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The Beautiful American black bear

American Black Bear

Here in the Carson Valley, we are lucky enough to share this area with the beautiful American Black Bear. While more common in the mountains, we do get sightings in the Valley and sometimes in town. A few weeks ago I was at the Carson River off of Washoe Road and saw a cinnamon colored black bear walking along the shore, headed east.

Mama Black bear with her cubs. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Despite their name, American black bears show a great deal of color variation. Individual coat colors can range from white, blonde, cinnamon, light brown or dark chocolate brown to jet black, with many intermediate variations existing. White to cream-colored American black bears (known as “Spirit Bears”) occur in the coastal islands and the adjacent mainland of southwestern British Columbia. Silvery-gray American black bears with a blue luster (this is found mostly on the flanks) occur along a portion of coastal Alaska and British Columbia.

According to the NDOW website, black bears live from “northern Mexico to Canada and is found in 32 of the American states. There are approximately 900,000 black bears in North America and their numbers are increasing in many of these areas, including Nevada.  While we estimate the number of black bears in Nevada to be upwards of 600 animals. Nevada’s bears are part of the larger Sierra Nevada population, estimated to be around 10,000+ bears.”

Photo courtesy of Peter Nuij

According to historical records black bears were once widely distributed throughout Nevada, and likely existed at low densities.  They were eradicated from Nevada’s interior by the early 1900s, due to hunting of bears from conflicts with people and decimation of their forested habitat during the mining booms in the 1800s. But thankfully black bear populations have increased dramatically in the western part of the state, and sightings in Nevada’s interior Great Basin have increased in the last two decades. They are an important part of our ecosystem.

Black bear eating berries. Photo courtesy of Peter Nuij

Black Bears are omnivorous. They graze on grass and browse on berries and blossoms, dig grubs, catch fish and small mammals and scavenge carrion.  Before their winter hibernation, black bears do what is called hyperphagia, attempting to consume more than 20,000 calories a day in attempt to add 20-40% of fat to their body weight so they can sustain themselves through the winter.

Unfortunately, black bears start becoming accustomed to humans and our garbage, bird feeders, fruit trees, livestock and other good smelly stuff that will attract a bear.  It’s up to us and visitors to BE RESPONSIBLE in bear country!  Bears are very strong and agile animals so don’t think your food is safe just because it’s in your car. Bears also have an extremely sensitive nose and can smell things like bird feed in a closed container inside your shed! They are quick learners and they are very persistent, eventually learning to open doors and windows.

So should us hikers be worried about running into black bears here? Well, the chances of having a dangerous experience with a black bear is extremely slim, but it is always good to recreate wisely.  Most bears are going to run away from humans and probably climb a tree, but a bear that does not move off the trail can make people nervous.  So a great easy solution is hiking with a can of bear spray.  It is easy to use and light-weight which will give you peace of mind, and not only is it effective against bears, it will help with mountain lions, coyotes, and even aggressive dogs. Make sure you know how to use it effectively, and practicing with an inert can helps!

For more information on handling bear encounters, check out this page on the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s website.

Black bear in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Danika Perkinson

I feel lucky to be living amongst these amazing animals, and always love seeing one in my travels.

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Color on the Fay-Luther Trail

If you are hiking anywhere in the Fay-Luther trail system and you hear this call,

keep your eyes peeled because there is a gorgeous bird making that sound…

Western Tanager, male. Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck

Summer is here, which means so are the Western Tanagers! Western Tanagers are common in western conifer forests during the breeding season. Even though they are common in the Sierra, I always feel so lucky to see one. These birds live in open woods all over the West, particularly among evergreens, where they often stay hidden in the canopy.

Western Tanager, male. Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck

The males are easy to identify, with their orange-red head, brilliant yellow body, and coal-black wings, back and tail. Here is a cool fact about the males…while most red birds owe their redness to a variety of plant pigments known as carotenoids, the Western Tanager gets its scarlet head feathers from a rare pigment called rhodoxanthin. Unable to make this substance in their own bodies, Western Tanagers probably obtain it from insects in their diet. Fascinating!

The females and immatures are a somewhat dimmer yellow-green and blackish.

Female Western Tanager. Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck.

Male Western Tanagers sometimes perform an antic, eye-catching display, apparently a courtship ritual, in which they tumble past a female, their showy plumage flashing yellow and black.

During breeding season, Western Tanagers eat mostly insects—especially wasps, ants, termites, stinkbugs, cicadas, beetles, grasshoppers, crane flies, dragonflies, caterpillars, scale insects, and sawflies. They also eat fruit, especially during fall and winter, when it may dominate the diet.

Speaking of colorful birds, how about a pink woodpecker?! I saw one of these on the Lonesome Trail last week, it is called a Lewis’s Woodpecker, named after Meriwether Lewis, who first saw the bird in 1805 while on his famous westward journey with William Clark.

Lewis’s Woodpecker. Photo courtesy of Cornell Laboratory of Birds

Although the Lewis’s Woodpecker is indeed in the Woodpecker family, it does not behave like most woodpeckers. It seldom, if ever digs into trees for wood-boring insects. Instead, it gleans insects from the bark, or more commonly, flycatches. It spends long periods watching for flying insects from the top of a pole or dead tree, and then flies out to catch them.

Lewis’s Woodpecker. Photo courtesy of Cornell Laboratory of Birds

It also has a color palette all its own, with a pink belly, gray collar, and dark green back unlike any other member of its family. A little smaller than a Northern Flicker (another species common in the our area), it calls open pine forests, pinyon-junipers, woodlands, and burned forests home, but it often wanders around nomadically outside of the breeding season in search of nuts.

They are found here year-round, so keep an eye out for them!

I would like to thank Curt Lueck for the amazing photos of the Western Tanagers! You can follow him here on Instagram to see more of his gorgeous photos, many taken locally.


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Spotting the Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee, Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck

So as you start your hike up the Sandy Trail from the Fay-Luther trailhead, you may hear this call emanating from the bushes…

You look but don’t see anything, just sage and bitterbrush, so you keep walking. Further up the trail, you hear a bird singing…

Spotted Towhee singing

And finally you catch a glimpse of it, a striking bird about the size of a Robin, with a black head and bright red eyes, russet flanks and a black back with white spots. This is the Spotted Towhee.

Although they are quite common here, they are secretive and are far more often heard than seen, which is a shame as they are so beautiful! Your best bet to see them is in the springtime, as early in the breeding season, male Spotted Towhees spend their mornings singing their hearts out, trying to attract a mate. Male towhees have been recorded spending 70 percent to 90 percent of their spring mornings singing. Almost as soon as they attract a mate, their attention shifts to other things, and they spend only about 5 percent of their time singing.

Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck

Their preferred habitat is dry thickets, brushy tangles, forest edges, old fields, shrubby backyards, chaparral, coulees, and canyon bottoms, places with dense shrub cover and plenty of leaf litter for the towhees to scratch around in. If you are lucky enough to see a Spotted Towhee feeding on the ground; you’ll probably observe its two-footed, backwards-scratching hop. This “double-scratching” is used by a number of towhee and sparrow species to uncover the seeds and small invertebrates they feed on. One Spotted Towhee with an unusable, injured foot was observed hopping and scratching with one foot.

Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck

Right now during the breeding season, Spotted Towhees eat mainly insects including ground beetles, weevils, ladybugs, darkling beetles, click beetles, wood-boring beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, moths, bees, and wasps. Other leaf-litter arthropods such as millipedes, sowbugs, and spiders are taken as well. They also eat acorns, berries, and seeds including buckwheat, thistle, raspberry, blackberry, poison oak, sumac, nightshade, chickweed, and crops such as oats, wheat, corn, and cherries. In fall and winter, these plant foods make up the majority of their diet.

The Spotted Towhee and the very similar Eastern Towhee used to be considered the same species, the Rufous-sided Towhee. The Eastern Towhee lacks the white spots on their backs. The two forms still occur together in the Great Plains, where they sometimes interbreed. This is a common evolutionary pattern in North American birds – a holdover from when the great ice sheets split the continent down the middle, isolating birds into eastern and western populations that eventually became new species.

Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck

So keep and eye and an ear out for these gorgeous birds. I would like to thank Curt Lueck for the amazing photos! You can follow him here on Instagram to see more of his gorgeous photos, many taken locally.

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The State Bird of Nevada

Mountain Bluebird on the Pinyon Trail. I was able to get close enough to this male to get a couple of halfway decent shots with my iPhone. 

So let’s talk about the State Bird of Nevada, the gorgeous Mountain Bluebird!

Spring has arrived in the Carson Valley, and so have the birds. The last couple of times I have been out at the Pinyon Trail, I have been lucky enough to see some Mountain Bluebirds, and they never fail to thrill me. The adult males are bright sky-blue overall, darker on their backs.

The females are not as brightly colored, but still very pretty…

The Nevada state legislature named the mountain bluebird as the official state bird in 1967, a good call I say as they are one of the most beautiful species found in the West. That is probably why they are also the State Bird of Idaho.

They are found in meadows, orchards, high sagebrush, cottonwood and coniferous forests. They like high elevations in summer from 5,000 feet to 12,000 feet covering foothills to mountains and lowlands to desert in winter. Insects are consumed year round and in winter, the species often occurs in large flocks wandering the landscape feasting on berries, particularly those of junipers.

Mountain Bluebird

Nests in natural cavities in trees, old woodpecker holes, fenceposts, and birdhouses. The nests are built by both sexes with grasses and plant stems and sometimes lines with a few feathers. The male frequently feeds his mate while she is incubating and brooding. The female chooses her mate solely on the basis of the location and quality of the nesting cavity he offers her—disregarding his attributes as a singer, a flier, or a looker.

They hover lower over the ground than other bluebirds when hunting for insects.

So keep a lookout for these lovely birds when you are out enjoying our trails!

Also keep an eye out for Sandhill Cranes right now, which pass through the Carson Valley during their migration. Today I saw a pair in a field off of Centerville near Foothill.

As I was hiking on the Lonesome Trail, I could hear their calls, which you can hear up to 2.5 miles away! Here is what they sound like…


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The Hawks of Carson Valley

A Red-tailed Hawk, the most common hawk in the Carson Valley.  Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck


In my last blog post I talked about the eagles of the Carson Valley, so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about the hawks this time! As I mentioned in my last post, the Carson Valley is an Important Bird Area and we have quite a few species of raptors in our area. Here is a list of ones that occur in our area..

  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Ferruginous Hawk (winter)
  • Rough-legged Hawk (winter)
  • Northern Harrier
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Prairie Falcon
  • American Kestrel
  • Peregrine Falcons
  • Swainson’s Hawk (summer)
  • Osprey (summer)

You are also quite likely to see (and hear) Barn Owls and Great Horned Owls here as well.

The raptors provide essential pest control and occupy every niche-from wetland associated species to birds characteristic of the drier uplands.

Red-tailed Hawk. Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck

Red-tailed Hawks are by far the most common hawk you will see here. Red-tailed hawks show a great variety of colorations and plumage ranging from light to dark brown on the back. The adults have a cinnamon wash on the neck and chest. The underside is usually light with dark bands. When in flight, the mature red-tail is easily identified by its rust-colored tail (see above). Immature birds are similar in color to the adults with the main difference being their tail is brown with dark bars.

Red-tailed Hawks live here year-round and start nesting in March, preferring tall trees. In the winter, it is easy to spot their nests in the bare branches.  The female usually lays two to three eggs and incubation takes 28 to 32 days, The incubation is done primarily by the female and during this time the male hunts for both of the pair. The young may stay in the nest for up 48 days and generally fledge at about 45 days.

The eyesight of a hawk is eight times more powerful than a human’s. 85 to 90% of their diet is composed of small rodents.

Another commonly seen hawk here is the Northern Harrier…

Male Northern Harrier in flight. Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck

Some parts of Europe and Asia have several kinds of harriers, but North America has only one. Northern Harriers are very distinctive hawks, long-winged and long-tailed, usually seen flying low over the ground in open country. At close range, the face of our Northern Harrier looks rather like that of an owl; like an owl (and unlike most other hawks) it may rely on its keen hearing to help it locate prey as it courses low over the fields.

They eat mostly small mammals and birds and their diet varies with location and season, which is why you will frequently see them flying over fields. They also eat large insects (especially grasshoppers), snakes, lizards, toads, frogs. May feed on carrion, especially in winter.

Female Northern Harrier.  Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck

Another hawk commonly seen in our area Is the Cooper’s Hawk…

Cooper’s Hawk at sunrise.    Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck

These hawks are not built for soaring high up, they are agile birds of the woodlands and are also frequently found in suburban neighborhoods. Feeding mostly on birds and small mammals, it hunts by stealth, approaching its prey through dense cover and then pouncing with a rapid, powerful flight. Once I saw one chasing a California Quail across our yard…the quail ducked under a parked truck in an effort to avoid the Cooper’s Hawk. The hawk did not hesitate to follow the quail under the truck, and emerged victorious on the other side, quail clutched firmly in its talons.

Here are some interesting facts about hawks…

  • Hawks will frequently “mantle” prey after killing, crouching and spreading their wings to form a shield that hides it from other predators.
  • Within the hawk species, the female is generally larger than the male.
  • Some species of hawks tend to be monogamous, staying with the same mating partner their whole lives.
  • Hours after eating, a hawk will regurgitate a pellet, containing any feathers, fur or small bones swallowed accidentally.
  • When hawks flock, it’s called a kettle of hawks.
  • Hawks can see colors, like most humans can, as well as those in the ultraviolet range. This means that the hawks can perceive colors that humans cannot see.

I would like to thank talented local photographer Curt Lueck for generously providing us with his beautiful hawk photos! If you would like to see more great photos, follow him on Instagram.







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The Eagles of Carson Valley

Since the 2020 Eagles and Agriculture event is happening this weekend, I thought I would talk a bit about these amazing winter visitors to the Carson Valley. Eagles & Agriculture is one of the most unusual events on any state’s calendar. It attracts hundreds of visitors to the Carson Valley each winter for a unique opportunity to photograph the birds, tour the ranches, and gape in wonder as bald eagles congregate in the meadows.

According to the Audubon Society, the Carson Valley is designated as an IBA, which means an Important Bird Area. There are few well-watered valleys that drain the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and with ever-increasing development these few valleys are growing ever-smaller in the extent of habitat they offer wildlife. The Carson River running through our valley is heavily tapped for irrigation and distributed through agricultural fields. The irrigated pasture and hay meadows supported in part by distributed irrigation offer habitat for a variety of birds. As you probably have noticed, raptors are abundant in the valley, particularly in winter, and there is a growing population of Bald and Golden Eagles that take advantage of the calf birthing season that is timed to peak in February. The eagles concentrate to feed on protein-rich afterbirth, and a growing number of people are arriving to watch the spectacle, often through the organized Eagles and Agriculture event.

The Bald Eagle, is our national symbol and a bird that has never failed to thrill me every time I see one. Like most raptors, the females are larger than the males, weighing up to 14 pounds and having a wingspan of 8 feet! The males weigh up to 10 pounds and their wingspan is about 6 feet. They are mostly dark brown up until they are 4 years old, then they get their characteristic coloring with the white head and tail.

A photo I took of a Bald Eagle in Sitka, AK

The Bald Eagle is an Endangered Species Act success story. By 1963, with only 417 nesting pairs of bald eagles remaining, our national symbol was in danger of extinction. Habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and the contamination of its food source, largely as a consequence of DDT, decimated the eagle population. Also, some bald eagles have died from lead poisoning after feeding on waterfowl containing lead shot, either as a result of hunting or from inadvertent ingestion. Habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act, the federal government’s banning of DDT, and conservation actions taken by the American public have helped bald eagles make a remarkable recovery. On June 28, 2007, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced the recovery of our nation’s symbol and removal from the list of threatened and endangered species.

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagles also winter here in the Carson Valley, and they are roughly the same size as the Bald. The Golden is less of a scavenger and more of a predator than the Bald Eagle, regularly taking prey up to the size of foxes and cranes. The Golden Eagle was important to many Native American tribes, who admired the eagle’s courage and strength, and who ascribed mystical powers to the bird and even to its feathers.

Although their number have undoubtably declined from historical levels, current populations thought to be stable. May not be able to tolerate human disturbance near the nest, so they tend to build nests away from human activity. Both Golden and Bald Eagles mate for life.

Golden and Bald eagles are a protected species in the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can fine you up to $10,000 if you possess an eagle feather or body part. In an effort to further protect these beautiful and majestic birds, some utility companies are modifying their power poles to reduce raptor electrocutions. The birds are so large that their wings and legs can touch two power lines at once to create an electrical circuit. New raptor-safe power pole construction standards mean a safer environment for the birds.

So keep your eyes peeled for these magnificent birds this winter!





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The Wily Coyote

So one evening a couple of weeks ago I was hiking along the Pinyon Trail and heard sounds like this coming from below me…

This beautiful, haunting sound is of course the coyote.

Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck

If you live in the Carson Valley, chances are good you have seen one or heard one, as coyotes flourish throughout the entire state of Nevada including urban areas. Even Las Vegas and Reno have resident coyotes!

Coyotes average about 24 inches tall at the shoulder and, including the tail are approximately four feet in length. Coyotes in the desert average about 20 pounds, while those found in mountainous areas average twice that. Females are slightly smaller than males. Coyotes can run at speeds of 25 to 30 miles per hour up to a sprinting burst of 40 miles per hour. By comparison, the fastest human, Usain Bolt, has a top sprint speed of just 28 mph! They can travel well over 100 miles in a single night.

The reason coyotes are so common is that they can be found in almost any type of habitat where they can find food and a place to hide. They are opportunistic feeders, and in urban areas forage at landfills and raid garbage cans . In most areas of Nevada, rabbits, rodents and carrion make up the bulk of the coyote diet, although deer and antelope fawns are occasionally taken. The coyote diet includes insects and may include up to 40% plant material in some areas, such as flowers, grass, fruits and seeds. They also do prey on domestic sheep, cattle and poultry, and have been known to take domestic dogs and cats.

Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck

So are coyotes dangerous? Certainly to our pets they are, as they do routinely go after cats and smaller dogs. Coyotes can also carry/transmit certain infectious diseases that dogs and cats can catch. The list includes distemper, hepatitis (liver inflammation), parvovirus, rabies, and others. Coyotes can also be a source of mange, fleas, ticks, intestinal worms, and other parasites that they can pass along to your pets. So it is a very good idea to keep your smaller pets inside at night and a close eye on them when you are out hiking with them.

Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck

As for human encounters, fortunately coyotes aren’t typically known to attack people and larger dogs. There have only been two recorded incidences in the United States and Canada of humans being killed by coyotes. One involved a child in Southern California in the 1980s and the other a 19-year old woman in Nova Scotia in 2009. As scary as that sounds, according to the Humane Society website, “more people are killed by errant golf balls and flying champagne corks each year than are bitten by coyotes.”

Still, being aware when you are out hiking, especially if you have a dog with you, is important. Here is what you should do if you are being followed by a coyote…

  • Do NOT turn your back to the coyote  and do NOT run. Coyotes can run up to 40 mph over short distances and you won’t be able to outrun them.
  • Put your dog on a leash, if they aren’t already. Do NOT turn your dog loose to go after the coyote.
  • Unzip your jacket and hold it wide open or raise your hands above your head and wave them, making yourself appear larger and scarier to the coyote.
  • Run towards them and make noise to scare or shoo them away — yell “Go Away Coyote,” shake your keys, clap, etc. You can also throw rocks, branches, or anything else at your disposal toward the coyote to scare them away. Aim for their feet and generally around them, not necessarily directly at them.
  • You can carry a whistle or or make a noisemaker by filling a soda can with some coins or nuts & bolts, then shake it to use it in the event you encounter a coyote. A mini airhorn would also be a good deterrent.
  • Consider doing your walks and hikes with a can of pepper spray or a water pistol with vinegar-water in it. You can use either one to stop a coyote that gets too close.
  • It is also very important to have your own dog under good leash or voice control so they do not run off or after the coyote.

Despite the hazards they may sometimes present, coyotes are a beautiful symbol of the West, and are extremely important for our ecosystem in keeping down the rodent population. Here are some fun facts about coyotes…

  • The latin name for coyote is Canis latrans, which means “barking dog”.
  • Coyotes can successfully mate with dogs — their offspring are called “Coydogs”.
  • Coyotes are monogamous.
  • Most coyotes can easily jump a 6 foot fence.
  • With the elimination of wolves from much of North America, the coyote’s range has expanded greatly. Wolves fiercely defend their territories and will kill encroaching coyotes. Likewise, coyotes protect their territories by killing foxes.

Though many efforts have been made to reduce its numbers and even to eradicate it, the resilient coyote is as plentiful today as it ever has been. According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife, in Nevada coyotes are classified as “unprotected,” meaning they are not protected by state law or regulation. While a hunting license or permit is not required to hunt unprotected mammals, including coyotes, every person who takes a coyote by trapping, or sells raw furs for profit shall procure a trapping license.

Photo courtesy of Curt Lueck

I would like to thank talented local photographer Curt Lueck for generously providing us with his gorgeous photos of coyotes that he has taken here in the Carson Valley.

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A Tale of Three Jays

Every time I hike on the Fay-Luther Trail system, I always hear and see two species of jay that you usually will not see in the same area because they prefer different habitats. As you walk up the Sandy Trail from the trailhead, you have a good chance of spotting a California Scrub Jay in the sagebrush…

California Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)

Their most common habitat is oak woodland, oak scrub, riverside woods, and foothill forests of pinyon pine. They are also very common in suburbs and parks, and I see them frequently in my neighborhood in the Gardnerville Ranchos. They depend heavily on acorns for their food, and you will frequently see them with one in their bills. Here is a sample of their call…


But as you get closer to the mountains and higher in elevation, the habitat changes to more conifer and pine-oak forests and another jay, the Steller’s Jay, becomes more common…

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)

In the conifers, you will see and hear flocks of them feeding and here is a sample of their distinctive call…

They also will imitate the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk.

Between Scrub Jays and Steller’s Jays here, there is some overlap in their habitat so it is possible that you will see both species in the same tree, although I never have. Still, it’s great to be able to see both these species on the same hike!

If you are out on the Pinyon Trail or anywhere in the Pine Nut Mountains, here is another jay you may see, a Pinyon Jay…

Pinyon Jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)

They look very similar to the Scrub Jay, but their coloring is more uniform and not as distinctive, although with their blue and gray colors I think they are very pretty birds. They love pinyon pines, junipers and range into sagebrush. Under normal conditions, they are seldom found far from pinyon pines in pinyon-juniper woods, as they feed heavily on the seeds of pinyon pines, and their distribution is tied closely to the range of these trees. Pinyon Jays are sociable at all seasons, traveling in flocks and nesting in colonies. Like all jays, they are quite noisy, so listen for their calls while you are out there…

I think it is pretty wonderful that we have three beautiful and gregarious species of jays in our area, so keep an eye and an ear out for them while you are enjoying our trails!



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The Sierra Western Juniper

Sierra Western Juniper along the Pinyon Trail

As you hike along the Pinyon Trail, you will see this big shrub or tree all along the trail, Juniperus grandis.  It is also called the Sierra western juniper, Sierra juniper, or Western juniper. It is native to the Sierra Nevada in eastern California and western Nevada; and the White and Inyo Mountains, San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains, and higher elevations of Mojave Desert mountains in Southern California. It grows 39 to 85 feet tall and is found on exposed, dry, rocky slopes and flats, and pinyon-juniper woodland. It also likes temperate coniferous forest habitats, including the Sierra Nevada upper montane forest and Sierra Nevada subalpine zone eco-regions, and grows at elevations of 330–10,170 ft.

Juniper “berries”

Juniper berries are not true berries but are the female seed cones with fleshy and merged scales, which give them a berry-like appearance.

Rabbits, coyotes, and numerous small mammals eat the juniper berries, spreading the seeds across the landscape. Many birds also eat juniper berries, including cedar waxwings, purple finches, American robin, yellow-rumped warbler, flickers, bluebirds, and both pinyon and scrub jays.

Pinyon Jays in a juniper tree.

Juniper berries are of course famously used to flavor gin, as the name “gin” comes from either the French “genievre” or the Dutch “jenever,” which both mean juniper. It is also used for flavoring in many foods. The Native Americans used the seeds in juniper berries for jewelry and decoration and also to treat conditions such as tuberculosis, bladder infections, and more. The ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians were known to have used juniper berries. In fact, the Greeks used juniper berries as an herb for purification ceremonies and to increase physical stamina (particularly for athletes), recording the use of juniper berries as medicine long before they were said to start using the berries as a spice in foods. Egyptians used juniper as a medicinal herb and to embalm the deceased.

So keep an eye out for this beautiful and useful tree while you are enjoying the high desert trails!

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Meet Charley Parkhurst Hike!

Charley Parkhurst

Come hike with “Charley Parkhurst” and hear “his” and other stage coach drivers stories. Meet on Saturday, August 31 at 8:00 AM at River Fork Ranch for a flat 3-5 mile hike. It’s a fascinating story not to be missed!

To sign up email Sponsored by CVTA.

“Charley Parkhurst” Known as one of the premiere “whips” of all stage drivers, One-Eyed Charley Parkhurst came to the West from Rhode Island during the Gold Rush era of the 1850s. At times Charley worked with famous local stage driver Hank Monk who was known as the “Jehu of the Sierras”. Charley’s route was at one time through Carson Valley between the California gold fields and the Comstock.


Charley Parkhurst will be represented by Kim Harris, an accomplished Chautauquan who has portrayed living history characters at various venues including Genoa Cowboy Festival, Pipers Opera House, the Gold Hill Hotel and The Lake Tahoe Chautauqua Festival. Harris currently serves as president of the Friends of Snowshoe Thompson organization in Genoa. She is also the events manager at Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park and is the owner and operator of Western History ALIVE! where she portrays several Chautauqua characters that helped to shape Northern California and Nevada’s early days, as well as the West. Harris was born and raised at Donner Lake, CA growing up immersed in the history of our West. She enjoys not only sharing what she has learned about our history, but continuously learning from those that have lived it themselves.