Fire officials worry this will be a bad season, especially with a hot summer

Fire officials worry this will be a bad season, especially with a hot summer

If predictions come true, this will be a horrible fire season. Fuel loads in some places in Nevada are at 100 to 300 percent of normal for this time of year. The Lake Tahoe Basin is in a moderate drought. The snowpack this past winter was dismal, which means the fuel loads from the previous season were not packed down.

“We are already seeing a very active fire season,” Kacey KC, Nevada forest fire warden, said. “We have had 146 fires so far this year burning just shy of 10,000 acres.” Six were caused by lightning.

Timber is dry in the basin, including in higher elevations.

On June 3, fire officials talked about the outlook for this season. Participating in the Zoom session with KC were Chris Smallcomb, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno; Paul Petersen, BLM Nevada State Fire; Gwen Sanchez, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest fire management officer; Carrie Thaler, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit forest fire management officer; and Dave Cochran, Nevada Fire Chiefs Association president.

Fire restrictions are in place for the Lake Tahoe Basin and Nevada. Specifics are available on each jurisdiction’s website. There are rules about fireworks (they are illegal everywhere in Tahoe), target shooting and other activities that could cause a fire. Throughout Nevada people must stop cutting wood on public lands by 1pm. Campfires are allowed only at designated sites and must be fully extinguished before going to bed or leaving the area.

In the basin illegal campfires are the No. 1 cause of fires. In California, 90 percent of fires are started by people. On the Humboldt-Toiyabe in the last 10 years on average 37 percent of fires were human caused, while in 2019 it was 41 percent.

What concerns fire officials for this summer is the higher than normal temps that are in the forecast.

“The outlook is for an above average fire season,” Smallcomb with the Weather Service said. Without moisture, it could mean more fires in the higher elevations as well. He isn’t ready to predict what the rainfall will be like this summer, but Smallcomb does say models show a “strong signal for above normal temperatures.” This spring record temperatures have been set locally and throughout Nevada. This dries out vegetation at all elevation levels.

Fewer red flag warnings were issued last year compared to years past. These days are based on high wind, low humidity and/or the threat of dry lightning. The warning allows fire agencies to be on heightened alert.

Nevada and Lake Tahoe Basin agencies are fully staffed with permanent and seasonal firefighting crews. Based on the threat of a bad fire season extra resources have been added. The Bureau of Land Management in Nevada has added 21 additional firefighters, the Humboldt-Toiyabe has 18 more seasonal firefighters as well as two additional contract helicopters based in Minden, and the LTBMU has an additional helicopter housed at Lake Tahoe Airport in South Lake Tahoe. Fourteen fire cameras will be added this year in Nevada to the 39 that already exist. These help detect fires and can aid in determining the amount of resources needed to combat a blaze.

Fire agencies are putting in protocols to deal with COVID-19. Cochran, with the Nevada Fire Chiefs Association, said firefighters deployed to a wildland fire will stay within a unit to reduce spreading the virus (assuming someone has it) to everyone, personnel will have their temperature checked daily, trips to town won’t happen, outsiders won’t be allowed into the fire camp, and other measures are in place to keep firefighters healthy.

Natural pool in mountains near Todos Santos a slice of paradise

Natural pool in mountains near Todos Santos a slice of paradise

An idyllic pool in the mountains near Todos Santos beckons people to take a swim. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With every dirt road looking the same and the plant life not changing, we might as well have flipped a coin to know which way to go. Ah, but then a pink ribbon would catch our eye. Those little strands saved us.

Pat had been to our destination earlier so she knew it was worth going to. Only she wasn’t driving on that first outing so she didn’t completely pay attention. Good thing one of her friends put up markers on their way out. Without them, we would never had made our way in.

Half the fun of any excursion into the mountains around Todos Santos can be the journey. Slowing down a bit it one suddenly realizes everything doesn’t really look the same. Some plant life has stunning flowers, some are bushes, others are trees. Some grow close to the ground, some are much taller than the Jeep. At times it was like driving through a tunnel with the growth all around us. Other times the views were expansive; and not just when we were in an arroyo.

A variety of plant life along the road to the pool. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Eventually, we came to the end of the road and started walking. We had not gone far when we heard rustling ahead in the bushes. Out came a herd of goats. Apparently we had disrupted their tranquility or got too close to a food source. They wanted nothing to do with us as they scampered across the single-track dirt trail and out of sight.

It wasn’t long before we reached our destination—a pool of fresh mountain water that on a warm summer day would be ideal for swimming. The temp (outside and water) was a bit cooler than either of us found suitable so instead of getting in we admired the beauty from the rocks surrounding the water. On Pat’s first trip the two guys she was with opted to take a swim.

Palms, ferns and other flora grew on the far side, and were reflecting in the tranquil, clear water. We could see about 4 feet to the bottom.

In all, we walked 1.72 miles round trip. Part of this was exploring a little farther than the first main pool. If I could find this natural pool again, next time I would go with a towel and swim suit.

Driving into the Sierra de la Laguna mountains in Baja Sur. (Image: Kathryn Reed)


Deets:

  • From Todos Santos, take Highway 19 toward La Paz. Go right at the sign saying Presa Santa Ines.
  • Follow the pink ribbons; though no promises they are still there.
  • Parking is 11.3 miles from the turn off.
Experts: 25% loss for travel industry for summer-Fall would be a good number

Experts: 25% loss for travel industry for summer-Fall would be a good number

Tourism is likely going to be one of the last sectors to recover from the economic downturn gripping the world because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A 25 percent decrease in year-over-year (numbers) is the new success benchmark for summer and fall business,” Bill Obreiter with ADARA said in a May 29 webinar. Those are predictions going forward. So many businesses already know all too well that April and May numbers (people walking through their doors and cash in their ledgers) was a fraction, if anything, compared to 2019 numbers. March was a crapshoot, with some businesses getting half the month on the books before things shutdown.

Mountain Travel Symposium hosted the talk that focused on using data to better understand what the mountain traveler will do next. Obreiter and Ted Sullivan, both with ADARA, were the speakers. ADARA uses “global proprietary travel data to deliver business performance through innovative platforms.”

Statistics about hotel bookings compared to 2019. (Graphic: ADARA)

“Travel will return. Summer and fall are not lost for good,” Sullivan said. “In the last six weeks the year-over-year decrease has subsided (for lodging bookings).”

What surprised data collectors was the strong last-minute demand for Memorial Day. Rarely does this happen at holidays because hotel rooms and other lodging is booked well in advance. This is why officials are optimistic Fourth of July and Labor Day won’t be abysmal. Just don’t expect those room nights to all be booked far in advance.

People searching travel destinations is one of the variables ADARA officials look at. This metric is important because it “shows consumers’ willingness to travel.” These aren’t Google searches, but instead its data collected from ADARA’s partners, so the person is on an actual business site and not a search engine. Data can show where people are searching, what they are searching for, and what they actually booked.

“Pent up demand is real,” Obreiter said. This is why both presenters said destinations should be focusing on their drive-up market because those people don’t have to even think about getting on a plane.

Lake Tahoe is in an interesting position because two states, five counties and one city comprise the basin. Political figures and public land owners are not acting in unison to distribute the same message to locals or visitors. Nevada is opening faster than California, with casinos unlocking doors June 4. South Lake Tahoe hotels remain shuttered, with no opening date. Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel is taking reservations starting June 15.

Making reservations is important, Obreiter said, even if it has to be canceled by either party. Relaxed cancellation policies will buy goodwill.

A new trend is people are booking longer stays. This in part has to do with being able to work remotely and kids going to school online. Time will tell if this is a temporary phenomenon. Hotels and short-term rentals that can promote having an office-type setting (providing Internet, workspace, a printer, even a quiet space) could find themselves occupied more often as people take working remotely a step further.

Lake Tahoe restaurants on both sides of the state line are starting to offer dining at the facility instead of just take-out or delivery. This is relevant as tourists start returning because they will want to eat out.

Vehicles line Highway 28 west of Incline Village on Memorial Day 2020, despite the travel ban to Tahoe that was in place. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Sullivan made a point visually that towns, resorts and the like are going to have to do a better job of distinguishing themselves going forward. He showed a variety of photos, removed the destination’s name and what the viewer was left with was an indistinguishable photo. That ski resort could be anywhere, the scenic background—who knows? It’s going to be even more critical for a destination to highlight what makes it unique. Sullivan was also critical of the current ad sentiment that “we are all in this together.” It’s getting old, having run its course, and now is unoriginal.

While it will still be necessary to be sensitive with messaging, it’s time to get back in the game, Sullivan aid.

One thing mountain destinations can promote is wide-open spaces. For people sheltering in place in denser locales, places like Tahoe-Truckee will inevitably be a welcome change.

Both ADARA reps said going forward the marketing message should also include what locals would want to hear; like not promoting dangerous behavior. Large gatherings, pool parties and the like would fall into that category. Telling tourists what to expect—being honest—about safety, social distancing, if masks are required, the need to sign waivers should be part of the safety messaging.

People still want to ski, especially considering chairlifts at most resorts in North America stopped spinning in mid-March. In Tahoe, this was when some of the best snow was on the runs and in the trees. Arapahoe Basin (aka A Basin) in Colorado reopened May 27 on a reservation basis. It will continue to operate three lifts as the snow lasts. Season pass holders must have a reservation as well.

A reservation system may be something resorts will implement for winter 2020-21 as a way to disperse skiers and limit the number of riders on the mountain. A Basin may become the test case for how resorts operate next season. So many unknowns exist about the deadly novel coronavirus that most health experts expect it to be part of our lives into the next year at a minimum.

Tahoe recreation sites open with caution urged by officials

Tahoe recreation sites open with caution urged by officials


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


            Deets:


A relationship solidified in sand – Lovers and Divorce Beaches

A relationship solidified in sand – Lovers and Divorce Beaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nursery owner tends to each plant with loving care

Nursery owner tends to each plant with loving care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiny succulents are popular. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Deets:

  • Head toward the Otro Lado on Calle Topete in Todos Santos. Baja Tile will be on the left. Turn left at the next dirt road. There is a sign there and many more with red arrows to get you to Vivero Todos Santos.
  • Phone: 612 117 3945
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/viverotodossantos/
  • Hours: Parra says he’s always at Vivero Todos Santos.
Plenty of desert terrain to explore near Todos Santos

Plenty of desert terrain to explore near 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.


Deets:

  • Go toward Las Tunas, turn right on Pitaya, go to the end and park. Start walking.

Volunteers help ensure sugar pines repopulate Tahoe forests

Volunteers help ensure sugar pines repopulate Tahoe forests


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.

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