Getting in touch with the local flora and fauna
There’s absolutely no reason to stay indoors this summer when local nature observatories, both formal and informal, abound. Most, if not all, are free, and the hours are pretty comprehensive. Whether you like to look at roses, birds, water, trees or open desert land, there are so many places that might be 20 minutes from your house that will offer you a sweet repose, if only for a moment. While there exist spots in town that are beautifully landscaped local public places, you’ll also find a few spots that are just naturally serene with a little help from an association or a community. Some of these retreats prove great for taking a picnic and making an afternoon out of it; some penetrate better when seen from the seat of a bicycle; and others relax you as your feet carry you along. So plan the excursion for your energy level and your interests.
For a fairly natural setting, head to Peavine Mountain. You can take the actual hike, accessible just north of Rancho San Rafael Regional Park off of McCarran, for a high-energy, high-nature experience. You won’t find a ton of greenery on this hike, but you’ll definitely see lots of birds, lizards, wild plant life, and of course, lots of sagebrush. The views are spectacular, which is just one reason to take this as your nature retreat. Here, you also get away from the noise and will encounter mostly other hikers, who probably are out there for the same peace and quiet you’re seeking—all more or less within sight of the city. (For more on the Peavine experience, see “Doing Peavine,” page 22.)
Back into town, in the same spot, hides one of Reno’s greatest botanical treasures, the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. Several different types of planned and maintained gardens coexist in this large repository of wildlife. The native plants section is behind the museum building and is full of pines, birch and beach trees, as well as tons of native groundcover. The walkway is sand, and the birds chirping give the feeling that you’re not even in the city anymore. And of course, you’ll see at least a few cottontail bunnies, robins, squirrels and dragonflies. The Burke Garden, towards the park entrance, is a breathtaking interpretation of the traditional English garden, with a bed of blooms encased in the lawn. The Labyrinth Garden, a mixture of rock and plant life, was designed for calming and relaxing. There are also benches scattered throughout the garden.
For a retreat closer to the center of town, try the rose garden in Idlewild Park. The rose garden is well maintained and the walkways are all grass. As the summer progresses and the blooms emerge, you can’t match this serene garden in color or scent. The different varieties of roses each produce a slightly different fragrance, and the mingling of each is divine. The walk is short and the garden not expansive, but you’ll find repose and peace while admiring the roses either from the walkways or from the small gazebo at the far corner. This is also a great place for inspiration on your own rose garden, since each rose is labeled by name. A favorite way to enjoy this garden consists of a blanket, a picnic basket and a sketchbook.
For a walk-oriented experience, head to Virginia Lake. While most of the walk is fairly uneventful, if you like ducks, geese and birds, you’re in the right spot. Their quacks and chirps litter the silence, along with the steady stream of water entering the lake from the fountain. In addition to the fine feathered friends, the nature-seeker will also find two lovely gardens installed on the park side of the lake: a Xeriscaped portion, tolerating little water and close to the natural habitat (here, of sand and small plants dotted with trees) and a mulched garden similar to the first but with a wider variety of pine and shade trees. This used to be an unattractive spot, but the slope has been transformed into a life-sustaining walk, scattered with small boulders and benches and laced with a variety of paths, from sand to concrete to an artistic and beautiful in-laid rock walk. This garden is best seen either in the early morning or late evening during the summer though, since the trees in the area aren’t yet mature enough to offer plentiful shade. After the plant walk, schlep the kids over to the kiddie park for some slide action.
An interesting take on a nature spot in Reno requires either engine or human power. No sitting for this distance ride. Though you might not suspect it, the old farmland past Windy Hill has spectacular nature sightings, from emus to gophers to lush green pastureland. Enjoy this from the seat of your bike for the best effect; you’ll be going slow enough to smell the lush, green foliage, freshly-mowed lawns and flower patches (and yes, the animals too). The ride is shady in parts and sunny in others, so wear some sunscreen and bring lots of water. The old neighborhood is a great aural experience as well, from the sounds of sheep, goats and cows to the rustling of the giant trees and the chirping of a myriad of birds.
Whatever your particular nature bent, you’re sure to find some nature retreat not too far from your domicile that you can enjoy day or night at your leisure. Take a friend, or fly solo, but remember to realize how lucky you are to live in this serene mountain basin.