With each gentle stroke, it was like being transported to a new aquarium. Only this was no aquarium; it was the Sea of Cortez.
No need for dive equipment, several fish were at eye level, even more just feet below. Coral, sea urchins and star fish were more like permanent fixtures in this underwater oasis.
Flame angelfish with their orange and black coloring stood out against the floor of the sea. The Cortez rainbow wrasse is native to the waters of Baja, and can be found as far south as Peru. The long spine porcupine can be hard to spot with its camouflage-like coloring making it easy to blend in with the sandy bottom and light rocks. Guineafowl puffers were hard to miss with their polkadot bodies. Convict tangs are prolific in this part of the world; the black stripes on a yellow-silver body looks like they belong behind bars. A school of what we believe were sardines darted back and forth, shimmering as though they were silver coins.
Those are just some of the creatures that Donna, Craig and I spent a couple hours admiring earlier this month. At times we could see at least 30 feet down.
On the right of Chileno Beach is a rocky area, with the reef farther out. With so much to see underwater, it was only necessary to look up to make sure my friends were nearby.
While I got chilled after going out about three-quarters of a mile, there was no need for a wet suit earlier this month. Buoyed by the salt water, it was easy to stay afloat.
From the shore of Chileno Beach it would be hard to imagine what lurks beneath those salty waters. Indicators this is the place to be were the dive boats in the area, along with people who paid someone to bring them via boat to snorkel.
We drove ourselves; signage is good along Highway 1. Parking is free. Plus, we had our own equipment so it was not necessary to pay to play.
Chileno Beach is along the corridor between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. It’s away from the chaos of the tourist core. It’s also one of the few beaches in the area that is public and swimmable. A roped off area prevents boats from coming in.
Umbrellas, kayaks and other beach paraphernalia are available for rent – but not every day. Restrooms are available, as is an outdoor shower. Food may be purchased at neighboring Chileno Bay Resort. It would be easy to spend an entire day here — on land or in the water.
With the desire to bring environmental news to the masses, in 2012 the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency launched the publication Tahoe In Depth.
Most years it comes out in the winter and summer. A wealth of information is provided about what is going on in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Some stories are written by employees from agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, some by independent freelancers.
“They won’t swallow you.”
But will they nibble on me? Could one dismember me?
“No and no.”
Whale sharks, while they are the largest fish in the world, are also docile. They are sharks, though their size is more whale like. They are often more than 30 feet long and weigh 20 tons.
In pairs we swam with these beasts with the guidance of Katrin. Polk-a-dots never looked so beautiful. A mass of gray is splashed with white circles. Their eyes tiny, like golf balls, are on the side of their heads instead of the front. They rely more on smell than sight to know if danger lurks.
Kicking as fast I could, eventually I couldn’t keep up even though they only go about 3 mph. I wanted to reach out, but knew better. Swimming alongside them in their natural environment was a privilege and I wasn’t about to abuse it.
No need for wet suits this time of year, the water is bath like. Whale sharks prefer warm water, which is why they are found in the tropics like La Paz.
As solitary animals, they don’t swim in pods. They wait until they are 30 to have babies. Then can live another 70 years.
With their 4-foot-wide mouths constantly open as they saunter through the 75 to 80 degree waters of the Sea of Cortez, these creatures use a built-in filtration system for eating. All those thousands of tiny teeth are useless. For the most part they swallow plankton and a few other things whole. Gills expunge all the water that is swallowed.
“Their throat can only swallow something the size of a tennis ball,” guide Katrin says.
Unfortunately, these fish along with manta rays are consuming a large amount of plastic, at least elsewhere in the world, according to a study published this month.
Being so large, other fish will latch on to the whale shark for a free ride or swim nearby, almost like drafting, all as a way to be protected from predators.
With their primary food source plankton lacking this fall in the La Paz area of Baja California Sur, the whale shark tour boats had to delay the normal Oct. 1 opening for a couple weeks. Whale sharks are protected here and in other parts of the world. The Mexican government limits the number of tour boats, when they can operate (season ends in February), regulates the number of people in the water, how close boats can be to the animals, and mandates people don’t touch the whale sharks.
Katrin with La Paz Vip Tours was our guide on the first Monday in November. To date it was the best tour I’ve been on in Baja – great response time, service fantastic, the knowledge and English fluency of Katrin exceptional, her patience with diverse personalities and athletic abilities outstanding, the equipment top grade. Eddie, the captain, was adept at finding these beasts (sonar is not allowed). A dorsal fin or tail out of the water were his clues. For $100, each of the six of us was in the water four times, wetsuits-snorkel-fins-mask provided, snacks-water on board, with tour time of three hours.
Guidebooks are good to a point. They tend to highlight the most popular places to visit in a city or region. That’s their purpose.
But what if you want to go off the beaten track? That is when you go to Atlas Obscura. My friend Denise introduced me to the site. She and hubby Steve swear by it when they travel close to home or far distances. The site describes itself as, “The definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders.”
I had a few hours to kill in Menlo Park, California, earlier this fall. Atlas Obscura took me to The Great Spirit Path at Bedwell Bayfront Park.
While there were limited copies of a guide about the path at the park, it was the description at Atlas Obscura that got me to search out this unique wonder. It would have been easy to miss the special path without prior knowledge of it being there because of how big the park is and the tiny sign pointing to the starting point.
Susan C. Dunlap is credited with being the inspiration behind Spirit Path. She wanted the park, which was being developed in the early 1980s, to have something unique in it.
“The stone poem fuses together both literature and sculpture – it can be read, yet retains a purely visual format,” according the pamphlet. “These rock clusters were inspired by American Indian pictographs.”
Rocks (892 weighing more than 505 tons) from a Sonoma quarry and a meadow near the Stanford Linear Accelerator were hauled to the park in 1981 and 1985 to create the path.
It was good to have a picture of what the rocks originally looked like because time and weather have taken a toll on of them. Not all are whole and grass obscures some. Each cluster of rocks represents a word or phrase in the poem.
The 53 signs are numbered, each with the full poem. This makes it easy for those strolling through the park to follow the numerical order. While I didn’t visit each formation, I saw enough to have an appreciation for the effort involved to create this path.
“It is the artist’s intent here to illustrate a reverence for the evolutionary methods of both man and nature in combination with a message of hope,” the brochure reads. I believe she achieved her goal.
Trail builders in Lake Tahoe need to find other places to lay down pavement.
The West Shore trail from Tahoe City to Meeks Bay is too pretty. Too many beautiful distractions and photo ops are along this 11-plus mile (one-way) trail to keep pedaling. I felt like I was out of the saddle as much as I was in it.
In other words, planners, developers, builders, visionaries – they did their job and then some with this route. It’s perfect for walkers, cyclists, joggers, and all ages. It can be done it segments or all at once. It’s about 10-feet-wide the whole time.
While the whole trail is not new, a significantly scenic section was completed in the last year. This is the 0.7 miles going from the south end of Sugar Pine Point State Park down to Meeks Bay Resort. By themselves those are two of my favorite destinations in the basin. The state park has a plethora of things to see and do no matter the season. The section of the paved trail that goes through the park is the densest forest area. No need to hike – just walk/ride here. Enjoy the pines, firs, aspens and junipers.
The color of the water at Meeks Bay is like no other at the lake. The aqua hue reminds me of the Sea of Cortez in Baja and the Caribbean. The water gently laps, almost to a cadence that beckons one to enter. This is one area no matter the winter snowfall where it still seems like there is plenty of beach. Such was the case this year. The white sand stretches from the land to beneath the water for as far as the eye can see.
Because we were making this a round trip we didn’t venture into the water. Meeks Bay might need to be the starting point next time so we end at the beach. Sue and I started in Tahoe City based on a friend’s recommendation because of elevation gains. Most of the ride is relatively even (aka flat), but it is Tahoe and these are the mountains, so it really isn’t flat – though it is flat for Tahoe. The most significant steepness was coming out of Meeks Bay into the state park.
Starting out from Tahoe City it isn’t long before the trail dumped us into a neighborhood. It’s a short stint. This is just north of Sunnyside restaurant. The other neighborhood section is Homewood. Both are easy to navigate – and we did this on a Saturday in September.
The Homewood section was completed in 2016. This had always been the missing link for this trail system. Before the routing into the neighborhood and along a more defined trail, cyclists had been along the busy highway, in a travel lane.
The only downside to the trail is the multiple times is crosses Highway 89. There are crosswalks at most of these intersections, but drivers are not always cognizant of the two-wheelers on the side of the road or don’t simply know they are supposed to stop for anyone in a crosswalk. Flashing yellow lights at all the crossings would make it better for everyone.
Still, we always felt safe.
Even when the trail is alongside the highway, it never felt like we were in vehicle traffic. The separation is clearly defined.
At times the trail is right along Lake Tahoe, other times it is on the mountain side of the highway. It crosses Ward, Blackwood and General creeks. So many photo ops, especially next to the lake. It was all so visually stimulating that I cannot recommend a favorite section.
There’s even a bicycle campground closer to the Tahoe City end. A lone tent was set up.
While it is a multi-use trail, e-bikes are not allowed. A couple repair stations are set up — good if you need to add air or make some adjustments to your bike. There are even large trail maps in case you need to know where something is.
Here is a map of the trail, which will help you decide where to start if you don’t want to do the whole thing.
Two hours or more of outstanding fun. That’s what floating down the Truckee River is all about.
It’s one of those summer rituals that locals and tourists enjoy, and that most ages can participate in.
While there are multiple commercial entities to rent a raft from, Sue provided a two-woman “boat” that worked just fine for us. I commanded the oars, steering us through rapids, around rocks (sometimes over them) and never into the bank except when we took a break.
I’m not going to earn my whitewater guide certification doing this route from Tahoe City to the River Ranch, but I definitely needed the oars at times. Only a few people were going down in inner tubes without any steering capability; this season I’m not sure I would have liked that based on the mini rapids and current in some sections.
It was never scary. At most there might have been a class 2 rapid.
It was always scenic. You can’t go wrong with any river in the Sierra. Add the sometimes grassy shoreline, sometimes beach spots, tall pines and towering rock formations, well, Mother Nature really has outdone herself. Some sections of the water were so shallow it would have just covered my ankles, with only a couple sections where it would have been over my head. Most of the time I could stand up had I wanted to.
This is one of those experiences that is likely to be different each time one does it because of the water level, the craft one uses, water temperature, and the people. We were out on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. It was a hoot. The people around us made it even more entertaining, as some had dogs with them, others had floatation devices just for their adult beverages, others had water guns in case people got too complacent.
In many ways it was one big floating party with a bunch of strangers all having fun in the warm California sun with the 60-something-degree Truckee River keeping us cool.
Breathtaking. That is one of many superlatives to describe the East Shore multi-use path that opened earlier this summer. The nearly 3-mile paved route goes from Tunnel Creek to Sand Harbor in Incline Village.
A few years ago, for a story I did for Lake Tahoe News, I had the opportunity to walk along part of what was the planned route. Even then I knew this was going to be something special. It’s so much more spectacular than anything I could have imagined.
“It is a trail that takes you someplace, but the journey is the destination,” Amy Berry, head of the Tahoe Fund, said during that excursion in 2014.
Estimates during the planning stage were that 100,000 people would use this trail each year.
The East Shore of Lake Tahoe has some of the most dramatic scenery in the basin. This trail allows almost anyone to enjoy this slice of Tahoe that until now may have been off-limits to certain people. Before it meant seeing these views from a vehicle whizzing by on Highway 28, being on a mountain bike along the Flume Trail, dealing with the masses at Sand Harbor beach, or risking your life parking and darting across the highway to get to the water.
The pavement is 10-feet wide and built to ADA standards. There are a couple curvy and steep sections that had skateboarders using their foot as a brake, and some cyclists panting. Walking didn’t seem like any big deal.
Planners were able to keep 11 offshoots to the lake. This is the only place bikes are not allowed. With the lake being so high this summer, not all of those locations offer much sand to sprawl out on. Still, it’s nice to know these spots are there for those with dogs who would want to have a drink.
Major troublesome spots for dogs are the six steel-fiberglass bridges. The longest is 810 feet. This also happens to be the longest bridge in the basin. An Ohio company made the bridges. After dogs had their pads damaged from the hot surface, signs were posted warning people about the bridge temperature. At the long span and another bridge are wagons people may use to transport their canine. The Tahoe Transportation District, which oversaw the project, would not say if anything is going to be done to lessen the danger on the bridges.
A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t go barefoot – on any surface – because of the heat, a four-legged family member shouldn’t be either. This includes asphalt and sand. At sunset the temperature wasn’t an issue.
TTD manager Carl Hasty would not say if the heat of the bridge should be a concern to cyclists’ rubber tires.
A nice attribute to the route is the abundance of bike racks, as well as the couple stations to do minor repairs, including adding air to bike tires.
The total endeavor came with a hefty price tag – $40.5 million. This was a mixture of private and local-state-federal government dollars. About half went to the trail, underpass and parking, while the other half was for environmental and highway upgrades. Considering construction was right next to the lake, this meant more environmental concerns; then there is a tunnel where the path goes under Highway 28 taking people from the mountain side to the lake side; plus, there are a multitude of granite vista areas – ideal for sitting to take in the views. Parking spaces were also added. Eliminated is all the highway parking between the two points of the trail, with this being done mostly as a safety concern.
Eventually it will cost to park at some locations. Tahoe Transportation District officials would not say what the fee will be or when it will be implemented. The payment portals are already in place.
For those who want to enter Sand Harbor State Park it costs $2 on foot (dogs are not allowed), while it is $10 to drive in.
While the bi-state Tahoe Transportation District was the lead agency to make the path a reality, it will be the Nevada Division of State Parks which maintains it. It took three years to build it.
This is the second section of the greater 33-mile Stateline-to-Stateline trail. One day it will cover the entire Nevada side of the lake, thus the reference to the state lines. The end/starting points will be Stateline and Crystal Bay. The first section was completed it 2013 with 2.2 miles that go from Rabe Meadow in Stateline to Round Hill Pines Beach.
The third phase is already being planned, with the comment period on the U.S. Forest Service’s draft environmental assessment document having ended Aug. 11. The documents are available online. This next section will be eight miles from Sand Harbor to Spooner Summit.
As with all the sections, it’s not just a multi-use path that is being laid down. A major goal is to eliminate parking on the narrow Highway 28 and to create parking areas that are safer. Improvements to utilities, a focus on erosion, and reducing sediment from reaching Lake Tahoe are all goals of the project.
It’s always all about the flowers when hiking to Winnemucca Lake. Even this late in the season the flora is fantastic.
While the flowers are past their peak, even on Aug. 11 Mother Nature was putting on a spectacular display.
The area between Frog and Winnemucca lakes has the biggest splash of color. Some of the plants are a couple feet tall. This is where the lupine are the healthiest, while at the start of the trail they have petered out. Irises are well past their best bloom. Still, a few were photo-worthy.
With it being a cool day (only in the 70s), it didn’t matter that we got a late start to the day. It did mean we didn’t see any people swimming at Winnemucca. I could only touch the water because it was so icy cold. AJ lapped it up. She loves cold water. Round Top Peak still has measurable snow, which will one day find its way into the lake. On the far side of the lake is a small waterfall coming out of the granite wall.
While Sue, AJ and I ventured out on a Sunday to do this nearly 4-miler, it wasn’t a total freeway of people. Other locals were also in search of wildflowers. It seemed like nearly every group had a dog with them. Fortunately, all but a couple people abided by the rule of keeping their pooch on leash.
I’m not sure I had ever done this hike in August before. Usually this is a July hike – early to mid-July. All the snow from last winter had the trail buried so much longer this summer. It was worth the wait.
“The moment of victory is much too short to live for that and nothing else.” – Martina Navratilova
“I think team sports probably teach you more about giving – about being unselfish and being flexible.” – Chris Evert
“Tennis has a lot to do with your character and your poise, the way you keep your nerves under pressure.” – Boris Becker
Planes soaring overhead. It was reminiscent of Forest Hills, New York, or least what I remember from watching the U.S. Open on TV. It just wasn’t as obnoxious.
This overhead disturbance was at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic tennis tournament in San Jose, which came to a close on Aug. 4. Venus Williams, who was the most famous name in the draw, bowed out in the first round. The 39-year-old former No. 1 wasn’t even born when the U.S. Open was last played in Forest Hills in September 1977.
For a recreational player, watching the pros can be humbling. It also can be inspiring. The athleticism is incredible. The movement – forward, back, side to side, lunging, lurching, pivoting. My body has never moved like that, even when I played as a kid.
Watching tennis on TV doesn’t adequately capture the power of these athletes. At this particular tournament it’s all women. This is one of the hardcourt tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open. It’s been called other things through the years and been played at other courts. Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, and Serena Williams are some of the players who have been in the draw in years past.
Tennis is a game of inches – or less. It is mental as much as it is physical; maybe more so. It is a solo endeavor, even at times in doubles. It is also an individual and a team sport. It is one of those rare games that can be played for an entire lifetime.
I’ve played competitively on and off since I was a kid. I will be forever grateful to my mom for introducing me to the sport. While she dabbled in it as an adult, now she is solely a spectator. She has been there to root for me through the years; even watched me play with friends in Todos Santos last November.
My competition in the last year has been in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, where there is an incredible tennis community. Twice a year there are two tournaments, usually where there are two teams. This rivalry is friendly and a bit fierce. The tennis is wonderful. As an adult, it’s the most fun competitive tennis I’ve played. It’s all because fun is the focus. Friendships have not been strained or lost, as has been the case in the U.S. on teams. I’m looking forward to the tourney this year in November. We are known as the Royal and Ancient Baja Sur Tennis Association (RAABSTA).
While I’m not on a USTA team now, I’m enjoying playing truly for the fun of it this summer in Tahoe. In Mexico I was playing women’s doubles twice a week and mixed doubles once week. In Tahoe now it’s a random mix of women’s doubles and singles.
My philosophy is if I’m not having fun on the tennis court, there isn’t any reason to be there – win or lose.
Sunny. Again, and again and again. Is it really necessary to be forecasting the weather in Baja?
Yes, would be the simple answer.
For one, the microclimates can be amazing. What is happening on one side of a town could be different on the other. A few degrees or some wind might be the difference in needing long-sleeves or bringing down the umbrella on the patio.
“The rain totals are immensely different. Sometimes it rains in Pescadero and there’s none here,” Andy Mical said. He added that the morning temperatures can have a big swing between locations that are just a half mile away.
Mical is what is known as a citizen meteorologist. The Todos Santos resident has been providing data to Weather Underground since 2015.
Weather Underground has been operating since 1993 and is considered the first online weather site. Its website says, “The vast amount of weather data we collect only becomes meaningful when combined with the scientific expertise that our team of meteorologists provide. Our proprietary forecast model leverages our personal weather station community to provide the most reliable and localized forecasts available. Our meteorologists and climatologists also provide valuable insight into the science behind the data and the relationship between weather and climate change.”
Weather Underground did not respond to questions so it is not known how many local weather stations are in Baja California Sur. Mical knows of two other stations in the Todos Santos area. His is in the Upper Las Brisas area and may be accessed by clicking here.
While Mical does not have formal meteorological training, weather was an important factor in his life before moving to Baja. He worked in Northern California treating surface drinking water, where weather was a huge component of decision-making. Plus, there was a time when he had a long commute; that, too, required a close eye on the skies. His background in chemistry and biology add a depth to his ability to understand the science of weather.
The desire to have accurate local weather led Mical to invest in a personal weather station.
“When I went online I always got weather for La Paz or Cabo. It said Todos Santos, but it was way off,” Mical said. “That is what prompted me to provide real data for Todos Santos.”
Another driving component was his interest in kite flying. A good day in his neighborhood often turned out to be less than spectacular at the beach. Those microclimates were wreaking havoc on his fun. A little more knowledge via the weather station helped.
Inside his house is a device not much larger than a paperback book. With a touch of the finger the screen suddenly reveals an incredible amount of data in real time. The outdoor temperature, wind – speed-gusts-sustained, rain, humidity and barometric pressure are some of the data collected. Looking at the graphs can be mesmerizing. Information is obtained every minute. It is stored for about a year.
All of these facts are collected from the apparatus attached to the highest point on his home. The twirling gizmo almost looks like a child’s toy spinning in the wind.
While the investment in equipment is a few hundred U.S. dollars, Mical does not receive any compensation for providing data to Weather Underground.
His stats are automatically fed to the company. Weather Underground then takes it and uses other models to come up with the forecast, which is then provided for free to anyone who wants to see what the weather is going to be in cities around the world.
Mical says Todos Santos is in a bubble, especially in the summer.
“It can rain in Pescadero and look like rain here, but it skirts around Todos Santos,” Mical said. Mostly what he has documented in his time as an amateur weather guru is the fluctuation in seasons.
“We get a marine layer in the springtime. It is usually here in May and June, sometimes in April. One year it lasted well into July,” Mical said.
He has also noticed the computer models continue to improve. Mical starts his day with looking at the data coming off the weather site and going online to watch the predictions.
“People freak out as soon as a hurricane is forecast. I see all the posts online. I just watch,” Mical said. “Two days out it’s pretty accurate. That’s plenty of time to prepare.”
It’s not just Todos Santos weather Mical cares about. When he travels Weather Underground is his go-to site to know what it will be like at his destination. He believes it is the most accurate forecast available.
Mical admits long-term forecasting is still an imperfect science.
“I think seven days out is still iffy. If you go two days out, they are almost right on,” Mical said. Weather Underground forecasts up to 10 days in advance.