Escape 14-17: Lamoille Canyon, NV

Snow greeted us on day one at Thomas CG. Click for more photos from our visit.

When you play at 7560 ft Elevation, it pays to be prepared for all sorts of weather. Although our weather app showed sunny days for the duration of our visit to Lamoille, NV, we awoke to 26° and snow falling delicately among the aspens. Were we in our pop-up, this would have been another chilly dilly. Our Escape, however, is close to a 4-season trailer and we’ve become great friends with our furnace. A friend warned us that they use a considerable amount of propane, so being as it was an indoor day, we drove to Elko, NV, about 12 miles NW and took advantage of the library to catch up. Before heading back up the Lamoille Canyon to our campground, we fueled up and topped off the 2 propane tanks. It was embarrassing when we learned that one was full and the other took less than 2 gallons. Those 2 gallons comprised all our cooking during our 3-night stay at Sheldon NWP and plenty of toasty evenings in our trailer with our furnace blazing away. This (trailer)RV life is certainly a process.

Hiking up Thomas Canyon behind our site.

Sites at the Thomas Canyon CG are on a first-come basis, and arriving late in September on a Thursday evening, we found most spots available. There are 3 loops and loop C was suggested as having the best views. We selected one near the trailhead into the Thomas Canyon and again thanked our stars (and stripes) for the 50% discount given to holders of the Federal Old Farts Pass. After a couple (26 and 29 degree ) nights the weather changed to billowy white clouds and warmer (temperatures) weather so we checked out a mile of the Thomas Canyon trail. Much of it parallels a creek with small waterfalls filling a (couple) of pools built stone-by-stone by other campers. Mid-August might be a fun time to revisit this beautiful canyon, but we happily traded the early autumn colors, (an almost empty camp ground), and the tail end of migration for a dip in a nippy pool.

Clark’s Nutcracker cracking nuts. Click for more photos from September.

At one point we paused beneath a Mountain Mahogany tree to take in the 360° panorama characterizing this valley. I mean REALLY high peaks climbing straight up to 11-12,000′ elevations. A Clarks Nutcracker (a high-elevation member of the Corvid family of Jays) showed us how it got its name. Time and time again that bird completely ignored us as it moved about the small cluster of pine trees covered in cones and with clusters of 5 needles, hopping from cone to cone, tasting the seeds in each (3-4 tries at each cone) and then, with unbelievable dexterity, snipping off the entire pine cone and carrying it to a notch in the tree. There it cracked away, gorging on the seeds and, when satiated, that bird proceeded to do it all over again, releasing to cone to drop away. We saw this ritual for the better part of 30 minutes, and were amazed that we didn’t see a single cone dropped by mistake. It doesn’t take much to humor us, and as this show was no more than 20′ from our shady spot we ended up with a few photos in addition to the tutorial.

The lower canyon was a sad sight. Upper sections were spared to our delight.

This canyon was spared from a devastating fire the previous autumn that scorched both sides of the road leading up to our campground. We learned from local hikers that much of the 12-mile route up the canyon from Lamoille (the second syllable rhymes with boil) was destroyed, and stands of what were once shady groves of Mountain Mahogany were now twisted skeletons rising out of black-ash topsoil. But not all was spoiled; Aspen trees are resilient and showed signs of recovering, with green sprouts appearing beneath the victims—as if in homage to their sacrifice to some idiot shooting illegally and whose ricochet allegedly causing the fire. Spent wild flowers were sowing their seeds and a few were still in bloom. Blue Asters were abundant and a local variety of bee was taking advantage of the chance for just a little more nectar. At lower elevations we spied some Paint Brush competing with traces of autumn color. (and lingering lupines holding on to their blues to match the sky)

Sooney and I en-route to Lamoille Lake.

Our final day was again gloriously sunny and warm and after a yummy breakfast of zucchini, tomatillos and a mild Jalapeño and eggs, we drove the final miles to the end of Lamoille Canyon. The turn around serves as the trailhead to several different lakes, and several truckloads of camouflaged hunters were setting off to scouting their victims. Mountain Sheep, goats, and Mule deer are there for the taking if you’re lucky enough to get one of the 5 tags “drawed” (how one guy put it). With the glacially-carved terrain providing plenty of exposure, we felt safe hiking the 2 miles up to Lake Lamoille, the first of many in the area. The total ascent was a little over 900′ and the final 300′ were in snow. That was another question I asked local hikers and we learned that skilled snow-mobiles haul skiers up to higher elevations since the entire valley is closed to vehicular access. Helicopters take the more adventuresome even higher while a far larger number simply skin up from where they left their cars. We saw miles of gentle slopes overshadowed by the massive peaks that would be heavenly to ski while always attentive to avalanches.

Here’s a list of birds Sooney compiled during this leg of our journey:

Flicker, Hermit Thrush, Mtn. Chickadee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Robin (flock), Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing, Red-naped Sapsucker 2, Dipper, Townsend’s Solitaire 4, Clark’s Nutcracker 2, White-crowned Sparrow, Gray-headed Junco, Finches, Mtn. Bluebird, Raven