Donum Estate creates a feast of wine, food and art

 

Sculptures of all kinds, including a plane, are part of the Donum experience. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

If I had been allowed to, I might have spent the entire day at Donum Estate. I’m pretty sure I’ve never said that about a winery until now.

Donum Estate is like no winery I’ve been to. It’s an experience; an experience that is not solely about the wine.

I knew about the sculptures. Photos on a website (this one included), though, don’t begin to capture the essence and grandeur of the art. Nor can photos truly capture how the multitude of pieces use the land to portray a greater depth.

Three rows of chimes are a melodic piece of art. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

One of my favorites was Sonic Mountain; three circles of wind chimes in a eucalyptus grove. As the trees rustle from the breeze that blows in from the San Pablo Bay, the 365 chimes come to life, playing a unique melody every time they ring.

Sculptor Doug Aiken specifically chose this spot to create his musical and visual art.

I find vineyards captivating by themselves no matter the season. Sculptures the same. Combine the two, and, well, it’s almost like being on sensory overload. Almost.

Artist Jaume Plensa is known for his large heads like this one on the road to the tasting room at Donum. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In late May I had the opportunity to visit Donum. Sue and I were wowed by the entire experience.

I first wrote about Donum when it acquired the highly regarded 52-acre Savoy Vineyard in Mendocino County last summer.

Earlier this year CEO Angelica de Vere-Mabray was featured in another North Bay Business Journal article of mine.

Donum is a relatively young winery by Sonoma County standards, having been founded in 2001. Mei and Allan Warburg of Hong Kong have owned it outright since 2011.

That was the year they established the Donum Collection, which is considered “one of the world’s largest accessible private sculpture collections.”

Potato causa goes well with the 2021 Carneros Chardonnay. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The winery’s website further says, “More than 50 monumental works, including open-air sculptures, are placed on the Donum Estate, with over a third being site-specific commissions. Throughout our 200-acre estate, each piece plays with scale, nature, and imagination. This evolving collection brings together a global community of artists, including works from leading practitioners from 18 nations, across six continents.”

It’s hard to imagine this was once a cattle ranch.

Daan Smeets, whose title is hospitality ambassador, is in the perfect job as this Sonoma winery.

Smeets regaled us with the history of the art pieces, information about each artist and other details. It was like a private, guided outdoor gallery tour.

Donum offers various tours which include being driven in a quad around the property to see many of the sculptures.

“The conical canopy is centered on a northern-oriented oculus and glazed with 832 colored, laminated glass panels depicting yearly averages of the four meteorological parameters at the Estate – solar radiance, wind intensity, temperature, and humidity.” (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While we were able to walk a little to some of the art, I could easily have spent the better part of a day doing so. Wine club members have more opportunities to stroll than general members of the public.

Plus, the winery was reworking the sculpture garden while we there with the intent by July to turn it into a sensory experience. Considering I left feeling like my senses were all stimulated, I can’t imagine what this new area will entail.

Tastings are by appointment. No driving in. You will be let in at the gate by giving your name. Upon arrival you are greeted outside with a splash of rosé in front of the Donum Home that was renovated in 2021.

More art is to be enjoyed here as well.

Artist Yue Minjun’s “manically laughing men” are 25 identical bronze contemporary Terracotta Warriors. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

After the driving art tour we had a private tasting—there are multiple locations on the property for tastings where you are never with others.

Donum specializes in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While what they pour changes and was about to for the summer, we were treated to the 2021 Carneros Chardonnay, 2020 Three Hills Pinot, 2020 Carneros Pinot, and 2021 Home Ranch Pinot.

Being a vegetarian wasn’t a problem for chef. The small bites prepared specifically for the wines we were tasting were perfect. I love how wine changes with the food that is served. While I’m not likely to make any of the dishes presented—potato causa, onion soubise, chicken pate (tofu for me), or beef pastrami (smoked shitake mushrooms), we delighted in the nuances of the flavors of the food and wine. (Well, in retrospect, I probably would make the shitake dish if I had the recipe.)

It was fun to taste three very distinct Pinots side-by-side. The Home Ranch was my favorite—probably because it was bolder, heavier. That’s how I tend to like my reds. I left with a bottle of the Chardonnay as well.

And the land—well, you will just have to go to Donum to learn about regenerative farming and all the other sustainable practices they are implementing.

The entire experience was incredible. Relaxing, never rushed, not pretentious, but everything was high-end and first class. It really is like no other wine tasting.

Napa blends its history into a modern city

The Napa River flows through the heart of the city. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s amazing how many times you can go someplace, but not really know it. You know what you want to do, where you want to go. But what about its history? What about other aspects of this place that aren’t on your normal agenda?

I had the opportunity this spring to spend a few hours exploring the city of Napa with my friend, Joyce, while others in the tennis group went elsewhere.

We started with a stroll near the water, first walking by the old buildings of Historic Napa Mill. It’s also where we ended our adventure; specifically at The Fink. This bar that has been open less than two years, has a speakeasy vibe. Dark and moody, it was also tremendously inviting.

The Fink brings a feel of yester-year to bar patrons. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Along the river are multiple informational signs touting the city’s past and present.

One sign reads: “These buildings were constructed alongside the embarcadero de Napa by Captain Albert Hatt, a seafarer who came to California in 1864. The 1884 building was used as a warehouse and for the sale of merchandise. The second floor housed a roller-skating rink. The 1886 building was designated a U.S. government bonded warehouse for the storage of spirits and wines. The second floor contains Hatt Hall, a meeting place for secret societies and later used as a National Guard armory and for social events. In 1912, the Keig family converted the complex to The Napa Mill, a regional granary, mill and purveyor of agricultural supplies. Restoration began in 1995 for the Napa River Inn and Hatt Market.”

Public is a fixture throughout Napa. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. The brick came from the San Quentin brickyard.

The Napa River was a major part of commerce when the city was first established. Steam boats and ferries transported people and cargo to and from San Francisco and the Napa Valley.

The river’s headwaters are near Mount St. Helena; then empties into the San Francisco Bay.

The Goodman Building, home to the Napa County Historical Society, is sandwiched between more contemporary buildings. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A sign on the promenade says, “Regional commerce relied on water transport to ship lumber, agricultural goods, livestock and textiles. Numerous wharves were constructed along the river providing docking for waterway commerce.”

Today, the river is more of a scenic byway, becoming a destination after the 2005 flood project that restored riparian habitat to the landscape, cleaned up contaminated sites, and removed dilapidated industrial buildings.

Before the project’s completion the city had suffered from more than 20 major floods.

This mosaic represents the local flora and fauna, as well as historical elements. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In addition to the walking trail along the river, numerous commercial entities parallel the water.

While Napa is a modern city with nearly 80,000 residents, home to numerous wineries and restaurants, a stroll through downtown is an architectural tour of sorts. Some buildings date to the 1800s.

Placards on structures and monuments throughout town give a glimpse into Napa’s past.

I learned the city is the birthplace of the loudspeaker and the Magnavox Corp.

Tribute is paid to local military personnel who have died while in uniform.

On the wall of one building reads, “Built in 1905, this building was the first home of the Napa Register. The historic building survived the Great Earthquake of 1906 and the 2000 Yountville earthquake. Following the Napa earthquake of 2014, the building was purchased and restored by the grapegrower Beckstoffer family.”

Quickly ducking into the Archer Hotel it was as though we were in a fancy hotel in a much larger city.

Napa is definitely more than a wine destination. Simultaneously it embodies an upscale, laid back aura that appreciates its past and embrace its role in the 21st century.

The buzz about bees comes to life at North State center

 

Honeybee Discovery Center in Orland is open two days a month. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

As the queen bee capital of North America, it’s not surprising the Honeybee Discovery Center is in downtown Orland.

This Northern California town earned this designation because of the “popularity of beekeeping as a profession.”

The center’s website says, “Eighty percent of the queen bees used in the United States are raised here in Butte, Glenn, Shasta, and Tehama counties, which are often referred to as the ‘golden Triangle.’ Orland is also the 40th Bee City, USA with a commitment to creating greater awareness and an environment that protects honeybees and other pollinators.”

In many ways honeybees are managed like other farm animals. They are critical to keeping food on our tables. It’s reported that the annual value of crop pollination in the United States ranges between $18 billion and $27 billion.

The center says, “… these tiny creatures are responsible for one out of every three bites you eat.”

Three of us (me, mom and Sue) thoroughly enjoyed The Making of a Queen exhibit that runs through June.

A slew of photographs line two walls depicting the beekeeping process. Many were from Hill and Ward Apiaries in Glenn County. The bonus was having Laurel Hill-Ward, a volunteer and board member with the bee center, sharing what life is like in a beekeeping family and answering visitors’ questions.

One display said, “The relationship between humans and honeybees may have started even before agriculture began in Neolithic times. People had probably harvested honey from wild bees before they began planting crops. Early observations about pollination led to close ties between humans and bees.

“Curious beekeepers unconsciously acting as citizen scientists carefully observed honeybee behaviors and learned how to manipulate colonies of bees to produce queen bees. This knowledge allowed people to increase the number of bee colonies by gathering the natural excess of bees in a colony and adding a new queen.”

The permanent displays talk about the culinary uses of honey as well as the health benefits. In the U.S. there are more than 300 types of honey. More information talks about the making of a queen.

It’s a small center packed with a ton of information.

The center opened in 2019. The goal is to move to a larger location that would include pollinator gardens.

Bees make a variety of honey. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

________________________________________________________________________________________

Deets:

  • Open the first consecutive Friday and Saturday of each month. Fridays from 3-6pm, Saturdays 10am-1pm.
  • Address: 501 Walker Street, Orland
  • Email: honeybeediscovery@gmail.com
  • Phone: 530.805.BUZZ
  • Website
  • Cost: $3

Mexico’s Lake Chapala–forbidding and beautiful

Fishers at Lake Chapala in Mexico don’t care the water level is low. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

As Mexico’s largest fresh water lake, Lake Chapala is impressive. But something is missing; that something is people.

The amazing view from where I was staying made the lake look so inviting to cool off in or to take a boat ride on or perhaps paddle on. After all, it was in the mid-80s during the day.

When friends drove me around the lake it was still impressive, but less inviting. Part of this had to do with there being no obvious beaches and that the water level is extremely low because of drought conditions. Low water years make most lakes somewhat ugly because of the exposed land that should really be under water.

We had a drink at a restaurant in the town of Chapala where I wondered if in high water conditions the water might lap against the building or at least be a stone’s throw away.

Lake Chapala near Guadalajara, Mexico, is most beautiful from a distance. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I’ve seen pictures of Lake Chapala with sandy areas near the malecons. Guess I just have to go back after a rainy spell.

Several towns border the lake. So do a lot of agricultural lands, which is a main reason no one is recreating on the lake.

“Lake Chapala’s principal source is the Lerma River, which originates near Toluca in Mexico state and flows through the states of Michoacán and Guanajuato before entering Jalisco. The water entering Lake Chapala from the Lerma River is highly polluted with heavy metals and other toxic substances as a result of insufficient wastewater treatment by the many industries operating near the Lerma River,” according to Global Nature Fund. “Additionally, many of the towns around the lake release their sewage and waste water into the lake without treatment. The mandated ‘federal zone’ around the lake, where construction is prohibited, suffers increasing invasion by landowners.”

Lerma River is the main source of water for Lake Chapala. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This isn’t to say zero people are utilizing the lake. Fishers are out and I saw what was called a tourist boat. Not sure if they were going from restaurant to restaurant or eventually checking out one of the three islands on this lake that sits at 5,000 feet.

However, media reports say local fishers have reported skin irritations after being in contact with the lake’s waters.

Perhaps March is just a slow period in terms of people playing in and on the water, even though it was warm. Or maybe they know better. After reading up on the lake I’m glad I didn’t even touch it.

The lake is about 48 miles long and 10 miles wide. It has a maximum depth of about 11 feet, with an average depth of 7½ feet. The shallowness adds to its problems because the lake water isn’t mixing much.

March is not the height of the dry season and still Lake Chapala is so low. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Ninety percent of the water comes from the Lerma River, the rest from rainfall.

Lake Chapala is the primary water source for Guadalajara, which is Mexico’s second largest city. That would be reason enough to want to keep this body of water more clean.

Todd Stong, an expat and civil engineer, contends improvements are being made to Lake Chapala and that it is no worse than many California beaches. But if one reads the headlines about Southern California’s beaches, they are often polluted from sewage traveling north from Tijuana. So, there is that to consider. This information was also found on a real estate agent’s site, so that person has a financial interest in promoting a healthy lake.

The Guadalajara Reporter this year has had several stories about the lake.

“The combination of lower volume, rising temperatures, and accumulation  of excess nutrients is causing the proliferation of microscopic algae along the shoreline that turns the water green, creates noxious odors and endangers fish and other species living in the ecosystem,” the paper reported in February.

The surrounding wetlands were the subject of a multi-day conference in February to address the environmental issues.

Lake Chapala is captivating from multiple vantage points. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

An article in March in the GR said, “The toxins of microalgae and cyanobacteria present in Lake Chapala likewise have a potential negative impact on human health, considering that more than 3 million inhabitants of metro Guadalajara and the lakeshore region depend on its water.”

Besides being a major source of water for Guadalajara, it is also important for migratory birds north of Mexico. American white pelicans migrate from central Canada; staying at Lake Chapala from November until March. The lake is also home to native birds, some of which can only be found there.

It’s beyond sad what humans have done to nature. It’s 2024—Mexico being a Third World country is not a justifiable excuse for continued degradation of Lake Chapala. It’s fabulous to read people are worried about the lake and want to make it healthier. Maybe it will happen in my lifetime and I’ll swim in those waters one day. It doesn’t hurt to dream.

Loss of thousands of trees redefines skiing at Sierra-at-Tahoe

Gone are thousands of trees in the West Bowl area of Sierra. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s not the same. It never will be. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good or even better in some ways. And that vibe, it’s still there. An altered landscape hasn’t changed the soul of Sierra-at-Tahoe.

“I’ve learned to appreciate what’s here,” Adam Parris of Oakland said while taking a break from snowboarding at Sierra-at-Tahoe this season.

“You get out there and remember what life is all about,” he said gesturing to the slopes. To him, it’s all about being in the mountains riding. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t look the same.

Eighty percent of the resort’s 2,000 acres were affected by the Caldor Fire. Every lift needed repairs—some because of heat, some had trees fall on them. Lift towers, haul ropes and terrain features had to be replaced.

The brick shop building with millions of dollars of equipment was reduced to ashes, while the wood structures remained intact.

West Bowl amenities survived the Caldor Fire even though the trees around it did not. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The Caldor Fire started Aug. 14, 2021, near Grizzly Flats, which is about 30 miles from the ski resort. It blew through the resort on Aug. 29, forever changing the ski area.

“I’m amazed with what they have done,” Roger Hubbard of Meyers said while riding the Grandview lift in January. “I think most everybody misses the trees.”

Those trees. Those trees that are no longer there. Approximately 34,000 were removed after the fire. It used to look like a forest and now, well, it doesn’t. At least not at West Bowl. Instead of tree skiing it’s stump skiing.

Some say it’s more like bowl skiing in Colorado or even Europe, which West Bowl never was. Clipper and Dogwood are now wide-open powder runs.

What’s gone are the stashes of powder at West Bowl. It used to be easy to find them even days after a storm. This was all because thousands of trees hid those fluffy piles of white stuff.

“The first time I saw West Bowl it was like a moonscape. There wasn’t any tree skiing there,” Rebekah Richard of Roseville said.

She says the resort still has the same feel, and she’s more than happy it reopened.

For Lilia Prather, also of Roseville, Sierra still feels like home.

“I think it’s a different beauty. You still have trees, but some are sticks sticking up,” she said. “It’s still beautiful. It’s just different terrain.”

Two guys relaxing at the Solstice Plaza came up from San Francisco for the day to ride. They didn’t even know there had been a fire. A man from North Carolina visiting for the first time was unfazed by the terrain, saying he thought he saw signs of a fire but didn’t think much about it.

Ramon Belasqued of Santa Rosa knows what Sierra was like pre-Caldor. “It’s windier now that the trees are gone,” he said. But he’s not complaining. In the same breath he adds it’s easier to move around the slopes because of the lack of trees.

The top of Grandview looks as though there was never a fire. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Still adapting

John Rice, who has been the resort’s general manager since 1993, initially wasn’t sure Sierra would rise from the ashes.

“We are still facing challenges,” Rice admits.

It’s figuring out the wind, where snowdrifts form, even how the lifts are affected by the wind.

“Disasters take their own path. This fire got the shop and left the ugly buildings,” Rice says, still amazed by this reality.

The thought at the time was to put all the valuable equipment—including several new snowcats—snowmobiles, employee tools and other items all in that brick structure with the belief it could survive. It was as packed as it could be.

While Rice would not reveal the actual dollar figure in losses from that one building, he said it was in the multi-millions.

A new structure with new equipment has taken its place.

The other buildings had been protected with Thermo-Gel, a fire retardant that the resort’s insurance company had applied. Everything that was sprayed survived, including the tent-like covering at Solstice.

It took a team to bring the resort back to life.

El Dorado Resource Conservation District and the U.S. Forest Service are to be commended, according to Rice.

Rice went to Washington, D.C., to lobby for support; pointing out the recreation asset that Sierra is.

McP’s Taphouse and MacDuff’s Pub in South Lake Tahoe each had fundraisers for employees, some of whom lost thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment.

Mammoth, Palisades and Boreal ski resorts were singled out by Rice for coming through with people, equipment and other resources.

Now Rice is a resource for others in terms of how to deal with an approaching inferno. Last year he advised resorts in New Mexico and Arizona to put their equipment in the parking lot—on asphalt where fire is more apt to run its course.

A snowboarder goes down the now barren Powderhorn run. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Figuring it out

Employees, community members (on the South Shore and West Slope), season pass holders, day trippers, most anyone with a connection to the resort wanted it to reopen. Rice was buoyed by their enthusiasm.

The rally cry became “it just might be better.”

Not just skiers wanted to come back—so did employees. Last fall six people reached the 30-year mark at Sierra.

While Rice recognizes he is at the tail end of his career, he also knows he was the right person to be at the helm for the recovery. He also admits he and others have gone through all the stages of grief, adding they went from being victims to being victors.

Then everyone involved in Sierra’s rebirth embraced every “re” word—repurpose, reimagine, re-create, reassemble, recalculate. Eventually, they could rejoice.

“You can change the landscape, but you still have the vibe,” Rice said while sitting inside the Solstice Eatery.

He refused to let those flames that reportedly reached 3,000 degrees when they ripped through West Bowl have the final say.

Sierra-at-Tahoe is surrounded by evidence of the 2021 Caldor Fire. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Sierra opened for two days in March 2022 to recognize the resort’s 75th anniversary. Not all the terrain was open last year; even on days when Mother Nature cooperated.

Resilient is one of many words to describe Sierra and the people who brought it back to life. Last fall a swarm of people descended on Sierra to plant 5,000 trees. This will become an annual event at least for a few years; after all not every seedling survives.

While the 200-foot pines will never grace these slopes in any of our lifetimes, life will eventually sprout from the soil.

The fire went from West Bowl south to the lower east side, where areas such as lower Jack’s Bowl and Preacher’s Passion were charred.

Still, there are plenty of places where it’s easy to forget there was a fire. Near the top of Grandview it’s like nothing happened; tall conifers dot the landscape, with snow filling the boughs. Other parts of the resort are like this as well.

Everyone knows the resort is different. No one is apologizing for it. Instead they are actually promoting Sierra as being a different resort.

“It’s not just a business, it’s a treasure,” Rice said of Sierra.

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the Tahoe Mountain News.

Gondola linking Palisades Tahoe to Alpine creates mega-resort

Even on a blustery day one can appreciate the rugged terrain the gondola crosses. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Convenient. Comfortable. Scenic.

That’s how people describe the $65 million Base to Base Gondola at Palisades Tahoe.

Wayne Paulson (1915-1995), who founded what is now known as Palisades Tahoe, envisioned long ago linking his resort with Alpine Meadows. While he didn’t live to see it become a reality, his successors made his dream come true with the opening of the gondola in December 2022.

Parking at the resorts is one reason people are opting for the gondola. Bill Stewart of Carnelian Bay prefers starting on the Alpine side, whereas Rick Barr of Truckee leaves his vehicle at Palisades.

“I’ve never liked driving here,” Barr said after exiting the gondola on the Alpine said. “This has solved that problem.”

Bob McCullough from Napa Valley say he rides the new gondola every other time he comes to the mountain because of the convenience.

Some facts and figures about the Base to Base Gondola:

  • Opened December 2022
  • Seats 8
  • Takes 16 minutes
  • Winter operation only
  • 96 cabins
  • 4 miles long
  • 33 lift towers
  • Can be operated as one continuous lift for two lifts from the respected bases to the top of KT-22.
  • Sightseeing tickets available.

Source: Palisades Tahoe

It’s also possible to ride it as a sightseer, which is what Sue and Roy Vinyard of Discovery Bay were doing in January. Normally they take it with skis in tow.

“I love it because it’s such easy access to Alpine. A lot of times we ski both mountains in the same day,” Sue Vinyard said. “And the scenery is beautiful.”

Her husband commented on how comfortable the cars are.

David Long and Joyce Youngs, who live on the South Shore, came up in December to check out the gondola without any intent of skiing.

“While riding the gondola, I was able to appreciate the steepness of the canyons which drop into Alpine Meadows. We only caught a glimpse of the lake on the ride due to cloudy conditions,” Long said. “Once past the KT-22 chair you can see what looks like an old chairlift which was assumed to be part of a private land holding that was a stumbling block in the gondola’s development. The scenery is not as spectacular as that on the funitel or the tram, but much more panoramic than the others.”

They rode all three apparatuses that day.

The new gondola is steps from the funitel at the base of Palisades. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The towers one sees are on the land owned by Troy Caldwell. About half of the gondola goes through his property, including the mid-stations. Palisades pays him rent to do so. He also owns the top of KT-22.

While the resort is not releasing exact ridership numbers, employees have said more people are taking the gondola this season. It’s also not known what the breakdown of skiers vs. sightseers is.

Gondola cars are not heated, so you definitely want to dress for winter.

Warning signs at the top of KT-22 likely keep many riders in the gondola car. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even with a Stage 1 wind hold in mid-January, this year-old gondola barely swung. If one closed her eyes, it would be impossible to know the weather was less than ideal outside. It is that smooth.

Wind is one of the complaints, though. If the gondola closes because of wind, skiers would have to take a bus back to their starting base. And wind is a regular occurrence here.

With Alpine and Palisade linked as one resort, it makes this the second largest in the United States with 6,000 skiable acres. Park City in Utah (7,300 acres) took the stop spot when Vail Resorts’ connected Park City and Canyons with a gondola in December 2015.

Note: This story was written for Tahoe Guide.

Revisiting favorite ski resorts with some ability challenges

 

Wide-open spaces is what West Bowl at Sierra-at-Tahoe is now all about. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s like riding a bike.

I lost count of how many people told me that before I hit the slopes last month for the first time in more than six years.

They were right. Just like when I’m on my ebike on a mountain bike trail I seem to fall at least once. Same with skiing. Only I did it after being stopped. It’s like I just fell over. I laughed while my friend looked at me wondering what the heck just happened.

I will tell you it’s easier to get up after a mountain bike fall than a skiing tumble. I didn’t remember it being any big deal to pop up after falling in the snow. Apparently, I don’t pop up anymore. I wriggle, and laugh and wonder, like my friend, what the hell is happening here.

Darla Sadler finds some soft snow to ski through at Sierra on Jan. 23. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This is my friend, Darla, who I grew up skiing with. She’s a beautiful skier. So fluid, and seemingly effortless. I’ve never demonstrated those traits on skis. Even less so in January. It was obvious I was rusty.

We spent a day at Sierra-at-Tahoe and a day at Palisades Tahoe. Both were working ski days for me. I know, tough job. Sierra was always my favorite resort when I lived in South Lake Tahoe. Palisades was my favorite growing up in the Bay Area. Both are places where Darla and I have had countless days of fun.

Wow. It’s the simplest word I have to describe West Bowl at Sierra. I stopped, paused, looked all around, took deep breaths with tears in my eyes before pushing on to the lift.

The devastation from the 2021 Caldor Fire is profound. It ripped through this ski resort near Echo Summit with such intensity that the landscape is forever changed. It will never be the same ski resort. So much of the tree skiing is gone as well as the stashes of powder that could linger for days after a storm. That’s because the trees are gone—all 34,000 of them.

My profound visceral experience surprised me. I have driven through the burn area multiple times. I’ve hiked parts of it. I’ve mountain biked in the burn. Something, though, about skiing at Sierra jarred me. Thinking about it still moves me.

Kae figuring out what to do on the slopes. (Image: Darla Sadler)

I used to have a ritual where I would start at the farthest run off West Bowl, then ski each one. This was my favorite area of the mountain. On this particular day, while the coverage was good, the conditions varied. It was slick on many of the West Bowl runs because the wind blows through there like never before. Other runs were left ungroomed, but this was not a powder day so we opted not to try them.

I need to go again. To see how this area really skis. This one experience was not enough.

In the past I also enjoyed a ton of runs off the Grandview lift. On this particular day I was not about to go on any black diamonds. I’ve never been an advanced skier, but I could always get down just about anything. I knew better than to test my luck that day. Nonetheless, we found plenty of fun groomed runs off Grandview, where the conditions were wonderful. Not a single complaint—other than my ability being subpar.

Even more amazing is how the fire swept through this area. At a point near the top of the Grandview lift it’s impossible (honest) to not know such a devastating fire hit the resort. Trees were tall, with boughs covered in snow. It was just like I remembered.

Between Grandview and West Bowl it was as though I had skied two extremely different resorts, and, yet, this was still the one wonderful Sierra-at-Tahoe. It’s always been one of my favorite resorts. If I were still living at Lake Tahoe (or even still considered myself a regular skier), this is where I would still go. I’d take the time to learn how it skis post-fire, find which runs would be my new favorites. Maybe discover new trees to schuss through.

Kae Reed and John Rice, general manager of Sierra.

The Sierra vibe is still intact. That hasn’t gone away. But West Bowl, wow, just wow.

The next day it was onto Palisades Tahoe. What different conditions these were compared to the last time I was at the resort—which was in July 2017 when I was wearing shorts to ski in. This January day was blustery and visibility was horrendous.

We were there for me to do a story about the Base to Base Gondola that links Palisades and Alpine. This really seems like an engineering marvel to me.

With the crappy weather day we didn’t see a ton. Lake Tahoe was out there somewhere. Nonetheless, it was an incredibly smooth ride—especially considering the windy conditions. We didn’t ski the Alpine side even though we were over there. This had to do with the threat of winds getting worse, meaning if the gondola shutdown, we would have to take a bus back to our starting point. Plus, neither of us knows the resort that well, so better to go back to Palisades where we spent much of our youth.

The skiing, well, the visibility had me losing my confidence. The snow was less than ideal. It was just one of those days where if I had a choice, I would not have been there. But work called and this was our chosen day.

I’d like to ride the gondola again to really appreciate the views. While it’s open for sightseers, it only operates in the winter.

What I realized, though, is that I really don’t miss skiing. These two days didn’t invigorate me to want to ski more often. I’m not ready to sell or give away my equipment, but it is the first time those thoughts have crossed my mind.

One thing that shocked me about both resorts is the cost of a daily lift ticket—$145 at Sierra and $259 at Palisades. I realize the most expensive way to buy a ticket in this modern world is to walk up to the window that day. Purchasing a ticket online in advance, multi-day packages and season tickets will drop the price. Still, it’s hard for me to justify that kind of money going forward.

Larger-than-life Marilyn Monroe sculpture perfect for Palm Springs

Marilyn Monroe will forever be in Palm Springs. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Large. That’s an understatement when talking about the Marilyn Monroe sculpture in Palm Springs.

It’s HUGE. At 26-feet-tall you can’t miss it. It’s just off the main thoroughfare near the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Artist Seward Johnson captures Monroe in her iconic pose from the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch, where her dress swirls around her. The sculpture is titled Forever Marilyn.

The back side, well, that shows her underwear. And that has some people aghast—seeing a statue with underwear. Wow! People really don’t understand or appreciate art. How many sculptures and paintings show nudity? It’s not like Monroe is depicted in a thong; not that that would be wrong or bad.

The backside does not sit well with all in Palm Springs. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I think the piece is magnificent. It’s so life-like—other than being so big.

The stainless steel and aluminum piece was first unveiled in Chicago in 2011. Then it traveled to various locations in the United States; coming to Palm Springs in 2012 before moving again. The 24,000-pound sculpture returned to this desert town in 2021, and is expected to be a permanent fixture.

Information at the installation says, “A passion for detail and an uncanny realism of pose are qualities often associated with the works of sculptor Seward Johnson. Well-known for recreating life in our times in vivid realism, with this series titled ‘Icons Revisited’ the artist explores in three dimensions why some visual images so captivate us that they become larger than life.”

Johnson died in 2020.

Another panel explains Monroe’s connection to Palm Springs: “In 1949, at age 22, Marilyn was ‘discovered’ in Palm Springs at Charlie Farrell’s Racquet Club by William Morris talent agent Johnny Hyde. Many famous photos of Marilyn were taken around the racquet club’s swimming pool. In the 1950s, she was a regular visitor to Palm Springs with her second husband, baseball great Joe DiMaggio. Marilyn Monroe loved Palm Springs and the presence of Forever Marilyn is a true homecoming.”

Palm Springs Tram a tale of history, nature and an engineering marvel

The Palm Springs Tram first ride was in 1963. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In 10 minutes I went from 2,643 feet to 8,516 feet, with the temperature dropping about 30 degrees, and the surroundings going from desert to mountains.

The Palm Springs Tram has been whisking people up these 2½ miles for 60 years.

It’s the world’s largest rotating tram. The rotation part, though, started in 2000. The floor moves so people get a 360-degree view without having to take a step.

The Salton Sea shines in the distance. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While there are more than 50 miles of hiking at the top, including a route to the top of the 10,834-foot Mount Jacinto, I opted not to tax my muscles. Instead, I took the leisurely Nature Valley Loop and Desert View Loop scenic trails from the top of the tram.

Fortunately, I was ready for the 32-degree temps. I knew to pack gloves and other appropriate clothing. Clearly, not everyone got the memo to dress warm based on their attire and footwear. Considering a few traces of snow were along the trail and ice in the creek, I would not have wanted to have less clothing on.

It’s possible to stay indoors the entire time. Food and beverages are available, with plenty of doses of history.

The scenery is absolutely stunning. In some ways it reminded me of being at Heavenly Mountain Resort or any hiking/biking trail in the Tahoe area where you can see the desert and mountains at once.

Views from the trails near the top of the tram provided stunning vistas. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

But something about the short trails I went on were even more magical. Perhaps because I don’t associate Palm Springs with pine trees I was more taken by the scenery, more impressed by Mother Nature. What also captivated me was the layering of mountains. On the desert side are endless windmills. About 30 miles way is the Salton Sea. It distinctly shimmers in the distance.

Mount San Jacinto State Park is one of the oldest and largest wilderness areas among California’s state parks. Ninety percent of the 14,000 acres is permanently set aside as wilderness.

Like much of the west, this wasn’t always protected land.

One sign reads, “After nearly a century of timber production, parts of the of San Jacinto Mountains looked like nothing more than a logging camp. Where tall trees once stood, stumps and wood debris littered the landscape. Livestock grazing also took its toll. John Muir toured the region with members of the National Forest Commission and advocated for the protection and preservation of the high country. Based on the commission’s report, President Cleveland established the San Jacinto Forest Reserve in 1897. More robust protection came in 1927 when a Forest Service game refuge was created to regulate the hunting of deer. It took another 10 years to arrive at a true wilderness designation. In 1937, the federal government, the California State Park Commission, and local officials collaborated to permanently protect the region. This land was designated the Mount San Jacinto State Park and set aside as a wilderness area. Later, adjacent Federal land was designated the San Jacinto Wilderness. The result was permanent protection of nearly all of San Jacinto’s high country.”

On the tram ride down the sun sets on the mountains beyond the valley. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

One doesn’t have to “hike” to get good views. Plenty of photo-ops abound just outside the buildings at the top of the tram.

Still, I was happy to walk a couple miles to immerse myself more in the natural setting and get away from the crowds.

The idea of the tram was not welcomed by all initially, with many thinking it was a pipe dream.

Electrical engineer Francis Crocker came up with the idea in 1935, thinking it sure would be a lot cooler in the mountains than sweating in the desert. Thus began the efforts to create a tram through Chino Canyon. After all, the temperature difference between to bottom and top of the tram is usually between 30 and 40 degrees.

During the 26 months of construction it took about 23,000 helicopter trips to deliver workers and materials to the sites where the towers were erected and the mountain station was built. The tram opened in September 1963.

Now it’s a tourist attraction, a refuge for locals, a state park and a federal wilderness area.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Deets:

  • Parking is $15; free to locals with ID.
  • Tram tickets are $30.95. They may be purchased in advance.
  • Phone: 760.325.1391
  • Website

Indians in Palm Spring continue to expand their presence

The Agua Caliente Cultural Museum in Palm Springs has been open since November. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s a safe bet that most casinos outside of Nevada are owned by an Indian tribe. Such is the case in the greater Palm Springs area where there are three casinos.

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, though, has a larger investment beyond those gaming venues. In fact, 6,700 acres of the reservation’s approximately 31,500 total acres are within the city limits of Palm Springs.

Their land in the western Coachella Valley also encompasses parts of Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, and unincorporated areas of Riverside County. Some of this is prime hiking country.

I was put off at first that I had to pay $12 to hike in the Tahquitz Canyon. Then it dawned on me that the tribe isn’t getting any taxpayer dollars to operate; unlike national, state, county and city owned parks. And many of those parks have an entrance fee as well.

Metate and pestles estimated to be between 7,300 and 8,400 years old were unearthed during construction of the museum and hot springs. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Money was exchanged as I hiked in another Indian canyon as well. So be it. It was worth it.

What I learned from friends is that the Indians own the land under some of their homes—condos and single-family residences. This means they are paying monthly or annual lease payments. Leases cannot be longer than 99 years.

“There are 1,175 commercial leases, 7,671 residential subleases and 11,118 time shares on Indian land leases under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs-Palm Springs Agency,” according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The tribe’s newest endeavor is the 48,000-square-foot Agua Caliente Cultural Museum that opened last month in downtown Pam Springs.

In addition to the museum, the 5.8 acre Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza features the Spa at Séc-he that is an ode to the tribe’s ancient hot mineral spring, a Gathering Plaza, and an Oasis Trail. (Séc-he is the Cahuilla term for “the sound of boiling water”.)

Displays tell the chronological history of the tribe. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A trip to the museum ($10 for adults) starts with a 12-minute movie that explains the origins of the tribe. While about only 500 members of the tribe exist today, their history dates thousands of years.

Ancient and more current history fill the space. While most items are permanent, a gallery is for rotating exhibits. The current display is photographs by Horace Poolaw who as a member of the Kiowa tribe had access to the native people of Oklahoma.

The museum is extremely educational. It would be easy to go back multiple times to keep learning. In many ways there was too much to absorb in one trip.

I learned those canyons I was hiking in weren’t routes of recreation for the Indians.

“Our ancestral home includes a series of canyons directly west of Palm Springs in the foothills of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains. The canyons provided protection and trade routes into the surrounding mountains,” one sign says. “They offered food, water, medicine, and materials. We have a deep love and respect for the plants and animals with whom we share the canyons. These places remain a source of spiritual connection and healing for our people.”

For those who aren’t into hiking, replicas of the canyons are part of the museum.

Obviously, the story of any tribe in the United States cannot be fully told without understanding what white people did to them.

“The arrival of non-native people to our homeland began a difficult time of change. Our land and water were stolen, our people decimated by disease, our culture threatened and misunderstood. Determined to survive, we adapted to the new society around us,” reads another panel.

One section is titled “Change: 1770-1903”. This was the first time I had heard of the Treaty of Temecula. Some things just make me keep hating this country.

“After the Treaty of Temecula was purposefully ignored by the U.S. Congress, a much smaller reservation was established in 1876 in coordination with land grants to the transcontinental railroad, which passed directly through our land. Alternate sections of one-square mile, creating a checkerboard pattern, were granted to the Southern Pacific Railroad and to our reservation as part of the agreement. In 1877, our reservation expanded to its current dimensions.”

“Adaptation” is what the period from 1912-42 is called. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 “granted citizenship to all native people in the United States. We were the last Americans to receive these rights. Our voting rights continued to be restricted in many states.”

How ignorant of me to never even think about the citizenship of Indians. To think it will only be 100 years in 2024 and that this country will be 248 years old next year.

Photographs of Horace Poolaw are the first special exhibit at the museum. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even after citizenship was granted the government continued to screw the Indians.

“The federal government assigned non-native conservators to manage our finances. Taking much of our income and property for themselves, conservators restricted our ability to advance economically and politically,” reads another sign from the 1950s-60s. The conservatorships were abolished in 1968.

“Self-determination” marks the era from 1950-today.

The “into the future” segment says, “Today we are thriving and working hard to protect our land and water. We teach our children to understand and respect their past while embracing the opportunities of the future. That depends, as it always has, on respecting and preserving our ancestral lands. While building this Cultural Plaza, we found artifacts thousands of years old right here where you are standing. They remind us that our people have been here since time immemorial and will be here evermore.”

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