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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.

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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Carson Valley Trails Now Available on Google Maps

The Carson Valley Trails Association is pleased to announce that all of our trails are now available on Google Maps, from your smartphone, your computer, and on Google Maps embedded in the CVTA website.

Plan Your Hike

Using Google Maps, you can locate the CVTA trailheads and see the path the trails take to help you decide where you would like to go. The trails are indicated by dashed lines. In this example you can see the trail starting from the Genoa Canyon Trailhead with the switchbacks up the mountain:

 

Calculate Distance

Google Maps has a walking mode which calculates the distance (use the Preview function) and estimated time for your hike and elevation changes, another great planning tool. You can use one or more dropped pins to tell Google Maps which route you wish to take:

Use Your Smartphone on the Trail

While you are on the trail you can use your smartphone to track your progress, and to determine which branch to take at intersections. If your do not have a cellphone signal on the trail you can still use Google Maps by downloading the map before you start your hike. Google “how to download google maps offline” if you need instructions on how to download a map for offline use.

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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 marelieberman42@gmail.com. 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.

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Rattlesnake Safety on the Trails

I have been hiking for many years and in that time have seen only a few rattlesnakes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t keep an eye and an ear out for them at all times. Your chances of dying from a rattlesnake bite are quite low-there are 7,000-8,000 venomous snake bites in the US every year and only about five of them are fatal. But it is definitely better to avoid that altogether, as treatment requires immediate medical attention and great expense. So here are some safety tips for snake encounters.

Nevada is home to five species of venomous snakes. Four of them live in southern Nevada-the Sidewinder, the Mohave, Speckled and Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes. The one that is found in our area of Northern Nevada is a subspecies of the Western Rattlesnake called the Great Basin Rattlesnake, seen in the photo below.

Great Basin Rattlesnake. Note the triangular head, a characteristic of venomous snakes.

They can be found on most if not all of our trails, as their habitat is rocky hillsides, barren flats, sagebrush, grassy plains, and agricultural areas. They eat small mammals, including ground squirrels, mice, rats, rabbits and hares, birds, lizards, snakes, frogs, and insects.

Adults of this species range from 15 – 65 inches long but typically the adults seen are 3  to 4 feet long. Their newborns are around 10 inches long. Their markings are quite distinctive, but they do look similar to the nonvenomous Gopher Snake, seen here below.

A nonvenomous Gopher Snake, also common in our area. Note the slender head.

There are several ways to tell them apart-Gopher snakes are much longer and more slender than rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes have slit-like pupils, spade-shaped heads and heat-sensing “pits” near their nostrils. Gopher snakes have round pupils, narrow heads, and no pits. They do not have rattles on the ends of their tails but when they feel threatened, they will vibrate the end of their tails to imitate a rattlesnake.

Luckily for us, rattlesnakes that are found in the US are generally not aggressive. They will try to avoid encounters by remaining motionless and hope they will be camouflaged and not seen. If that doesn’t work, they will slither away as quickly as possible. That is why it is important to never corner a rattlesnake.

If they feel threatened, they will rattle their tails and make their famous sound. If you’ve never heard it, you can hear one here.

As a last resort, a rattlesnake will strike, usually at your hands, feet or ankles. Most bites occur when people accidentally touch one while walking or climbing. Even if they do bite however, 25-50% of their bites are “dry”, meaning they won’t use their venom. They would much rather save it for killing and digesting their prey.

So it’s important to be vigilant as you hike.  They are typically active at twilight (crepuscular) or nocturnal, so during the day they will be resting often in the shade beside a trail. They like to sun themselves near cover.

It is safest to wear hiking boots rather than sandals, and loose-fitting long pants. Stay on the trail, as you will have better visibility, and avoid heavy brush or tall grass, where they may be hiding during the day.

Do not put your hands or feet where you cannot see. Be extremely careful while scrambling up rocks or ledges, and inspect stumps, crevices and logs before sitting down.

If you are bitten, here is what the Nevada Department of Wildlife says to do:

  • The primary goal is to seek emergency medical treatment immediately. If you believe you have been bitten by a venomous reptile do not wait for symptoms to show.
  • Immobilize the victim and keep the wound below heart level. Gravity can quicken the spread of the venom if the wound is above the heart.
  • Do not use tourniquet, cut and suction, electro-shock, or put ice on the wound.
  • Calm the victim. A rapid pulse from panic or anxiety circulates venom more quickly.
  • Watch the victim for any unusual reactions. Remove all jewelry in anticipation of swelling.
  • Identify the snake if possible. This helps the caregiver give the correct medical treatment.
  • Transport the victim to a medical facility immediately. If it is necessary to walk, do so slowly and rest frequently.
  • Remember that a venomous bite does not mean certain death: annually only 1/10 of 1 percent of venomous bites result in death nationwide. Timely medical treatment simplifies recovery.

This also applies to pets but for more information on rattlesnake bites in dogs, check out this article.

 

Photos courtesy of Gary Nafis at the A Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of California website, which is a great source of info on reptiles and amphibians.

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Wildlife on the Trails

If you have hiked the Fay-Luther Trail System, the Genoa Trail system or the upper part of the Clear Creek Trail where the habitat is montane coniferous forests dominated by pines, here is a beautiful and interesting bird you may see…

This bird is called a White-headed Woodpecker, and they are about the size of a Robin. The one pictured here is a male, which you can tell by the red patch on the back of his head. The female looks the same, just without the red patch. They are the only woodpecker in North America with a white head and a black body.

I have seen these birds in Yosemite, but the first one I saw here was on the Clear Creek trail near Knob Point, doing what White-headed Woodpeckers do, which is pecking and flaking the bark of the tree for insects. They also like to open up pine cones to get at the seeds, but rarely hammer deep into the wood like other woodpeckers. These birds don’t migrate, so you will see them year-round. They prefer to nest in holes in dead trees, snags and stumps, and both the male and female incubate the eggs.

Their call is a sharp high-pitched, two- or three-noted “pit-it” or “pit-it-it”, so if you are out hiking in the pine forest and you hear that sound, look around as there is one nearby. I love seeing these birds.

A couple of weeks ago I was hiking on the Lonesome Trail when I came upon one of these, stretched out across the sandy trail.

It’s a Rubber Boa, and I think their name is apt as they do look rubbery, don’t they? The one I saw was about 13 inches long but they can get as big as 2.75 feet long. What I found unusual about this snake was its stubby tail that looks the same shape as its head.

These non-poisonous snakes cover a large portion of the western United States, and are known to be one of the most docile species of boa. They are known to never bite or even strike at a human but they will release a potent musk if they feel threatened. If you’ve never had a snake release this musk onto you, consider yourself lucky-it smells really bad!

They are quite adaptable, living in many different habitats, from grasslands to meadows to coniferous and deciduous forests, and they are found at elevations as high as 10,000 feet! Even though like all snakes they are cold-blooded, meaning their body temperature varies with that of their environment, they can live in areas that are surprisingly cold for a snake.

They primarily feed on young mammals such as mice, and also sometimes eat snake and lizard eggs and young birds and bats. Their only defense mechanism when threatened is to curl up in a ball, bury their head inside and expose their blunt tail to mimic their head. Needless to say, this is not a very effective defense, which is why they are usually quite secretive. I feel lucky that I got to see one!

NEWS

Our Spring/Summer 2019 Newsletter is now available, it’s a wonderful read packed full of interesting info and you can find it here.

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Trail Etiquette

trail courtesy

Welcome to the Carson Valley Trails Association Blog! Our trails are getting more and more popular as time goes by, which is great but with all the hikers, bikers, dogs and horses having to share them, I thought it was a good time to talk about Trail Etiquette. This is usually a matter of common sense and courtesy but here are some good rules to go by.

HIKERS

Hikers going uphill have the right of way, even though an uphill hiker may let others come down while they take a rest. If you are about to pass another hiker from behind, calling out a friendly greeting is helpful to avoid startling them. When passing, stay on the trail to reduce erosion.

If you are hiking in a group, always hike single-file as to allow space for other trail users.

HIKERS & BIKERS

Mountain bikers should yield to hikers on the trail, being as bikes are faster and more maneuverable. However, as both a mountain biker and a hiker, if I hear or see a biker coming, I generally find it easier to stand to the side and let them pass, especially if they are going uphill. I know what it’s like to lose momentum up a tough incline! And most of the hikers I have encountered while biking do the same. However, a mountain biker should always slow down and be prepared to stop for hikers and should never expect them to yield. Hikers should always be aware of their surroundings, especially around blind corners, and bikers should call out their presence and let you know if anyone is behind them also. Bikers need to control their speed, especially around blind turns and always be prepared to encounter someone else on the trail.

HIKERS, BIKERS AND HORSES

Horses are large and can be very unpredictable, therefore they get the right of way from both bikers and hikers. If hikers see a horse approaching, they should give them as wide a berth as possible and alert the rider of their presence in a friendly, relaxed tone. Try not to make any abrupt moves or loud noises that could startle the animal. Try to get off the trail on the downhill side, as horses and mules are more likely to run uphill when spooked and you do not want to be in the path of a spooked horse!

A few riders on our trail have reported that some people are moving aside and literally hiding behind a bush, then stepping out as the horse is passing, and scaring him half to death! Please do not do this, make sure the horse and rider can see you as they approach, as one rider was thrown from her horse from this kind of behavior.

When mountain bikers see horseback riders on the trail, they should stop at a safe distance away and move off the trail on the downhill side if possible. If the rider appears to not have seen you, calling out a calm friendly greeting to alert your presence is helpful. I like to ask the equestrian how they want to proceed and  if I am giving them enough room to pass, in case their horse is nervous or flighty.

HIKERS, BIKERS, HORSES AND DOGS

Our trails are very popular with dog owners, as they are great places to take your pup for an enjoyable walk. However, to avoid problems here are a few simple rules about taking your dog out on the trails…

First, please pick up your dog’s poop. Doggie poop bags are available at many of our trailheads, although you should always try to pack your own. No one wants to step in or smell your dog’s excrement. Also, please do not put the poop in the bag, and then leave the bag on the side of the trail. I know many people do this intending to pick it up on their way back out, but by the number of them I see on the side of the trail, many people forget. Double bag if you must but please pack it out.

Have your dog on a leash or if you are in an area where dogs are allowed off leash, have them under very strict voice command at all times. Strict voice command means your dog comes immediately when called, stays with you and does not bark at other trail users. If your dog is off-leash, keep them in your sight at all times.

Make sure your dog is not in the way when mountain bikers are approaching, as your dog being run over by a bike will be very bad for both your dog and the mountain biker! You should not allow your dog to approach or make contact with other trail users or dogs unless they indicate that it is OK. Some people are afraid of dogs, friendly or not, or their dog may not be friendly with other dogs, so always ask. When encountering horses on the trail, make sure your dog does not bark or move towards the horse, as horses are easily spooked by strange dogs.

Please do not let your dog chase or disturb wildlife. This is not only safer for you and the dog, but also prevents the animal from the stress of having to flee.

Did I mention you need to pick up your dog’s poop? It’s the right thing to do.

Happy Trails!

 

 

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President’s Message

PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE
By Norah Gastelum

Several events this past year helped solidify our commitment to a key line in CVTA’s Mission Statement: “… a recreational trail system for future generations to enjoy.” In completing the Strategic Plan Update, we reflected on how to continue our work toward this goal. Then, at the same time, we were approached by two amazing young people who represent this new generation of trail users.

First, Audry Keasling, a student from Douglas High School in Minden, began volunteering regularly to build trail with us on the new section of the Clear Creek Trail connecting to Spooner Summit. Her enthusiasm and interest led her to become the Carson Valley Trails Association’s first Youth Board Member. She hopes to bring opportunities to the next generation of trail users and help the board to have a fresh perspective while developing the next generation of organizational leaders. In addition to her volunteer work with CVTA, Audry continues to be an outstanding mountain biker, trail runner and community member.

Additional inspiration came when we were surprised and honored with a $1,000 donation from another teen, Jared Marchegger. Jared, a cross-country runner and graduate of Sierra Lutheran High School, earned the title of Gatorade Player of the Year for Nevada in 2018. Gatorade gave him the opportunity to give back to his community by providing money for a local nonprofit of his choice. With his donation Jared said, “The trails your group has built have been a large part of my life, and have inspired me to keep running in the beautiful Carson Valley area. I run Clear Creek Trail all the time and it is one of my favorite trails ever!”

When we think of Jared and Audry, or when we meet a family hiking out on the trails, we are further encouraged to continue the work of the Carson Valley Trails Association. Having youth who are connected to the trails and the experiences they offer will help protect and ensure public access to these amazing places.

Cheers,
Norah Gastelum
Carson Valley Trails Association, President