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Desert Companion

Outdoors: A taste for nature

manzanita-2.jpg

Manzanita
Alan Gegax

Manzanitas are like a tart Granny Smith

How to have your wilderness and eat it, too

 

Throughout my years of hiking in Southern Nevada, I’ve always been willing to put questionable items in my mouth. I’ve tasted and sampled all manner of native flora. Luckily, they’ve never made me sick, and I’ve gotten a few surprising rewards along the way. Like last August, when I was hiking Charleston Peak. It’s a bear of a hike, and it pushed my body and tested my spirit. But the enjoyment of finding a juicy, bright red berry, the Wax currant, helped keep my morale high. Foraging for currants was a great excuse to take a little break, poke around, and munch on something genuinely tasty. The berries are small, about the size of a BB, and to me, they taste like fruit punch. They weren’t abundant enough to make a meal, but it was neat to be able to grab something right off a bush and eat it. Humans don’t do much of that, anymore.

When hiking the hills at lower elevation, I go for junipers. Utah juniper, to be precise. Many of the junipers found throughout the United States, especially those used in landscaping, produce berries (cones, technically) that are inedible. Some are even toxic. But the Utah juniper, native to Southern Nevada, has smooth, blue-gray berries that can be eaten straight from the tree. Are they delicious? No. And the people I convince to try them usually won’t have another. But I have found some in cooler climes, where the berries get plump and moist, that were downright palatable. Regardless of flavor, they’re always an interesting diversion.

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Red Rock is my favorite place to hike, and it has the tasty edible that is the easiest to find. In May and June, the smooth red bark of the manzanita (“little apple” in Spanish) points hikers to a fruit that looks and tastes exactly like the name implies. Manzanita are on the bitter side, like a tart Granny Smith, but I think they’re good enough to be eaten raw. They are bountiful enough at Red Rock that they can be gathered to make a cider. Here’s a time-tested preparation: Pour four parts boiling water over one part manzanita berries, and let them steep for about 20 minutes. Next, use a potato masher to gently break open the submerged berries, just enough so the water can get in and the good flavor can get out. Finally, let the whole thing sit overnight at room temperature in a closed container. The next day, strain the concoction through cheesecloth, add sugar to taste, and enjoy!

Waxy Current

Dig into the wild: Wax currants taste like fruit punch.  Photo by Alan Gegax

Fall for hiking again

October’s finally here, and the month plays host to a number of outdoor events that celebrate the fact that we can go outside again without being roasted. The free fun starts on October 10 at Valley of Fire, where the park is hosting a class on flint knapping. Participants will learn the basics of this ancient art, turning a hunk of rock into an arrowhead, which is theirs to keep. Register by emailing Chris Johnson at vofinterpranger@mvdsl.com.

• Next up is Spring Mountain Ranch’s annual Halloween Spooktacular! Kids are welcome to come in costume on October 17, where they can take part in a pumpkin-carving contest, bob for apples, and enjoy a hayride along the Red Rock Escarpment. More details at parks.nv.gov/calendar.

• Head to Sunset Park on October 24 for Get Outdoors Nevada Day. This annual event brings outdoors enthusiasts, organizations, and outfitters together with booths and exhibits that highlight adventure opportunities throughout southern Nevada. (getoutdoorsnevada.org/day) AG

Wool SockToe the line: Hit the trails, blister-free

Blisters can ruin the day of any hiker. They’re basically friction burns, caused by heat built up as your feet slide around inside your shoes, and I’ve endured blisters bad enough to land me in the burn unit at UMC. Thankfully, technicians at Wrightsock (wrightsock.com) have found a novel way to reduce that friction: a double-layer sock.

The inner layer fits snugly around your foot — and stays there. It’s made of material that wicks moisture away, keeping your foot dry and less susceptible to blisters. The outer layer stays put against your shoe, and can be made from a variety of materials specific to activity and temperature requirements. I’m a big fan of their merino wool socks for winter hiking.

The key to the blister-proof property is that the two layers of the sock glide easily against one another, preventing heat from building. The whole system works together to keep your feet dry, comfortable, and blister-free. AG

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