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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.