Vegetation fills Sugarloaf Peak after fire took out many trees on this 6,552-foot mountain in 2009. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Today it seems impossible to hike in California without seeing scars from wildfires. I don’t remember that always being true. Maybe I’m more aware now. Maybe there are simply that many more burn areas. Likely, it’s both.
On a recent hike in Lassen National Forest I expected we would either see charred trees from last year’s Dixie Fire or we would walk through dead timber. We did both.
What I wasn’t prepared for was witnessing the devastation from other fires.
Being new to this part of Northern California I’m not as aware of past fires as I am in the greater Lake Tahoe area. It just goes to show how we don’t always pay attention to what is happening outside our sphere.
It was overlooking the Hat Creek Valley along Highway 44 that these other fires were a focal point. While it was fairly obvious to see the forest had been burned, the regeneration of flora was encouraging.
One sign about the Sugarloaf Fire (a fire I have no recollection of) said, “Aug. 1, 2009, the Hat Creek Valley was blasted by more than 800 bolts of lightning. The fury ignited 47 wildfires, scorching 9,365 acres. After the fire, the burned trees along the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail were cut to increase safety, help the forest become re-established, and protect the trial from future devastating fires.”
The amount of acreage seems like nothing today. Still, it’s huge to the humans and wildlife affected by it.
Older fires that could be seen from this vantage point were the 1992 Red Rock Fire that was caused from a spark on a bulldozer. It burned 290 acres. The 1987 Boundary Fire charred 310 acres after a trash fire got out of control. Lightning caused the 1987 Lost Fire; it burned 23,000 acres.
While almost all of us understand the devastation and tragedy that comes with an unmanaged fire, the prevailing thought today is fire can be good.
One sign read, “Without fire, forest ecosystems are becoming unhealthy and contain more fuel for larger, more severe fires. Even as we work to reintroduce fire on the landscape, we remain committed to protecting lives, property and resources. Today our challenge is to blend the needs of the American public with the needs of the land.”
A leaf catches raindrops on Sept. 12 in Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Waking to another overcast day can be so depressing. Then I heard it, and I smiled. That sound that has been absent from California for the better part of three years. Rain.
It wasn’t smoke filling the sky, it was actual clouds.
Not much rain fell Monday morning, but it was enough to get everything wet and bring down the temperature.
And that aroma. Mother Nature certainly has a way of stimulating so many senses.
The smell of rain even has a name—petrichor. The dictionary defines it this way: “a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.”
With our doors open, this petrichor even filled part of the house. It’s like nature’s cleaner—erasing the dust and leaving this scent that is hard to describe. This fresh rain smell is unique, special and soothing.
It brings me hope that more wet stuff will fall this autumn and winter, with fingers crossed the drought doesn’t go into year four.
For now, though, I’m going to keep inhaling Mother Nature’s fragrance.
Subway Cave in Lassen National Forest is free to tour, except when closed in winter. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
A dose of natural air conditioning was one of the best endings I’ve ever had to a hike.
Subway Cave provided a rapid cooling off. After all, the average temperature is 46 degrees. Above ground it was probably in the 80s in the sun, with it feeling even hotter after hiking.
Beyond bringing down the body temperature, the cave was a fun discovery that I did not know existed until going there the last Saturday of August.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, this is how the cave came into existence: “Less than 20,000 years ago the lava of the Hat Creek flow was discharged in large volumes from a series of north-south fissures, (or) cracks in the earth. This river of lava located near the town of Old Station, crawled northward 16 miles, covering the floor of Hat Creek Valley. While the top crust cooled and hardened, rivers of red-hot lava insulated by newly formed rock above, continued to flow. Eventually, the lava drained away, leaving tube-like caves. The entrance to the cave was formed by a partial collapse of the cave’s roof many years ago. Subway Cave is the largest accessible tube in the flow.”
Someone had fun with the names within the cave. It starts with Devil’s Doorway, then Stubtoe Hall, Wind Tunnel, Lucifer’s Cul-de-Sac (a dead-end offshoot that narrows in height and width), the Sanctum (the widest area), Lavacicle Lane, Rattlesnake Collapse (a pile of rocks that broke off), and Lava Bubbles.
Visitors have kept Subway Cave pristine, as no graffiti was evident. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
At about one-quarter mile, most anyone could explore this underground cave. The ceiling is high enough (though I could touch it in one area) and the walls spaced sufficiently apart that claustrophobia was not an issue. It ranges from 6- to 17-feet tall.
If there would be an issue for anyone, it would likely be with the floor surface. Smooth it is not. One person described it like walking on an alligator. Not sure how she knew what that felt like. Still, it was rough, even spiky in places. Solid shoes (not flip flops) would be best.
Definitely bring a flashlight or headlamp because at times it’s impossible to see the light at either end.
The cave is open May through October. No fee to enter, but donations are accepted. It is one-quarter mile north of the junction of highways 89 and 44 in the Lassen National Forest. Stairs are on either end of the cave to enter/exit, which could be an access issue for some.
Lassen Peak at 10,457 feet stands out in the distance. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
I have zero aspiration of hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail. (I like sleeping in a bed and not on the ground.) But I do like knowing I just knocked off another five miles of this 2,650-mile route that goes from Mexico to Canada via California, Oregon and Washington.
Most of my experience with the PCT is in the greater Lake Tahoe area. Oh, my, what a visual treat it was to see new terrain in the Lassen National Forest. A panoramic view of Lassen Peak revealed itself much to the awe of all of us. It was hard to soldier on from that point as it was definitely the highlight of the day.
This is at Badger Pass, where Raker and Prospect peaks are also visible.
The mass of trees in the distance is Thousand Lakes Wilderness. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
At more than 10,000 feet, Lassen looms large. On this day a dust devil swirled in front of it. Some in the group believed it was actually dirt filling steam from a fumarole. It was too many miles away to know for sure.
On the trek back the highlight was the view of Thousands Lakes Wilderness. Even from that distance it was inviting. Another new place to explore in the future.
Much of the trail was rather flat, with the incline never that great. While some in the group had poles, I left mine in my pack.
Rows of trees burned in the 2021 Dixie Fire. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Near the start of the trail it felt like a fake forest of sorts because of how the trees were all growing in rows, spaced apart and all seeming to be the same age. Perhaps it was clearcut in the past and then replanted.
In other areas it looked unkempt with scraggily branches touching the ground. So much for fuels management.
But once through this area it was one incredible foot step of beauty after another. Even the fire scar had its own beauty.
Burned trees actually allow for Lassen Peak to be seen better. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
About three miles in evidence of the last year’s devastating Dixie Fire came into view. At times we were surrounded by the charred trees, other times it was in the distance. While in other locations it was easy to see we were on the perimeter of the burn with some trees scorched, others partially or totally green.
Being where only a handful of others were except for our group—especially on a summer weekend—was ideal. My excursion in July was with 11 other members of the Chico Oroville Outdoor Adventurers.
Members of COOA, a Chico-based hiking group, walk through Lassen National Forest. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Elevation gain was 1,429 feet. The lowest point was 4,860 feet and the highest 6,294 feet.
Directions: From Interstate 5, take Highway 44 east, about eight miles past the north entrance of Lassen National Park turn right on FR32N12/Twin Bridges Road for one mile. After crossing the bridge over Hat Creek turn left into a parking camp area. The trail starts on the other side of the road.
Only six-tenths of a mile (that’s round trip) was in Lassen Volcanic National Park, with the remainder on U.S. Forest Service land.
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.
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.
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.
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.