We’re answering the age old question today: why do leaves turn orange, yellow, and red in the fall? Most people know that it has something to do with chlorophyll and seems to correspond with trees losing their leaves for winter. And all those things are true, but let’s break down the whole process.
Leaves have chlorophyll, a green-blue pigment; that’s what makes leaves green and that’s what allows plants to photosynthesize. But leaves also contain lots of other pigments, like keratinoids (orange/brown) and xanthophylls (blue/purple/red). The relative proportions of these other pigments determines how leaves change color in the fall. Some species (and even some individuals or populations of a given species) have high concentrations of carotenoids, and in the fall they turn yellow or orange and then brown and fall off. Other species (or individuals) have higher concentrations of xanthophylls and turn that brilliant red or even purple.
Aspens are a great example of the chemical variation between individuals and populations.
The aspens in Galena Creek turn a fiery orange in autumn; aspens in other areas turn yellow, and other populations even turn red! The nutritional composition of the soil and the specific genetics of a population will determine autumn colors.
So, take your friends out to Galena Creek in mid-October to see the beautiful aspens, and make sure you drop the word “xanthophyll” in conversation!
The Washoe people are a Native American tribe who live in and around the Sierra Nevada range. Prior to European-American settlement, the Washoe ranged over the entire Tahoe area, following seasonal variation in food, following acorn abundance well into the foothills of the Sierras to the west, fishing and bird migrations as far south as Mono Lake and North beyond Honey Lake, and retreated east into the Pine Nut mountains and Great Basin region for the colder winter months.
Nevada and California became US territories following the Mexican-American war in 1848, and almost immediately, the discovery of gold and silver in both territories resulted in a surge of immigrants settling within the Greater Tahoe area. Along with settlement, came industry, which had lasting effects to the Washoe way of life who depended on the availability of specific food sources throughout the year. Overexploitation of fishing grounds, excessive logging of old-growth forests, and the introduction of land ownership eventually forced the tribe to adapt and assimilate into the new lifestyle imposed by the incoming settlers.
Today, the Washoe tribe remains an active population of citizens who carry and protect Washoe tradition. We encourage you to explore their website https://washoetribe.us/ to learn more about their history and culture.
It is important for us all to remember that these lands were once inhabited by people who did not see themselves as separate from the land. We can all learn something from the Washoe way of life, as we confront the same issues of environmental degradation that were introduced to this area just over 150 years ago.
“The health of the land and the health of the people are tied together, and what happens to the land also happens to the people. When the land suffers so too are the people.
- A. Brian Wallace, Former Chairman of the Washoe Tribe
Kokanee salmon are landlocked sockeye/red salmon. This means they never travel to the ocean from the stream they were born in; instead, they go to lakes to live their adult years. Kokanee salmon start out as eggs laid by females in a stream gravel nest called a redd, then hatch into alevin and continue to feed on their egg sacs, staying in the gravel nest. After this stage they grow into fry that continue to live in the gravel for about one month and start to feed on zooplankton, the primary food source of Kokanee. The Kokanee then enter the juvenile stage, the transition between fry and adult. At this point they begin making their way in schools from the stream they were born in to the lake where they spend their adult lives. If they live to be an adult Kokanee salmon, they spend a few years as a non-mating adult. Chinook salmon, eagles, and humans are the primary predators of Kokanee salmon. They also may be killed off due to competition for habitat, change in water temperature, sedimentation, and changes in oxygen in the water. When they are about 4-5 years it is time to spawn. They change color to a red body with a gray-green head. The male has a hump with a hooked mouth while the female stays relatively in the same shape as pre-mating. Adults return to the same stream that they hatched to spawn, lay eggs, and die. The cycle is then repeated by the surviving offspring.
Salamanders are very unique creatures. They’re amphibians, so they spend their life moving between water and land, always staying close to a water source. While they look like lizards, with a long body and tail and two pairs of legs coming off the sides of their body, they have no scales, and are smooth and moist to the touch. Most salamanders are opportunistic predators, and will feed on anything that’s about the right size for them. Because of their life strategies, salamanders live near water and can’t travel very far from a water source, making it difficult for a population to move to better habitat. For salamanders native to the dry regions of the American west and southwest, this can be harder than it sounds. Many salamander species in these regions are threatened or endangered due to several factors pertaining to their habitats. Habitat degradation, through logging, overgrazing, and the draining of wetlands can devastate a population of salamanders by disrupting the creeks, plants, and animals of their home. Populations are often separated by roads, which can be a source of mortality when salamanders try to cross these roads and are struck by cars. Salamanders are also injured or killed when water sources are modified, either physically or chemically. The construction of dams, introduction of pollution, human recreation, and creation of canals can all hurt a salamander population and kill individuals. So what can we do to protect these animals? Here are three easy things we can all do to help salamanders:
Back in 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to provide federal, state and local governments funding for recreation (tennis courts, ballfields, playgrounds, and swimming pools in underserved communities) and the protection of national natural treasures, such as parks and protected forests. While the funds have been utilized on projects both large and small, helping state agencies and local communities acquire nearly seven million acres of land, over the past 50+ years most of the money has been diverted to other purposes and these areas have been neglected.
On June 17th of 2020 the Great American Outdoors Act (Senate Bill 3422) was passed with bipartisan support from the U.S. Senate. How big of a deal is it? It will be funding the LWCF $900 million per year (the original amount) and $1.3 billion over the next five years for the repair and maintenance of roads, housing, toilets, trails, and walkways in our National Parks. The act is a success story for hunters, anglers, and other conservationists who have been trying to permanently authorize the LWCF and get it funded for this amount. What an incredible accomplishment for the natural beauty of this country!
Stay tuned to see the improvements we have planned for the park!
Although Earth Day is in April, at Galena Creek we believe every day is a great day to think about the Earth and make positive changes! Check out these tips to learn about small things you can do to improve our planet.
Take a walk around the Galena Creek Recreation Area, and you might notice this odd-looking, red plant. They're starting to pop up around the park, and often they are found next to last year's stalks!
Pinedrops are a peculiar species in that they do not contain Chlorophyll - the pigment that makes plants green and allows them to photosynthesize. This means that Pinedrops must steal their nutrients from surrounding species to survive; in other words, they are a parasitic plant. When the plant initially sprouts, it first "digs" into the soil in search of a "host" - typically fungi and the roots of nearby trees - and then shoots upward to begin bearing fruit. This is why Pinedrops are found in close proximity to larger species such as pine trees.
Pinedrops can be identified by their tall, skinny frames and bulb-like fruit. They can be found growing throughout the park between June and August, though the strongest stalks make it through winter and are still common even this time of year. Come for a walk around the Galena Recreation Area and see how many Pinedrops you can find!
If you are motivated to hike a moderate to difficult-level 6-mile path then the journey to Church’s Pond via the Jones-White Loop Trail is worth your time! Although it is heavily trafficked, it offers beautiful scenic views while being engrossed entirely in a well-shaded forest. This trail is journeyed by hikers, nature trips, and snowshoers. The first half a mile up the trail offers the calmest leg of the journey, along a peaceful creek, before ascending the mountain side via multiple switchbacks. If you turn around at 2.5 miles of the trail into the clearings you can see the full range view from Reno to Washoe City. While most people do stop here and turn back, you can continue on another 0.7 miles and reach Church’s Pond, if you are the more adventurous-type.
Church’s Pond is named after James Church, who was a University of Nevada-Reno professor that figured out how to measure the water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack in 1909. The pond is a still, small snow-melt basin below Mt. Rose that sits on top of the 2,000+ foot trail. Even though this peaceful pond may look somewhat inviting from a distance, if you dare to get in, watch for leeches!
Say you are on a hike and feel dehydrated and run out of water, but you come by a reasonable water source. You gather some water in your water bottle and replenish your thirst. In a couple of hours you get an upset stomach and pass the amoeba-infested water by diarrhea and feel better shortly afterward. This is a natural process of a parasitic relationship. Both animals and plants can be involved in this kind of relationship. If you have ever seen an abnormal-looking part of a plant that resembles a tumor, you are not seeing things. These strange formations are called “galls,” growths on plants that are caused by parasitic organisms. More specifically, the plant tries to separate the parasitic larvae from the rest of itself by forming this tumor-like cavity where the larvae can live and grow. The gall-maker gets protection and food from the gall, while the plant spends its tissue and energy forming this gall. There are over 1,000 species of gall-forming insects, mites, nematodes, bacteria, and fungi that produce these formations as part of their regular life cycle. The galls can be formed on any part of the plant, including roots, stems, fruits, and leaves. While scientists are still studying how the organisms cause the plant cells to divide abnormally to make the galls, biochemical secretions are believed to play a crucial role in gall formation.
You may have noticed a sudden increase in the amount of storms gathering around the Reno area. What causes these storms, and why do they always appear around the same time of year.
Summer storms are the result of heat and moisture. On a hot day, the sun heats the ground and surrounding air enough to cause that air to rise extremely quickly; and with it, all of the moisture that is contained in that air. Once the hot air rises high enough to reach the cooler regions of the atmosphere, it condenses to form clouds. Although this process occurs throughout the entire year, the mid-afternoon heat along with the high heat of the later summer months combine to cause this process to occur so quickly that the clouds don't have time to disperse. The result is storm clouds, or thunderheads.
Thunderheads, like the one pictured, can be spotted from a distance and usually indicate an incoming storm. They are identified by the large column of "cloud" rising vertically (as oppose to spreading out horizontally).
As the clouds sweep across land, pushed along by the wind and gathering moisture, they also gather "charge" which builds up and is eventually dissipated by a lightning strike. The same phenomenon can be observed when you touch a metal door knob after walking around on carpet.
Now that you know a bit more about storms, try predicting if this afternoon is going to yield some thunder! If it is a hot day, and you notice thunderheads already building up over the mountains by early afternoon, it's likely that a thunderstorm is approaching.
This blog is managed by the staff and volunteers of Galena Creek Visitor Center. We write about parts of the natural world that we find fascinating and want to teach others about, as well as keeping you updated on the Visitor Center and park. If you want to learn more, please sign up for our monthly newsletter, where we share upcoming events, updates on the ecology of the park, and highlights from each month.