Sunday, July 23, 2017

To the Top of Eastern Nevada: Up Wheeler Peak with Kids

The day arrived: time to head up Wheeler Peak. We had two seven year olds and a ten year old. We had spent the night before at Wheeler Peak campground at 10,000 feet to acclimate and make the hike easier. We took a before hike photo when we were still all smiling (we forgot to take the after hike photo, but I can assure you some of the faces would have been showing different expressions!)

The start is easy, not too steep, fairly flat ground, and gorgeous views. We could see where we would soon be--on the ridge that leads up to Wheeler Peak (the mountain on the right in the photo above).

As we got higher, the trail got rockier. The kids wanted lots of breaks, so we had to use our best parenting techniques to keep them going.

I found the flowers distracting. I especially loved this pink one, moss campion (Silene acualis), that grows in a mound.

At one point, Desert Boy went ahead, found a wind shelter, and then laid down and pretended he was dead. Here are the kids trying to revive him. Fortunately they were successful!

Higher up, we found some snow!

We decided to take this snowy route for awhile.

Desert Boy's expression shows how enthusiastic he was. But then he and Isaac started talking about video games, and they got a second wind.

Jenny is such a trooper, up to any challenge! And with a smile.

Almost to the top!

One of the benefits of climbing the peak in July is seeing the bright pink Palmer's primrose (Primula parryi) in bloom. It's usually a riparian plant, but for some reason it also likes the higher slopes of Wheeler Peak. The purple plant is sky pilot or sticky Jacob's ladder (Polemonium viscosum), and it smells like skunk. Fortunately it wasn't too odiferous on this particular day. In the middle of the photo below, you can see Bald Mountain, with Buck Mountain to the right. The dry playa in the background is Yelland dry lake bed in Spring Valley.

Finally we got to the top! It was so nice to be there. We shared the summit ridge with about 20 other people, who were scattered along it.

Some of us went to the eastern edge of the ridge to see the Wheeler Cirque Rock Glacier and Jeff Davis peak. This year there aren't any thermokarst ponds (pools of water) on the rock glacier.

Jenny got a family photo of us.

And I wanted to get a photo with Jenny!

We spent about an hour at the top on the rare, almost windless day. You might notice we're not even wearing jackets. This is not common at all! Desert Girl wasn't feeling so good, and we hoped heading down would relive her altitude sickness.

The Ross's aven (Geum rossii) with its mats of yellow flowers and cushion phlox (Phlox pulvinata) with its white flowers decorated the scene, along with more sky pilot.

I thought going down might end the whining, but the kids were tired and let us know it.

With snow down the gully to Stella Lake, we thought that would be a fun alternative to the trail. There were a few fun moments...


 ...but it was really long and probably didn't really save us any time. But now we know.
We were all exhausted when we got back to the vehicles and forgot to take the after photo. The kids said they would never hike the peak again. But once they told other people and saw their reactions, they changed to saying that they wouldn't hike the peak in the next few years. After that, who knows?

Anyway, we were really proud of them for accomplishing such a big feat. and it was great to spend the day outdoors in such beautiful settings. For anyone wanting to take kids to the top, plan on an all-day adventure (it was about 9 hours total for us, including an hour at the top), lots of food and water and patience. And it sure helps to have good weather!

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Warm-up Hike: To the Bristlecones

 Jenny and I had a plan: get our seven-year olds to the top of Wheeler Peak, 13,063 ft. The trail starts at 10,000 ft., so that's a lot of elevation gain. We figured we better do a training hike, so we headed up the Bristlecone Trail at Great Basin National Park. This trail also starts close to 10,000 ft., but doesn't gain as much elevation. Plus it is so inspiring to walk among trees that are over 3,000 years old.

Of course I took my camera to get some photos of the cool trees.

Each time different trees catch my eye.


Our group photo. We ended up with three adults and five kids on this hike. Everyone did great.

On the way down we even found a little patch of snow to slide in. I love finding snow in July!

Jenny got some extra strength training in carrying Willow!
Coming up next...the big hike...

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Exploring Central Nevada-Part 3: The Mountains

This is Part 3 of 3 of the Exploring Central Nevada blog post series.
If you missed them, check out

 We had left Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park and had a few hundred miles to drive home. We could take Highway 50, but why not explore a little bit more? I had researched that there was a really great drive through the Toiyabe Mountains, along Big Creek and over a pass and along Kingston Creek. We were driving a tough 4WD pickup truck, so I knew this would be a good time to do it. As soon as we entered the canyon, we were impressed, tall mountains surrounded us. How would this road turn out?

The wildflowers were spectacular. Here are some shooting stars near a spring on the side of the road.

 The road got steeper and narrower, and we had ATVs coming from the other direction. We were hoping the road wouldn't get really gnarly. Fortunately, it was nothing that a little 4 Low couldn't handle, and we went up and over some amazing high country. On the other side, we stopped by beautiful Kingston Creek to play in the water and enjoy the scenery.

Desert Girl was delighted to catch a butterfly.

I could have stayed there overnight, but we had other plans, so we kept going.

Further on we passed the start of the  Toiyabe Crest Trail, marked as TCT on a sign. This trail is 75-miles long, built by the CCC in the 1930s, and according to some, doesn't look like it's been maintained much since then. It starts on this road and extends south to the South Twin River Trail. It skirts the tall peaks and follows along the high country. It sounds like it would be a fun adventure...someday! Apparently finding water along the way is part of the challenge, with up to 20-mile long stretches dry.

Not much farther down the road we found a large reservoir with lots of campers and anglers. At one end, though, we had it all to ourselves.

We enjoyed dinner in Eureka at the Urban Cowboy Bar and Grill, and then continued on our way. The evening light on Ely made me want to stop and take a photo.

We didn't stay, but instead headed to nearby Cave Lake State Park, where we luckily nabbed the last campsite at the Lakeview Campground. After claiming our campsite, we quickly went back to the lake to check it out.

The kids had fun showing their babysitter the fish and crawdads.

It's such a scenic lake! The surrounding mountains cradle the lake.

We ate some food and then Desert Girl went with me for a walk along the shoreline to enjoy the sunset.

 It was one of the longest sunsets I've ever seen, with the clouds continually changing colors and being reflected in the lake.

The kids wanted to pose for a photo. Then it was time for showers (hurray!) and enjoying the campfire. We were all too lazy to set up the tent, so we just put our sleeping pads and bags down on the ground and in the back of the truck. It looked like it would be a perfect night for sleeping under the stars.

I still wanted to get more photos, so I headed back to the lake to get some long exposures. The moon was rising fast enough that I wasn't going to get a good Milky Way photo, so I hoped for some star shots. What I wasn't expecting was to get so much color in the cloud.

Crawdad hunters were out, roaming the shores, so I had some interesting flashlight flares in some photos I took. Then the moon rose and lit up the other shore.

When I got back to camp, I took one more photo. Then it was time to snooze.
The next morning we got groceries and headed home. Overall, it was a great trip, and we all enjoyed exploring more of Nevada that most people don't have an opportunity to see.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Exploring Central Nevada-Part 2: Ghost Towns and Fossils

Second post of a three-part series. Find the first installment here.

After enjoying hot springs, it was time to head to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. We followed the signs off Highway 50 west of Austin into Reese River Valley and kept driving and driving. And then we drove some more! It was a long way, mostly on gravel roads, to the state park. We drove up a long gravel slope and saw the flags blowing in the distance. Whew, we had finally made it!

Did I mention a long way on gravel roads? Here's the view from where we had just come from.

We found a campsite in the campground (beware the fiberglass picnic tables, which gave us nasty splinters!), and then set off for a short hike to the fossil site. Along the way, Desert Girl smelled the fragrant blooming cliff rose.

We reached the fossil house, which protects about nine ichthyosaurs, marine reptiles. The house is only open during guided tours to protect the fossils.

Outside is a life-size replica of the ichthyosaur Shoshonis popularis. It was the largest predator around, with teeth like sharks', that could regrow as needed.

We peeked into the windows of the fossil house to see the in situ fossils. We knew we wanted to learn a lot more, so planned to come back the next day for one of the tours.

After an early dinner, we headed to the entrance, where the ghost town of Berlin is preserved. This cabin serves as the visitor center and park offices.

We looking into some of the other cabins to get a glimpse of what mining life was like.

I really liked how the afternoon light lit up the bottles inside this cabin.

Then we started on a hike around some of the structures. It was so beautiful walking around, imagining how different life would have been when the mine was in production.

The state park requires that dogs be on leashes. That was a little bit of a struggle with all the jackrabbits around!

One of the cool things about Berlin is how much of it is left. Nevada is nicknamed the Silver State, as so much silver (and gold and copper and tungsten and other minerals) have been found in it. Mining towns have come and gone all over the state. Most of the time when they disappear, the buildings are dismantled or moved so they can be put up somewhere else. But in Berlin, nearly everything was left as is.

Some of the cars didn't even make it out of town!

The machine shop was gorgeous in the golden light.

Inside we got a nice view of the mill.


I didn't know what a lot of the machinery was for, but it looked cool.

We slept well that night, then the next morning I went for a trail run and we packed up camp. We headed over to the fossil building and waited for a tour. We thought that since it was a Saturday, it might be really crowded, so we go there early. While we were waiting, we noticed a fossil on the ground. Turns out it used to have a shelter over it, but a big wind storm a number of years ago blew the shelter off and the roof off the fossil building. It cost so much to put up a new roof on the fossil building that there wasn't money left to recover this fossil.

With about eight other people, we went into the fossil house and learned all sorts of amazing things about ichthyosaurs, in particular about the Shonisaurus popularis fossils found here. (Click on the links to read more.)

Early miners used their vertebrae as dinner plates. Heavy dinner plates!

They are still finding more ichthyosaur fossils in the area. Ichthyosaurs are the state fossil of Nevada, and it was really cool learning more about them.

After the tour, we headed to the visitor center. When we had checked earlier, the tour to Diana Mine was full, but I just had a feeling we should go check if there was a cancellation. Luckily for us, there was, and we put on helmets and got flashlights to go visit this mine.

I usually don't go into mines, as they aren't as safe as caves, and I'm not a miner. But we thought it would be a fun opportunity.

We saw some of the tools of the trade.

It wasn't so reassuring when the guide pointed out the crack in the rock over our heads. That's why they put up the wooden beams.

Desert Boy was enthralled.

We saw several dead ends, where the ore vein had ended, and then the miners started in a different direction.

Our guide demonstrated how they mined, including how they made holes for the dynamite.

This was our emergency exit if the adit entrance we had come through somehow collapsed. By now we were a couple hundred feet under the hillside, so we were all hoping not to try it.

The guide mentioned that he had explored more of the mine, but we weren't allowed to go further because of bad air and collapsing tunnels.


A close up of the front of the ore cart.

On the way out we took some more photos.

It was great to get back to daylight!

We felt like we had really experienced Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. So it was time to start heading home. We returned through Ione, Nevada. Their motto is the "The Town That Refused to Die." Population 41. We saw some nice buildings in town.

As we returned along the gravel roads, we saw an awesome dust devil in Reese River Valley.
Soon, though, we'd be exploring the mountains...
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