Nevada History by John C. Evanoff

Visitreno.com is excited to present this series of articles by noted author and poet, John C. Evanoff. John will tell us about Nevada history and cover some of the more remote and unusual things to see and do in Northern Nevada.

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Picking Reno's Paths

The Trails to Red and Purple Hands and More
August , 2008
By John Evanoff

Around 1953 thru 1963, our family would take hikes along the many ditches beginning from Verdi around Crystal Peak Park to west Reno around where the old Mayberry Bridge crosses the Truckee. Most of the many little creeks, ditches, flumes and springs along the southern side of the Truckee River were bushy with wild rose, willow, cattail, elderberry, gooseberry and chokecherry. We would fill gunny sacks full of these edible wonders and take them home to produce fantastic pies, syrups, jams and jellies. Before the growth of Verdi spread down the river and major floods occurred throughout the last five decades as well as Reno building west into the hills, you could walk along the Quilicy Ditch, Coldron Ditch, Orr Ditch, Belli’s Ditch, Steamboat Ditch, Garson Ditch, Hunter Creek, Fleish Creek, Mogul Creek, Roberts Creek and Alum Creek and pick these wondrous edibles to your hearts content. There are few stretches left but for some trails not widely known that still exist for those wishing to find more than a handful of chokecherries. One way to find out though is just get out and start hiking these areas in late August and all of September. Depending on how dry the spring and summer were, you will usually find enough berries and cherries to make a dozen or more jars of jelly. There are a few places in Northern Nevada, especially around Winnemucca, that are always great for chokecherry hunting, but the cherries around both the north side of Hunter Creek and the north side of Peavine Mountain are the most plump you will ever find anywhere.

For more than sixty years, the Belli Ranch near Mogul was one of the largest cattle and dairy cow ranches west of Reno. I spent many a day in my early years riding my horse along the southern ridges of the Sierra and along the Truckee River hillsides in that area. The Belli’s were always pleasant and often found time to speak with my father and I on many occasions. The fishing was outstanding in all the creeks and ditches and many of the German brown trout I caught and released on flies I tied myself were in the three to four pound range all along the river from Lawton’s Hot Springs west to the Quilicy Ranch. Hunting was exceptional all over the hills and up to Hunter Lake. I especially liked the fact that you could hunt quail, partridge, rabbit and deer within just a few miles of the edge of town. One year, I was lucky enough to fill my bag with all four of those species in one day. The buck was a seven point and we had sausage and venison for the whole year from that one huge muley.

One of the trails I used to hike most frequently in the fall was the Hunter Creek canyon all the way from the river to Hunter Lake. The hike is not a short one. You should expect to leave early in the morning at the crack of dawn and begin the ascent knowing you will be at the top in around four hours. The trek back is quick though, especially if you take the south trail from the south end of Hunter Lake which goes down the hill and meets up with a gurgling little spring which turns into Alum Creek and then follows the Alum Creek canyon down to the top end of South McCarran Blvd just a mile south of where Cashill Blvd. crosses it. The hike up Hunter Creek begins at the base of the canyon near the Steamboat Ditch trail. This trail at this point now has the distinction of being part of the Tom Cooke Trail to Hole in the Wall. Hole in the Wall is named after a water pipe sticking out of the canyon wall used years ago to move water from a spring higher up on the other side of the hill. The Truckee Meadows Trail Association just recently designated this trail and volunteers are needed from both Mountain Bikers and Hikers alike to keep the track in good shape. For now, I’ll leave Hole in the Wall for another column if you wish information on it and instead focus on Hunter Creek just because it is a true trekker’s challenge.

So as you head up Hunter Canyon along the creek, take your time once you get about a couple hours into your hike. Occasionally look around and down the hill towards Reno. It’s a fascinating vista. As the canyon moves south up into the Mount Rose Wilderness, the walls of the canyon become steeper. In the fall, the colors are most enjoyable as you move through the upper reaches of the creek. The aspen turn golden yellow and the countryside is full of lupine and bluebells. Several small falls along the way make for good pictures, so take along your camera to capture these vivid expressions of the Sierra Nevada. Once you are at the lake, which usually dries out almost completely by the fall except for a small marsh at the south end, sit back and have a picnic. From here you can take the canyon back the way you came, go down the old Hunter Lake Road along Alum Creek to South McCarran, go further south to Evans Creek which is a nice trek all of itself or go just west of your position to Deep Canyon or Mystic Canyon and down to Fleish at the Truckee River. There is also a road that leads from southwest of Boomtown all the way up to Big Meadows and a small jeep trail to within a short distance of Hunter Lake. Just go west on I-80 to the Garson Exit and go south past the Forest Service Fire Station through a gated area and up the hill. Call the Forest Service before taking this route since it might be closed due to fire danger. Once you are at the top, take your trusty topo map and GPS and head towards Hunter Lake. It’s about a twenty minute walk from the end of the road which was impassible by vehicle the last time I was there a few years ago.

If you hike down the Alum Creek or Hunter Lake Road route, the views of the city are spectacular, especially in the early evening. The trek to Hunter Lake and the Evans Creek hike are by far my favorite, but most rigorous day hikes. The best two day hike is the leisurely hike up Alum Creek through Dutch Louie Flats and to the old Hunter Lake Road to Hunter Lake or Big Meadows and then just south to Davis Meadows. You can stay over at either Big Meadows or Davis Meadows then head south on the Mount Rose Trail all the way to the base of Mount Rose and then either up then down to the Mount Rose Highway on the Mount Rose Trail or down the Galena Creek Canyon all the way to Galena Creek Park. The hike from Hunter Lake or Big Meadows down Mystic Canyon or Deep Canyon to the Truckee River is exceptional too.

All of these hikes are fun and long so take plenty of food and water. Please don’t drink the creek or spring water for it might have some bacteria or Giardia in it that can make you very sick. If you do need to drink the water, be sure to boil it for five or more minutes and then let it cool covered before filling your water containers. There are wilderness-type portable water filters on the market good for ridding the water of impurities. It might be best to invest in one for long hikes. Always take lots of fruit and nuts because they are full of energy for your trail hike.

On picking the wild fruits of fall, be especially careful of the area you plan to hike into for the day. Some of the ditch and creek areas are now on private land and any access is by appointment or the property owner’s access privileges only. My advice is to get with the Forest Service and Truckee Meadows Trails Association for a good map and instructions on what is available along these trail routes. If you don’t know what the berries and cherries look like, go on the internet and view as many pictures of them as possible. None of them are very good raw, but when cooked, pressed and filtered through a sieve and adding sugar and pectin, you will end up with syrup, jam or jelly to die for. There are many recipes for these wild fruits and all are deserving of being attempted. My own is actually quite simple. Take all the chokecherries, elderberries and any gooseberries you find and clean them with cold clear water overnight. Strain them and then add one clean cup of water for every three or four cups of fruit. Use a large pan with a cover and turn on the heat to just simmer the mixture until the fruit comes almost comes away from the seeds. Take the pulp of all the fruits and put it through a sieve and then add the deep purple watery contents of the large pan. Boil and stir the contents including a bit of pectin carefully as you add sugar to a thickening consistency. If you want jam, add more of the pulp without the seeds and if you want syrup add more sugar. Sterilize some jars during this thickening process and when the consistency meets your demands, ladle it into the hot jars. Cover the concoction immediately with screw caps or wax. Put the jars in an oven or a large canner with boiling water for about twelve minutes and then remove to cool on your kitchen counter. I love to use the syrup on Swedish pancakes or waffles almost immediately, but it’s great as an addition to draw over strawberry ice cream or sweet cornbread. The jam is spectacular for use the entire winter and as special gifts for friends and family during the holidays. The jelly can be used as a spread or glaze on just about anything you want including venison, duck, pheasant and rabbit. If you’ve made some Fallon Hearts of Gold bread and spread some of this Northern Nevada chokecherry jelly on it, I promise you, no other bread and jelly connection can ever come up to those two wonderful tastes coming together.


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