Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Prison Hill

After days of cold and gloom, spring weather has returned, with a beautiful blue-sky day. Aries even had the day off. Since he works in a Lake Tahoe casino, the 24/7 nature of that business means his work weeks aren't the standard Monday through Friday. And working inside a casino all day, he was ready for a chance to get out in the sun. Boris, the dog, was ready to go too, so we headed out for a little hike.

We didn't go far. Carson City is in the Eagle Valley. We live on the west side, and less than a mile to the east Prison Hill rises 800 feet above the valley floor. Prison Hill, named because the Nevada State Penitentiary lies just northwest of the hill, is Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land dedicated as recreational open space. Access to the hill is restricted to foot, equestrian, and mountain bicycles. We drive over to a parking area, and start walking.

We take a trail that crosses below a faded "S" of whitewashed rocks. It stands for the Stewart Indian School nearby. This school, started in 1890 and in operation until 1980, was an off-reservation boarding school for American Indian children. Children from many tribes in Nevada and throughout the west, Washoe, Paiute, Hopi, Ute, and Apache among them, were taken from their families and forced to attend the school. I've read where the Australian government recently made a formal apology for doing the same thing to their native children.

The trail starts to steepen, and even though the day is quite cool, I soon have to remove my jacket. A pair of ravens swoop down and circle on either side of us as we climb. We reach the ridge where the hill dips to a saddle, and a fork in the trail. A stone marker shows the mileage for the annual Escape from Prison Hill half-marathon and 2-person relay run. We take the fork towards the north, following the ridge uphill. Since it's a week day, not many people are out on this beautiful day, but we meet one hiker and one trail runner on their way down.

From atop the north peak, we look down on the construction work being done on the new interstate highway bypass that will someday connect Carson City to I-80 in Reno. Carson City is one of the few state capitals without an interstate highway connection. The highest peak on the skyline is Slide Mountain, and just slightly visible to the left behind it is Mt. Rose. At over 10,000 feet, Mt. Rose is the highest peak in the Tahoe Basin, rising above the northern end of the Lake.

Looking west across the valley, we can see the dirt road above our house heading up the canyon, and the pavement of US Highway 50, farther to the left, as it heads up Spooner Summit before dropping down into the Tahoe Basin. The southern line of the devastating 2004 Waterfall Fire is still starkly visible on the hillside.

We turn around and head back to the south. We take a smaller trail that skirts along the western edge of the hill back to the stone marker. There's one very steep, but short, downhill section, and I like it better than the main trail on the ridgetop. The agricultural Carson Valley, next valley to the south, is edged by the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This is such a beautiful place to live!

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