All things Autumn in Tahoe

By Tim Hauserman 

I wrote this blog about a week ago, and then forgot to post it. Now with a good sized snow storm set to arrive tomorrow night it is in some ways even more poignant…life in the mountains is always changing, and there is always something fun to do outside. 

Yesterday morning I saw that Lake Tahoe was as smooth as glass, so I put aside childish things, like work, threw the kayak in the truck, and headed off to Hurricane Bay to paddle. On my hour and a half of gliding atop the crystal clear water of the lake I saw only two other kayakers. All the buoys were now empty and I had the beach pretty much to myself when I launched. It wasn’t exactly balmy, but comfortable enough to feel toasty with a long sleeve shirt and long pants. So who says you can’t kayak in November? Well this year, nobody…but some years, the weather gods have a lot to say. 

When it comes to weather in Tahoe, you never know what you are going to get…especially during the transition seasons of spring and fall. This past May it seemed as if winter had no desire to give up and we whined our way through several little snowstorms, and now here in mid November, we haven’t seen a drop of moisture in over a month. And the temps have been pretty bearable as well. 

So what does all this weather variability mean for visitors to Tahoe? Always expect the unexpected. And most importantly, don’t choose what outdoor adventure you decide to partake in by the date on a calendar. Instead, see what is actually happening on the ground, and then pick the best sport for those conditions. A good indicator is checking out the color of the ground. If it’s brown: bike, hike and paddle. If it’s white, get out the skis or snowshoes. 

Once you have chosen the right sport, now you have to choose the right time of day. In the summer, it’s key to get out on the water or hit the trail first thing in the morning to beat the crowds and the heat. Yeah, well this time of year it’s more about waiting long enough for it to get warm, while remembering that it gets dark early. Keep a close eye not only on the low and high temperatures for the day, but hourly forecasts. A high of 65 sounds good, until you realize that at 9 am it is still 34 degrees…a bit nippy for that bike ride. 

It all comes down to the rule number one of life in the mountains: Every day you can do something fun outside. Your job is to figure out what it is. 

 

By Tim Hauserman 

Every year an annual right of passage for me is to head to Taylor Creek near South Lake Tahoe and see the spawning of the Kokanee salmon. Between late September and late October, the fish swim upstream and do their spawning thing right where we can all watch from a boardwalk and bridge across the creek, then a few days later, they die. Usually, the viewing is a quick dash to check out the fish on the way to South Shore or parts beyond. But today, I took my time and quietly watched the show, and discovered the amazing circle of life going on there. 

First, before hitting the easy Rainbow Trail you pass signs that warn that bears are active and not to bring any food with you on the trail. A few years ago I came around the first turn and there was a crowd of people watching a family of bears sleeping about 20 feet off the trail. Bears do love salmon. As do raccoons, minks, eagles and various types of birds.

I was a bit concerned that I was too late in the season for a healthy crop of fish, but was pleasantly surprised.There were perhaps more fish than I remember seeing there in years, and all those fall colors in the trees just added to the experience. I could tell, however, that the cycle of life was pretty far along, because underneath all those lively bright red fish were quite a few carcasses on the bottom of the creek. 

At the bike lane bridge across Taylor Creek, just downstream from Highway 89,  I hung out for about a half hour and watched the show.  Amongst the throng of fish on both sides, I saw a particularly weak one slowly going through the process of dying. She was having trouble moving, with her head pointed up, slowly getting weaker and gasping for breath. She wasn’t capable of getting enough power to keep from slowly drifting downstream. For some reason, I felt that I was honoring this particular fish by witnessing its demise. 

While watching that process, I also was watching the mergansers, a fish eating duck common at Tahoe. There were about a half dozen floating around the creek and every once in awhile one would dive underwater and attempt to catch a fish. After many efforts, one finally caught one,  but dropped it while attempting to get the fish into its gullet. I also saw one merganser grabbing the nearly dead one I was watching, chewing on its mouth for a few seconds, and then spitting it out. Apparently mergansers only like the still vitally alive ones. No worries, the rest of the animal kingdom will be happy to do their part to clean up the remains of the kokanee spawning. 

   

(The new bridge earlier this summer)

By Tim Hauserman 

Two big changes to the look and feel of downtown Tahoe City are in the process of happening right now. 

Tahoe City’s new bridge and roundabouts: 

A multi-year effort to provide a second crossing of the Truckee River in Tahoe City is nearing completion of the first phase. The new bridge is located about 1/4 mile north of the traffic light in Tahoe City. The bridge will be accessed via a roundabout. After crossing the bridge, the road  passes through 64 Acres, and shortly meets a second roundabout on Highway 89. This phase of the project is nearly complete and is scheduled to be operational by the end of October. 

Once this bridge and roundabout are in place, the next phase of the project is to earthquake retrofit Fanny Bridge which crosses the Truckee River just below the Lake Tahoe Dam. Once Fanny Bridge is redone, a new roundabout will replace the traffic light at the “Y” near Save Mart. Also part of the package is a realigning of the network of bike trails, which has already been completed with lanes going underneath the new bridge on both sides of the river. 

Over the next few years Tahoe City will go from one bridge to two, then back to one for awhile while the old bridge is rebuilt, and then finally we will be graced by two bridges again…this may take awhile. 

The hope is that when complete, it will make a big dent into the traffic congestion problems in Tahoe City as those coming from the West Shore and heading towards Truckee will not have to go through Tahoe City. 

Tahoe City’s new lodge: 

After a lengthy approval effort, the Tahoe City Lodge is finally under construction in the center of Tahoe City. Right now, the project is in the midst of the demolition phase with the Old Henrickson building sitting as a pile of rubble on the ground.

 According to the lodge website, when built The Tahoe City Lodge will include:

118 total units, comprised of 40 hotel units and 78 one-bedroom and two-bedroom suites

Roof-top deck, bar and restaurant

Conference and meeting facilities

On-site recreational amenities (pool, rec room and hot tub)

For Tahoe City this is the first hotel to be built in decades, and it will give folks an opportunity to stay in quality accommodations right in town, with plenty of shopping and recreational amenities within walking distance. 

By Tim Hauserman 

At the edge of Incline Village where the Ponderosa Ranch of Bonanza fame used to reside is the Tunnel Creek Cafe. It is situated right at the beginning of the instantly popular new East Shore Trail which travels from the cafe to Sand Harbor, as well as being the terminus of the Spooner to Tunnel Creek mountain bike route which includes the famous Flume Trail. The cafe has just undergone a major remodel to accommodate all the increased traffic they will now be experiencing with the East Shore trails opening. 

Tunnel Creek Cafe is owned and operated by Max Jones and his wife Patti McMullan. While running a restaurant is hard work, this might be easy duty compared to running a cross country ski area, which they did for several decades at Spooner Lake Cross Country. The two are also mountain bike fanatics. Jones raced mountain bikes for years and is in the mountain bike hall of fame. 

With the coming of the East Shore Trail, they saw an opportunity for expansion and the cafe was being remodeled throughout last winter. Now it has a larger interior as well as plenty of room for guests outside. They serve breakfast and lunch as well as coffee and beer. The menu includes breakfast burritos, protean bowls, pancakes and granola for breakfast and a host of sandwiches, salads and smoothies for lunch. 

The Cafe also runs a mountain bike shuttle and rental operation and the outside of the cafe is designed to allow riders to come right up onto the deck and take a seat with their bike. The shuttle operation takes people with their bikes to Spooner Summit or Tahoe Meadows. Riders then ride back to their cars. You can either grab a bite before your ride or after. For information on the shuttle go to flumetrailtahoe.com 

Tunnel Creek Cafe’s smallish parking lot sits next to the string of parking lots created next to the new East Shore Trail. The cafe requests that only cafe users use the cafe’s parking lot with a one hour maximum. If you are grabbing a cup of Joe and then heading to Sand Harbor be sure and park in the bike trail parking lots. 

For information on the cafe go to tunnelcreekcafe.com

Cutting the Ribbon
By Tim Hauserman

A ribbon cutting was held on October 22nd for the opening of the 2.2 mile paved bike trail which leads from Dollar Hill to the end of Fulton Crescent Road in Cedar Flat. The trail, which passes through the forest and over Dollar Creek is the first step towards eventually connecting Tahoe City and Kings Beach via an off the road paved bike trail.

The trail started as an idea in the mind of Larry Sevison in 1988. Sevison, who has been on the Board of the North Tahoe Public Utility District as well as the Placer County Board of Supervisors, was seeking to connect the Tahoe City Public Utility District’s trail network with the Regional Park network of trails in Tahoe Vista. This network then connects to Kings Beach. But even though this first phase was only two miles long, there were a ton of issues getting it built. There were land ownership problems, environmental concerns and of course funding. But finally, with a lot of help from the federal government, Placer County, the Tahoe Conservancy and even the non-profit Tahoe Fund, it finally has come to fruition.

I took the trail for a spin the day of the ribbon cutting. Actually I went twice. I arrived at the ceremony early, and headed out on the trail once before the speeches started, then joined a few others for an after the cutting celebration ride. The trail begins at the end of the Dollar Hill Trail just east of the 7-11, and right before the entrance to Dollar Point. There is also an off-street parking lot that can be accessed to begin the ride.

The trail heads immediately away from the highway with a gentle incline, circling around the edge of properties in The Highlands. It then begins a downhill, and passing over a popular mountain biking trail which is also the Blue Trail at Tahoe XC in the winter, before crossing a bridge over Dollar Creek, and then once again crossing the Blue Trail.

While this trail is a paved trail perfect for road bikes, it also provides access to a wide variety of dirt trails used by mountain bikers. On the day I rode in addition to bikes I also saw runners, dog walkers and a skate boarder. While the skate boarder was keeping a pretty good pace on the downhill and screeching around the corners, I was hoping I wouldn’t have to put my first aid skills to use if he went skidding off the trail or took a major tumble.

From the bridge, the trail begins to climb. While it is well graded you will get a good workout as it winds through the pines, firs and manzanita and takes a few sharp turns to ease the grade. In several spots the trail is built right next to some interesting boulders. After about a mile, the grade eases, and then it glides gently downhill before taking a sharp turn to pop out at the end of Fulton Crescent, near the top of Old County Road.

The goal eventually is for the current end of the trail to just be an access trail to the main trail, which will continue towards Tahoe Vista. There are another six miles to go. Hopefully the pace of finishing this next segment will be quite a bit faster, otherwise i will be too old and feeble by the time it is completed, and I can’t wait to be able to ride off the highway from Tahoe City to Kings Beach.

In the meantime the trail is still a great addition to the trail network. It would be a perfect place to teach kids how to ride. It is off the highway, there is parking right there, and the trail shouldn’t get the crowds seen on the Truckee River bike trail between Tahoe City and Squaw Valley. It will also give bike riders a ten mile out and back ride from Tahoe City, instead of the current six miles, and four of those miles will be through a quiet forest.

Between this new addition to the trail network, and the mile of trail between Sugar Pine Point and Meeks Bay, bike trail ridership will spread out a bit reducing the numbers on the overly busy section of trail between Tahoe City and Squaw Valley.


by Tim Hauserman

The decision to take what might be my last paddle of the fall came to me quickly. I was driving at 9 am and saw that the lake was a sheet of glass. Holy cow I said (or something along those lines) I gotta paddle! I rushed home, threw my kayak on the roof of my car and headed to Hurricane Bay. During the next two hours of paddling to Homewood and back I saw two paddle boarders, one other kayak, and two low flying jets flying in formation. And zero motor boats. It was a glorious way to spend the morning.

On mornings like this, you can see every rock and errant golf ball on the bottom of the lake as you float on the water like you are flying through the sky. It is quiet, with the only sound being the gentle splash of your paddle, and the occasional leaf blower prepping a lakefront home for winter. While a month or two earlier, you maneuvered your way through all the boats on buoys, now just the buoys themselves remain, the boats are all safely hibernating for the winter. It’s a calm and blissful experience until you have to get your feet in the water to remove the boat…that water is no longer the swimming paradise it was, it is now downright cold.

Paddling in October and November and even into December is a tricky business though. You have to be ready to move fast on a moments notice and get your craft down to the water. And you have to be ready to change your plans and do something else like hiking if the weather tells you so.

One day, like my paddle day, you might be focused on your to do list as you drive along the lakeshore when you look at that lake and it hits you smack between the eyes:The sky is blue, the lake is still and the temperatures are downright bearable. Screw the “to do” list, that can wait, I gotta paddle.

Than again, life can take the opposite turn. You’ve arranged your schedule, you got the morning off, you really want to get out on the lake today! So you bound out of bed, ready to roll, and see the winds blowing about 20, and it’s really cold. Like Oh Yeah, it is November Cold, and you have to go back inside, fix a cup of hot cocoa and read a book while contemplating your next option.

It’s all just another reminder of how to do Tahoe. Always have a repertoire of recreational options in your quiver, and each one is weather dependent. Snow: Ski or snowshoe. Warm and Calm Day: Paddle or road bike ride: Cold, dreary day: Hike, go for a walk, mountain bike with lots of layers, or sit by the fire. It’s all about carpe diem.

by Tim Hauserman

The first battle began early in the morning when I was startled by what sounded like a bomb hitting the roof of my house. It was followed quickly thereafter by a second and then a third explosion. My eyes tore open with the thought: what in the hell was going on?  I ran to the front door and looked over the deck railing, just in time to see another fir cone bomb fly by, followed shortly thereafter by the loud screaming chirp of triumph of a squirrel.  But not just any squirrel, this was the work of that hyperactive little monster of Sierra Nevada rodent land: The Douglas Squirrel or Chickaree. 

Oh, I’d had my run ins with these Red Bull infused creatures before. Most memorably as we huddled inside our tent during a thunderstorm at 10,000 feet in the eastern Sierra.  One of those little Alvin’s kept dropping fir cones onto the tent even as it was raining, and they arrived with such force that we thought for sure one of them was going to drive a hole in the tent. 

Back at my house on that fateful morning, it was fully light by the time the squirrel took a break from the non stop chewing parade. I surveyed my yard and found my squirrel had dropped at least 100 fir cones already.

For the next week every time I emerged from my house the squirrel was quickly moving from place to place with a cone in his mouth. When he saw me he would often run towards me, put it down and scream and run towards me a bit more before finally backing off. I noticed him scurrying into a spot below my front deck, so I put up some bricks to keep him from heading there again. A few hours later I took a look: He had moved all the bricks out of the way. 

A few days after my squirrel arrived I saw a pile of chewed up cone right on the top step at my front door. I didn’t see him sitting there eating the cone, but every time I swept it away within a few hours there would be another pile. I think he’s up to about 50 cones on the steps by now. It’s either his dining room table, or he is a cat and trying to leave me a prize. Either way, until he runs out of cones, I will keep on sweeping. 

Hiking in the Fall

By Tim Hauserman 

The turning of the leaves in the fall always sneaks up on me. I’m merrily rolling along on dusty hikes followed by a brisk dip into the lake, when boom, it’s cold and the aspens suddenly are covered with yellow and orange leaves.

Given that most of Tahoe’s trees are conifers, which remain green all year round, the Sierra doesn’t get the massive waves of bright colors like other parts of the US, which are dominated by deciduous trees. Instead, our excitement comes from narrow bands of bright yellow, red and orange leaves which contrasts so deliciously with the deep green of the pines and firs, and the dark blue of our clear, crisp sky.

 

One of my favorite places to observe fall colors is Page Meadows. The series of meadows are located about two miles from Tahoe City between Alpine Peaks and Talmont Estates.  Each meadow has a different orientation to the sun, so you get several weeks of peak viewing. When one side of the meadow might just be reaching the peak of color, on the other side the aspen leaves are still green.

The photos provided here were taken on October 6th, when much of Page Meadows was at the peak of color. Fortunately, a few sections still have a few weeks left, but I wouldn’t dilly dally. Winter is coming, when hopefully all that yellow and orange will be replaced by a blanket of white.

 

 

 

 

Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village provides Lake Tahoe residents and visitors the opportunity to see great writers read and discuss their work at the Writers in the Woods speaker series. Each event includes a free reading on Friday evening and an inexpensive workshop Saturday morning with the author or authors.  

The next writer in the series is Lidia Yuknavitch, who will present on October 12th and 13th. Her  bestselling novel “The Small backs of children” was the winner of the 2016 Oregon Book Award’s Ken Kesey Award for Fiction. Her other works include Dora: A headcase, The Book of Joan, The Misfit’s Manifesto, based on a Ted Talk about her own life as a misfit, and her unflinchingly honest memoir, The Chronology of Water.  Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild, called The Chronology of Water “a brutal beauty bomb and a true love song. I am forever altered by every stunning page. This is the book I’ve been waiting to read all my life.” 

Yuknavitch, who has a doctorate in literature from the University of Oregon founded a writing workshop series, Corporeal Writing in Portland, Oregon where she lives with her husband and son. 

More information on Yuknavitch can be found at lidiayuknavitch.net or check out her Ted Talk at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AgCr2tTvng

On November 9th and 10th Claire Vaye Watkins, will present at Writers in the Woods. 

Watkins short story collection Battleborn is the winner of the Short Story Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize, and a number of other awards. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of the novel, Gold Fame Citrus. Watkins was born in Bishop, CA and raised in the rural desert in Tecopa, CA and Pahrump, Nevada. She graduated from University of Nevada, Reno and earned an MFA from Ohio State. She is the co-founder and director of Mojave School, a festival of art and literature in the Mojave Desert. clairevayewatkins.com/