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Henderson-area snow, desert make for unusual trail mix

Each winter, once the holiday bustle is in the rearview mirror, I cherish the opportunity to pull on my warm boots and go hiking in the quiet and crisp cold of the snowy mountains near my Henderson home.

Wait, this almost never happens, and for that reason, the third week of February has been a treat and will stand out for some time. On Presidents Day, the snow-draped McCullough Range was calling, and I had to go see how my familiar surroundings had been transformed by a rare blanket of white.

A petite snowman with sunglasses welcomed those who made their way to the Sloan Canyon Visitor Contact Station on the morning of Feb. 18. Visitors hiked through postcard images of the Mojave Desert rarity of snow sticking to hills and clumping on venerable creosote bushes. That plant responsible for a refreshing after-rain smell offers the same gift after snow.

A thin layer of snow covered the desert floor at the conservation area, where it looked as if a giant snowman became angry and threw down thousands of black rocks from atop one of the nearby extinct volcanoes. More peacefully, a small flock of sagebrush sparrows went about their business of foraging for food.

Hikers and visitors were bundled up and friendly in the unexpected winter wonderland.

Three days later on the southern edge of Henderson’s sprawling development, many residents were downright giddy over the week’s second layer of snow and its continued sticking power.

The snowman had apparently melted from his post under the Sloan Canyon Visitor Contact Station sign when I returned on Feb. 21, and the skies were shades of gray rather than cerulean, but the mountain views continued to be stunning.

A couple of miles to the north in a still-under-construction Inspirada neighborhood, Shannon Cecere and her 3-year-old daughter, Frankie, were building the child’s first snowman. She was all smiles that afternoon in her red dog-themed rain boots, and the smiles didn’t fade after she toppled her new creation. She just started raking part of the snowman’s midsection into a pail.

“The kids are so into the snow,” Shannon said of her three daughters, two of whom were at school but would have preferred playing in the snow. “They got so excited last night. They got drenched. They didn’t care.”

On the morning of Feb. 21, snow and slushy rain continued when the 10- and 12-year-olds were in classes. As soon as the precipitation stopped, Shannon and Frankie went outside to fulfill their snowman-making goals at a small neighborhood park.

“We had the sand toys we used on the beach, and now we could use them in the snow,” explained Shannon, whose family moved last summer from Southern California. “We didn’t expect this when we moved to the desert.”

The melting of rooftop snow was audible in the Ceceres’ neighborhood. And hundreds of rooftops remained snow-white throughout Inspirada, Anthem Hills and Madeira Canyon into the evening of Feb. 21, with a few snow flurries and some rain continuing.

People and pets kept their walking routines along paths winding through neighborhoods where landscaping still clung to snow. Kids had old-fashioned fun throwing snowballs at each other and making memories in Madeira Canyon Park, where three dozen American robins and a pair of desert cottontails searched for early dinner in the snow-spotted turf.

The white stuff would soon disappear, but how extraordinary our ordinary appeared for a few February days in 2019.

Natalie Burt, a former news reporter at the Review-Journal for 11 years, spends as much of her free time as possible enjoying Southern Nevada’s outdoors. She’s now a teacher and has lived in Henderson for 17 years. Email: nvburt@gmail.com.

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