A bear in South Lake Tahoe fills up on cherries. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Humans have a way of interfering with the food chain for wild animals beyond leaving garbage out. The addition of unnatural food sources like bird seed is one way, other ways are via water sources like bird feeders and pools. Compost and livestock are other disrupters.
Add in non-native predators like cats and dogs and the system can get really out of whack. Buildings and habitat degradation also contribute to the problem.
“All of this can change animal behavior,” said Jessica Wolff with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. NDOW earlier this month hosted a webinar about the food chain titled “You are what you eat.”
It’s not just birds that are eating the seed people put out. Coyotes, bobcats, rodents, snakes and bears all find it tasty. Another issue is that birds are starting not to migrate because they can find food year-round when people provide it.
One reason mule deer love urban environments is because of all the ornamental flowers available in people’s yards.
There is a hierarchy in the animal kingdom when it comes to who eats whom. (Graphic: NDOW)
Participants were asked how much they and their families affect the local food webs. Twenty-five percent said not at all, 33 percent said a little, and 42 percent said a lot. Every home is taking up land that once was home to some other creature, so everyone is affecting the food chain. Fences limit travel. Human noise can be an issue, as well as lights at night.
NDOW officials stated how most places in the wild coyotes hunt during the day. Not so around the Lake Tahoe area and other parts of Northern Nevada. They are more nocturnal and eat human food. Even though Nevada is one of the driest states it has plenty of coyotes. This is because humans have put out water in the form of pools and bird baths.
While wildlife is wonderful to observe, it’s best not to encourage coyotes, bears and other animals to be comfortable in neighborhoods. Eliminating food sources, including garbage, is the first step. Scaring them away is also suggested by wildlife officials. The whole goal is to keep all animals wild.
Hiking in the Mokelumne Wilderness stimulates so many senses. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
What goes down must come up. This can be a painful reality when the down comes in the middle of a hike. No fireworks were going off, but the drop into Fourth of July Lake was worth having to climb out 2 miles and more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
In mid-July the bonus was all of the wildflowers. The array of flowers and their size is largely dependent on the previous winter’s snowfall. The four of us were not disappointed with the variety on July 19. Columbine, lupine, mule’s ear, daisies, Indian paintbrush, yarrow, and so much more filled the terrain. Rubbing a few leaves of the mountain peppermint was a great way to cleanse my hands of the mosquito repellent.
Lupine fields in the high country of Alpine Country are almost at peak. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Stopping to take pictures made this a much longer day. No one was complaining. Flowers were growing out of granite rocks, in fields that carpeted the ground, in clusters like a bouquet, and as single strands of beauty.
Roundtop Lake with the reflection of the peak by the same name. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Water was abundant along the trail, making the landscape so verdant, especially on the climb to Round Top Lake. These creeks would be a welcome relief for four-legged hikers. All the water meant two stream crossings across logs. There could be more in early season.
While the hike starts near Woods Lake, the trail doesn’t actually go to that body of water. However, it doesn’t take long for it to come into view through the tall pines. A highlight of this hike was that the views were always changing, seeming to only get better around each bend. It wasn’t long before Red Lake Peak (10,061 feet) and Elephants Back (9,585 feet) were visible. Not far off the trail was a distinct waterfall reminiscent of the Glen Alpine Waterfall near Fallen Leaf Lake on the South Shore.
Fourth of July Lake in the center is about 1,000 down. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
At first the trees provided plenty of shade, but that didn’t last. Going higher the subalpine setting turned to more expansive land with few trees.
At times part of the trek is along what was obviously an old road. A rusted frame of a vehicle that we guessed was from the 1930s is off to one side facing a stream. A structure in the water we surmised was once a bridge. Why the people didn’t turn around we don’t know. If only the trees could talk.
Several places along the trail flowers grow out of the rocks. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Other parts of the trail were soft dirt with a thin layer of duff, other sections were rocky, some granite stairs had to be climbed, other parts were loose scree. I was happy to have my poles, which came off the backpack for the decent into Fourth of July Lake and were used the rest of the trek.
Once through the main section of wildflowers, Round Top Peak (10,381 feet) and The Sisters (10,153 feet) come into view. There wasn’t much snow left on Round Top, but one diehard skier found enough white stuff to make a few turns between the two peaks. It’s possible to stop at Round Top Lake. The beauty was magical as the mountains reflected into the water.
Fourth of July Lake is a beautiful spot for lunch. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
We opted to continue on to our destination. Even if you don’t want to make the descent into Fourth of July Lake, keep going until you see it. It’s worth the view even from afar. An outcropping of rocks is where two people in our group waited for me and Brenda as we headed to the lake. Once at the lake we were at tree line again, with pines surrounding us. On the far side of Fourth of July a small waterfall flowed from the rocks. It would have been possible to keep hiking from there. This section is part of the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail. We opted not to visit the national park that day.
Starting from the trailhead parking lot we clocked 9.82 miles round trip. The elevation at Woods Lake Campground, which is near where we started, is 8,240 feet. Fourth of July Lake is just a bit more than 8,000 feet. The problem, so to speak, is that first we climbed to 9,433 feet before dropping down. While we didn’t bag a peak this particular day, the graphic on the GPS looked like we did a couple.
Another option from this starting point is to make a loop via Winnemucca Lake. Signs make this an easy option at the get-go or when at Round Top Lake. The nice thing about bypassing Winnemucca is that you are likely to see fewer people, especially when the wildflowers are out.
Brenda and Roni on their way to Roundtop Lake. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
From South Lake Tahoe go west on Highway 50. In Meyers, take Highway 89 south. In Hope Valley, go right onto Highway 88. Turn left at the Woods Lake sign. This is 1.7 miles west of the Carson Pass Ranger District.
While much of the country tears down racist statues, in the Tahoe area change has come via the renaming of a peak. Jeff Davis Peak in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is now Da-ek Dow Go-et Mountain.
In the Washoe Indian language the name means saddle between points. The rock cropping at the top is now Sentinel Rock. The names were officially recorded with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names on July 9. Sentinel rock is what is listed on an 1883 survey map.
Talk of renaming this 9,025-foot peak in Alpine County in Mokelumne Wilderness has been going on for several years. Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. He doesn’t have any ties to California, and reportedly didn’t want it to become a state because of its anti-slavery position. Davis once said, “African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing.”
Alpine County Board of Supervisors, the U.S. Forest Service, and Gov. Gavin Newsom backed the name change.
Now the Washoe Tribe is working to change Jeff Davis Creek near the peak to Da-ek Dow Go-et Wa Tah. A decision is expected later this year.
In June 2019, the federal agency renamed Jeff Davis Peak in Great Basin National Park in Nevada to Doso Doyabi. In the Shoshone Indian language it means white mountain.
Looking north from the base of Rubicon Peak. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Up, up some more, then even more. That’s what hiking Rubicon Peak is all about—the ascent. In about 2 miles the elevation gain is more than 2,000 feet. My glutes on the way up and calves on the way down felt every foot of that climb.
The scenery, well, that’s what makes the effort worth it. It doesn’t take long before Lake Tahoe is behind you. Looking forward it’s obvious this swath of forest on the West Shore has been thinned. The openness is nice because the trail is single track. The second half of the route is steeper and eventually the trail diverges into many options. While there are cairns to help direct you, they are all over the place. Pick the route that looks best to you. This isn’t an ordinary Tahoe trek with nice switchbacks. Those barely existed.
At the start it looks like it will take all day to reach Rubicon Peak. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
From Highway 89 travelers, most notably headed south, can get glimpses Rubicon Peak with its unique rock formation. It’s from the tiptop that one gets the best views—essentially the entirety of Lake Tahoe from north to south. While this peak is in Desolation Wilderness, neighboring Granite Chief Wilderness is visible to the north.
With winds about 25 mph in Tahoma the afternoon we climbed, we opted to not scale the last 100 feet of rock. Rock climbers will find this last bit fun as it’s rated a class 3. Gusts were even worse where we were; to the extent I didn’t feel steady on my feet especially with the talus slope. Even not getting to the summit at 9,183 feet, the hike was well worth it because of the views and sense of accomplishment even for a short excursion.
While one dog and two kids were out on this particular day, this isn’t the hike for every dog or every child. The steepness, zero water for canines, and uneven/loose rock at the top would be reasons to think twice about who goes on the trail. It’s definitely one of the hardest 2-mile climbs I’ve done based on the slope and elevation gain. I would not do this hike in spring with any snow on the trail.
Reaching the top of Rubicon Peak takes some rock climbing skills. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
From South Lake Tahoe go north on Highway 89. If you hit Tahoma, you have gone too far. Turn left on Scenic Drive, right on Woodland Drive, right on Brook Drive, left on Crest Drive, right on Forest View Drive, left on High View Drive, and right on Highland Drive. Go through the gate to park so you are not on a residential street. The trail is the dirt road ahead. Do not go up toward the water towers. (Scenic Drive has two entrances off Highway 89. This route is from the southern entrance.)
The elevation gain was 2,112 feet. The lowest elevation was 6,931 feet, with the highest being 9,045 feet.
Not much water in Twin Lakes along the Tahoe Rim Trail on the East Shore. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The trek to Twin Lakes in the Spooner Backcountry is one where the journey is more beautiful than the destination. It’s is a rarity when an alpine lake doesn’t capture all the oohs and ahhs.
Twin Lakes is just off the Tahoe Rim Trail near a junction that is popular with hikers and mountain bikers. With how low the water level was in mid-June, it would be possible to not even notice the lake. The expanse of dirt and grass had the dry lake bed being a larger mass than where the water was. From our vantage point we only saw one of the lakes.
An aspen grove along the trail would be even more colorful in the fall. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Jay Howard, who was the park supervisor for Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park for many years, said, “I think the issue of wet some years and dry for other years is due to a relatively small watershed. They are also small bodies of water that are greatly subject to evaporation. When evaporation exceeds the amount of water coming in from snowmelt, a pretty fast drawdown can occur. I don’t know for sure but I don’t believe those lakes have any groundwater or springs entering from below. Over the years that I’ve noticed, the fact that they have water has seemed to be tied to snowpack—heavy or at least average snowpack years, they have water—dry or below average snowpack years, they tend to have so little water that they dry very quickly. And yes, they are unusual due to their high location.”
These lakes, such as they are, are at almost 8,000 feet. One guy the four of us passed said in 30 years of hiking the area he had never seen water in the lakes.
A field of granite boulders seemed to be sprouting from either side of the lake. They were round, not jagged and rough like so many in the Sierra. This must be from being under water at times.
Most of the trail to Twin Lakes is an old logging road. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The sign near the start of the trailhead in Incline Village says Twin Lakes is 3.8 miles. Three of us recorded a round trip of 9 miles from the base of the road. The parks department might want to redo its signs with the correct mileage. Better signage where the road meets the Tahoe Rim Trail would be appreciated as well. Twin Lakes is not on any of the signs up there. Had we gone left we would have been headed toward the Mount Rose/Tahoe Meadows trailhead of the TRT, while going straight would have had us going downhill on the Red House Flume Trail toward Hobart Reservoir. We took a right toward Spooner Summit, which was less than a mile to the lakes.
Most of our route was along Tunnel Creek Road, which to cyclists is better known as the Flume Trail. While we were going up, most on two wheels were coming down. This is an old dirt road, so it’s wide enough for various recreation users, and good for social distancing. Still, it was up the entire way and at times seemed a bit steep, especially for the two who had been living at sea level until a week before the hike. That steepness, though, didn’t present a problem coming down.
A couple spots along the route Tunnel Creek could be heard and seen. This would be a welcome relief for four-legged hikers, especially with much of the trail being exposed and not shaded. The openness was perfect for picture taking—water and mountains. Lake Tahoe in several locations was breathtaking with its grandeur. The curvy shoreline offered a definition not often seen from Tahoe trails; with some shallow areas mesmerizing because of the emerald hue.
Much history is stored in this section of the Sierra. A set of flumes were designed to take water from the area, through the Washoe Valley on the other side of the mountain, to Virginia City where it was used in the silver mines in the late 1800s. A tunnel on the Tahoe side was used to transport water and lumber in a V flume. That wood was needed to build the mine shafts. A couple informational signs are posted near the start of the trail. One says, “The Marlette Lake water system was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and was listed as a Historical District in 1992. The system has been upgraded and is still used today to supply Virginia [City] and Carson City with water.” Today the water system is owned by the state of Nevada.
Lake Tahoe is prominent along much of the lower section of the trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
A monkey in Tahoe? Yes, with just a small amount of doubt. It might actually have been a gorilla.
The stone-faced creature has one of the best views of Lake Tahoe from the Spooner Backcountry. He was a little rough to touch, but docile. I think he was a he. I didn’t look. It was just a feeling I got.
I’m not sure how long he has been watching over Tahoe from Incline Village. Years, though. How did he get there? Well, legend has it the granite rock always had a look about it that resembled a gorilla. The eye and mouth are distinct. Then some guy took a chisel or the like to the rock to make the nostrils and ears. While normally I’m a staunch advocate of not defacing what Mother Nature has created, this goes down as one of those exceptions.
The rock is captivating.
Monkey Rock looks over the Incline Village area of Lake Tahoe. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It’s a relatively easy 2.5-mile round trip trek from the Tunnel Creek parking area in Incline. With much of the route being an old road, it’s wide enough for social distancing. What people will need to learn when hiking/walking is to go single file when passing. This will keep all of us safe.
While this section is the end of the famous Flume Trail, few cyclists were coming down.
It’s possible to make a bit of a loop out of a section of the trail. Instead of going up the first route on the left, go straight a little longer. It will be easier to come down this straight mostly single-track route than going up it. And if knees are an issue, go up and down the wider, less steep route. That route is up a bit farther; from the start it’s the second left.
At the next trail intersection, go up to the left at an angle toward the rocks. Monkey Rock is on the north side. A handful of user created trails go right to the rock. The best photo ops are from farther away. I was able to essentially lean against this guy, with my body dwarfing his.
If Monkey Rock isn’t enough to entice you, the views will. The scenery is stunning from the get-go. At first the route parallels the East Shore Bike Trail, only this one is higher so the sprawling blue waters of Lake Tahoe are even more impressive. The curvy shoreline of the East Shore is evident. Plenty of snow in late May still topped the mountains across the lake. The rocks around Monkey Rock are a bit higher than his perch. It’s a panoramic view of most of the lake, with pools of emerald near the shore in places.
Looking southwest across Lake Tahoe from the rocks surrounding Monkey Rock. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
From South Lake Tahoe, take Highway 50 east to the top of Spooner Summit. Turn left on Highway 28. In Incline Village, park at Tunnel Creek on the right. Walk up Tunnel Creek Road.
It costs $2 (cash) per person to enter Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. It’s an honor system. Do the correct thing.
Parking (for now) is free at Tunnel Creek.
Dogs on leash welcome.
The elevation gain was 445 feet. The lowest elevation was 6,337 feet, with the highest being 6,766 feet.
From the top of Cave Rock looking south, with the boat ramp in the foreground. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Cave Rock at 360-feet-tall and 800-feet-around is more than a tunnel allowing fluid travel on Highway 50 in the Lake Tahoe Basin. From the top is one of the best views of the lake. It also remains a symbol for the Washoe people who once occupied all of this land before white men took over.
While it’s less than one-half mile to the top, this isn’t a hike for everyone. This is because it’s a bit of a scramble up and down. Free hands are necessary to grab rocks. It’s important to pay attention in both directions because there are several routes, with some seeming a bit trickier than others. (The base of the rock offers good views and could be accessed by most people.)
The reward from the top is incredible unimpeded views up, down and across the lake. In late May plenty of snow topped the mountains on the West Shore. The boat ramp at Cave Rock was full. With a limit on who could launch, the lake was not as busy as it could have been.
While granite dominates the basin, this is an example of volcanic activity. Geologists say it was created about 5 million years ago. The caves in the rock, which is how it got its name, were created by waves crashing into it. This was 70,000 to 120,000 years ago when the water level was much higher.
Cave Rock remains a sacred place for members of the Washoe tribe. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Long before the tunnels were built people walked around the rock and then wagon trails were created. For the first 26 years after the initial bore was created in 1931, eastbound traffic went through the tunnel, while westbound travelers traversed on the outside of the tunnel by the lake. Both directions of travel used the tunnel when the second bore was blasted.
While the Washoe didn’t have the power to prevent the tunnel bores from being drilled in 1931 and 1957, they were triumphant in stopping rock climbers from continuing to desecrate the monolith. The U.S. Forest Service, which now owns the rock, on Feb. 9, 1997, issued a “temporary closure order for archaeological protection.” This meant no more rock climbing. Reports are that at one time 46 climbing routes existed. Each came with hundreds of bolts and other devices associated with the sport. All climbing was prohibited as of Sept. 2, 2003. In August 2007, a federal appellate court upheld the Forest Service’s ban.
Before the Nevada Department of Transportation spent $5 million to improve the tunnel in 2016, officials met with the Washoe people. At that time 62 feet were added to the tunnel, making it 227 feet long.
“NDOT invited the tribe to come up to meet with the project construction crew when they come up with a date for the start time so the tribe can talk to them to explain how it is a sacred site and not just another job,” Darrel Cruz with the Washoe tribe said at the time. Cave Rock has been used by medicine men and there are other stories associated with it, he added. For some people, they won’t go near the rock because of the power it holds.
Looking to the north from atop Cave Rock. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
From South Lake Tahoe, go east on Highway 50. Turn right at Cave Rock Estates. This is just before entering the tunnel. Obvious parking is to the left, though a water line project was taking place in May that necessitate parking on the street. The trail begins on the far side of the parking lot.
Not recommended for dogs if going to the top.
Round trip the hike is 0.83 miles.
Maximum elevation was 6,566 feet, minimum was 6,374 feet, while elevation gain was 202 feet.
It’s like a forest of bajooms near Bahía de los Ángeles. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
With more than 4,000 plant species and subspecies on the Baja peninsula, this area of the world is a botanist’s dream. Even for the casual observer, the plant life is incredible. More than 400 plants are native to this spot of Mexico.
One of the more unusual looking ones is the bajoom tree, which also goes by the names cirio and elephant tree. Bajoom came from Lewis Caroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark,” while cirio means candle in Spanish, which in some ways it is what the tree looks like. Some people have said the bajooms are like something out of Dr. Seuss, others say they look like an upside down carrot.
They are part of the ocotillo family.
Bajoom trees can reach 80 feet. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Bajooms are only located in Baja and Sonora, Mexico, with the majority on the peninsula. They are found near the town (if you can call it that) of Cataviña in Alta Baja. The second largest natural protected area in Mexico is the Valle de los Cirios. It goes coast-to-coast, with the southern tip at the boundary of the state of Guerro Negro and north section just below El Rosario. This is where this strange looking flora call home. A forest of them can be found on the road to Bahía de los Ángeles.
These spindly trees look like they have hair on the trunk. It’s the trunk that stores water, allowing it to survive in the desert.
“The bark is greenish-yellow and it produces yellowish-green, sharp thorns at the base of each leaf cluster. Twiggy spikes occur along the entire trunk of this specimen, all the way to the top,” according to Horticulture Unlimited.
Yellow-ish flowers bloom at the top and dangle down. It can take them 50 years before they flower. Blossoms occur between July and September, spurred on by rains. The trees can stretch 80 feet in the air, though most grow to about 50 feet. They can live for hundreds of years.
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