Saturday, August 31, 2013

Destination: Angel Lake near Wells, Nevada

 One of Nevada's many mountain ranges is the East Humboldt Range, a 30-mile long range in the northeastern part of the state near Wells, Nevada. We decided to make it part of our July trip, largely because the 12-mile Angel Lake Scenic Byway (Nevada Highway 231, seasonally open) goes right up to Angel Lake in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

 The stormy weather didn't deter us as we climbed several thousand feet from the valley to the 8,379-foot elevation lake. Before the road gets really steep and windy is the Angel Creek Campground, which would be a good destination for those with bigger vehicles (like RVs). The Angel Lake Campground awaits those with smaller vehicles at the end of the road. There's a $5 parking fee at the end of the road for those who want to get out of their vehicles and check out the lake and/or picnic.

Lake Dimensions. The road takes you to within fifty feet of Angel Lake, named for Warren M. Angel of nearby Clover Valley. The lake covers 13 acres with a maximum depth of about 35 feet. A dam was added to the lake by early settlers to increase its capacity for irrigation.

Fish. The lake contains brook trout, rainbow trout, tiger trout, and speckled dace. According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife website about Angel Lake, about 4,800 rainbow trout are stocked during the summer. Creel surveys show anglers catch about 1 to 2 trout per hour, with a limit of five per day. Fish size is generally 8.5 to 11 inches.

My husband and kids decided to try their luck fishing, which is one of the most popular activities at the lake. I was ready to stretch my legs after the long car ride and set out for a hike around the lake.

Glaciology. Angel Lake is a tarn, otherwise known as a mountain lake formed in a cirque. A glacier once stood hundreds of feet high here, flowing down towards the valley below. (On the day we visited, the sky was hazy and the storms made it gray, so it was hard to see down to the desert below.)

One of the coolest things about visiting Angel Lake was thinking about the glaciers. The last glaciation in the Great Basin was called the Angel Lake glaciation, with the type locality being right where we were standing. Researchers Ben Laabs, Jeff Munroe, and others have conducted cosmogenic 10Be surface-exposure dating of boulders in the area. By studying the dates of how long boulders in moraines have been exposed, they've concluded that the end of the Angel Lake glaciation was 19,300 years ago, give or take 1,000 years. This was the same time that the Laurentide Ice Sheet was retreating. This was also before glaciers in the Sierra Nevada and Wasatch mountains retreated, and before the huge pleistocene Lakes Bonneville and Lahontan had reached their zenith. What does this timing mean? The researchers say that more research is needed.

Wildflowers. What comes after the glaciers leave? Pioneering plants like the bright fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium),  one of my favorite flowers. Fireweed likes to grow in areas that have been disturbed by  fires, avalanches, glacial retreats, and more. It likes lots of sun and can grow quickly.

Many other wildflowers were in abundance. The flora in the East Humboldts and nearby Ruby Mountains are similar to that in the Wasatch Mountains in Utah.

 And with plants come animals, like this beautiful blue butterfly.

 Wildlife. A couple rock wrens hung out with me as I took photos.

Probably the best-known birds on the mountain range are introduced Himalayan Snowcocks. They apparently are most-often found around Hole-in-the-Mountain peak, the highest peak of the range at 11,306 ft. The range also has bighorn sheep (with 20 reintroduced in February 2013), introduced mountain goats, mountain lions, mule deer, bobcat, coyote, and more.

Lakes and Hiking. Although Angel Lake is the most easily accessed lake in the East Humboldts, it's not the only lake. I was a bit surprised to find that the range has many more lakes, including Smith Lake, Greys Lake, Winchell Lake, Boulder Lakes, Lizzie's Basin, and Steele Lake. You can access some of them on the two main hiking trails: a four-mile hike to Winchell Lake that begins at a trailhead below Angel Lake on the paved road; and a 25-mile hike that begins at Angel Lake, goes around the north end of the range to Greys Lake 5 miles away on the west side, and then continues along the west side to Ackler Creek (11 miles) and Boulder Lake (18 miles).

To find out more about hiking to some of the other lakes, check out the details on this informative website about hiking in East Humboldts (and Rubies).
As often happens in the mountains, the storms passed and the sun came out, brightening the carpet of wildflowers. I was particularly impressed by the display of wildflowers, even though we were just at 8300 feet. The latitude and higher precipitation allows for a lower timberline and overall lower elevation for wildflowers that I expected to see at higher elevations.

Wilderness.  A quick note on wilderness: although you can drive to Angel Lake, most of the rest of the East Humboldt Range is accessible only by foot or horseback. In 1989, 36,000 acres were designated as the East Humboldt Wilderness.

Geology. The mountains rising above Angel Lake look beautiful, with Greys Peak at the top of the photo above at 10, 674 ft. The East Humboldt Range is a metamorphic core complex, meaning that the older rocks have been pushed up and are exposed instead of being overlain by younger rock layers. This allows you to look up from Angel Lake and see some of the oldest rocks in Nevada: 2.5 billion year old gneiss. How cool is that to see rocks so old from a lake that is not so old (at least geologically speaking!).

Lake core. The sun also beckoned an angler to go out in his float tube. That would be a really fun way to visit the lake! Researchers have taken a raft out on the lake to retrieve a sample of the bottom (a sediment core) to study the past climate of the area over the last 7,000 years. They were able to see ash from the Mount Mazama explosion (the one that created Crater Lake in Oregon). They also learned quite a bit more, which you can read about here.

 When I got back to the dam (probably a leisurely 45-60 minutes after I had set out around the lake), I found the angling success wasn't so good for my family.

 But the kids sure did have fun getting in the chilly water!

I'd like to go back to Angel Lake and the East Humboldts and check out more of the beautiful scenery.

 And if we time it right, we may make it again for the drag races in Wells.

Ah, you've got to love the desert!

I couldn't find much information about Angel Lake when we set out to go there. Hopefully this compilation will help those who desire to know more. And if you know of other websites about Angel Lake, please leave a comment! Thanks!


CountryMouse said...

What a beautiful, rugged area. I love that blue butterfly.

Unknown said...

There are alot of hidden trails around angle lake as well and there's also another lake called smith lake. The start of the smith lake trail is before the last steep climb on the left. And its a good 1hr -1.5hr hike. I'm from wells and went to angle lake often. :)

Unknown said...

Hi, your page on Angel Lake is very informative! Thanks, will be camping there in July.

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