Spring Mountain Adventures In California and Nevada

June 8, 2023

My dear friend Audrey flew in from Washington, DC in May and we drove into the Sierras near the entrance to Lake Tahoe and into the Carson Valley. Snow was falling and the sky was white. We could barely see what was in front of us, and it was a surprising treat when we came around Highway 89 into the Carson Valley in Nevada and experienced Spring! The fruit trees were blossoming and calves and lambs were enjoying the fresh green grass.

Carson Valley is ranch country situated at the transition between the Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin; the West Coast and the Wild West; and the high alpine and the high desert. All around the farms and ranches are rugged snow-covered mountains in a valley that was settled in the 1800s by farmers growing hay and grain and a railroad spur that created an agricultural hub, and also became a center for Basque sheep camps. The first Basques who emigrated to Nevada came from the border region between Spain and France to take their luck with gold. They then put their sheepherding skills to use in the familiar mountainous areas. I have been coming to this area for about 20 years, and I still remember having to stop our car and wait for the lone shepherd and his sheep to clear a space for us to continue driving. Now, the grandchildren of these shepherds are running restaurants and hotels, and attending college. One of them is immersing himself in the Basque language to teach the children their heritage. During each visit, I try to enjoy a Basque meal or at least an order of lamb chops from a local farm.

Another part of my visits is being able to hike either in the high mountains of the Carson Pass or on easier walks in the valley. Because there was so much snow and also so much rain, the areas that were usually dry were now wetlands. We decided to walk on the Bentley Heritage Trail which was flat and sandy. The earth was so dry that it was caked, and only scrub bushes could survive. After walking the South Loop of about 1.3 miles, we noticed that willows were now growing all around us so we knew there was occasional moisture. However, we were unprepared when we walked on a wooden walkway to discover that the nearby Carson River was flowing over the end of the walkway, and there was no easy way to span the short distance between it and the path that rose vertically from the river bank – unless you had long legs and didn’t mind getting a little wet and muddy. Audrey is tall and managed to get across with only wet and muddy shoes. What about me? I tried using my walking sticks, but they only slid on the slick mud in front of me. The only option was to step down into the water or turn around and go back. The water came up to my knees, but the river bottom was grassy and slippery. Audrey tried pulling me, but that didn’t work. Luckily, two other hikers approached us from the other direction. Between the three of them, grabbing my sticks and pulling me, they managed to help me up the embankment. Wet from the knees down and very muddy, I continued the next mile to the end. The other hikers decided to take the other route.

We decided that aside from walking the round-trip of 2.5 miles on a paved path to Genoa, we would not try any more hikes on this trip. Instead, we spent time getting to know the people in the yarn shop in Minden, picking out patterns, and choosing delicious variegated colors for a future project. We also spent time in the bookshop in Gardnerville with its collection of used and new books and choosing a few titles for times of quiet reading.

Audrey (pictured below with the friendly dog who welcomed us at the bookshop) enjoys crafts during her retirement, mainly making polymer earrings, but on this visit she taught me a new craft, quilling. At first, I thought she was talking about quilting. I’m an avid quilter so I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about, especially when she took out long strips of colored paper. I learned that quilling involves using strips of paper that are rolled, looped, curled, twisted and otherwise manipulated to create different shapes, and glued together to create decorative designs. I focused on making greeting cards. The tools look very simple to use, but as in any craft, you have to practice to improve. I have a long way to go to achieve what I’ve seen Audrey do, but with patience, after a while, it becomes easier to create what is in your imagination. One of my attempts is pictured here.

Friends often ask me, where do you go when you say you are going up to the mountains? Do you have a cabin up there or friends who invite you to visit them? I then explain that a long time ago, I succumbed to a strong sales pitch and bought a week in a timeshare in David Walley’s Resort in Genoa, Nevada. Over the years I have either gone up there and enjoyed the hot springs and hiking nearby as well as the trip over the pass to Lake Tahoe, or I have traded it for a week elsewhere such as in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, or in Spain or Austria. Sharing these experiences with family and friends has been a wonderful way of making sure I had at least a week’s vacation every year.

I also want to be clear to my newsletter friends that when I speak about hiking, I am no longer referring to long and hard hikes that demand strength and skill. At my age, I tend to walk slowly and use walking sticks for balance. Still, there is something so special about relying on your own feet to get you to places you would not have seen otherwise.