NOS Mission

Nevada Outdoor School inspires exploration of the natural world, responsible stewardship of our habitat and dedication to community.
This is the spot for us to share stories, fun ideas or general musings. When you aren't in here, we hope to see you out there!

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Let the Water Flow

 During this time of year, it is beautiful to look from the valley up and out to the mountains and see them covered in white.  As desert dwellers, we find comfort knowing that the snow in the mountains is the source of our water.  The snow that melts off each spring provides essential runoff to streams and reservoirs, while snow in the valley melts and recharges ground-water aquifers.  Did you know that the snowpack is carefully monitored and used for water predictions by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)?  The NRCS provides snowpack data and streamflow forecasts to help with water supply management, flood control, recreation, climate modeling, and conservation planning.  


River forecasting methods use ‘snow water equivalent’, temperature, and sunshine information to estimate how snow melt will flow into rivers.  Snow water equivalent is the depth of water that would cover the ground if the snow cover was in a liquid state.   It is also sometimes referred to as the water content.  The water content of snow can vary greatly.  Heavy, wet snow has a very high water content.  Four to five 5 inches of wet snow may contain about one inch of water.  Dry, powdery snow has a low water content, and it may take upwards of 20 inches of dry snow to equal one inch of water. 

The snowpack that accumulates each year in the mountains is a significant and vital part of the hydrologic (water) cycle.  How much water does snow contribute? It is hard to say exactly, because there are many variables to consider, but the general rule is that 1 inch of snow, on 1 acre of ground (660 feet by 66 feet), about a football field minus the end zones, is equivalent to 2,715 gallons of water.  To help put this into perspective, if The Ruby Mountain Wilderness is about 90,000 acres, with only one inch of snow covering the surface, there would be about 2.4 million gallons of water when melted!  The water cycle consists of precipitation, evaporation, condensation, and collection.  Therefore, not all of the snowpack melts into flowing water.  Some is lost to evaporation. 

Snowpack impacts humans, animals, and plants.  Plant growth is slowed during years of drought, due to the impact on soil moisture.  To overcome this consistent environmental hardship, typically, plants native to Nevada have long, deep tap roots and shallow lateral roots so that growth cycles can be completed, regardless of the annual snowpack.  Animals also have adaptations to overcome low snowpack years.  From hunting and foraging at night to avoid the desiccation (drying) due to the sunrays, to obtaining enough water from food, desert animals are naturally prepared to survive. 

According to the NRCS, the storms of February built up the snowpack in eastern Nevada quite nice and the snowpack ranges between 80 and 106%.    Get outside and enjoy the warming temperatures, while appreciating the water held in your local snowpack, it is good for human everywhere.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Lucky Signs of Spring

It’s springtime in the Ruby Valley! That means buds are blooming, seeds are spreading, and wildlife is waking up. Migratory birds and butterflies are returning from their winter homes to mate and breed. Insects, like bees and ladybugs, are thawing from their states of frozen animation known as diapause and amphibians and reptiles are rousing from brumation (a state of inactivity during cold temperatures). Small mammals such as squirrels, mice, and voles are rousing from hibernation and larger mammals such as bears and racoons are rousing from their deep winter sleep known as torpor.

Alive, alert, and awake, one of the first things these animals will do is try their luck in searching for a post-winter snack. Spring is a busy time in nature, which can make hunting and foraging somewhat of a gamble, but for humans there are historical roots in why we find some aspects of nature luckier than others.

At Nevada Outdoor School, naturalists have been fortunate enough to observe some evidence of post-winter movement.  On the west side of South Fork State Recreation Area, for example, they have had lots of luck finding rabbit tracks left behind in the snow and mud. Rabbit sightings are considered to be particularly favorable because of the belief that their severed feet will bring good luck to the individual who wears them. This belief stems from Euro-American folklore; rabbits were believed to be the avatars of shapeshifting witches. By severing one of their feet, the bearer believed they would gain all the witch’s powers and protection from evil.

Beetles such as sand dune beetles in the scarab family and lady bugs are also considered lucky signs. In Nevada, ladybugs are most active during the spring, which is when they begin to breed. They are praised by farmers for eating garden pests like aphids.

In the plant category, another lucky charm that naturalists have observed in the Ruby Valley is trefoil. Trefoil, more commonly known as the clover, is a short-lived herbaceous legume. Trefoil leaves typically grow in clusters of three, but also occur in clusters of four or five. Four-leaf clovers, which are very rare, are considered signs of good luck. Five-leaf clovers, though, which are more commonly known as cinquefoil can be found throughout Nevada and the Pacific Northwest. These rosaceous perennial herbs sometimes grow in your gardens and are similar to strawberries. 

Photo by Djalma Paiva Armelin from Pexels

So, whether you are hitting the trails or the slot machines at the casino, keep your eyes peeled for the lucky side of nature.   Get outside and appreciate their beauty and serenity, but remember to be respectful of their space and survival needs. Don’t push your luck!

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Destination Recreation: Lassen Volcanic National Park

View on Map!

From volcanoes, boiling mud pots, to lakes you can swim in, Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California is anything but ordinary.

Located about an hour East of Redding, CA, Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to all four types of volcanoes in the world: plug dome, cinder, shield, and composite. Given the National Park a very suitable name for itself. The area is continually active with boiling mud pots, fumaroles, and hotsprings.

When visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park (LVNP) I highly encourage you to stop at either visitor center when you first arrive at the park. The Loomis Museum, located near the Northwest entrance of the park, is open from 9:00am-5:00pm June- November and closed in the winter. The Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, located at the Southwest entrance of the park, is open year-round 9:00am-5:00pm, daily, or November-April only Wednesday-Sunday. At either of these locations you can get information about the park, speak with a ranger, learn about the history of the park through a 20 minute film, or attend a ranger-led program.

From each visitor center, you can either take a short walk around Manzanita Lake (located outside the Loomis Museum) or take a drive up from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center to Sulphur Works to see (and smell) the sulphur! This is a great way to start off your adventure at LVNP!

There is so much to do (and so little time) at LVNP! I have gone twice now and still haven’t made it to all the trails I would like to (*cough cough Bumpass Hell*) However, that is why we encourage you to plan ahead and prepare your trip as much as possible. Research the trails you are interested in, plan to head out early, or if there are too many people there, plan to pick a different trail. You really can’t go wrong with any of the trails here. Mill Creek Falls trail is a 3.6 mile round-trip moderate hike that has you travel through a field of wildflowers, into a Red Fir forest, and ends you at a beautiful waterfall. Cinder Cone is a strenuous 4 mile hike but hey, you climb a volcano! And with the views of the Fantastic Lava Beds and Painted Dunes at the top, you can’t beat that! Even a short .75 mile walk around Reflection Lake will get you amazing sights to see, and you may even see an animal or two!

There are eight campgrounds throughout the park, and three of them offer group campsites. While there are several places to camp throughout the park, make sure to reserve your spot as soon as you can. Campsite spots (even for tents) fill up fairly quickly for the park, especially during the summer months. Don’t worry, they also have first-come, first-served camping if you have an itch to just go last minute as well!

As always, make sure you follow the Leave No Trace Principles, packing out your trash from the trails, keeping your food in the bear lockers (yes, there are black bears here), and be considerate to other visitors. And one day, I will hike Bumpass Hell Trail!


Enjoy the Journey!



Friday, March 12, 2021

Daffodil Watch!

 Officially Spring is around the corner!  This year the spring equinox is on Saturday, March 20th.   Here in northeastern Nevada, this time of year can be tricky because overnights and mornings can be quite cold.  However, as the northern hemisphere begins to be tilted more toward the sun, combined with the increased daylight hours, the afternoons can be quite delightful.  This shift in temperatures and sunlight should put us on “daffodil watch”. 

What is daffodil watch?  That is when, as you drive around, you keep your eyes peeled for daffodils and when you see one, you point and shout with great exuberant joy, “daffodil!!!!”.   This is what we do at Nevada Outdoor School because daffodils only show their stuff for a short period of time.  The observation of a daffodil just brings us so much joy that some of us just can’t help but squeal with excitement out of respect and awe of nature.

Photo by Katherine McCormack

The physical beauty of the daffodil is stunning, but the science behind the re-appearance year after year is what really makes us say, “yeah nature!”.  The daffodil is in the genus Narcissus and is part of the Amaryllis family.   There are many varieties of daffodils due to selective breeding, but all seem to announce the beginning of spring.  The cool thing about daffodils is that they are planted in the fall, as a bulb, and bust out in spring, even through snow!

What is a bulb?  A bulb is a ‘storage organ’ that is a stem made of layers of modified leaves that store nutrients.  Roots will emerge out of the bottom of the bulb when conditions are right, and new growth will emerge from the top.  Bulbs are considered dormant, which means temporarily inactive.  They are not dead!  Dormant is not dead!  Plant bulbs are only one example of the many living things that utilize dormancy to overcome environmental stress or gather energy for future growth. 

After enough energy has been gathered, and the environmental conditions are correct (sunlight, temperature, and moisture) we will witness the new growth as it emerges from the ground.  All that time underground, in the dark and cold, important biological processes were occurring, we just couldn’t see them!  And the results of all that underground work will become a beautiful display we get to observe.  The bright colors and the sleek leaf-less stem is a sight to behold!  As the foliage begins to yellow and fade, the bulb begins to gather energy for the next season, and returns to dormancy once more.

When we see a daffodil, we are witnessing the evidence of a beautiful cycle in nature.  One that, as humans, we might be wise to learn from and begin to follow.  There is time for gathering energy and time for display.  Nature has an amazing way of balancing rest and growth.   This spring, as you drive around, have fun with daffodil watch!  Get outside, it is good for humans everywhere! 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Bird Mating Ritual

 The groundhog may not have seen his shadow this year, but that does not mean the mating season will be delayed for Nevada’s birds. In fact, some birds have already begun to mate.  The sandhill crane, for example, began mating back in December and, in non-migratory populations, it will continue to mate until April.  Sandhill cranes can be observed in the Ruby Marshes and in Lamoille Valley.

As a juvenile, this majestic wading bird is not much of a spectacle, but as it reaches adulthood, hormones will trigger changes in appearance. Both males and females of the species will molt their ochre-colored baby plumage (feathers) and develop mostly gray feathers, white cheeks, and red crowns.

To attract a mate, the male and the female will engage in a unique courtship ritual known as unison calling. During unison calling, they will participate in a dance display and a synchronized duet. The sandhill crane will mate for life and continue this ritual with their partner every year.

Another early breeder, renowned for its unique dancing display is the greater sage grouse. Sage grouse are the most common grouse in Nevada, and can be found in 15 of the 17 Nevada counties.  Every year, this sagebrush-obligate galliforme (ground feeding bird) gathers in groups known as leks where males (cocks) will compete with each other for females (hens). Unlike the sandhill crane, though, the greater sage grouse will not mate for life, but seek out a new partner each year. In addition, hens will typically mate with only three out of the eight available cocks per lek, leading some cocks to form harems.

In cocks, hormones will trigger their spiky tail feathers to fan-out and their giant yellow air sacs to become more prominent. To attract a hen, the cock will gobble up the air, creating a popping noise as it flashes its air sacs.

Hormones will also trigger physical changes in sagebrush-obligate songbirds like the Brewer’s sparrow and sage thrasher, specifically by enlarging their larynxes. This enables them to project their calls over long distances so that they can defend large amounts of territory and attract mates. The sage thrasher will mate with a single partner each year and the Brewer’s sparrow will mate with multiple, forming a harem. Though not as ostentatious (noticeable) as the greater sage grouse, these charming little birds make up for their drab plumage with their melodic songs.

Unfortunately, the songs and dances of these iconic birds have been disappearing in the wild due to the loss of their habitat. As you get outside to do some bird watching, enjoy the sounds of nature that come from our feathered friends.  Remember to be consciousness and respectful of their space, keep your distance while witnessing the awesome that nature has to offer.