Embracing the aftermath of the Caldor Fire

Embracing the aftermath of the Caldor Fire

The Caldor Fire started Aug. 14, 2021, burning 221,835 acres, 9,885 of which were in the Lake Tahoe Basin. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I wanted to be immersed in the aftermath of the Caldor Fire.

I wanted to inhale the air. I wanted to touch the blackened trees. I wanted to see life and death enmeshed together in the forest.

It was more than a want. It was a need.

Cyclists continue to enjoy the Corral and Sidewinder trails on the South Shore. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I wasn’t living in South Lake Tahoe during last summer’s firestorm. I experienced the stress and devastation through news stories, friends’ accounts, social media, even getting evacuation notices on my phone for a house I no longer own. While selfishly I’m glad to not have experienced this fire firsthand, I was still impacted by it. I’m sure anyone with a connection to the South Shore, to Sierra-at-Tahoe and to the American River Canyon area was affected.

I needed to walk in the woods to feel a better a connection to what was lost. So, that’s what I did in July.

To say it’s different would be an understatement. But there is a certain beauty that still exists.

This particular day there was a warm, gentle breeze. That in itself felt different.

The whoosh through the trees wasn’t the same either. I had never really listened to how the sound of wind changes when the tree canopy no longer exists or the boughs are only growing in patches.

Some treetops are still green. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I remember people who rebuilt after the 2007 Angora Fire on the South Shore talked about it being windier without trees. I’m not sure if it was really windier, or if it was just different. It doesn’t matter. The land, and those who live in it and re-create in it are forever changed.

It was wonderful to see all the mountain bikers out, especially considering it was a weekday. It’s a sign that life goes on. For that, I was grateful and it gave me hope.

The few flowers and patches of grass also made me smile. Life was sprouting from the ashes.

This forest won’t ever be what was it was before the Caldor Fire, but it is still a place worth experiencing.

Charred trees frame Mount Tallac. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Instead of parking in the main lot off Oneidas Street (off Pioneer Trail), I drove up the unpaved road a bit, parked to the right at the sign that says Corral OHV TR 18E14, Fountain Place RD 1201.

This way I was walking toward the mountain bikers, thus making it easier for us to see one another and for me to get out of their way. While hikers are permitted here, it really is mostly a mountain biking route, so take that into consideration if you go there without pedals. It was a little more than a 5-mile loop, with 736 feet of elevation gain.

Free wine tasting, cave tour a rare find in Sonoma County

Free wine tasting, cave tour a rare find in Sonoma County

Most wineries in Sonoma and Napa counties require reservations for a tasting and then charge at least $20 for what is often less than a glass of wine when all is said and done. And no longer are you guaranteed the fee will be applied to the purchase of a bottle.

So to come across a winery that offers a free tasting as well as a free cave tour is a rarity. Welcome to Alexander Valley Vineyards.

It had been a number of years since I was in the valley, let alone this winery. I’m not sure there is such thing as an ugly vineyard, but there are certainly some locations that are more stunning than others. This is one of them.

This valley is home to 42 wineries, with 15,000 acres of vineyards.

Alexander Valley Vineyards offers free tours of its wine cave. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The Sonoma County tourism website says, “Alexander Valley AVA outlines the path of the Russian River as it flows from Mendocino County southeast to Healdsburg. Over the ages, the river meandered across the valley, leaving deposits of gravel underneath the alluvial soil—ideal conditions for growing great Cabernet Sauvignon, and somewhat similar to the best vineyard soils of Bordeaux. To the west, the AVA includes mountain vineyards where the grapes enjoy million-dollar views.”

The valley is named after Cyrus Alexander. The fur trapper came to this iconic Sonoma County region in the mid-1800s. In 1962, his granddaughter sold the land to Harry and Maggie Wetzel. Their first vintage was in 1975. Today the winery is run by the third generation of Wetzels.

Of the 720 acres the Wetzel family owns, 220 are planted with wine grapes.

On a recent cave tour and tasting the guide was asked how it’s possible to offer free tastings. He smiled and said it’s because with the land being in the family so long the property taxes are so cheap. It’s one way they can give back to those who visit the area.

The original winery has been turned into the tasting room.

On a warm July day it felt good to go into the wine cave. The 25,000-square-foot area is naturally 58 to 62 degrees. While it can hold 8,000 barrels, usually 6,000 fill the space.

Construction on this cave, which is the fifth largest wine cave in the state, started in 1998. Another one is slated to break ground soon. It will connect to the current one, which will then make Alexander Valley Vineyards (AVV) home to the third largest wine cave in California.

Sin Zin is probably what AVV is best known for, but there are so many other varietals that are better. Well, their regular Zinfandel is wonderful, but so too are the Cabernet and Merlot. I also left with a red blend and Chardonnay.

What was so refreshing beyond not having to pay to taste, was the friendly vibe. There was no pressure to purchase anything. The tour in the cave was incredibly informative and interesting, with the education continuing in the tasting room one pour after another.

The tasting room is open every day from 10am to 5pm, with cave tours at noon and 2:30pm.

Sleeping with Strangers to be in book stores this fall

Sleeping with Strangers to be in book stores this fall

In Sleeping with Strangers: An Airbnb Host’s Life in Lake Tahoe and Mexico I pull back the covers on what happens when I invited Airbnb guests into my homes in South Lake Tahoe, California, and Todos Santos, Mexico.

This latest book of mine will be available at local bookstores in fall 2022. If not in stock, they can be ordered. The book will be available at the same time online at Bookshop, IndieBound, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. The book will be available in paperback and as an ebook.

This adventure started as a way to pay the mortgage in Tahoe, then morphed into an opportunity to live rent free in Baja California Sur. Unexpected adventures involved the police, taking a hammer to the guest room door, and coping with the furnace dying on New Year’s Day when the outside temperature was literally freezing. Some guests were like friends, while others would never be welcomed back. No matter the category, I tried to enthrall all guests with tales about these two incredible outdoor meccas so they could create their own lifetime memories.

AJ the dog played co-host on this adventure, sizing up those with the suitcases, questioning men in flip flops, and easily making friends with those who would slip her human food.

Read what the Tahoe Mountain News has to say about my latest book.

Book mark this page to know when there will be signings.

Finding tranquility on the slopes of Lake Tahoe ski resort

Finding tranquility on the slopes of Lake Tahoe ski resort

The Tahoe Rim Trail intersects Heavenly Mountain Resort ski runs. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s not often I get out of the Jeep at a ski resort parking lot ready to enjoy the mountain in shorts. But that’s what happens when it’s July and the activity is hiking instead of skiing.

A swath of the Tahoe Rim Trail goes through Heavenly Mountain Resort. I started my adventure near the Stagecoach chairlift on the Nevada side.

A sign early on said in nine miles I would reach Star Lake, it was 14 miles to Armstrong Pass, 18 to Saxon Creek Trail, 21 to Grass Lake Trail, 23 to Big Meadow Trailhead and 87 miles to Tahoe City. Maybe another day. I went in the other direction toward Kingsbury North.

Most hikes do not include seeing chairlifts. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It is always strange to me to look at a ski resort as a place to recreate without snow. But what a bonus for those of us who like the outdoors to be able to play here more than one season.

The trails were covered in green grass and didn’t seem quite as steep as they do looking down with skis on. However, the trees from my vantage point looked even closer together, which is probably why tree skiing in this area isn’t something I do.

For the hike, I was mostly going across the mountain. On this particular weekday not many others were out—a mountain biker and a handful of hikers. Perfect.

The tranquility allowed me the time to embrace my surroundings and enjoy being someplace new, at least a new hike for much of the route. A few flowers dotted the trail, but mostly it felt like I was being hugged by the tall pines.

Once the trail starts heading down, Lake Tahoe and the Nevada side of the South Shore come into view. A little farther and Mount Tallac looms in the distance on the California side.

The trail comes out into a neighborhood that would eventually cross Kingsbury Grade and hook up with the TRT on the other side. Before getting there I followed the sign pointing toward Boulder Lodge.

Lake Tahoe from the Tahoe Rim Trail along the Kingsbury South section. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This old road is short, but also the most sustained uphill. It empties out in the parking lot of Boulder Lodge. This patch of pavement looked like a construction zone, which makes since with the North Bowl chairlift being upgraded from a triple to a high-speed quad before the season starts.

From there the hike was more like a neighborhood stroll as the dirt was gone and asphalt was now my walking surface back to the Jeep.

It was a rather easy hike, where poles were not needed. Other than the natural beauty of the forest, on this day it was about the solitude and being grateful for being back “home.”

I finished my hike logging 5.27 miles with an elevation gain of 934 feet. My minimum elevation was 7,175 feet, while the maximum was 7,953 feet. Stagecoach Lodge is at 7,480 feet, while Boulder Lodge sits at 7,250 feet.

Surrounded By Joy In The Cancer Free Zone

Surrounded By Joy In The Cancer Free Zone

Joy and AJ in the cancer free zone on April, 30, 2012. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A cancer free zone. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something like that existed for people battling this insidious disease?

Joy found one. On occasion I would go there with her. Almost always with AJ, her dog. Sometimes it would be just me and AJ, as I was the official dog walker when Joy was battling cancer. After Joy died in August 2012 I couldn’t go there. It was too sad.

But I went back in July. It was too important not to. Fortunately, our mutual friend Lisa accompanied me on my journey to put some of AJ’s ashes along the north edge of the Upper Truckee River near the mouth of Lake Tahoe.

AJ had become my dog after Joy’s death. It seemed only natural the two should be together in this way. The river is where Joy’s ashes were placed by her sister.

The cancer free zone was where Joy went to escape all things having to do with her cancer treatments. I doubt she ever could. But she tried. When I was with her in the CFZ there was no talk of cancer. Not a problem. We had so many subjects we could cover, mostly political in nature—local and national. I miss those talks. I miss our email exchanges. And I miss our dog.

A search of CFZ (cancer free zone) in my emails turned up 17 between me and Joy, as well as others who were on some of the string of correspondence.

One from April 30, 2012, by Joy says, “… instead of waiting for the call from Barton, I looked at the dog, she looked at me, we both put on our raincoats and said screw it, we’re going for a long walk. We went back out to the lake to the point where Trout Creek empties – my original Cancer Free Zone – and enjoyed the solitude, the drizzle, the bird songs, and the scenery.”

An email from me to Joy on March 18, 2012, said, “And it’s because of you I like going to Trout Creek/LT … since you are the one who first took me there. AJ and I talk about you (in good ways!) when we are there. I feel connected to you there … I think that’s why I like to take AJ there. I don’t ever go without one of you.”

South Lake Tahoe failing residents, visitors who play tennis

South Lake Tahoe failing residents, visitors who play tennis

South Tahoe Middle School tennis courts are in horrible condition. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It is nearly impossible for the public to play tennis in South Lake Tahoe because the four courts that are available are dangerous.

I did not feel comfortable last month running on the courts at South Tahoe Middle School. While the nets are better than the last time I played there, the surface is horrific. Large cracks are a broken ankle waiting to happen.

These courts in the center of town were once in great condition. In fact, Lake Tahoe Community College used to use them for its tennis classes.

It’s unfortunate the college several years ago removed covered tennis courts from its master plan. Equally sad is how when the city of South Lake Tahoe was putting its recreation plan together a few years back tennis was not part of the equation.

What’s probably even worse is Lake Tahoe Unified School District’s approach to the sport. LTUSD owns the 10 public courts in the city. There are the four dilapidated ones at the middle school and six playable ones at South Tahoe High School.

The problem with those six taxpayer-funded courts is they can only be used by non-taxpayers—students and their opponents. At all other times the courts are locked.

Tennis courts at STMS are in lousy condition. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I grew up playing on public courts in the Bay Area; the same courts where I eventually would play four years of varsity high school tennis. I play on public courts now in Chico, which are in even better condition than the private club in town. South Lake Tahoe is a big enough city that is should have decent courts open to the public.

When those courts at STHS were first resurfaced they were supposed to be open to everyone.

A Sept. 2, 2010, article in Lake Tahoe News quotes then LTUSD Superintendent Jim Tarwater saying, “Those will be open to the public, just like at the middle school. Tennis is big in South Lake Tahoe. I could see tournaments coming up here. My dream would be to cover the six at the high school.”

His other dream that never came to fruition was partnering with the city and LTCC to build two more courts at STMS.

The courts cost about $350,000 to overhaul in fall 2010. From that same LTN story, “While the project wasn’t originally part of the Measure G facilities bond, a line in the contractors’ contract made it logical to repave the courts. The contract said if the workers could not park at STHS, they would be paid an additional 15 minutes at the start and end of their day to compensate for the time to get to the work site. This was going to add about $400,000 to the nearly $25 million project going on at that time. The district decided it would be more prudent in terms of time and money to have the workers use the tennis courts as a staging area, lose access to them for a season and then have them rebuilt.”

South Tahoe High’s courts have never been open to the public and that’s a shame. Tennis is such a wonderful sport for all ages. I can’t even imagine if I had not had the opportunity to play on public courts way back when and even today.

Come on South Lake Tahoe and Lake Tahoe Unified, you both can do better when it comes to providing residents and visitors an opportunity to play tennis.

Restoration project aims to return wetlands to Tahoe

Restoration project aims to return wetlands to Tahoe

The transformation of Cove East on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe is dramatic.

It’s also sad. At least for now because it looks more like a construction site than a wetlands.

It really hasn’t been a wetlands since the 1960s when the area was forever altered with the development of the Tahoe Keys subdivision. Now public agencies are doing what they can to turn what was the most sensitive wetlands in the Lake Tahoe Basin into something that it resembled a half century ago.

The California Tahoe Conservancy is in the third and final year of the $11.5 million Upper Truckee Marsh restoration project.

“Work this summer includes final planting of wetland plants before removing a soil berm that separates 12 acres of newly created wetlands from the Upper Truckee River. This will allow river water to flood the new wetland area,” according to the CTC. “Project benefits include improved wildlife habitat, enhanced resilience to extreme weather, and pollution filtering of water entering Lake Tahoe.”

The Cove East trail in South Lake Tahoe is being reconfigured in the Upper Truckee Marsh restoration project. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Gone is a lagoon off the main channel into the Keys. It’s been drained and replanted. While it seems odd to see sprinklers watering the area, especially during a drought, I’m confident in the science. I was skeptical several years ago when another part of the marsh closer to the trail entrance along the Upper Truckee River was restored. Today it looks great and is functioning as designed. This gives me confidence everyone involved with the current project knows what they are doing and the desired outcome is achievable.

Cove East used to be my go-to dog walking route. I could access it from my South Lake Tahoe home. The loop pre-this restoration was about 2 miles. It will probably be about the same when the new route is finished this season. The new trail is going to be an “accessible-to-all-trail.”

The CTC with the help of other agencies has plans to restore more of the marsh in coming years as funding allows.

The Upper Truckee Marsh totaled 1,600 acres at one time.

Will ‘The Thrill’ Clark forever a Giant with number being retired

Will ‘The Thrill’ Clark forever a Giant with number being retired

No. 22 joins some elite company of retired Giants numbers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

No. 22 became No. 11 on July 30.

The San Francisco Giants retired Will Clark’s number last month in a ceremony that was one of those once in a lifetime experiences.

Considering the former first baseman’s number was only the 11th to be retired by the San Francisco Giants this clearly is not something that happens often. (Two other numbers have been retired from the New York Giants.)

The ceremony involved men he played with like Robby Thompson, Dave Dravecky, Barry Bonds, Jeffrey Leonard and Kevin Mitchell; former managers Roger Craig and Dusty Baker; as well as Giants legends Willie Mayes, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, and Gaylord Perry.

More than one person who spoke Saturday summed up Clark as “intense.”

Will Clark on July 30 addresses the fans at Oracle Park in San Francisco. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

His former teammate, housemate and now broadcaster Mike Krukow said of Clark, “He made it cool to be a Giants fan again.”

Clark was one of my favorite players. He was fun to watch. He cared. He gave it his all. He was dynamic. This was when I was just becoming a true Giants fan. This was before I was part of a season ticket group. Before the fancy new ballpark.

Clark played for the Giants for eight years starting in 1986. This meant he was at Candlestick Park his entire playing time with the Giants. During his speech he gave a nod to that windy stadium, exaggerating just a bit about how it could be difficult to find the ball among all the swirling hot dog wrappers.

His nick name was Will “The Thrill” Clark for his athleticism on offense and defense.

Clark started his career by hitting a home run off future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. An even more memorable swing of the bat was the grand slam he hit in the 1989 National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs. This was the only grand slam Greg Maddux gave up in his career.

Clark finished that five-game series with eight RBIs, six extra base hits and an ERA of .650 (13-for-20).

Will Clark’s likeness in the outfield at the San Francisco ballpark. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Prior to the Giants retiring Barry Bonds’ No. 25 in 2018 the team had a policy of retiring numbers of players who had been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Those who know baseball will understand why the Giants changed their policy.

Beyond Bonds, though, think of all the players whose numbers might be retired going forward. Not that everyone’s should be, but it’s intriguing to contemplate who might be next—well, other than Buster Posey, who I believe will be in Cooperstown one day, so that’s an automatic retirement.

As Clark said of the retiring of his number, “This is my hall of fame.”

It’s hard for me to imagine a greater honor in sports than to have one’s number retired. The fact Clark only spent eight of his 15 years in the Big Leagues in San Francisco also proves his impact on the team and fans.

Clark wrapped up his 15-minute speech by saying, “I am Will ‘The Thrill’ Clark. I am a part of San Francisco. And I am forever a Giant.”

Book Review: ‘Eating to Extinction’ exposes threat to food system

Book Review: ‘Eating to Extinction’ exposes threat to food system

It’s not very often that a depressing book can hold my interest word, after word, after word. Such was the case with Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022).

This book by Dan Saladino was first published in Great Britain in 2021 by Jonathan Cape.

This was not easy reading or listening as the case was for me. To begin with, it’s long—464 pages. The subject matter is serious. Put the word “extinction” in a title of a non-fiction book and you know it is going to be important.

Saladino makes a convincing case for why we all—as in the entire world—need to care about the homogenization of our foods. Growing the same strands of wheat everywhere, raising the same pigs, limiting the varietal of grapes for wine—none of this is good.

It’s diversity in our foods—be it plant or animal—that is best. Partly, it’s about keeping the culture of an area alive by growing what is native to the land—not what is most commercially viable.

In the simplest terms, most of us know we should eat fruits and vegetables grown as close to our homes as possible. Doing this means we are eating what is truly in season. The problem in the U.S. and so many other places is we can find pretty much whatever we want year-round. We’ve changed the definition of growing seasons, we’ve changed expectations, and we have altered the flavor of foods in a bad way.

Corporations are providing our food, not traditional farmers. That in turn means the food tastes all the same. They have replaced native grains with something easier and more profitable to grow.

As Saladino points out, “The source of much of the world’s food―seeds―is mostly in the control of just four corporations. Ninety-five percent of milk consumed in the United States comes from a single breed of cow. Half of all the world’s cheese is made with bacteria or enzymes made by one company. And one in four beers drunk around the world is the product of one brewer.”

Saladino interviewed a ton of sources. After all, he is food journalist for the BBC. Some of the people he speaks with are fighting to keep their food cultures alive or to at least revive them. They are the heroes of the book.

The author takes us across the globe to learn about different foods, what is being done, what more needs to be done, and explains why we should care.

To me, this is one of those must-reads for everyone. It’s that important.

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