El Dorado Canyon an easy hike year ’round
Appeal Staff Writer
With its pretty desert-mountain views and year-round stream, El Dorado Canyon, just behind Dayton, is a pleasant walk any month of the year.
The trail is shared by four-wheel-drive vehicles – on a route through the Pine Nut Mountains that ends near Stephanie Lane – but they are not too annoying. Wear waterproof boots and bring a hiking pole as you will be doing a lot of rock-hopping over creeks.
Take Highway 50 to the light at Dayton Valley Road and turn right. Just past the bridge over the Carson River, take another right on Ricci Road.
Up a hill and after one-third of a mile, turn left at the “Rodeo Arena” sign. Just past the facility’s gates, the road turns to dirt. It gets progressively worse – but quite manageable – so 4WD and high-clearance vehicles are recommended.
The road veers right just before two microwave towers then curves back up behind the arena. It then heads left up a hill (ignore the road off to the right). As you pass by transmitters and under their wires, you will see a mining site road to the left. But stay straight on the obviously main road.
Off to the left, you will see a water tower and the mouth of El Dorado Canyon. At this point, you are actually heading into Hackett Canyon, but after a dip, head left at the fork toward El Dorado.
Shortly, you will see a hillside with a giant “D” for Dayton High School. Go left at the yellowish rock outcropping with the enigmatic remains of circular structures: kilns for rendering ore? Go straight about one-third of a mile to an open gate and park just within it.
You start the trail/road by looking down upon the willow-choked gravel wash, paralleling it on a slight slope. You will see many “stallion piles” of manure, left by alpha males to mark territories.
Once on this stretch, I saw a herd of about 10 wild horses grazing above me. The wary stallion inexplicably led his harem down onto the road in front of me, and I “herded” them for a good quarter-mile – with the stallion occasionally glaring back at me and snorting, despite my verbal assurances that I wouldn’t mess with his ladies.
Across the creek, you will see abrupt hills with impossibly steep trails cut by ATVs. Many a time, I’ve almost had to hide my eyes in fear that a daredevil teenage boy will flip over backwards on the hillside.
On April 1, the piñons and ephedrine were covered with new growth, and the junipers sported clusters of blue-green berries. The desert peach was just opening its fragrant pink blossoms. Clumps of cholla cactus looked out of place in this riparian area.
The cottonwoods were just beginning to leaf out; come back in the fall for a gorgeous display of golden leaves. Cottonwoods know winter in Northern Nevada ain’t over ’til it’s over, so they are the last trees to leaf out. Otherwise, the weight of snow on the leaves will break off their notoriously weak branches.
This canyon is a haven for birds. I heard the flat buzz of Bewick wrens and the evocative descending call of canyon wrens, the tapping of woodpeckers, the “wank-wank” of scrub jays, the trilling of white-capped sparrows and the scream of red-tailed hawks.
After about a half-mile, you come to your first creek crossing. The trail gets very sandy in places and flotsam clings high on the willows, evidence of just how high this creek gets in flood stage. Impressive hillsides of volcanic rock outcroppings with red cinder fields dominate.
Ignore all of the side trails and deep cuts made by ATVs and 4WD vehicles and stay on the main road. That day, the route was marked by small pieces of orange flagging tape.
The road veers away from the creek bed over a fairly steep, uphill bend, but in general, stay low when given a choice. At a good-size pool in the creek, go upstream a bit to cross it in the sagebrush. You will pass a large camping area with two fire pits and the collapsed remains of an earth-bermed shelter (or mine mouth?) up against the hill.
At another creek crossing, I came across three Jeepers winching their companion out of the water.
I said, “Y’all are crazy, you know.”
They guffawed and shot back, “Yeah, well look who”s walking!”
I countered, “Yeah, but I’m not stuck in the mud, am I?” which brought more hilarity as I continued on.
You pass interesting, crumbly volcanic rock formations then suddenly realize you no longer hear trickling water. From here on, the stream goes underground then reappears several times.
After about two miles and across the creek bed, you will see deeply eroded sandstone hills (not unlike Death Valley’s Zabriskie Point) and beehive-shaped domes of volcanic tuff. Shortly, in small caves in red-rock cliffs, you’ll see streaks of droppings from nesting raptors.
The canyon then narrows, with dense stands of piñon. At about four miles, the route splits, with the main road going up a hill. Here on that day, I noticed a faint dirt bike trail to the left into the arroyo and decided to investigate.
Imagine my surprise when, a quarter-mile up, it led to a short, very steeply sided red-rock canyon with pour-offs cut into the rocks. I thought of slot canyons I’ve hiked in Utah as I scrambled over its boulders.
Back on the main road, the trail winds up and down and over the intermittent stream for another two miles until you are in a deep wash right under some cliffs. Just past this, look up to the left to see a natural arch – a fine place to eat your lunch and turn around.
As you retrace your steps, make sure at the canyon mouth to take the upper trail to your vehicle, or you will end up floundering around down in the willows.
• Contact writer Pat Devereux at email@example.com.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: El Dorado Canyon, Dayton
WHERE: See story for route to trailhead
MILES: As many as you like; hike description is for 12 miles round-trip
MAP: Humboldt Toyaibe National Forest, Carson City Ranger District