Spring-Like July in Nevada ...above 8000 feet
Some of the more alluring characteristics of Nevada are within the geology. The formation and composition of this curious land are some of mother natures best work. From desert to alpine and everything in between. I recall the first time landing at Reno/Tahoe International, looking out the window to left was the desert Virginia Range, and to the right (and up), a snow enhanced Mt. Rose. There’s a certain kind of diversity available here in wide open abundance, offering unlimited possibilities when considering your choice of terrain, or even temperature. As we roll full steam into summer and the mercury begins to spike, we can simply elevate our outdoor plans to an altitude where temperatures on average are 10-15 degrees cooler during the day. But don’t be caught off guard in your new found comfort zone. Once the sun sets, the thermometer can easily plummet toward freezing at any time of the year.
Recently my side-kick and I made the trek up to one of our cooler spots high above Lake Tahoe, where the Mountain Chickadees will eat seed from your hand. I quickly discovered that these little birds were virtually invisible now that other plants and trees were providing nutrition not found in the dead of winter. This revelation came too late however as I had already poured seed into the trusting hands of a couple visiting from Belgium and instructed them to just wait patiently. And patient they were. Had I given them apple seeds, we’d all be drinking apple cider by now. Fortunately in my empty moment of doubt, I was able to pull enough common sense together as to not engage in some melodic whistling as if I had mastered the mating songs of the wild Chickadees. With my credibility waning quickly however, I was forced to turn to my six year old daughter as an expert witness. Without any prompting I asked her about the birds she ALWAYS feeds here. And without hesitation she absolutely kicked me in the rear by replying, “Dad, your breath really smells like coffee”. At this point my colleges probably would have hoped that I hadn’t already introduced myself as part of Nevada Tourism. But in spite of this slight set-back, our understanding friends from Belgium did give me their business card so that I could follow-up (from a distance) and send them a photo of this feathered phenomenon.
I made a few phone calls around the Silver State, and of this writing there were still signs of snow at Wheeler Peak (White Pine County), the Ruby Mountains (Elko County), Boundary Peak (Esmeralda County), and a first hand sighting from our back yard of Mt. Rose (Washoe County). And in general, all along the eastern Sierra-Nevada there are remnants of winters past. Just the concept of snow in July is refreshing in and of itself, and even more an oddity is for those who stumble upon the red, watermelon snow. The red tinted chlamydomonas nivalis is an algae which occurs in cold conditions and is a reaction to underlying soil and other organics, but is primarily fueled by pine pollen. The algae is also reactive to UV light and the color can become quite intense. When I first came across red snow in the Sierra I thought I had uncovered a bizarre oil spill as there was also an odor about the area I couldn’t identify. In the great outdoors of Nevada it’s easy to feel like you’re the first person to ever set foot on the planet, but a little research revealed that another hiker named Aristotle had documented the same type of experience in the Sierra-Nevada …of Spain. On the topic of watermelon snow, one researcher suggest that the algae produces flavonoids, which are rich antioxidants that combat free radicals in the body (you know what I’m talking about). For the most part though, other health advisers suggest that because of the high concentration of algae you’ll probably just end up with a bad case of the heebie jeebies should you consume the stuff. Given those options, I would opt for the flavonoid, antioxidant, producing components found in a bottle of Cabernet and a bar of dark chocolate. Which by the way, studies have shown can be consumed at any elevation and all year round in Nevada.