Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Rye Patch State Recreation Area: East Cove Trail (Blog Hike #581)

Trail: East Cove Trail
Hike Location: Rye Patch State Recreation Area
Geographic Location: northeast of Lovelock, NV
Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2016
Overview: A short out-and-back down a Badlands-type ravine to the shore of Rye Patch Reservoir.

Directions to the trailhead: East of Reno/Sparks, take I-80 to SR 401 (exit 129).  Exit and go west on SR 401.  Drive SR 401 west 1.1 miles to the area entrance, where you need to pay your entrance fee.  Then backtrack 0.4 miles to the east trailhead access road, which will be on the left as you drive back east.  Only a primitive sign that says “Nature Trail” marks this road.  Turn left and drive the gravel road to its end at a cul de sac that marks the trailhead.  If you have a low clearance vehicle like I do, some wispy plants might brush up against the undercarriage of your car on this last segment to the trailhead.

The hike: Although the Rye Patch Reservoir on the Humboldt River is one of the largest lakes in northern Nevada, today’s reservoir is much smaller than its aquatic ancestor.  Several millennia ago this area was covered by prehistoric Lake Lahontan, a lake formed by melting glaciers that covered 8500 square miles of area and measured up to several hundred feet deep.  Nearby Pyramid Lake, the outflow of the Truckee River, is the largest remnant of this vast ancient lake.
            Rye Patch Dam, which forms the reservoir, was built in 1935 for the purposes of flood control and improved irrigation for nearby agricultural areas.  Originally this land was operated by the Pershing County Water Conservation District and Parks Department, but control was transferred to the State of Nevada in 1971 to form Rye Patch State Recreation Area.  The area’s name comes from a patch of wild rye found along the Central Pacific Railroad route that ran through here in the mid-to-late-1800’s.
The area features 47 campsites, 2 picnic areas, a double-lane boat ramp, and 3 short nature trails.  Unfortunately for hikers, the three nature trails do not interconnect, and therefore it is impossible to combine trails to form longer loops.  This hike describes the longest of the three nature trails: the 0.5 mile one-way East Cove Trail.
Vehicle gate at trailhead
            The vehicle gate at the end of the entrance road marks the beginning of the trail.  For its entire length the trail follows the old road bed down to the shore of the reservoir.  Walk through a gap beside the vehicle gate to begin descending the wide two-track gravel trail.  The grade is moderate at first but soon becomes very gradual.
            The classic desert scenery of sagebrush and other shrubs that dominates the trailhead area gives way to colored bands of dirt/rock strata as you descend.  Thus, this hike feels more like a hike in the Badlands National Park of South Dakota or the Painted Desert of Arizona than a hike in the Nevada desert.  The light oranges and pinks in the surrounding rocks add color to an otherwise bleached-white canvas.
Descending toward Rye Patch Reservoir
            A large number of leopard lizards ran along the path as I continued descending.  At 0.5 miles, you round the final bend to views of Rye Patch Reservoir.  Compared to most lakes, Rye Patch Reservoir is very undeveloped, and the Badlands type surroundings make the lake accessible only at a few points.  Thus, this lake feels like a world all its own.  The breeze blowing across the water felt good on the warm overcast day of my visit.
Rye Patch Reservoir
            The trail ends at the lakeshore, and it does not form a loop.  Thus, the only way out is to retrace your steps 0.5 miles uphill to your car to complete the hike.  While you are in the park (and because you have paid your entrance fee), you may as well try the park’s other two short trails.  The West Hiking Trail starts at the west end of the dam and leads 0.3 miles one-way to the Westside Campground, whereas the River Nature Trail goes for 0.2 miles along the Humboldt River below the dam.  Make the most of your day in the desert at Rye Patch.

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