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.
Take Care website has info about rules pertaining to COVID-19 for the Tahoe-Truckee area.
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.
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.
Endless acreage to hike through in the greater Todos Santos area. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Trails in nearly every direction. Some single track, some wide enough to drive on. The choices seemed endless.
We were squarely in the desert; walking away from the Pacific Ocean and toward the mountains. The mountains, though, were too far away to be a reasonable destination on this particular day. Flowers were still blossoming in late February, adding a splash of color to the greenery and brown dirt.
Miles of open space exists in the Las Tunas area of Todos Santos. While more houses continue to be built in the area, there are plenty of places to still explore. From the first leg, May and I opted to turn right onto a more distinct road that allowed us to walk side by side.
The century plant stands out among the other flora growing closer to the ground. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
As we kept heading south we were getting closer to civilization. When we heard a dog barking aggressively, we turned around.
While it is always good to get out in nature, it was disconcerting to see so much trash. What looked like abandoned makeshift living quarters littered some of the terrain. An “interesting” man dressed in long pants, what appeared to be a trench coat, and a hat was walking up on a road perpendicular to us. We picked up the pace a bit. Neither of us got a good vibe from him. There are reasons I don’t venture into the desert alone.
We tried to be smart about the outing, turning around at junctures to note what it would look like upon our return. We knew to head toward the big cactus at the split. Of course that would require going back the way we started.
Kathryn and AJ make their way through the desert; with the Pacific Ocean in the distance. (Photo/May Blom)
Heading out we had no destination, which made the excursion even more fun. We randomly chose left, right or straight. Returning, well, that was a little more challenging. It ended up being a loop instead of an out-and-back. We never saw that big cactus again.
Unfortunately, one of the roads going back was filled with dime-size prickly things that lodged into AJ’s pads. She was not a happy dog. My apologies to her didn’t take away the pain. Once we got through that mine field, she perked up. This was the first time she had done 5.12 miles since returning to Mexico last fall. Not bad for a 17-year-old. Mostly it was flat, with our minimum elevation being 139 feet and maximum 388 feet.
Route created by MapMyHike.
The trails system is a bit haphazard in Todos Santos. All are user created, with some made by the mountain biking community. The problem is signage doesn’t exist. Fortunately, I used an app to track our route via GPS which helped us find the Jeep. Near the end we could see a glint of red in the distance, confirming we were almost to our starting point.
Go toward Las Tunas, turn right on Pitaya, go to the end and park. Start walking.
Rosemary Manning plants a sugar pine seedling in late April on the South Shore. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It’s hard to imagine the 6-inch sugar pine seedlings I put into the ground late last month could one day be 200-feet-tall, with a 5-foot-diameter and live to be 500 years old.
They seemed so fragile. With a root system about as long as the greenery, these were 1-year-olds from the Cal Forest Nursery in Etna, California. Rosemary and I found a location near the High Meadow trailhead to call home for our eight sugar pines. We were careful not to bend the roots, as instructed. We dug holes, replaced the dirt (we didn’t amend the soil), watered, replaced the duff and crossed our fingers our babies would be there (and thriving) when we go back to water. We put fallen pine cones around them in hopes to keep people away. Hopefully, wildlife doesn’t trample or eat them. It’s up to us to water them for the next three years, at which time they should be established.
“We encourage people to plant them where they live or walk,” Maria Mircheva, executive director of the Sugar Pine Foundation, said. “They have ownership.” Planting in one’s yard is the best.
For 13 years the South Lake Tahoe-based Sugar Pine Foundation has been planting trees in order to create a healthy population in the basin and beyond. Between the Comstock era that saw local forests clear cut and the nonnative, invasive white pine blister rust fungus, sugar pines were threatened. U.S. Forest Service technician John Pickett knew something had to be done. In 2005, he founded the nonprofit Sugar Pine Foundation. Mircheva has been executive director since July 2007 and is the face of the organization today.
The Sugar Pine Foundation plants about 10,000 seedlings each year. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Sugar pines are part of the white pine species. They are the largest pine species in the world. Their five needles help distinguish them. The cones, well, they are the ones that can be 14 inches long. They look like decorative earrings when attached to tree limbs.
Normally the organization plants 10,000 trees a year; some in spring, some in fall. This spring the group had that many to plant at one time. Then the novel coronavirus hit, which meant the end to the traditional group plantings. A call was put out on social media by Mircheva that was met with a resounding response. People wanted to help.
Circles indicate where baby sugar pines are planted. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
On April 18, 5,000 trees were given out at six locations throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin. Another 1,000 were dispensed April 25. At Mircheva’s location on the South Shore she had handed out her 250 trees in less than 15 minutes. People were that interested. A few handed her cash donations. After all, it usually costs $10 to get one seedling.
At first it was going to be 15 trees per person. Then the distributors started putting fewer in a bag so more people could participate. The other 4,000 seedlings this spring went to partner agencies to be planted professionally, with a few held back for classes at Lake Tahoe Community College.
The foundation’s website has more information about the group, ways to get involved and at-home activities.
A bike trail going all the way around Lake Tahoe inches closer to reality each building season. To date 33 miles of the Tahoe Trail are in the ground, with full build out of the 72-mile route expected in 2045.
Also to be completed in the next 25 years is the South Tahoe Greenway Trail that will go from Meyers to Kingsbury Grade.
The East Shore multi-use trail completed in 2019 is part of the larger Tahoe Trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
These trails and the many others in the basin are part of the greater Transportation Regional Plan that the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency develops. The plan is updated every four years, with the last one completed in 2017. Planners look out 25 years at a time. The focus is on trails, transit, technology and communities. TRPA is hosting webinars every Monday on the four components of the overall plan; the first one was April 20.
Kira Smith, associate transportation planner for TRPA, on that Monday took listeners on an overview of what the agency and partners are planning for the next couple of decades. These trails are for all non-motorized users, not just cyclists.
To know if the infrastructure is actually being used counters have been installed in most trails in the last several years. During the weeks of July 8 to Sept. 4 15 percent more people used bike paths and sidewalks in 2019 compared to the same period in 2018.
“On many of these trials we see daily counts of 1,000 or more users. And in certain locations we even see 2,000 daily users,” Smith said.
Summer user counts at various Tahoe recreation sites comparing 2018 to 2019. (Graphic: TRPA)
Data from winter is not as consistent because not all trails are plowed and sometimes the counters aren’t collecting data because they are under snow. About 32 miles of trails are plowed in the winter.
El Dorado County this summer intends to complete a segment of the South Tahoe Greenway from Bijou to Sierra Tract.
By 2025, the next 8-mile segment of the Tahoe Trail from Sand Harbor to Spooner should be done. (This trail on the Nevada side was once known as the Stateline to Stateline Trail because it will connect all of the Silver State to both California state lines. It is now part of the larger Tahoe Trail.)
Also in the next five years, the North Tahoe Regional Trail will connect Dollar Creek Path to North Tahoe Regional Park.
By 2035, people should be able to cycle from Baldwin Beach on the South Shore to Meeks Bay on the West Shore. The plan should be done this summer, according to Smith, as various parties look at the Highway 89 Corridor Plan. After that a feasibility study will be conducted to look at alignment alternatives. Smith called this a tricky segment, but critical gap closure. It’s part of the greater Tahoe Trail going around the lake.
Something that wasn’t an issue in the last transportation plan was electric bikes and scooters, as well as bike share programs. This plan will look at where these tools are allowed and where they shouldn’t be. This is a conversation being had with land owners in the basin. Also being looked at is how these devices are changing how people get around. From May to November 2019 there were more than 215,000 scooter trips in the basin. Lime Bikes debuted in South Lake Tahoe in summer 2017.
“This industry has rapidly evolved. It is changing nearly everything we knew about movement and mobility,” Smith said.
More information about the Transportation Regional Plan is available online. Under the “get involved” tab is a link to register for future webinars or to watch ones that have taken place.
Air and water quality in various places in the world are improving during the pandemic. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
As the world struggles to cope with a health crisis, the Earth is healing.
Remove people from the equation and the environment begins to heal herself. Air quality from the San Francisco Bay Area to Fresno and thousands of miles away to the Himalayas is better today than it was a month ago. People in India for the first time in decades are seeing the famous mountain range from 100 miles away.
In China, where the COVID-19 virus originated, air pollution dropped so dramatically it was recorded on satellite images by NASA. Scientists at NASA said the Wuhan area first saw the reduction in nitrogen dioxide pollution before the same results spread across the country.
People are not driving or flying as much. Factories are pumping out fewer pollutants as their workloads have been curtailed.
The canals of Venice, Italy, are clearer than most can remember. With less boat traffic, sediment is staying at the bottom and not being churned to the top. It will be interesting to see if the water of Lake Tahoe benefits from fewer boats considering this time of year boat traffic is minimal. Boat launches have been closed during the coronavirus crisis because government officials believed boat inspections should not be taking place now.
It’s appropriate Earth Day comes during this pandemic. It’s also significant that it was 50 years ago that April 22 was designated Earth Day. It is considered the birth of the environmental movement as we know it.
On a trail last week, that is walking distance from my home, two coyotes started following me and AJ. Were they stalking us or reclaiming their forest? Black bears, coyotes and bobcats are out in force in Yosemite National Park. It’s not that there are more animals, it’s that they are roaming in the open without people around since the park closed because of the virus. California is not alone in this phenomena. In South Africa’s Kruger National Park lions have been seen napping on the roads. Now is the time of year so many animals emerge from their winter slumber. Without people around, they are venturing places where we usually are – like streets. All the more reason to be diligent about not leaving human food out that could be accessible by these wild animals.
Clearly, people are impacting the environment in negative ways. Now is the time to think about how we could make these changes sustainable, long lasting. Why go back to how things were? We were breathing that nasty air. It was getting into our water supply, contaminating our soil, and the foods we eat. We need to make changes individually (maybe work from home one day a week or more going forward), regionally (better mass transit?), as a nation (flights must have a certain number of seats filled to fly?), and globally (suggestions?).
It is alarming President Donald Trump has ramped up his hatred for the environment by rolling back environmental regulations during this pandemic. It’s one of the consistencies throughout his presidency–disregard for the environment. Last week the order came down for the Environmental Protection Agency to loosen regulations for oil and coal-fired power plants when it comes to releasing mercury and other toxic metals.
As the New York Times reported April 16, “Over the past few weeks as the nation struggled with the coronavirus, the administration has also rushed to loosen curbs on automobile tailpipe emissions, opted not to strengthen a regulation on industrial soot emissions and moved to drop the threat of punishment to companies that kill birds ‘incidentally’.”
The Trump administration has also banned the U.S. Forest Service from conducting controlled burns in California, Oregon and Washington during the pandemic. This is a tool to reduce the risk of wildfires. Wildfire season in California could be deadly again as the state looks to be in another drought.
“I have no understanding as to why they made that decision,” Thom Porter, CalFire director, told Reuters. “We’re very much in support of continuing our fuel-management projects. We see those as critical to protecting lives and property.”
It’s time to listen to the scientists and other experts to preserve the health of our Earth.
Water flows from the Gardner Mountain tanks. (Note the valves on far bottom left and right.) (Image: Kathryn Reed)
With the sound of flowing water getting louder with each step, something was clearly wrong. Even in spring the snowmelt doesn’t sound like this on Gardner Mountain. The culprit turned out to be the two massive tanks owned by South Tahoe Public Utility District. Water was flowing uncontrollably from the bottom valves of each tank, with no workers in sight.
What started out April 21 as twice-yearly routine maintenance of these tanks turned into thousands of gallons of water flowing through U.S. Forest Service property.
“We have level sensors at our tanks that transmit what the level is at our tank to our wells so we can decide when to turn on and off the wells. That level sensor was not reading correctly. It was off by a foot,” Shelly Thomsen, STPUD public affairs and conservation manager, said.
Normally, one employee is at the tank and another at the well when the routine maintenance overflow is tested each fall and spring. The work is done to ensure water quality for the residential and commercial customers. STPUD, though, has scaled back staffing because of the coronavirus. Only one person was doing the tank maintenance at Gardner Mountain. It wasn’t until he got back to the tank to see the water continuing to flow that he realized there was a problem.
Electricians were dispatched to fix the defective sensor.
These are two of the 21 tanks STPUD owns throughout its territory on the South Shore—all on the California side of Tahoe. They vary in size. The Gardner Mountain ones hold 212,000 and 187,000 gallons, respectively.
“We normally measure by time, instead of gallons of water, since our wells produce at different rates and tanks are different sizes. For the Gardner Tank, it is serviced by Valhalla Well, which runs at 465 gallons/minute. We normally overflow the tank for 15 minutes, which is 6,975 gallons. Today, we overflowed the tank for 20-25 minutes due to the sensor not reading correctly, which used around 9,300-11,625 gallons of water,” Thomsen said.
The water was gushing from the lower valves and then running downhill into the forest. Lisa Herron, spokeswoman for Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said the water “is released into a rock-lined channel.” That supposed channel was not visible. She also said STPUD staff said the water flow did not cause erosion, but no USFS person inspected the area.
STPUD tries to keep the tanks full in case demand surpasses what wells can pump. This usually isn’t a problem in the winter. It’s during the summer when people start irrigating that usage increases dramatically. The other reason for full tanks is to aid in firefighting so water pressure will be as high as possible.
What the water-sewer district has noticed during this pandemic is a reduction in water use. Even though more people are working from home, hotels, restaurants and other commercial entities are mostly shuttered. Heavenly Mountain Resort is STPUD’s biggest consumer of water. The resort, per state order, closed this season on March 17. (In 2019, the ski resort closed May 27 and in 2018 it was on April 22.) Snowmaking is a large component of Heavenly’s water consumption, but it also has numerous restaurants and bathrooms.
In March, STPUD set a record low for water production. This is how many gallons of water is pumped from the ground into the system. It’s another way of saying water use.
“For the last three years we’ve been around 105 million gallons in March. This year we were at 89 million gallons,” Thomsen said. She expects April to hit another record.
Thomsen said the curve on water pumping has been trending lower. It has to do with better appliances; today toilets use 1.28 gallons, whereas decades ago it was closer to 8 gallons a flush. People are also conserving more water though showerheads, drip lines and other means.
Even so, this pandemic has significantly reduced the amount of water STPUD customers are using because many of those customers aren’t in business or have dramatically scaled back operations.