Plenty of snow, but Dead Man's trail now a must

Spring skiing is alive and well at Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows (where they got 10 inches this week of snow), Boreal and Mammoth, but the hiking trails are clearing at lower levels (we won't be able to do Horse Tail Falls for weeks).

The local Dead Man's Creek, off East Lake Boulevard about five miles from Highway 395, is clear and it's well worth the trek as the wildflowers are the best in memory.

The parking area behind the bare-bones dead tree is now graced with a new sign illustrating the hiking trails and trail information. There's even a pamphlet box with a nice guide to the area.

The original trail was built in 1980 by the Youth Conservation Corps and updated after the Sutro Fire of 1998, which burned the gazebo up about 230 vertical feet. This was a steep trail with stairsteps which wandered alongside the creekbed. After the fire a Boy Scout started a new trail skirting the vegetation at the creek to give wild game more security. It's considerably longer than the old one, which has been left to fall apart, but it isn't as steep. Plans are afoot to erect signs along the trail, identifying local brush and flowers. And if ever there was a time to take either trail this is it.

Last weekend we decided to give the old trail a try and at once came upon great swaths of desert peach, rose-colored flowers so widespread that they were like a carpet. We'd never seen anything like this before on this trail. And as we continued along the old trail there were more patches of pink and white flowers, small in bloom size but everywhere.

At the gazebo one could look out on a sea of small growths of all kinds of blooms, from seep-spring monkey flowers to Indian rice grass. And on all sides cheat grass grows, the result of the Sutro fire which practically wiped out the native sagebrush and rabbit brush. Mormon tea offers splashes of bright green amid the flowers and rocks.

Continuing up the fire road from the gazebo it seemed at first that the flowers were thinning out, but they were still everywhere, just in smaller patches. At the top of the ridge which overlooks Washoe Lake to the northwest and the mountain trails to the southeast, the views are awesome, well worth the modest extra climb. Washoe Lake is steadily filling up and there is plenty of snow on Slide Mountain.

A couple of caveats about the trail. Stinging nettles are common and if they touch bare skin they produce an itching rash (we've been hit several times along this trail). Snakes and other reptiles are common here, although we've never seen the Great Basin rattlesnake that the pamphlet warns about. Gopher snakes are present (a friend on an all-night solitary vigil was bitten by one) but are no danger. Give snakes room and they'll give you room.

Right now the creek is bubbling nicely, but this a sometimes event. We've been there in mid-summer when it was flowing and when it wasn't. The lush vegetation along the creek is used as a hideout for wild game.

The old trail, which follows the creek, is in bad shape and obviously the Nevada State Park would rather that you don't take it. At one point it's blocked by a fallen tree on a bridge. We took it with the idea of reporting it, which we have now done.

This is an ideal hike for flatlanders visiting. To the gazebo is a stroll, but going to the upper ridge may tire inexperienced hikers. Besides, the view from the gazebo is fine, mountains across the Washoe Valley capped with snow, the sand dunes east of the lake unique to the area.

With the creek hiked last weekend, we're off to Sequoia National Forest for a hike led by the park naturalist, 10 miles down an old logging road built by idealists who established a colony in the forest in the 1900s. We'll report on that next week.


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