Today on our hike to the summit of Snow Valley Peak (9214 feet, the high point in Carson City "county"), Kyhl and I saw dozens of tiny springtails in the snow. It's the first time this season that I've seen springtails, but I'm not so sure this is necessarily a harbinger of spring. In fact, I know that the name "springtail" has nothing to do with the season, but with a springlike mechanism -- the retinaculum -- on the underside of the animal's abdomen. (I say "animal" because springtails are not insects; they're classified as Order Collembola, a separate evolutionary line from insects and the other hexapods.) When at rest, the retinaculum is folded forward and held in place under tension by a clasping structure; when the mechanism is released, the insect is able to jump a distance many times its own length. Today most of them seemed content to mill around in the snow as we passed, rather than springing away.
We parked at Spooner Lake, rented cross-country skis, and skied the groomed trail up North Canyon to a place just south of Marlette Lake. From here we skied on virgin snow up some switchbacks to the Tahoe Rim Trail, where we took off our skis and switched to snowshoes for the last quarter-mile to the summit. A warm day: soft snow, hazy sun, and a relatively easy route to the summit. Stupidly, I didn't wear sunblock. Now I'm paying.