BASE CAMP RENO – A LOVE LETTER TO THE NATURAL WORLD

Once America’s No.1 gambling town and, thanks to local laws drawn up to appeal to those seeking a speedy separation, the ‘divorce capital of the world’, Reno remains a tourist destination with attractions ranging from downtown casinos to the resorts of Lake Tahoe to the south.

Today, two more things are drawing people to ‘The Biggest Little City in the World’: the opportunities occasioned by the influx of some of the biggest names in Big Tech – notably Apple and the Tesla Gigafactory – and the attractions of the great outdoors. And it is the latter that is the subject of Base Camp Reno – 101 Hikes from Sage to Snow.

Researched, hiked, and memorably photographed by husband and wife team Christopher and Elizabeth Barile, this is an inspiring, beautifully written and in many ways surprising book.

Reno nestles between two of North America’s most distinctive natural features – the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west and the Great Basin Desert to the east – but for this reader at least, it was a genuine eye opener to discover the sheer wealth of landscapes this region has to offer.

The book describes 101 hikes, taking in lush sun-alpine terrain, cool lakeside walks, sage covered hillsides, and red rock canyons, every one of them accessible in a low clearance two-wheel-drive vehicle and – incredibly – all within a couple of hour’s drive of downtown Reno.

It is divided into 10 geographical regions, stretching from the Northeastern Sierra Nevadas and Donner Pass in the west to rugged, history-filled Wild West lands to the east; from the open desert landscapes and challenging peaks of the Pah Rah Range in the north to the waterfalls and canyons that surround Genoa, Nevada’s oldest town, in the south.

Each hike rated on a number of counts, some of which you’d expect to see in a guide like this – distance, likely time, elevation – while others, such as levels of solitude and possible wildlife encounters (e.g. deer, turtles, bears, rattlesnakes) are perhaps less obvious but no less useful.

The Barile’s attention to detail is impressive. Hikes are rated in four categories from Very Easy to Epic. It probably wouldn’t have been difficult to assign these based on experience alone, but they have actually calculated the calories that would be expended by “a 150-pound person carrying a 10-pound backpack traveling at 2 miles per hour”, factoring in length, steepness and terrain of the hike, assuming a “dry, snowless terrain”. All based on models, the authors developed for the U.S. Army.

As the “difficulty” categories imply, there are walks here for everyone, from riverside strolls to strenuous, off-trail treks involving 4000 feet of climbing, each and every one accompanied by beautiful color photos by and of the Bariles. It’s worth noting that even the most challenging ascents are family-friendly in their eyes, with many photos showing Christopher and Elizabeth accompanied by their two small children. In fact, their two small children were on each of the 101 featured hikes in this book.

So far, so good. And were this simply a handy, backpack-friendly collection of facts, figures, maps and tips, it would still represent an essential guide to the hikes covered. But it is the quality of writing that elevates Base Camp Reno to another level.

Every hike resonates with the authors’ passion for and knowledge of the region, every page carries vivid descriptions that transport the reader into their world.

They are particularly good on flora. At Mount Lola, look out for “crimson columbines, red paintbrushes, pink shooting starts, orange lilies, yellow monkeyflowers, blue larkspurs, lavender asters and purple lupines.” On Brown’s Creek on Slide Mountain, they invite you to scratch and smell the inner bark and twigs of the Jeffrey pine to enjoy its “delightful citrusy-vanilla odor.”

Swan Lake is 2-mile there-and-back stroll set in the middle of a suburban development, but to the Bariles it is a desert oasis, somewhere to visit “at sunset when the sky is aflame with color and the birds are giddy with excitement.”

Even the novice hiker might be tempted by their prose to tackle the “Epic” off-trail ascent of Petersen Springs. “Green, deciduous trees cluster around wet canyons, secret valleys filled with wildflowers hide behind roadside ridges, and wildlife congregate near verdant springs. Songbirds chatter in meadows, water fowl play in ponds and birds of prey soar above as guardians of these hidden lands. Nowhere, perhaps, is the lifeless archetype of the desert demolished more evidently than on Peterson Mountain.”

Alongside the geography and flora and fauna, the book also touches upon areas such as history, geology, and Native American culture, all contributing to the vivid picture that the Bariles paint of a region they know like the back of each other’s hands. Much, much more than a travel guide, Base Camp Reno – 101 Hikes from Sage to Snow is a love letter to the natural world in general, and this part of the world in particular.

Peter Thody

Peter Thody

Over the past decade, road tripper, writer and photographer Peter Thody has been responsible for some of the most evocative travel commentary on RoadTrip America, including a series of ‘American Adventures’ covering extended cross-country trips. His photography – regularly featured on RoadTrip America – can be seen on record albums, CDs, travel magazines, websites, and book covers. He is also the author of an acclaimed book on the wolves of Yellowstone. As a commercial copywriter based in the UK, Peter’s day job sees him finding different ways to “say essentially the same thing again and again about clients’ products and services.” This pays for the trips to America where he and wife Carole indulge their love for exploring "the bits in between," risking cheap motels and making friends in the type of bars their daughters would be horrified to know they were frequenting. More of Peter's captivating and often humorous prose can be found at photo-america.net together with galleries of his extraordinary photographs.

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