Dan and Hannah Pickle in Reno, then Hike Hunter Creek Waterfalls Trail

HC pickleball

I just hate being the newbie.  I can guess what you are thinking, who does, Danny Boy?   Point well taken.  With introvert tendencies, I want to get past the initial awkwardness when we play pickleball at a new venue.  Showing modest courage, I suck it up and walk through these self-doubts to play when we travel; with Hannah, I’ve been that newbie in White County, Georgia, Santa Barbara, California, Moab, Utah, and Beaverton, Oregon.

Approaching 70, I love hiking with Hannah and playing pickleball.  There’s a significant difference between the two; hiking is an activity where we are not competing, just completing.  (Like that little word play?  As you can probably guess, I do!)  Man and women v. the mountain or canyon.  While pickleball is mano y mano, a  competitive contest.

That said, with two years of experience on the court, Hannah and I do love us some pickleball.  Whenever we play in a new venue, I wonder if my play be good enough?  It’s a self-imposed pressure, I get that.  When I pickle, I just want to work on my game with good folks.   That said, I prefer not getting crushed when I play.  I am not a tournament player; I am what you would call a recreational player, who loves to compete and improve.

HC Reno map 2

After yesterday successfully navigating a late summer snowstorm through the Donner Pass in California, this late September Friday Hannah and I are looking for pickleball love in Reno.  Who knew Reno, a town of 250,000, would have five venues for pickleballing?  Feeling confident, Hannah and I select the one site that is specifically for advanced players.   How is that for introverted-ness chutzpah!

HC 1 pickleball courts

Evelyn Mount Rec Center indoor pickleball courts

Arriving at the indoor Evelyn Mount Recreation Center in Reno, we hear the pickleballs beyond the gym door.  Stepping into the gym, Mark introduces himself and says there should be lots of play since not many are here.  While eight others play doubles on two courts, Hannah and I set up a third net and begin to rally.  Soon Chad and Pete join us, and play begins.

HC 1A group picture

Within the first hour we are reminded of why we love pickleballing.  One is that the overwhelming majority of pickleball players are friendly and welcoming, which these Reno players certainly are; and two, Hannah and I love whacking the wiffle ball with damn good players.  By no means are we better than the top players, but we are in their range.  After two hours of play, we feel like part of the group; taking a big risk, we ask for a group picture.  But… we are not so bold to ask for a group hug.

It is not lost on us how fortunate we are this morning to be in Reno rather South Lake Tahoe, our planned destination.  After hiking in Yosemite National Park yesterday, we had planned to go to South Lake Tahoe through the Sierras to play outdoor pickleball.  Since the cold and snow kiboshed that plan, we took the long way around to our new destination (Reno), 300 miles by way of Sacramento.  This morning, in the town of South Lake Tahoe at 7000′, pickleballers, if there are any playing, are outside in the upper twenties.  Ouch!  Today, we hit the jackpot playing in the warmth of the indoors with a good bunch of women and men.

As for being the newbie?  I just walk through any self-doubts or fears and come out the other side better than I went in.  Just got to remember that.

HC 2 start of trail

The Hunter Creek Trail begins

At noon, we head to the Hunter Creek Trailhead at 5000’, not twenty minutes away in the nearby mountains.  Booting up, we have three miles of hiking to the Hunter Creek Falls in the Toiyabe National Forest.  It’s a brisk 48F, and later on the trail we see yesterday’s snow high above the valley.

HC 2A fording stream H

Knowing that there are some water crossings as a part of this trail, we find the first, not 100 yards into the hike.  With large stones and branches over the white water of Hunter Creek, we have 25’ of river fording ahead.

HC 2BB more H fording stream

Finding a staff-like branch for me to use to balance my way across the creek, Hannah watches me first teeter then settle, finally making my way above the six inch rushing waters.  With her surgical repaired left knee (a skiing accident) and left thigh stitched together in a Santa Barbara emergency room (a fall off a mountain trail), Hannah deftly makes her way across the crick, and soon, we are on our way.

HC 3BB D with snow

September snow in them thar hills

Keeping the creek to our left, the Hunter Creek Trail is obvious.  From dirt to loose rocks, we are rocking along, warmed up after our morning pickleball.  Never perilous, the trail has expansive views of the neighboring mountains and the Hunter Creek Valley.  From grassy hillsides, we eventually turn into the forest.  There, we have two more creek crossings, but they are stone-stepping-ly easy to navigate.

HC 3D H on log

With the roaring creek to our left, eventually we must cross a 30’ log, eight feet above the stream.  Eighteen inches in diameter, the log is our only passageway to the falls.  Hannah crosses first and then I take the babiest of baby steps inching my way across, only staring down at the log before me.  Piece of cake.

HC 4B D at falls

Hunter Creek Falls

After hiking three miles in 80 minutes, we hear, then spot the 45-foot Hunter Creek Falls.  Unfortunately, a leafy tree has fallen to block a full view of the falls.  The Chamber of Commerce needs to do something about this visual.  Nonetheless, check out the falls video.

Now at 6300’ with cooler temperatures, we have gray, could-rain clouds above; cooled off noticeably during the ten minutes hanging out at the falls, we about face and beeline it back to the trailhead.

HC 3 trail into mountains

Reno Valley in the distance

Seeing what might be rain/snow clouds above us, we increase our stride length out of the mountains.  Navigating the two easy creek crossings, we soon are out beneath the threatening clouds into the sunshine.

HC 6 H fording steam

No fear.  The five foot drop off is to the left of the wobbly branch in the center of the picture.

One last obstacle – the initial 25’ roaring Hunter Creek crossing.  Hannah goes first, but something has changed.  The large branch is wobblier as she tries to cross to the other side.  She wavers and wobbles, then steadies herself.  Hoping she will just step into the 6” stream of smoothed rocks, I see her continue to teeter, pause, and pause some more.  The five-foot downstream drop-off into the rocky, soaking abyss makes me shudder.  Balancing precariously, she inches forward.

HC 6A H with staff

A true pioneer

Finally, she makes it to the other side; but she has made my choice of creek crossing an easy one.  I just stomp into the turbulent stream and walk across, soaking my socks and shoes while maintaining my dignity.

With soaking feet, I’m a believer (a la the Monkees).  When in doubt, balancing on river stones and well-intentioned logs comes in a poor second to just tramping through the stream itself.

What do you know?  Semi-maturing at nearly 70!  It’s never too late.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Valley of Fire in Nevada

Pool and Jacuzzi at La Quinta Summerlin

Pool and Jacuzzi at La Quinta Summerlin

La Quinta Red Rock/Summerlin Motel has morning golden biscuits that melt in my mouth and soothe the raging breakfast beast within. Fact is, I highly recommended this motel away from the Las Vegas Strip. Our queen bedded room has a hide-a-bed couch for relaxing and a full kitchen with counter, flatware, and silverware. Two or three times a day we soak in the outside Jacuzzi.

Las Vegas to Valley of Fire State Park

Las Vegas to Valley of Fire State Park

Raring to hike 55 miles to the northeast, we escape Las Vegas by 9A in light traffic through a highway system designed to move the gambling public. With no interest in the terrible odds for winning at slot machines or the smoky atmosphere at the blackjack tables (who else still allows smoking inside a public place!!), we drive north on I-15 heading for the Valley of Fire State Park near Lake Mead.

Approaching Valley of Fire

Approaching Valley of Fire State Park

In these wide open spaces, the 75 mph speed limit acts as a suggestion as we cruise at 80 miles per hour to exit 75. There at the truck stop advertising a casino, liquor, and a smoke shop, we take the shoulderless Valley of Fire Road through the treeless desert landscape of scrub brush and miles of sand.  You would not want to break down here as there are no services and a climate only a lizard would love; and, of course, Mainers escaping the snow and cold of New England.

Indigenous VCU Ram at Valley of Fire

Indigenous VCU Ram at Valley of Fire

Gladly supporting the state of Nevada, we pony up $10 to enter the Valley of Fire State Park, named for the red sandstone throughout the park. Contrasting with the green (and much of the winter white) of New England, the landscape welcomes us to a quiet part of our country.

VF map of park itself

At the visitor center, the volunteer behind the counter suggests that we drive to the end of the six mile scenic road and start our hiking at White Domes. With an average of four inches of rain per year, Valley of Fire has summer highs well north of 100F.

The sandy start to the White Domes Trail

The sandy start to the White Domes Trail

The Mouse Tanks Road (Mouse was an outlaw who used this area as his hideout) climbs among red rock canyons into the high desert. Ahead, we see a Nevada State trooper’s squad car angled across the road. As we slow, he waves us by and we wonder what gives?  A mile down the road another trooper has us slow again; I wind down the window and learn that the Ford Motor Company is filming a commercial with the spectacular red rock background.

Descending the rocky White Domes Trail

Descending the rocky White Domes Trail

This winding narrow two lane road under Arizona skies (brilliant blue without a cloud anywhere) has us spotting other seniors in RVs and SUVs. The White Domes trailhead has room for 20 cars and sheltered picnic tables.

Trails throughout the Valley of Fire are short and sweet, maybe a mile or so. The White Domes Trail has red rock sand that we don’t sink into like we would at a beach. Heading into the wilderness on a well-marked trail, we descend on sandstone steps to ease the steepest points.

The narrows on the White Domes Trail

The narrows on the White Domes Trail

Our son Will would love scrambling the rocks above us to our right and left. This one mile loop trail bears right through “the narrows” sandy bottom canyon wall. Aware that there is the Prospect Trail off this loop, we look for it to get an extra mile or two of hiking to reach our goal of three hours of hiking today.

All the desert we could want

All the desert we could want

We wonder about the protocol for passing other hikers when the trail is wide enough for only one?  Deferential by nature, when in the lead, Hannah always steps aside. The male in me figures there are other guidelines. I step aside for those older than us. I expect dog owners to step aside as they approach, which they usually do. I think those climbing up have the right of way.

VF3A  Prospect trail signIn 30 minutes, we return to the trailhead never having seen the Prospect Trail. Checking out the trailhead map we see that the Prospect heads through a river bed; Hannah suggests we retrace our steps and do the loop in reverse. With no signage directing us, we venture around a large sandstone cliff and spot this sign.

Desert-style bushwacking on the Prospect Trail

Desert-style bushwhacking on the Prospect Trail

Unmarked trails are not Hannah and Dan hiking. We like well-marked trails with company so we can be reasonably assured we are not lost. There is no joy in being uncertain whether we are on the trail or not. That said, we decide to explore further for fifteen minutes, always aware of the way back to the White Domes Loop Trail. The elevation gain is at most a couple of hundred feet and the sand and sandstone are easy on our feet.

VF4 D at Fire WaveReturning to the scenic drive back that will take us back to the visitor center, there are other side trails that we can take. We choose the Fire Wave Trail (1.2 miles roundtrip) through the desert and along the sandstone rock formations. My hiker’s hat blocks the full sun and we never think once of what we are missing in February, the snowiest winter in Maine since the Ice Age.

Fire Wave of Valley of Fire

Fire Wave of Valley of Fire

Hiking midday has its advantages – we have had a leisurely motel breakfast with Sports Center and the USA Today; it’s also warmer. What is not great is the light for picture taking; we miss the morning and late afternoon brilliant sandstone reds.

Among the red rocks of the Mouse Tanks Trail

Among the red rocks of the Mouse Tanks Trail

As we drive back towards the visitor center, we take twenty minutes to see the petroglyphs of the Mouse Tank Trail. Though we haven’t hiked many miles, we are ready for our 90 miles of driving back to I-95 through Nevada and Arizona to St. George, Utah, where will stay free, thanks to credit card points we’ve earned through Choice Privileges.



Our Comfort Inn at St. George, UT has us poolside for our evening Dos Equis, a Jacuzzi for a late soak, and ESPN2 for some VCU basketball v. Richmond. All the comforts of home and none of the snow.



Dan and Hannah Hike in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas, Nevada


RR Map of NevadaI’ve been roughed up of late.  This Maine winter has beaten me down pretty good.

Four weeks ago, Hannah and I took a two week bite out of our January by hiking on the coast of California. Today we begin ten days on parole thanks to the Snow Warden in New England to visit the red rocks of Nevada, the mountain perches of Utah, and the deepest desert in California.

RR route one traffic

Traffic heading to Logan Airport in Boston

Leaving home in York, Maine at 540A for our 855A flight to Vegas from Boston this late February morning, we cruise down I-95 quite blissfully.  Then boom.  We get snarled in the Monday morning commuter traffic of big bad Route One in Danvers and Saugus, Massachusetts.  Crawling along at 15 mph, we finally arrive at Park, Ride, and Fly in Revere where we leave our Hyundai Elantra and get ready to take the shuttle van to Logan Airport.  Unfortunately, delays due to this past weekend’s snow storm mean the shuttle doesn’t arrive for us til after 8A.

RR jet blueWith minutes to spare, we arrive for our Jet Blue flight. Never again will we cut it so closely, as the stress of “will we make it or not” messes with the start of our hiking vacation in the West.  Jet Blue knows how to soothe the beast within the air traveler: an individual TV makes my six hours of non-stop flying, well, fly by.

Once in Vegas, we take two shuttle buses to get to the Fox Rent-a-Car lot; we always rent the cheapest car we can. Today we end up with a Toyota Yaris. It is basic wind-up toy – hand crank windows, no cruise control, side view mirrors that you adjust by hand.  At $226 for ten days, it’s all good.

And by the way, we always tip, be it shuttle drivers or housekeepers at our motels. We are the fortunate ones to share our wealth. Tipping is like praying. Praying changes the one who prays. Tipping changes us for the better.  As Maya Angelou says Giving liberates the soul of the giver.

Welcome to Las Vegas

Welcome to Las Vegas

Can you believe it? It snowed last night in Vegas; on our arrival Monday the temperature never gets above 50 degrees.  Have we brought the curse of the New England winter west?  Let’s pump the brakes.  We are lucky to even be here on a day when 1500 flights are cancelled. It will be -7 degrees tomorrow morning on the coast of Maine.  Fifty degrees is an excellent alternative.

Looking to be as far away from the Vegas Strip as we can, we settle in at the La Quinta Motel in the Summerlin section of the western Las Vegas suburbs. A mere eight miles from our first day hike in Red Rock Canyon, La Quinta has the requisite free breakfast and a Jacuzzi by the pool as a bonus.

RR blackjack tableThough Hannah and I want no part of traditional Las Vegas, I once was a blackjack card counter when we lived in Arizona. I’d take an airline shuttle at 8P from Phoenix, play a minimum of $5 bets through the night, and then be flown home the next morning.  All for $25! Weeks ago, thinking I might recapture some of my blackjack glory, I planned to study the basic strategy for blackjack (this system is online and legit for it gives the player a break-even chance of winning). And yet I couldn’t make myself study and put in the time for the chance to make a little spending cash. The memorizing of the proper blackjack plays was just too much work.

RR 4 map at end of trail CalicoTraveling east to west, we have ourselves a 27 hour day this Monday. By 7P Pacific Time, I can’t stay awake and zonk out.   The bad thing about that is that I awake at 230A the next morning (530A ET). I listen to Hannah breathe as she sleeps and think, Damn I’m lucky to be here just lying in bed, not subfreezing in York.

RR 1A D at RR sign

After yesterday’s high of 49 degrees, 60s with full sun are promised for our hike in Red Rock Canyon.  Heading out Charlestown Avenue, we have our senses blasted by the red rock mountains to the west. Pulling into the lane to pay at the Red Rock Canyon, we learn that the 13 mile one-way Scenic Drive is currently closed due to snow removal.  Really?  The visitor center is open; the Moenkopi Loop and the Calico Hills Trails are ready and waiting for us.

Hannah hiking on the Moenkopi Trail

Hannah hiking on the Moenkopi Trail

The terrain is déjà vu for us one-time Arizona residents. There isn’t a tree within the area. Scrub brush and cacti are our only friends. A lizard checks us out, but on the surface, the landscape has all the earmarks of a barren wasteland.

From yesterday's snow storm

Remnants from yesterday’s snow storm on the Moenkopi Trail

At 3400 feet, the Moenkopi Trail is a 2.5 mile loop that the guidebook says will take 2 hours. Nonsense. It’s, maybe, an hour or so over this mostly level terrain. With the wind whipping, I opt for shorts and Hannah capris.  Sweatshirts are a must as the full sun does balance out the wind and we are rocking along on, as you might imagine one would do on a rocky trail. Much of the time we can walk side by side. Always in sight of the visitor center, we never feel like we could get lost.

Red rocks of the Calico Hills Trail

Red rocks of the Calico Hills Trail

Once at the far end of the Moenkopi Loop we cross over the Scenic Drive to the Calico Hills trail. We meander between the road and the Red Rock cliffs. As a popular hike, we are not alone on what is the beginning of Spring Breaks across the country. The Red Rock cliffs are favorites of rock scramblers and sport climbers.

The Calico Hills Trail

The Calico Hills Trail

The rock scramblers are the ones who are just plain nuts going up vertical cliffs while sport climbers go up and over the boulders set in their way on, say, a dry creek bottom or mountainside. For us the Red Rock Canyon is a great transition from the cold of New England to the warmth of the West.

RR 3D along Calico trailOnce the park’s Scenic Drive opens, there are tourists up the ying yang at both Calico I and Calico II lookout points.  Far below, at times we lose the trail of loose rocks and scramble us some boulders back to the trail. The many loose rocks make for an uneven hike but not a difficult one.

The sport climbers gulch

The sport climbers gulch

First days of our hiking vacation in the West have good energy and all the possibilities lie ahead. The snow?  Forgiven and forgotten.  The Valley of Fire State Park on the Colorado River awaits for Wednesday and Observation Point at Zion National Park on Thursday. We are at home in the Mountain West.