Genoan pens a tribute to Muller Lane

Editor's note: This is the first of two articles by Genoa resident Ron Funk describing ranching and wildlife along Muller Lane.

While most new housing tracts in the Valley have been in the Minden-Gardnerville area east of Highway 395, I'm wondering how long it will be before a developer focuses on the fragile ranchlands and wildlife habitats west of Highway 395 along Muller Lane. And that concerns me. I've driven Muller Lane between Genoa and Minden almost daily for 25 years, and there's almost always something of interest to see along the way. It's one of the most scenic roads in the Valley; it would be a shame if it's turned into an access road for housing tracts.

If you're not familiar with Muller Lane, from the west it starts at Foothill Road on the track of the old Emigrant Trail, and goes in a straight line east for 4 miles until its junction with Highway 395. In between are open fields with herds of grazing cattle and if you look at the utility poles on the south side of the road, you may see a red-tail hawk sitting motionless on a crossbar. The West and East Forks of the Carson River flow north under Muller Lane's narrow bridges before they merge near Genoa, and in the spring and summer, irrigation ditches channel ribbons of water through greening fields. Sometimes you see migrating mallards heading south, or Canada geese descending to graceful landings in flooded pastures.

There are only two ranches facing the road, the Mullers (after whom the road was named many years ago) and the Herbigs, both of which have been there for a long time and except for the Herbig's steel silo and the utility poles beside the road, I can imagine I'm seeing the Valley as it was a century ago.

Below are a few things I've seen along Muller Lane that make it unique in my mind.

Cattle Drives

Every once in a while, except in winter, a rancher will move his cows and calves along Muller Lane from a pasture where they've grazed for a while, to another pasture where there's new grass. There are usually about 50 to 100 head to be moved, mostly either Black Angus or Herefords.

The rancher will ask friends to help and if he has big enough kids, they sometimes participate, too. Also needed are smart, big horses and a couple of black and white border collies - the kind you see sitting atop hay bales in the back of pickups.

You know when a drive is about to begin when a man on horseback on the road ahead waves at you to stop near 2 or 3 pickups and empty horse trailers parked beside the road.

I remember one such drive a couple of years ago. I'd been waved to a stop and I watched as a rancher and 2 other men on horseback south of the road began bunching the cows and calves and moving them toward an open metal gate just beyond the parked pickups and trailers. The men, horses and dogs all worked together urging the cattle along the fence line toward the gate.

As the riders kept pressuring the cattle from the rear, the front animals came streaming onto the road and the horsemen on the road in front of me reined his horse sideways and yelled and waved his hat to scare the leaders into turning eastward. Some cows were bawling with white-rimmed, frightened eyes as they came through the gate onto the pavement, where a border collie raced back and forth keeping skittish animals from turning west. The last rider through the gate closed it and spurred his horse to the rear of the herd to keep it moving east along the road.

I put my car in low and started forward, followed by 3 or 4 cars that had stopped behind me. There was a lot of dust raised by cattle trotting along the dirt shoulders of the road and the pavement began showing splashes of cow dung. Eventually, the lead cows reached the gate of the new pasture and the cowmen, horses and dogs turned them into the open field awaiting them. The cars that had stopped on Muller Lane east of the gate began passing me in the other direction.

Ahead of me, Muller Lane was clear and as I accelerated I was glad I'd had a chance to see the men and their horses and dogs complete the hard, dusty, sweaty job they'd set out to do. Like herders have done down through the ages, they'd moved their animals to greener pastures.

Red-Tail Hawks

On the way to lunch at Danny's Ironwood Cafe in Minden several years ago, I counted 11 Red-Tail Hawks on crossbars of the utility poles beside Muller Lane. It was the most I've ever seen. I don't remember the time of the year but it might have been in the fall after they'd left northern habitats for the Valley's milder climate.

In the last couple of years, the number of Red-Tails on the poles has decreased and I think it's because Sierra Pacific replaced all its old poles. Valley winds had tilted them northward at odd angles and in a fierce wind a wire would begin oscillating wildly, once in a while snapping and causing a power outage. Unlike the old poles, which had bare tops, the new ones have a wire running over a pointed metal insulator on top of each pole. There is also a pair of wires on insulators on the ends of each crossbar, and another tied to the pole underneath the crossbar. This makes it more difficult for the Red-Tails to use a pole for launching pad to hunt field mice, which I'm sure is what Sierra Pacific intended.

It's when a Red-Tail is flying that you see how it got its name. The underside of its tail is distinctly reddish. Otherwise, it's a mottled-grey hawk with a whitish chest and brown and white wing feathers. In flight, its wing span is 4 to 5 feet; but when it's sitting on a crossbar you can drive by and not notice it at all.

If you're in luck, though, you'll see one take off from a crossbar with 2 or 3 strong wing strokes, then propel itself downward into a shallow, straight-line dive. Closing in on its unsuspecting quarry, it fans its wing and reddish tail feathers outward and slams down onto its hapless target. It may eat its prey right there or it may take off with the mouse dangling in its talons and flap its way back up to the crossbar, there to enjoy its meal.

For now, Red-Tails have good hunting grounds all along Muller Lane, but if housing tracts spill across Highway 395, there'll be fewer power poles, which will mean fewer Red-Tails.

n Ron Funk is a Genoa resident and former member of the town's advisory board.

Next week: Of Swallows, Pelicans, Harriers and Eagles


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