There was no waterfall.
This had nothing to do with our excursion being in late October. It had everything to do with being on the wrong trail. A trail that has no waterfalls no matter the time of year.
It didn’t matter. Our unplanned route was stunningly beautiful. A ranger’s suggestion to make it a loop made it even more sensational.
Sabino Canyon leads to the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area. The 57,000-acre wilderness area was designated such in 1978, the same year private vehicles were banned from the canyon road. The whole area is part of the Coronado National Forest in Tucson, Arizona.
Today, an emissions-free shuttle takes people up the three-plus mile road to where an abundance of trails begin. We opted to walk the road with a few others. (The Sabino Canyon Recreation Area has more than 30 miles of trails.)
The rocky ridge line above us made me feel small. Saguaro and other desert plants grew from these rocks, looking other-worldly at times because it seemed like there was no dirt binding them to the ground.
While we didn’t see much wildlife, a roadrunner couldn’t decide if it wanted to cross the road or stay to the side where it was almost camouflaged against the terrain.
Once off the pavement, the trail was entirely single-track. Some was decomposed rock, other times it was like stairs of rocks. Much of it necessitated looking down.
Information provided by the U.S. Forest Service says, “The Santa Catalina Mountains were formed over 12 million years ago, Over time, the land around them sank, forming valleys while the mountain range was left standing. Episodes of erosion produced thousands of feet of sediment which now liked beneath Tucson.”
What I was surprised to learn is most of the rock is granite. Surprised because it doesn’t look like the granite of the Sierra. There is also a “banded gray-and-white metamorphic rock called Catalina Gneiss,” according to the Forest Service.
The road was a gradual climb, with the dirt trail ascending as well. It didn’t feel like we had climbed more than 1,400 feet. But then when peering down at the road the people looked like ants.
A few spots had substantial drop offs. It would have been painful tumbling onto sharp rocks and prickly cactus. Fortunately, when my fear of heights was triggered, I could lean away from the drop and grab onto the rock wall.
We finished the day hiking 9.72 miles, with an elevation gain of 1,463 feet. We reached a maximum elevation of 3,788 feet, and a minimum of 2,671. It should have been a little shorter mileage-wise, but I said we should zig when should have zagged.
There is a $8 parking fee, no pets allowed in the recreation area, and cycling is limited to certain days and hours. The tram is an extra fee.
It’s been an “official” hiking trail since 1967, but who knows how many years it was used by fishers plying the banks of Big Chico Creek as they cast their lines.
The Yahi trail in Upper Bidwell Park never disappoints. Yahi is the name of an Indian tribe that once flourished in this region.
While the park was established in 1905, it took a few decades for the city of Chico to make this an official trail in the park. It’s gone through a few changes and could use some work today.
The stairs that were built many moons ago west of Alligator Hole are not useable. It would be best if the concrete were removed and either a dirt or rock path took it’s place. While this is for a short section, it is a bit of an eyesore.
Nonetheless, this trail provides some of the most stunning natural beauty in Bidwell.
The five of us started our Veterans Day hike at parking lot E, walked the Upper Park Road a bit before turning off at the big sign for Yahi.
Much of the actual trail is single track dirt, though at times it’s possible to walk two-abreast. The changing of the seasons was evident with the colorful display of leaves.
Most of the way we could hear Big Chico Creek. With all that rain we got last year and little bit this fall, there is still plenty of water.
Farther up, though, it’s like the creek is at a standstill. Not a ripple to be seen.
Basalt rock in places seems to frame the water, with the golden grassy hills farther up like a border around this swath of Mother Nature’s glory.
We opted to take Upper Park Road back to the vehicle. We logged about 3.7 miles, though the entire round trip (from the parking lot to the end and back) is about 8 miles.
Photo opportunities seemed to be everywhere while hiking in Point Arena.
This section of the rugged California coastline is majestic. Waves crashing, water surging through the natural arches, sea lions oblivious to the chaos around them as they lounged on the rocks, and seabirds seeming at times to be fighting the air currents.
On a bench at the Pelican Bluffs Trail and Preserve we were treated to a show by the whales playing off shore as they migrated south.
It was a feast for the eyes; really all the senses were engaged on every hike this last weekend of September.
Fog and gray skies made it all seem even more dramatic.
This swath of Mendocino County is home to the Point Arena-Stornetta Unit of the California Coastal National Monument. The monument was created in 2000 to protect marine habitat, islands and reefs along California’s 1,100-mile coast, along with 200,000 seabirds and thousands of seals and sea lions.
In 2014, the first onshore land was added to the monument. These are the 1,665 acres north of Point Arena proper. It added coastal bluffs and shelves, tide pools, onshore dunes, coastal prairies, riverbanks, and the mouth and estuary of the Garcia River.
While there are 8 miles of paths, I hiked about 3.25 miles of them. I started at City Hall, then walked north toward the Point Arena Lighthouse The trail comes out just south of the beacon. Walking in this direction allows for the lighthouse to be a focal point much of the time.
With much of the trail paralleling the Pacific Ocean, it was hard to keep walking because I just wanted to stare at the beauty. And other times it was hard because my fear of heights kicked in. Luckily a trail a little farther from the cliff’s edge was available.
The sandstone cliffs along the Pelicans Bluff trail at times reminded me of Drakes Beach in Marin County. This 73-acre preserve south of the town of Point Arena has 2.2 miles of trails.
A sign reads, “You are standing on top of this jumble geologists call a wave-cut terrace. Eighty thousand years ago it was a beach. Very slow uplift and erosion due to changing sea level sculpted this terrace to its current height. You can see an emerging terrace at low tide, and a 100,000-year-old terrace is visible on the slope above you.”
All I knew is that it was beautiful.
More information provided included, “Along the cliffs in the background and below you can see how the San Andreas Fault has warped the ancient ocean sediments, tipping them in nearly every direction.” I would not have known I was looking at this had I not been told.
Farther south is Bowling Ball Beach, so named because at low tide rocks (much bigger than bowling balls) reveal themselves.
Atlas Obscura says, “The so-called bowling balls are actually a geological phenomenon known as ‘concretion,’ sedimentary rock formed by a natural process wherein mineral cements bind grains of sand or stone into larger formations. These boulders are the result of millions of years of concretion and erosion, exposing the hard spheres as the mudstone of the cliffs receded around them.”
We were able to see some of the “balls” but the tide prevented us from seeing this complete phenomenon. But what we did witness was still sensational.
Before we were even on the water the fish were jumping as though to welcome us to their playground.
Sadly, though, this was really their graveyard. Such is the short life of Chinook salmon.
These are fascinating fish, as they return to their birth waters to spawn. Mostly they are able to do so through their sense of smell.
But once the eggs are laid and fertilized the adult salmon die. The females tend to stick around their nesting area, while the males do their thing multiple times before it’s all over.
The Department of Water Resources this summer added 8,000 cubic yards of gravel at various spots in the Feather River to improve spawning conditions.
“Female salmonids lay their eggs in nests called ‘redds’ using coarse sediment, such as clean, rounded gravel,” the DWR website says.
The leaders of the trip said we picked the best day (Oct. 14) because the salmon were not around the previous weekend.
This guided kayak tour along the Feather River is run by the nonprofit Feather River Center. Our fee allows them to bring area children to the river to learn outdoors.
Salmon are one of the few species that can live in fresh and salt water.
“When they hit the ocean, they are silver. When they are back in fresh water they go dark,” Brad, our guide, said. This is all about blending in better to their particular environment.
But by the time they are making their final run it’s not uncommon to see white patches on the Chinook. This is death mold, according to Brad.
It’s an exhausting trip upstream, especially because they haven’t had anything to eat since leaving the ocean.
Brad shared how these Chinook king salmon, which are the largest type of salmon, are a threatened species. So much so that the salmon fishing season was canceled this year.
Blame humans for this predicament. It’s the result of over-fishing, climate change, dams, and pesticides.
But on this day we were there to witness the cycle of life. On average they live for 3 or 5 years before making their way home. Brad said about 1 to 4 percent make it back to spawn.
From the parking she doesn’t look like much. In fact she’s so unimpressive it was hard to tell she was even a peak, let alone the tallest mountain in Butte County.
But there she was—Humboldt Peak—at 7,082 feet.
Once on top, though, the 360-degree view was worth the final scramble up the volcanic outcropping. Charred remains from the Dixie Fire stand out against hillsides of green.
Embedded in the rock is a U.S. Department of Agriculture marker from 1935 that states the elevation—which is the elevation I’m going with, and not what other websites have posted.
A spot farther south following the Pacific Crest Trail is where the actual highest point in the county is—measuring 7,124 feet—near the Plumas County line.
We (the we being a group with the Lassen Chapter of the Native Plant Society) were on the Pacific Crest Trail except for the jaunt up to Humboldt Peak. A few miles farther south and we would have hit the halfway point on the PCT, where it’s 1,325 miles to Mexico and 1,325 miles to Canada.
In the parking lot a small group of volunteers had set up tables of food for through hikers; something they do annually. The decline in hikers at this juncture is likely attributed to last winter’s record snow in the Sierra.
Peak bagging was actually a bonus on our excursion. Our real focus was to see what flora was popping up alongside the trail, especially considering so much of this area was charred by the 2021 Dixie Fire.
We saw San Francisco campion, curry plant, Sierra penstemon, western snakeroot, Douglas’ catchfly, mountain coyote mint, Davis’ knotweed and others. Some flowers were still vibrant in early September, while most were well past their prime.
It was encouraging to see so much growth in an area that has been scarred by wildfire. Plus, saplings were sprouting, proving the forest will one day again be full of living trees.
At various vistas it was also interesting to see how the blaze that charred 963,309 acres and is the second largest in the state’s history didn’t burn everything in its path. Still, burned trees lead a path to Lassen Peak, which stands in the distance. While we weren’t hiking in Lassen Volcanic National Park, the fire touched more than 60 percent of the park.
This section of trail also brings into view the massive Mount Yana caldera.
A caldera, as defined by National Geographic, “… is a large depression formed when a volcano erupts and collapses. During a volcanic eruption, magma present in the magma chamber underneath the volcano is expelled, often forcefully. When the magma chamber empties, the support that the magma had provided inside the chamber disappears. As a result, the sides and top of the volcano collapse inward. Calderas vary in size from one to 0.62 to 62 miles in diameter.”
Sometimes they fill with water. A well-known caldera is Crater Lake in Oregon.
Chico State’s website says, “Mt. Yana was active approximately 3 million years ago as part of the ancient Cascades arc.”
The National Park Service website explains, “Rocks of the Yana volcanic center dominate the area southwest of Lake Almanor. Butt Mountain, Ruffa Ridge, and Humboldt Peak are the major remnants of a deeply eroded andesitic composite volcano that was 24–32 miles in diameter.”
Looking out at what looks like a bowl of sorts it was hard to imagine an 11,000 foot volcano once filled this space. Honestly, without being told what I was looking at, I would have never known there was something special and historic about this landscape.
- Directions: From Chico, take Highway 32 east, go right on Humboldt Road toward Butte Meadows, go past Jonesville. Continue another 3½ miles to a parking area on the left. Trailhead is to the south. The road is not paved the entire way, but 4-wheel drive is not needed.
- Dogs: Allowed on leash.
- Length: Totally up to you. We did an out and back of more than 3½ miles.
- Elevation: The parking lot is at 6,654 feet.
- Terrain: Mostly compact dirt, with rocks embedded in single-track trail. A tiny bit of rock scrambling required to get to top of Humboldt Peak.
It would be hard to find a place that humans haven’t ruined in some manner. Fortunately, the stories about recovery—by humans—are also out there.
One of those places is Cabo Pulmo National Park on the east side of Baja Sur in Mexico.
This area—which covers land and the Sea of Cortez—became a park in 1995, and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005.
SeaLegacy and Beta Diversidad point to the success of restoring Cabo Pulmo as they, along with other environmental agencies, try to broaden the protection of Baja’s natural resources.
Time magazine this month reported that the organizations are seeking to “create a protective zone that will fit like a sock over the southern half of Baja California—where the peninsula’s greatest bio-diversity is found—extending into the waters of the Gulf of California to the east of Baja and the Pacific Ocean to the west.”
The article also says the proposal states, “Some sport and artisanal fishing will be allowed near the coasts, and a tightly regulated ecotourism industry, but no industrial fishing. Farther out into the ocean will be a ‘no take’ zone that will leave part of the Pacific and the Gulf of California entirely untouched.”
Ultimately it will be up to the president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, to designate the waters a marine preserve. A decision could come this year.
Fishing is big business in this part of the world. Big for those selling their catch commercially, and big for tourist boats taking visitors out with the expectation something will be on the end of their line.
Tourist boats also are out in force chasing whales all for the enjoyment of looky-loos. What this is doing to these mammals, well, it can’t be beneficial.
Advocates for the preserve say the region has been overfished and something must be done in order to bring back the fish and their habitat.
The magazine article said only 4 percent of the bluefin tuna population in this region are still in these waters.
“For every 2.2 pounds of shrimp pulled from the ocean, there are more than 20 pounds of unwanted bycatch—mostly juveniles of various species,” Time reports. “The nets drag along the bottom of the ocean, damaging the delicate ecosystem of the ocean floor, and releasing the carbon that’s sequestered in the sediment.”
Cabo Pulmo is the example people keep returning to. Industrial fishing in no longer allowed there and ecotourism is regulated.
The coral reef there has recovered and the fish population has increased by 465 percent, reports Time. Plus, the diversity of aquatic wildlife has also proliferated.
When people think about Lake Tahoe it’s often in regards to the wonderfully clear lake or the mountains that provide endless hours of fun via hiking, biking and skiing.
But what about the sky?
Look up on a moonless night and you can practically be transported to another world.
“At the lake and surrounding areas like Northstar if it’s a dark sky or crescent moon, you can see the Milky Way. In the Northern Hemisphere at our location if you look south in the summer, you look at Sagittarius, which is the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. It’s about 30,000 light years away,” boasted Tony Berendsen, outreach astronomer and owner of Tahoe Star Tours in Reno.
Even better—no telescope is necessary to see some of the 100 billion stars that comprise our galaxy.
“People in urban areas just don’t see it,” Berendsen said.
That’s because light pollution is blocking most everything else that exists outside Earth’s atmosphere.
Berendsen has been delighting Tahoe locals and tourists with knowledge of the night sky for decades. Many events are at Northstar ski resort, while this summer he has been bringing his telescopes and expertise closer to the South Shore at the new amphitheater at Spooner Lake.
Even though the South Shore with its casinos and large population is the brightest region in the basin, it’s still a spectacular place to look up and learn. Berendsen has given talks at Edgewood Tahoe Resort with little interference from artificial lights.
“One nice thing about Lake Tahoe is we don’t have a lot of outdoor lights pointed up at the sky,” Berendsen said. “We don’t have a big light dome that you get from cities. The biggest light dome you see in Lake Tahoe is from Reno, but it doesn’t interfere too much with the sky.”
The view of the night sky in the basin is kept rather pristine by various agencies that have a role in policies pertaining to light installations. It all starts with Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s dark sky lighting standards that have been on the books since 1980s.
“We’re working with a group of graduate students at UC Davis on climate smart code amendments that will include updates to our dark sky standards. Our hope is to bring our code in line with International Dark-Sky Association standards,” Jacob Stock, TRPA senior planner said.
As of January, the nonprofit had certified 201 dark sky places in the world. Not one is close to Tahoe. IDA is trying to eliminate light pollution because it negatively impacts animals, adds to climate change, and disconnects people from their natural environment.
Starting in spring 2024 South Lake Tahoe will retrofit 214 lights on Highway 50 with 2,200 Kelvin temperature fixtures that will comply with dark sky specifications. The city has insisted Caltrans when it installs pedestrian lighting on Highway 50 from Meeks to the Y that they be 2,200k and dark sky compliant.
El Dorado, Placer and Douglas counties all have rules about lights, but nothing pertaining to dark sky protocols. Washoe County didn’t divulge it’s policies.
Neither NDOT nor Caltrans have dark sky policies. Their priority is safety, but both transportation agencies have an eye toward limiting light pollution.
While Liberty Utilities, electrical provider on the California side, does not have a dark sky policy, it is in the process of replacing existing high pressure sodium lights with LEDs that are dark sky compliant. Nevada Energy, the utility on the Nevada side, didn’t respond to inquiries.
A study published in the journal Science Advances revealed 80 percent of the world lives where skies are polluted. The percentage increases to 99 percent for those in the United States and Europe.
That’s what makes Lake Tahoe’s skies even more special—the lack of light pollution make it part of the 1 percenters in a very good way.
Note: A version of this article first appeared in Tahoe In Depth.
Incrementally, paved bike trails are starting to tie key sections of the South Shore of Lake Tahoe together.
Original plans were for a 9.2 mile trail to go from Meyers to Stateline, with much of it following Caltrans’ original plans for a highway through the forest. It was once known at the Greenway Bike Trail.
A major section that recently was completed is called the Dennis T. Machida Memorial Greenway. The 3.86 miles link neighborhoods to each other and to Lake Tahoe Community College.
It was near the phys ed building at LTCC that I met my friend and her dog. From there we walked south, or was it east? I’m directionally challenged. It was toward Meyers.
It wasn’t long before we were crossing an impressive expansive bridge that covers Trout Creek from Meadow Crest Drive to Martin Avenue. In late June the abundance of water made me question what body of water this was. I was disoriented because the creek was well beyond its banks. That’s what happens after a winter like last year.
The structure meanders like water does. The subtle curves and how low it is to the ground means it’s not obtrusive while surrounded by all this natural beauty.
Machida, who this section of the trail is named after, was the California Tahoe Conservancy’s initial executive director, having served from 1985 until he died unexpectedly in 2005 at the age of 58.
We didn’t let the end of the paved trail stop us. We proceeded to the trail that goes through the Johnson Meadow, that since 2018 has been owned by the Tahoe Resource Conservation District.
We turned around at the concrete remains of what locals call the Hospital Bridge. A large section of it came tumbling down in winter 2016-17. It was a popular connector for mountain bike riders from Barton Memorial Hospital to what could be considered the Pioneer Trail side of the Upper Truckee River.
With this no longer being private property, it’s possible the original bike path could be resurrected.
In 2008, the CTC was projecting the entire 9.2-mile trail would cost $20 million to build. It’s going to be a lot more if and when the entire route is built.
Seeing more flying insects this year? You aren’t alone.
That can happen following a heavy snow/rain year.
What I’ve seen the most of in Butte County is dragonflies. Swarms of them.
This can actually be a good thing because they like to feast on mosquitoes. In fact, a single dragonfly can dine on hundreds of mosquitoes in a single day.
Considering mosquitoes and dragonflies like water, especially stagnant water, it makes sense there is an abundance of these flying animals this summer.
There are more than 5,000 types of dragonflies in the world, with 20 found in California. Blue dasher is the most common here.
“Blue dashers are voracious predators capable of eating hundreds of insects each day. They have fast reflexes and incredible eyesight. Their bulging, round eyes are composed of 30,000 facets, each seeing in a different direction. Combined, the facets allow these dragonflies to see in nearly every direction. Their two independent sets of wings enable them to change direction quickly and to hover in place when necessary,” according to Bird Watching HQ. “As adults, they predominately feed on small flying insects like mosquitoes, moths, flies, and mayflies. They catch up to 95% of the prey they pursue, making them one of Earth’s most efficient predators. Both males and females are aggressive toward other dragonflies.”
Where I’ve noticed the proliferation of dragonflies is along a shady walking path near one of the man-made lakes in my neighborhood. Most appeared to be juveniles.
It was a bit unnerving at first because I didn’t know what was flying around at first. In other words, I didn’t know if I was about to bitten from head to toe.
Each step I took more would leap from the grass or bushes and fly seemingly right in my path. I just kept walking and they kept dodging me.
Days later I was in Paradise to give a massage and out the window I could see an abundance of dragonflies. My client confirmed she has never seen so many before. Down the hill from her house is the Feather River, so likely the body of water they were attracted to.
The good news, according to the website LawnPhix.com, “Dragonflies cannot damage fruits, vegetables, and plants and act as natural pest control in your yard. Although they can bite humans if captured or threatened, they are not naturally aggressive and rarely choose to attack.”
While a nearly $3 million infrastructure project is impeding access to much of D.L. Bliss State Park this summer, staffing issues could impact other public lands.
“This was a planned replacement of aged infrastructure. The waterlines have been repaired over the years, but this is essentially the original water system from when the campground was built originally by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s,” Rich Adams, natural resources manager for the State Parks’ Sierra District, said.
The state is contributing $1.7 million, while $1.1 million is coming from the federal Lake Tahoe Restoration Act.
The waterlines service the entire park, which includes fire hydrants, bathrooms, campground and park residences.
“In addition to the replacement of waterlines, D.L. Bliss State Park will also receive new water storage tanks, new pressure reducers along the elevation drop, and new fire hydrants throughout the park for fire protection to support public safety and wildfire resilience,” Adams said.
A sign as one turns into the park off Highway 89 flashes saying the park is closed to vehicles, indicates whether hiking is allowed that particular day, and reminds visitors there are no services—which means no bathrooms and to carry out your garbage.
Parking spots may be available near the closed visitors center depending on construction needs and restrictions. These are located before one gets to the kiosk where payment is usually made. A locked gate prohibits people from driving farther.
From these spaces people can walk to Lake Tahoe. Lester Beach is a 2-mile trek, while it’s 1 mile to get to the Rubicon trailhead. At various times the only access to the Rubicon trail and other points within Bliss will be via Vikingsholm/Emerald Bay State Park.
California State Parks said other than the Bliss, all parks in the basin will be open as normal even as workers are still being recruited. The deadline to apply for peace officer exams was extended to July 31. Seasonal positions are also available—like park aides, maintenance aides, lifeguards, forestry aides and more.
Lisa Herron with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (aka U.S. Forest Service) said, “We have sufficient staffing, both permanent and seasonal, this summer to get all of our highest priority work done including at our recreation sites. Tahoe Recreation manages our campgrounds and several beaches and day-use areas and does their own hiring, along with resorts that are operated under a special use permit from the Forest Service.”
As has been the case for the past several years, Sand Harbor on the Nevada side limits the number of people who can enter by foot or vehicle. This is for safety and to protect the natural resources.
Still, Nevada State Parks is having trouble hiring people. This could lead to days when the Tahoe park is closed. Staffing issues means the gift shop at the new Spooner Lake Amphitheater has stayed shuttered since being unveiled last November. It’s possible it could open at the end of the month.
Even though Nevada Parks intends to implement a reservation system starting this fall, day-use parks like Sand Harbor will not be affected.