Wednesday, June 27, 2012

For patch of green near Reno, hike this trail

Dayton State Park, Nev.
NOTE: This article originally appeared in Seniors’ Scoop magazine’s July-August 2012 edition.

Seniors longing for a patch of green in western Nevada’s desert find it at Dayton State Park. Just 12 miles east of Carson City on U.S. 50, the park borders the Carson River, whose headwaters form in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The slightly less than a mile-long River Nature Trail heads to and briefly follows the river.

The best time to visit during the summer is early morning, as daytime temperatures can reach 100 degrees, even along the river. Daytime is fine during fall and spring, though.

Upon arriving at the park’s entrance to the lower park, look for the kiosk located a few yards beyond. It lists trail information and the park’s rules and regulations. Follow the paved road to where it loops; parking is available there.

The River Nature Trail runs along a ditch dike. If you’ve been on the trail several years ago, it may look quite different on your return visit. Frequent flooding has forced the trail to be rebuilt several times. Boy Scout troop volunteers maintain the trail.

Benches as well as picnic sites sit along the River Nature Trail. Hikers can take several different spurs from the main trail down to the river.

Compared to the sparse upper levels of the park, the riverway is a comparative Eden. Fremont cottonwoods with their spreading branches grace the river banks. Willows, alders, Russian olive, rushes, sedges, and various grasses further add to the greenery.

You’re certain to spot cottontails and ground squirrels along the walk. The Carson River sports a number of waterfowl, included teals, long-billed curlews, and various migratory songbirds. Fish in the river include cutthroat trout, speckled dace, and tui chub. The Northwestern Pond turtle also can be spotted swimming about.

Keep an eye out for a number of other wildlife as well. Both bald and golden eagles and other raptors often can be spotted in the sky. And don’t be surprised if you come upon beaver and mule deer.

The trail is fairly easy to traverse, with an elevation gain of only 25 feet. Sands and fine clays, thanks to periodic flooding, make for a nice walking surface.

During the area’s last major flood – the New Years Flood of 1998 – erosion caused the Carson River to change its course. It now flows father to the east than it did during the 20th century. The former and now dry riverbed can be seen across from the trail’s spurs.

In addition, this change in the river’s course left an oxbow – a crescent-shaped lake next to a winding river – on the Carson’s western shoreline. The island that separates the main river from the oxbow is home to many of the state-protected Northwestern Pond turtle.

Pets can walk the trail if on a leash. You’ll want to bring your own water, though, as there are no drinking facilities along the trail.

The make a daytrip out of it, after taking the trail head over to the Rock Point Stamp Mill in the upper park. Built in 1861, the mill once processed silver ore mined in the Comstock Lode.

Read more about day hiking with children in my guidebook Hikes with Tykes.