Castle Rock a gem of a short hike on South Shore

Castle Rock a gem of a short hike on South Shore


Castle Rock is a relatively easy hike on the South Shore. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

One of the great things about hiking in the Lake Tahoe area is that even short excursions can have big views and make you feel like you were out in the wilderness without clocking double-digit mileage.

Such is the case with the climb to Castle Rock on the South Shore. With the starting point near the top of Kingsbury Grade, much of the elevation is gained by driving. The rocks resemble a crown from a distance, a great distance for my imagination. Up close it’s an impressive mass of granite.

Rosemary and I did a loop in mid-October that was three miles, but would have been shorter by about a half mile if we had done an out-and-back. Signage has improved through the years, which makes getting to the rock formation easier.

Views of Lake Tahoe along the trail to Castle Rock in Stateline. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

When we were there it was not possible to climb to the top of Castle Rock because falcons were nesting. Signs warned people not to go to the top. “If you see a raptor diving or hear loud bird calls, you may be too close to the nest,” the warning read. The sign was to be removed when the nesting period was over; no specific date was given.

The falcon warning was at the point people decide if they are going toward the vista trail or climbing routes. It’s possible to get views of the lake without climbing to the top of the rock formation. The lake and some of the runs at Heavenly Mountain Resort come are visible before this sign.

With the parking lot being the Kingsbury North Trailhead of the Tahoe Rim Trail, there are several other hiking options in this area.

While dogs are allowed, I would not bring a four-legged one to Castle Rock because even without climbing to the top you might want to scramble around a bit on the lower area. This isn’t going to a good idea for every pooch.

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Trail network in Van Sickle Park continues to grow

Trail network in Van Sickle Park continues to grow

Views of Lake Tahoe along the new K to K Trail in Van Sickle Bi-State Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Although Van Sickle Bi-State Park opened in 2011, trails are still being built. This is a good thing for hikers and mountain bikers, especially when it helps relieve congestion.

In the 2020 trail building season, the section of the K to K Trail going to Kingsbury Grade was finished. When done, the other side will go to Keller Drive near Heavenly Mountain Resort’s California Lodge. A completion date has not been set. It will require going through private property and U.S. Forest Service land.

With easy access to this outdoor playground from the Stateline, Nevada, casinos, it has become a popular place to recreate for tourists and locals. Views of Lake Tahoe are easily had without much effort, making it an ideal place to go for those who don’t want to work up a sweat.

However, it is possible to get the adrenaline pumping depending on the trail one chooses. Information about the park and maps are often available at the site.

We opted to head left off the main trail onto the Cal-Neva Loop to get to the new K and K Trail. This was mostly to avoid the weekend traffic that was headed up on the route to the larger waterfall.

A small waterfall still flows in the fall. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

What a lovely section of trail. With it being so new we only counted a handful of people. While the waterfall on this route is not as tall as the main one, it was a fun discovery. And for so much water to be flowing in October was a bit surprising.

We ended up doing 3.69 miles that day, so had AJ been with us there would have been enough water for her. Plus, the temperature was definitely on the cooler side in October.

Much of the trail is single track, hard pack dirt. At times the forest is dense, other times it opens up to wonderful views of Lake Tahoe.

The route now ends at Easy Street. This intersects with Palisades Drive, which dead ends at Kingsbury Grade. We turned around at the first road, stayed on the K to K until it met up with the main trail in the park, and then went back to the starting point.

Van Sickle is the only bi-state part in the country. According to the park’s website, “As a memorial to his late grandfather Henry Van Sickle, Jack Van Sickle donated 542 acres of his land to the State of Nevada in 1988 to create a new Nevada State Park. Subsequently, the state of California purchased the adjacent land, the Van Sickle family’s former Crescent V Ranch, to connect the park to the community of South Lake Tahoe.”

Today the park is managed by the Nevada Division of State Parks in partnership with the California Tahoe Conservancy. The Tahoe Rim Trail Association and Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association are integral partners in continued trail expansion in the park.

The other great thing about Van Sickle is that it is a fun place to snowshoe.

It could be a few more years before the entire K to K route is completed. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Scientists working to determine if Tahoe has a microplastic problem

Scientists working to determine if Tahoe has a microplastic problem


The first study about microplastics in Lake Tahoe was done in 2018 at four beaches. (Grapic: TERC)

Scientists are beginning to study how serious of a problem microplastics are in Lake Tahoe.

Called the Lake Tahoe Plastics Sink Study, the yearlong study started with the first samples being taken in August. Katie Senft is leading the UC Davis research team. Senft is a field researcher with the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection is funding the project.

Senft and Jenessa Gjeltema, a board certified specialist in zoological medicine and assistant professor of zoological medicine, gave a virtual talk this month about microplastics and Tahoe.

Microplastics can be any type of plastic that is a fragment less than 5mm in length.

Not much data exists about microplastics in fresh water or what they are doing to the overall ecosystem. TERC first started looking at the issue at Lake Tahoe in 2018. Samples were taken around the lake—at Hidden Beach, Commons Beach, Lester Beach and Baldwin Beach. Microplastics were found at all four. Baldwin, on the South Shore, had significantly more than at the other locations.

Researchers did a test sample of microplastics in Lake Tahoe in February 2020. (Graphic: TERC)

According to TERC, “Plastics enter the natural environment from a variety of sources including cosmetics, clothing, and industrial processes. They easily break down into smaller and smaller fragments by UV light and physical abrasion from wind and waves, but never disappear. Research has shown microplastics are entering the food chain, leaching chemicals, and showing up in soils and drinking water.”

While many might first think of plastic bags and water bottles as trash that could break down, plastics are in so many products. Plastics are turned into synthetic clothes like fleece, stuffed animals, cosmetics, personal hygiene items, disposable masks, IV lines and other health care products, industrial processes and so much more.

“Most of us don’t love plastic, but most of us love what plastic can easily provide,” Gjeltema said. “What happens in the next lifecycle is some can be recycled, but large numbers cannot be recycled and end up disposed in various ways. It could be packaged in more plastic and disposed in a landfill. It also can be lost into the environment.”

With wastewater being transported out of the Lake Tahoe Basin, that keeps microplastics from entering Lake Tahoe in that manner.

The study going on now will use a variety of methods to test for microplastics. Different plastics have different densities, so taking water samples at various levels is key. A Van Dorn sampler will collect water at 0, 15, 30, 50, 250, and 450 meters. A manta net will be used to collect samples at the surface and 20 meters.

A trial test was done in February that proved microplastics are an issue, but not as bad when compared to other waterbodies, according to Senft. Five types were found (film, fragment, fiber, foam, and sphere), with polymer the most common. This did not surprise researchers because polyethylene it is the most widely used plastic in the world.

Animals will also be studied—fish, bears and eagles. “We want to know if microplastics in the lake are moving into the terrestrial food web,” Senft said.

Results from the current study, which will end in July 2021, are expected late next year. The researchers say reducing plastic consumption is the first step individuals can take.

“If you don’t consume the plastics in the first place, they can’t get into the environment,” Senft said. “Only 9 percent of plastic is recycled worldwide. Small actions by many of us can add up to big change.”

Tennis balls being repurposed through recycling program

Tennis balls being repurposed through recycling program

Players at Zephyr Cove Tennis Club have been recycling balls for four years. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

One and done. That’s the attitude for a lot of tennis players when it comes to a can of tennis balls. So many people won’t use a can for more than one session.

Then what? Usually it’s the garbage can for those three balls and the can.

Not so fast says Derrick Senior, founder of RecycleBalls. The Vermont-based nonprofit has been recycling tennis balls since 2014. Once the felt is separated from the rubber the product can actually return to the sport by becoming part of the court surface. They were used for the Laykold surface for the U.S. Open in New York.

They have also been used in equestrian arenas. RecycleBalls is working with Queen City Dry Goods to turn them into a shoe. Other research is under way to determine how else to use these discarded balls, with playgrounds a future possibility.

Zephyr Cove Tennis Club in Nevada has been working with RecycleBalls since 2017. Players can dump their spent balls into a box, which is then shipped to the company. In summer 2020 the club received the Green Ball Award from the company for having recycled 3,000 balls. The club believes the number is closer to 4,000 now.

Wilson, one of several manufactures of tennis balls, has partnered with RecycleBalls. That funding has allowed the company to not charge the clubs and others to mail the tennis balls to the East Coast.

It’s estimated that in the U.S. alone 125 million tennis balls are discarded each year. Since 2017, RecycleBalls has collected 4.2 million balls, has 1,900 partners participating in just about every state, with 15,000 bins scattered about the country.

Mexico-Texas share same baseball team

Mexico-Texas share same baseball team

Sports have often been a unifying force; having the ability to erase socio-economic barriers, transcend race, and even overcome politics. Such is the case of the Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos.

The world’s only binational professional baseball team has home stadiums in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and Laredo, Texas. Locally, the team is known as the Tecos. Tecolote is the Spanish word for owl. The team motto is “Dos Naciones, Un Equipo,” or “Two Nations, One Team.”

Showtime on Oct. 16 premiered “Bad Hombres,” a movie about this AAA Mexican League team. The film focuses on the 2019 season.

Half of the home games are played on one side of the border, the other half on the other side.

Even though the team’s history dates to 1932 as a Mexican-only affiliate, the current incarnation has been playing on both sides of the border since 2017. The binational team played at the two stadiums for about 20 years starting in 1984.

While others may know this part of the world because of the drug cartels, there is more to these border towns. The Rio Grande separates the Laredos, but the two towns are linked by heritage and culture.

The New York Times said, “More than $208 billion in trade passed through Laredo (in 2017), making it one of the busiest land ports in the United States, according to the United States Department of Transportation. On average, 39,000 people a day cross the border here by foot, car and bus. About 95 percent of Laredo’s population of 260,000 is Hispanic.”

Mother Nature kisses Alpine County with abundance of beauty

Mother Nature kisses Alpine County with abundance of beauty


Aspens in full color in mid-October in Alpine County. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Hiking in the Sierra in the fall stimulates the senses more so than any other season. Visually, the scenery is more stunning. A slight chill tingles the skin. The decaying foliage casts a distinct aroma.

Often a lake is the destination for a Tahoe area hike. This time it was the starting point. It would have been easy to stay there and call it a day because the aspens and other foliage along the road were going off in mid-October like painters had been there competing to see who could create the most vibrant mosaic. For those wanting a memorable leaf peeping experience without exercise just drive the 5.6 miles of Burnside Road from Highway 88 to Burnside Lake.

Granite is a dominant feature along the trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even though we enjoyed traveling along the dirt road, the hike was even more glorious. While we clocked 6.85 miles round trip, some outrageously terrific views are to be had just more than a mile into the forest. Stopping where the terrain opens into a valley below with mountains framing it will save you from needing poles, and going down, up, down and up again in elevation. This first part of the trail is relatively flat, with an expansive meadow.

When the descent began Sue and I each pulled out our poles. It’s less than a mile down, but it’s steep and about 1,000 feet. Lots of stops were necessary going down and up—all because of the need to take pictures. I won’t admit to needing to catch my breath on the climb up or that I felt it in my calves the next day.

A solo aspen in the middle of changing colors. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The marker at the bottom says it’s another three miles to Charity Valley and four miles to Blue Lakes Road. What it doesn’t say is that going straight would take us to Grover Hot Springs State Park in Markleeville. At several points the meadow at the state park is visible in the distance. We headed to Charity Valley.

Aspens are the primary deciduous tree in this part of the Toiyabe National Forest in Alpine County. While yellow is the primary color, the shades vary, with other leaves orange and red. In some locations it was like a carpet of leaves decorated the forest floor. Against the gray granite of the surrounding cliffs the aspens were even more vibrant.

Vast views are some of the rewards along this scenic trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In October there was not much water until we headed toward Charity Valley. However, there were plenty of signs that this would be a wet trail in spring and early summer. Ferns are a good indicator water is not a scarcity. Other low-growing foliage included a plant with green leaves that resembled a maple leaf. Trees were growing out of the granite where it didn’t look like there was any dirt.

Mother Nature’s glory in Alpine County. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The trail is varied—soft dirt, hard pack dirt, decomposed granite, baseball size rocks, granite (follow the cairns), and a log crossing a dry stream.

Getting a late start meant we didn’t reach our original destination—Charity Valley. That would have been another three miles in total; there wasn’t enough daylight to carry on. We turned around at another incredible aspen grove that punctuated the reason we were out on that day—to witness the changing seasons.

An aspen grove on the way to Charity Valley from Burnside Lake. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Tahoe area ski resorts change policies to combat deadly virus

Tahoe area ski resorts change policies to combat deadly virus


Ski resorts are hoping riders will come out this season despite the pandemic rules. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Most every ski resort in the greater Lake Tahoe region has made changes to accommodate safety measures related to COVID-19.

According to Visit California, snow sports are among the top five safest activities in California. This has to do with social distancing and being outdoors.

Ski California, aka California Ski Industry Associations, is stressing that riders need to know before they go this season because the rules have changed. Some resorts are mandating reservations, others say day passes must be purchased before arriving at the ski area, while some won’t offer food. It’s best to check online with the resort you are interested in before heading out to know if tickets will be available that day and how to purchase them. Lessons are also changing, so be sure to find out the specifics before expecting to drop junior off in ski school all day.

For those with a season pass, the rules are different, too. Each resort has implemented different regulations. Plan to wear a mask, even in lift lines. Expect to ride only with the people you want to be on a chairlift.

A sample of passenger counts at the Reno airport. (Graphic:  Reno Tahoe International Airport)

Those cold, blustery days when the lodge is wall-to-wall people—not going to happen this season. That means your vehicle may become a warming hut of sorts.

Ski resort officials speculate some protocols could be fluid, as state regulations impact their business. Still, they are excited about the upcoming season, with some resorts having opening dates on the calendar for November even though that white stuff coming down from the sky has been non-existent this fall.

California and Nevada tourism officials are taking a cautious approach when it comes to luring people from beyond their borders to their respective states.

“We are looking at the consumer mindset. What do they think? When do they think it will be safe to travel and how will they travel?” said Lynn Carpenter, vice president of global marketing for Visit California, the state’s tourism agency. She along with her counterpart from Travel Nevada and ski resort reps were part of webinar about the 2020-21 ski season hosted last month by the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.

One of two major programs the Silver State is promoting this winter is in-state travel. Discover Nevada was launched in September.

The North Shore tourism agency is pushing safety, education and responsible travel.

“We are encouraging midweek travel, and encouraging working and going to school from the mountains,” Amber Burke, NLTRA marketing director, said. While NLTRA has been marketing to the Southern California area for years, there will be a more concerted effort this winter season. While it’s farther to drive from compared to the San Francisco Bay Area, these people tend to stay longer.

According to a Reno-Tahoe International Airport official, leisure travel started to return in June. This is because the destination has what the leisure traveler wants—wide-open spaces. It was so bad when the pandemic first hit that one day in April only 200 passengers passed through the airport. Normally thousands of people fly each day.

“If we don’t see the demand, (airlines) will leave,” Trish Tucker with the airport said. This November marks 30 years that Southwest Airlines has been flying into Reno. Until the pandemic hit, the least number of daily flights the airline had was 12. In early September that number was nine. Southwest is expected to have daily service to Dallas Love Field from February to April.

Delta is adding an Atlanta route starting in mid-December, lasting through March. The airline will be flying twice daily to Los Angeles International Airport. The last time this occurred was in 2008. JSX, a 30-seat jet service, started servicing Reno in late September. A one-way trip to Burbank costs $89.

Castle Peak delivers with 360-Degree majestic views

Castle Peak delivers with 360-Degree majestic views


Castle Peak is a popular hike near Truckee. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Looking up I tried to find the castle. Someone with a better imagination must have named this rock outcropping. While others saw turrets, I saw volcanic rock.

Castle Peak is something I have driven by countless times while zooming along Interstate 80, but it wasn’t until the last Saturday in September that I climbed to the top. It was magical even with the smoke. While the air quality hindered our ability to see Mount Diablo, the mountain I grew up by in the San Francisco Bay Area, or Mount Lassen, the southern-most peak in the Cascade Range, the views are why you want to climb this mountain.

Sue Wood takes her time on the loose rock on top of the hardpack trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While the tippy-top is actually 9,103 feet, we made it to 8,998 feet. A fear of heights kept me away from the “turrets”. Plus, there was no advantage to going higher in terms of being able to get a better view.

Looking north was the distinctive Sierra Buttes. Turning to the east was Stampede Reservoir. The nearest iconic fixture were the slopes of Boreal ski resort. It was 360 degrees of beauty—with rugged mountains, a beautiful meadow, peaks whose names I had not heard of nor could I find them all on a map. While plenty of other people were enjoying the scenery and having a bite to eat before heading back, it was a respectful group. No loud chatter, no obnoxious cell phone calling as has been my experience at other times in the Sierra.

While some see turrets on a castle, others only see rock formations. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We started our adventure at the gate just off the interstate, though it would be possible to drive the better part of the way to the top. The reason to drive would be to access other trails without having to hike as far. We ended up doing a loop instead of an out and back. The loop was a bit shorter because the route we took back was more direct. We clocked 6.43 miles total.

Part of the trail includes a dense forest. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

From the gate where you park there is a choice to go left or right. Go right. This would also be the dirt road (Castle Valley Road) you could drive on; four-wheel drive vehicle recommended. Not too far up there will be a fork in the road, with a sign signaling right for Donner Lake Rim Trail. Follow this for the more scenic route. Going straight is the route we came down and the one you would want to drive in order to park as close as possible. You will hit another juncture, Castle Pass, where you will go right.

Be watchful of the wildlife who want to share or perhaps steal your lunch. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Once on the single track part of the trail and off the dirt road the terrain changes dramatically. Trees are closer together, with patches of dried mule’s ear clapping in the gentle breeze. At certain points the view to the west opened up.

Part of the route is along the Pacific Crest Trail, but those hikers are long gone in the fall.

All but about the last mile is relatively easy or moderate as far as Tahoe area hikes go. It’s the steepness at the end that will have you slow your pace. Coming down it was the scree on the path that made me so thankful to have poles.

Views in every direction are the reasons to climb Castle Peak. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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