Picnic Time

Linda Burton posting from Carson City, Nevada– A picnic basket or a brown paper bag, either one will do. In fact you won’t even pay attention to what you’ve brought to eat because you’ll be gazing across blue lake waters at snow on a mountain, without a care in the world. A lop-eared jackrabbit might go hopping past, or you might spot an eagle soaring overhead. There are sand dunes in one direction, and wetlands in the other. What is this wonderland that is only a five-minute drive over the hill from Carson City?

It is Washoe Lake State Park, where you can also go fishing, or horseback riding. Or just park your camper under a tree and sit still, for a day or for a week, by the shores of a beautiful lake. Washoe Lake sits at 5,029 feet, just below the treeline in open sagebrush country. Since it’s higher than Carson City or Reno, it’s a little cooler too. The park is 8,053 acres, almost equally divided between land and water, and open for year-round recreational use. It was established in 1977 to preserve a portion of the scenic Washoe Valley, and offers views of the Sierra Nevada, Carson and Virginia mountain ranges. Slide Mountain, so named because of a massive landslide long ago, is one of the most prominent peaks, looming over the lake.

I noticed a gazebo perched high on a dry-brush hill across the street from the entry gate. “How do you get up there?” I asked. The Ranger answered with a grin, “You walk.” There are hiking trails throughout the park; and trails for mountain bikers and equestrian riders too. Maps are available at the park office, which also show boat launching ramps and docks. The campground, open year round, has 49 sites, with table, grill and fire ring; some have shade structures; comfort stations are nearby.

The Ranger can provide a list of migratory birds too; the park’s wetlands provide forage and nesting habitat for diverse populations – the Scripps Wildlife Management area is at the northern part of the lake; the Washoe Lake Wetland Project at the southern end. The sand dunes are a tough hike, according to the Ranger; visitors are asked to tread lightly and stay on the paths as the dunes are extremely sensitive to human intrusion.

If you’re in charge of the family get-together, or need to entertain a bunch of friends, reserve the group facilities; there are horseshoe pits, a sandy volleyball court, barbecue grills, a covered pavilion, and 20 picnic tables. A picnic, now, that’s the thing.

Washoe Lake State Park is a part of the Nevada State Park system, www.parks.nv.gov

The Nevada Division of State Parks maintains a system of 24 parks and recreation areas for the use and enjoyment of more than 3.3 million visitors a year.