Tahoe recreation sites open with caution urged by officials

Tahoe recreation sites open with caution urged by officials

It will be harder to find secluded places in the Lake Tahoe Basin as tourists return. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Tourists are in Tahoe even though they aren’t supposed to be based on edicts put out by various government entities. In some locations, like the city of South Lake Tahoe, they could be faced with a $1,000 fine, though that isn’t likely to happen.

No public land owner or law enforcement agency has enough employees to write tickets. Even though administrative citations can be handed out by non-sworn personnel, those fines are more difficult to collect. It’s a regulatory issue, not a criminal one. This is why education is the approach officials are taking when it comes to groups congregating without abiding by 6-foot social distancing guidelines.

Officials with the basin’s arm of the U.S. Forest Service and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency personnel were part of a webinar May 22 sponsored by the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce.

“We are less interested in citations and more interested in education,” Daniel Cressy with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit said. “We are not able to require the public to wear masks. Wearing masks is a sign of respect for others and the community’s health.”

All national forest trails and lands are open. That doesn’t mean all amenities are available, like bathrooms. The gate at Kiva Beach was unlocked May 22. More places will open this coming week. Campgrounds and visitors centers will be some of the last to be available. Staffing is an issue, and then ensuring workers and guests are protected in this new era of COVID-19.

The gate at Van Sickle Bi-State Park on the South Shore is open. California State Parks is having a soft opening. Porta-potties will be added to some parks. Sand Harbor in Incline Village is open, though only 300 of the 600 parking spaces will be available at any given time. While the East Shore Bike Trail is open, access to Sand Harbor from the path is not allowed. Angora Road should be open June 1.

Even when restrooms at recreation sites are open, the Forest Service is quick to point out they won’t be cleaned between every use. However, more portable toilets and handwashing stations will be placed at day use and beach locations.

Devin Middlebrook with the TRPA said for the past two years recreation managers, land managers and nonprofits have been convening to work on ways to improve the user experience while protecting the environment. This collaboration, he said, has worked well during this crisis. Working to solve issues at hot spots (aka congested areas) can include providing temporary bathroom facilities and more garbage cans, or more frequent trash collection.

Middlebrook said reservation systems and improved parking had been talked about before the pandemic and might be able to be implemented sooner to test these ideas. No further details were provided.

When it comes to boats, to start with watercraft with the Tahoe-only sticker will be allowed. Most launch sites should be open by June 1. Inspections are still suspended, with no date revealed for when that will change. Some marinas have boats for rent.

Cressy stressed the only way the recreation experience is going to be successful is if “we all come together.” He said to plan ahead, expect reduced services, respect others, stay home if you are sick, leave places better than you found them, and that it’s a good idea to wear a mask.


A relationship solidified in sand – Lovers and Divorce Beaches

A relationship solidified in sand – Lovers and Divorce Beaches

Looking from Divorce Beach to Lovers Beach and beyond to Cabo San Lucas. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Tales of romance and infidelity filled the boat as it bounced along at a steady pace toward the famous Arch of Cabo San Lucas.

Each captain has his own story about how Lovers and Divorce beaches got their names. Playa del Amor always gets a mention as people motor by. Playa del Divorcio, even though it is five times bigger, isn’t always able to be seen because it can be too rough to even get a peek, let alone access it.

The “attitude” of the two beaches is more likely how they got their names. Lovers Beach is on the Sea of Cortez side; tranquil, inviting, even swimmable. It’s the turbulent Pacific Ocean that tumbles onto Divorce Beach. It is uninviting, has a potentially deadly undertow, and is not recommended for swimming. A vast swath of sand connects the two.

A heart shaped rock breaks from the others on Divorce Beach. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While “drive bys” are the norm for most people when it comes to these two beaches, they are worth spending a little time at because they are so beautiful and different.

Most of the people were clustered on the Lovers side. Does it sound better to want to hang out there? Divorce Beach is much more wide-open. If sand is your thing, that’s the place to be. If water if what you are after, stick with Lovers. Rock formations on both sides are worth gawking at, or snapping a few pictures of.

Lovers Beach is on the Sea of Cortez. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Don’t expect any amenities, so bring what you need/want for however long you intend to stay. Sometimes people will be hawking overpriced beers.

Both beaches are accessible by panga for about $12 (U.S.) a person from the Cabo San Lucas Marina or Médano Beach. The drop off and pick up is at Lovers Beach. This trip is for the able bodied; even excursion peddlers who say there is a ladder might not be telling the truth. And those who help you in or out of the boat expect a tip.

Nursery owner tends to each plant with loving care

Nursery owner tends to each plant with loving care

An array of plants are available at Vivero Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It would be understandable if someone thought they were walking through a botanical garden. The reality is this is a unique nursery tucked away off a dirt road in Todos Santos.

Wandering through Vivero Todos Santos is a delight to the senses with so many colors, textures and smells.

Heriberto Parra Hake was born into the plant business, with his parents having had a nursery in Nayarit on the mainland. Passion for his product spills forth as he talks about succulents, amaryllis, and desert roses. Walking with him through the nursery is a lesson in botany, horticulture and desert sustainability.

It would be hard to imagine that these 4 acres when he bought them a few decades ago were an agricultural field with no trees. Today it is an oasis rich in botanical diversity. While only a fraction of the parcel belongs to his business – Vivero Todos Santos – it can be a bit overwhelming on the first visit to appreciate all that is there.

Heriberto Parra Hake has been interested in plants since he was a child. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even while Parra had a full-time job he was always interested in plants on a more personal level. At first he grew them at his small place in town, then moved to where he could grow enough to sell, and then eventually set up home and shop at his current location. In that time, he raised two children, and now has four grandchildren – all whom live in Todos Santos.

Although he learned much from his parents, and even grows many of the same plants, he has had formal training. The 73-year-old attended the national agricultural university in Mexico City where he earned a degree in agricultural engineering. In 1971, a job at the newly opened forestry research station led him to Todos Santos. He never left even though the research station has closed. The work he did there helped hone his skills in identifying plants and cloning varietals.

Tiny succulents are popular. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“We found 104 different edible native plants to the whole state,” Parra said of Baja California Sur. Flowers of the yucca plant can be used for soup, jojoba can be turned into bread, and there are the dates from palms to name a few.

The job included traveling to India to bring back the Neem tree. That, he said, is how Mexico became propagated with Neems.

Parra has been retired for about 10 years, at least from the research job. Now he can be found at the nursery every day, practically around the clock.

“My idea was to have a different nursery – from tropical and exotic, to plants that are very water efficient, and everything in between,” Parra said. “I have collected plants from all over the world to test them to see what works. Maybe one-third adapt to this world.”

Only plants that will survive in Todos Santos are for sale. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

He refuses to sell plants that won’t grow in this tropical desert climate. He understands what works in shade, what is good in full sun. He’s a believer in drip irrigation and growing plants that don’t need a ton of water. What Vivero Todos Santos doesn’t have is vegetables, but there are herbs for sale.

While his traveling days are behind him, experimentation is very much a part of what he continues to do. He has taken desert roses and transformed them into what looks like mini bonsai trees. Every six months he pulls up the roots to uncover them. This allows them to have a more unique, substantive trunk.

With the amaryllis (lirios in Spanish) that came from Holland, Parra made approximately 500 blends.

“I got a really interesting new flower,” he said.

He names some of the newbies, but mostly numbers them for future reference. His favorite plant of all, though, is the jade vine that originated in the Philippines. The turquoise bloom is evident from April to June. Even so, his passion right now is succulents – and they are what people are buying as well. Parra claims to have one of the widest selections of succulents in all of Mexico. They are visible when driving in. Some are in containers no more than 1 square inch. Others are much larger, some are rare. With the variety of shapes and sizes, it would be hard to pick just one.

A variety of succulents are available at Vivero Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)


  • Head toward the Otro Lado on Calle Topete in Todos Santos. Baja Tile will be on the left. Turn left at the next dirt road. There is a sign there and many more with red arrows to get you to Vivero Todos Santos.
  • Phone: 612 117 3945
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/viverotodossantos/
  • Hours: Parra says he’s always at Vivero Todos Santos.
Book Review: ‘American Dirt’ a disturbing page-Turner about migrating to U.S.

Book Review: ‘American Dirt’ a disturbing page-Turner about migrating to U.S.

Migrant is the last word Lydia ever thought she would use to describe herself. She owned a bookshop in Acapulco, Mexico, while her husband was a respected journalist. Together they were raising their 8-year-old son in a middle class home.

An article about a cartel boss was met with a barrage of bullets that ended that tranquility and forever changed their lives.

“American Dirt” is a novel by Jeanine Cummins (Flatiron Books, 2019) that tells the story of several people migrating from Central America and Mexico to the United States. While it’s a work of fiction, there are enough truths to be disturbing.

I was invited to make a guest appearance at my old book club in Tahoe last month. They are doing them by Zoom instead of in-person for the time being. Each participant rates the book for enjoyability, if they would recommend it, and literary merit. Of the 12 there that night each category averaged 7.8. My scores were 8 for enjoyability, 8 to recommend and 7 for literary merit.

Comments from the group were:

  • It’s a page-turner.
  • I learned a lot.
  • I was so afraid the whole time even though you know it is fiction.
  • I thought it was very informational.
  • I didn’t enjoy it; it was miserable, sad and devastating. I’ll read the news for this kind of information, not a novel.
  • I think it’s an important novel to know what is going on.
  • I didn’t realize it was fiction until I finished it.
  • I would rather read about someone who actually experienced it.
  • I’ve already passed it on to four other friends because I can’t return it to the library.
  • This book was very difficult for me to pick up every night because of all the angst in the world.
  • You should feel uncomfortable after reading it.
Industry experts trying to figure out the future of travel

Industry experts trying to figure out the future of travel

Today, snow quality doesn’t even register as a concern for mountain destinations. This is a dramatic change considering it has been at the top of the list for decades. A pandemic has altered priorities for travelers as well as the destinations they want to visit.

Mountain Travel Symposium on May 13 hosted a webinar titled Mountain Tourism in the Age of COVID-19: What the Data Tells Us. At the start participants were asked: As a business, what is your biggest concern? The answers:

  • 36 percent—customers’ fear of travel
  • 34 percent—health and safety of staff and guests
  • 19 percent—reoccurrence of government-required shutdown
  • 7 percent—my bottom line
  • 4 percent—marketing and communications to guests
  • 0 percent—snow quality during winter 2020/2021.

Over the course of a couple weeks starting in mid-March travel came to a screeching halt throughout the world. Luxury and upper scale hotels in the United States hit single-digit occupancy. It is the 18- to 34-year-old sector that was slowest to cancel trips, according to data provided during the webinar.

“You could get younger millennials with deals. That’s why target messaging is important,” said Pete Comeau with Phocuswright. Pre-COVID-19 deals were the way to stimulate travel for all consumers. Not so anymore. In this new world most people want to feel safe; and that’s assuming they want to travel or have the money to do so.

A sign in Bijou Community Park in South Lake Tahoe is likely to remain for several months. (Image: Susan Wood)

Occupancy is incrementally increasing across all hotel categories, but has a long way to go to recover. Fifteen percent of hotels are completely closed, including most throughout the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region. Experts don’t expect 2021 numbers to reach 2019 stats. Ali Hoyt with STR said 1 million room nights are still being sold each night. Occupants include first responders, homeless, airline personnel, other business travelers, and a few on the road for fun. (STR provides premium data benchmarking, analytics and marketplace insights for global hospitality sectors.)

Hoyt said this time of closure or minimal occupancy is an opportunity for properties to rethink how they want to serve customers, and their business operations as a whole.

More encouraging for destinations is that people are tending to postpone trips as opposed to outright cancellations. Tom Foley with Inntopia said, “In the last two weeks it is nudging into the positive to more bookings than cancellations. We are on a knife-edge right now.”

As the arrival date gets closer, people are canceling. People who were planning to travel in May, June and July have rebooked for June, July and August. Many who were once planning a summer trip have rescheduled for the fall. Foley said new bookings are coming for July, with the second most popular time frame being September through December.

From a May 3 survey by Destination Analysts it looked at what months people in the U.S. have plans to take a leisure trip:

  • May—5.4 percent
  • June—12.7 percent
  • July—20.7 percent
  • August—20.8 percent
  • September—23.5 percent
  • October—19.7 percent
  • November—15.5 percent
  • December—14.5 percent
  • No plans to travel in 2020—21.8 percent
  • Sometime in 2021—8 percent.

Flexibility isn’t something the hospitality industry has always been known for. Foley said 10 weeks ago concessions were made in about 33 percent of cases, whereas today it is 100 percent. He said 90 percent of properties are offering full refunds.

Dave Belin with RRC Associates said, “It now feels like resorts, hotels and airlines are taking on more of the risks.” It was noted how ski resorts are offering guarantees on 2020-21 season passes; something that has never been offered before.

Increased consumer confidence is what will move the needle for travel. It’s not there today. Boston Consulting Group took a survey April 24-27 about consumer sentiment. The question—Would you be concerned about doing any of the following in the near future?:

  • 67 percent—traveling internationally
  • 66 percent—taking a cruise
  • 62 percent—taking a domestic flight
  • 61 percent—taking a bus, subway or train
  • 60 percent—visiting a theme park
  • 58 percent—going to a restaurant
  • 58 percent—visiting a casino
  • 56 percent—staying at a hotel
  • 50 percent—taking Uber/Lyft
  • 47 percent—staying at an Airbnb
  • 34 percent—going to a local store
  • 23 percent—cooking at a friend’s house
  • 20 percent—ordering food for delivery
  • 12 percent—shopping online.

Marketing is going to be a huge component going forward. The panel suggested messages be customer centric, realizing everyone is struggling. Consumers should expect to see ads less focused on what a destination has to offer and more with a moral compass as a barometer, including health and safety being selling factors, and empathy being part of the message.

The participants were later asked: As a business, what is your biggest opportunity? The results:

  • 44 percent—pent up demand to travel
  • 19 percent—becoming more locally focused
  • 16 percent—a chance to differentiate
  • 9 percent—improvement of health and safety standards
  • 7 percent—capturing new clients
  • 5 percent—relieving overcrowding
  • 1 percent—changing DMO and town tax/funding mechanisms.

There was mixed sentiment as to whether experts believe consumers will want to stay at traditional hotels or a private home in the future. Already larger hotel brands like Hilton and Marriott are touting how they have certain cleaning protocols in place. On the flip side, travelers might want the intimacy of a home knowing they won’t run into masses of people. Cleaning, though, could be a concern for some.

“Safety and security will be really big and will be until we see a vaccine,” Comeau said. “Property managers will be challenged.”

With one-fifth of the U.S. population out of work, discretionary income is lacking. Travel is one of the first things to get cut. That reality is something destinations are going to have to contend with. It could be a while before people have the money to travel even if they feel safe to do so.

Another thing that was brought up in the webinar is that people are going to want the destination to be fully open. This means restaurants to eat at, stores to shop in, and entertainment venues operating. Cities and counties, though, are likely to open in stages as is being seen now. Capacity at restaurants, hotels, on boats and other tourist destinations are going to be lower going forward based on regulations, let alone on who actually shows up. There won’t be jobs for everyone who lost them. These are economic realities for everyone.

Wondering when giving/Receiving massages will be a healthy option

Wondering when giving/Receiving massages will be a healthy option

One of the big things to go by the wayside during this pandemic is healthy touch. No more hugs, not even a handshake. Massage, well, that definitely is not happening.

I’ve been a certified massage therapist since 1997; always working part time. However, there was a time when it was a major part of my income. Now the table is collecting dust. The health benefits of massage have been proven. I’m clearly an advocate for massage and all other forms of healthy touch.

Thoroughly cleaning the table in between clients is the norm, as is not reusing sheets. I would only reuse sheets for couples at their urging/insistence. What I didn’t do before is clean the legs of the massage table. With clients breathing through the head rest and possibly spraying germs that way, I can see that being something that will get cleaned every time going forward. Another change will be washing the blanket after each use.

There is no way for clients to be masked when on their stomach. It would be possible to have them on their sides and back, like what is done during a pregnancy massage. Still, it’s hard to imagine a mask would be relaxing during a massage. I’m guessing I’ll wear one for most clients even though massage is physical work. It certainly can’t hurt.

The California Massage Therapy Council, which regulates therapists in the state, told us in mid-March we can’t work. If we do, we could lose our certification.

This is an email CAMTC sent to members, “… until the risk of the crisis passes, we are in an historic situation and the risk of contagion—not only for the client and therapist, but for those with whom we subsequently come in contact—makes it necessary for massage to cease until safety can be guaranteed. Thousands are dying and millions are infected worldwide with COVID-19. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is a life or death situation. Therefore, if CAMTC receives notice that CAMTC certificate holders are continuing to provide massage services while the stay at home order is in place, we will report these businesses and individuals to the local law enforcement authorities with whom we collaborate statewide, and we will take steps to potentially revoke their CAMTC certification.”

I wonder what would happen if I were to massage my mom. After all, that was her main Mother’s Day gift. No one has been on my table since last fall, so I’m not worried about her being on a “contaminated” table. At some point we need to start thinking for ourselves, while being responsible to ourselves and those we come into contact with. The government doesn’t have all the answers, nor should it have all the power.

Memorial ‘hidden’ in forest on South Shore honors plane crash victims

Memorial ‘hidden’ in forest on South Shore honors plane crash victims

A plaque honors the two people aboard a plane that crashed in the forest of Lake Tahoe in 1934. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Tucked away in a not so remote part of U.S. Forest Service property on the South Shore is a granite rock paying tribute to two part-time residents who died in a plane crash in 1934.

Likenesses of John E. Horten, 32, and Betty A. Bouchet, 23, are on the plaque. He distinctly has a leather pilot’s helmet and goggles that would be common in that era. Along with their names is the date of the crash—Sept. 20, 1934. Horten was piloting the Moth biplane when it crashed. They were both burned beyond recognition.

The memorial is in the Gardner Mountain area not far from Fallen Leaf Lake Road. Nothing is there to explain what happened, no signs point the way to find this remembrance. It’s roughly at the spot where the plane went down, according to a local historian.

A plot of land on U.S. Forest Service property on the South Shore memorializes two people who died in a plane crash. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

At the time there were a number of dirt airstrips in the area. Some more primitive than others. Reports at the time said Horten first wanted to land at Johnson landing field, but then headed toward to the unfinished Dunlap field.

Witnesses told the Nevada State Journal newspaper the plane appeared to have engine trouble and nose-dived from 1,000 feet. United Press at the time said the plane was at 100 feet before dropping from the sky.

Ninety years ago people mostly lived in the Lake Tahoe Basin on a seasonal basis. Horten was from Burlingame and Bouchet from San Francisco. According to the Nevada State Journal, he was a butler for George Pope and she was a governess for the Hellmans. The Popes and Hellmans were wealthy families from the Bay Area whose legacies continue to this day. Think the Pope Estate on the South Shore and the Hellman-Ehrman mansion on the West Shore.

Todos Santos once a thriving sugar cane manufacturing town

Todos Santos once a thriving sugar cane manufacturing town

Machinery from a now-defunct sugar cane mill in Todos Santos, Mexico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Anyone who has been to Todos Santo will tell you there is something sweet about this pueblo in Baja California Sur. Maybe it has to do with its roots being in the sugar cane business.

In the late 1800s until the 1950s this town was the sugar cane capital of all of Baja. The last mill closed in 1965 or 1974, depends on whose history one believes. Much of the brown sugar was shipped to mainland Mexico. Several mills were scattered about town, with remnants of some still visible.

If it weren’t for a drought, this industry might still be thriving. The aquifer dried up in the early 1950s, causing the sugar cane plantations to wither. Sugar cane is considered a water-thirsty crop; after all, it is classified as a grass. For reasons no one is quite sure about the water table came back to life in 1981 and has remained viable. While many crops are planted in the area today, the sugar business has never been resurrected.

The El Molino chimney is the most intact one left in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The exact number of sugar cane mills, or molinos, varies depending what one reads. Information given out during the Historic Home Tour of Todos Santos earlier this year says there were five. They were:

  • San Pablo: This site had the first steam motor mill which belonged to the Markerou brothers, on the property of Enrique Max Estrada, now known at La Cachora.
  • El Rinconceto: Owned by Don Jesus Amador.
  • El Cerro Verde: Owned by the Dominguez family.
  • El Central: Located in front on the hospital on Calle Juarez; owned by Jose and Manuel Santana Villarino. They brought the first iron-cane crushing mill to Todos Santos. It came from San Francisco via Cabo San Lucas. A boutique hotel is being built on this land, which is incorporating remnants of the mill into the design.
  • El Molino: It was owned by Don Abraham Salgado Villalobos. It reportedly closed in 1974.

One of the best places to see some of the local sugar cane history is at the old El Progresso site, which today is known as El Molino. The remains are on land used as a small hotel and for residents in a neighborhood that used to be a trailer park.

Vats once used in the process to turn cane into sugar. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A brick chimney from the mill is at least 40 feet tall. It looks in good enough shape that it could be used today. Five vats are rusted, with weeds growing in them. They sit idle, seemingly resting where they were left on the final day they were used.

The El Molino site is part of the biennial Historic Home tour. Docents share information about the history of Todos Santos’ sugar cane heyday, how the cane was turned into sugar, and then shipped from the old port to mainland Mexico.

Sugar cane was brought to the mills in 1 meter increments in a cart. The shoots were sent through a press to squeeze out the juice. That juice was then steamed or smoked to make the brown sugar. Fires were built with debris from the cane. The chimney sucked heat through the vats. The process was much more complex than this.

In the vats that still exist are wooded slabs with holes in them about the size of an egg. They would be filled with sugar and shipped in that manner. Some of these traditional brown sugar cones are still available in area stores.

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