Magic trips for moms, dads, teens and tots

A guide to three free, close-to-home, wet summer occupations

Photo By David Robert

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water,” wrote anthropologist and author Loren Eiseley.

My kids and I have found some enchanting wet places in the midst of the urban Truckee Meadows. Sure, we drive to Tahoe and Pyramid Lake. But given soaring gas prices, it’s a good time to talk about public spaces right in town. Here’s some free magic that’s close to home.

Mayberry Park

One afternoon last August, my kids and I toted dogs, watermelon, skateboards, towels and swimsuits to Mayberry Park for a picnic. My teens swam for a bit on the small rocky beach, then crossed the river and hiked along the opposite shore.

Joggers and bicyclists cruised by on the Truckee River bike path. Our mutts chased sticks into the river and across an expanse of trimmed lawn that’s perfect for Frisbees, soccer and kite-flying.

In the spring, the river current rips and roars, especially at Mayberry, which is on the west side of Reno. Even in late summer, Mayberry’s not great swimming for small children, but it’s a fine place to splash around and catch a bit of nature at the river’s edge.

To get there: From I-80 westbound, take the McCarran West Exit (10) and turn left on South McCarran Boulevard. At the stoplight, turn right on West Fourth Street and drive about two miles. Turn left on Woodland Avenue and drive about half a mile to the park.

Evans Canyon Trail

We took the path that Jesse, 14, called “more interesting” and trudged through squishy mud, looking for the source of the tapping noise. Thuck. Thuck-thuck-thuck.

“I see him!” Jesse said, looking up. “His head’s bobbing back and forth. I’ve never seen a woodpecker pecking before.”

Kids want to get out adventuring, but gas prices getting you down? Don’t cry. There’s plenty of in-town, outdoor fun to be had splashing in rivers and fountains.

Photo By David Robert

I’d lived in Reno for several years before I discovered that most of Rancho San Rafael Regional Park’s 570 acres are north of McCarran Boulevard, including the Reno Sports Complex and the Basque monument. The best bang for my buck is the Evans Canyon Nature Trail, a, non-strenuous tour of Great Basin desert and wetland habitats.

Spring and early summer are great times to visit. Jesse and I went there one afternoon and, other than a handful of mountain bikers, we had the place to ourselves. We saw lizards, songbirds and a squirrel racing up the path. Crossing a wooden foot bridge, I saw a light brown critter slither through the marshy grass.

I jumped. “Rattlesnake!”

“Nope, no rattle,” my son said as we watched the snake’s thin, pointed tail—a trait of non-venomous snakes—disappear into the weeds. “Don’t worry, Mom, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.”

I was more aware of my surroundings as we continued through the trees, past a pond. We rounded a bend into a lush area filled with milkweed and young cattails, bathed in the afternoon sun.

My son, whose interests range from skateboarding to organic farming, turned contemplative—wistful, even.

“If I were an animal, I’d live here,” he said.

To get there: From 1-80 westbound, take the Downtown Reno Exit (13). Turn right on North Virginia Street and drive past the University of Nevada, Reno campus. Cross McCarran Boulevard. The north entrance to Rancho San Rafael is on the left.

Fountain fun

If taking your children to where the wild things are isn’t your style, the gurgling, squirting fountains of Victorian Square in Sparks are a lovely place to cool off.

The water spouts are sort of synchronized to music playing on speakers. Kids race through fountains, holding water back with hands, feet and other assorted body parts.

Save a few bucks for ice cream at Scooper’s, a short drive up Prater Way. Buy Junior a strawberry sundae cone, and he may promise to clean his room and love you forever. Cherish this moment.

To get there: From I-80, take Pyramid Way Exit (18). Merge onto Pyramid Way. Turn left on C Street. Park in the Century 14 Sparks parking lots. To get to Scooper’s, drive back to Pyramid Way and turn left. Turn left on Prater Way. Scooper’s is at 1356 Prater Way.