, less metaphysical take on landscape that my earlier explorations, but an interesting read and what I think will be eye-opening in many ways. Here are a few of the lessons from the first chapter that have been giving me food for thought. I hope to develop and apply these principles to later posts, but for now I’ll just list what the author gives as his “Tips for Navigating Western Landscapes”:

  • Appreciate the role of time.
  • Recognize that landscapes are expressions of the interplay between nature and culture.
  • Follow the path of water.
  • Recognize the importance of scale.
  • Pay attention to the edges in the landscape.
  • Develop an eye for measuring landscape density.
  • Ask who controls the landscape.
  • Make connections between western places and the cultures that shaped them.
  • Understand how the modern latinization of the West is the region’s most extreme recent cultural transformation.
  • Visit vernacular landscapes.
  • Inventory symbolic landscapes and representations of places.
  • Remember that what you see depends on the experiences you bring with you, the questions you pose, and the details you emphasize.

Note: These are quotes, but this is not a bulleted list in the book. This is the order in which they are given. See pages 5–15. Full citation: Wyckoff, William. How to Read the American West: A Field Guide (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014).


Night sky as we unwinded from the day. I’m really looking forward to applying lessons and insights from my new book into my “reading” of landscapte.

I find landscape to be fascinating and have been exploring it in my mind (and physically) for a long time. It will be a good exercise I think to have a more systematic approach to what I think about when I think about it.