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.
Fresh water – it’s for the birds, and AJ.
La Poza lagoon in Todos Santos is one of my dog’s all-time favorite places to walk. Fresh water without waves. She’s all over it. While not a big swimmer, she does like to cool off and lap up the water on what is our halfway mark.
For others, though, this lagoon is a birder’s paradise. More than 430 bird species have been identified in Baja California Sur, with about a third of them having been sighted at the lagoon. After all, it is part of the Pacific Flyway that stretches from Alaska to South America.
La Poza means the pool. It certainly is a large pool for birds. Pelicans, sea gulls and frigates are what I see most often. Some of the species endemic to the area include the Gray thrasher, Belding’s yellowthroat and Xantus’s hummingbird.
In April, a gringo who has been here a decade said he had never seen so much water in the lagoon. Much of this had to do with getting more rain last winter than is customary. The rainy (aka hurricane) season is July-September.
This is encouraging because in 2012 the water stopped flowing to La Poza. Too much water had been diverted from the La Reforma River for agriculture.
Like most places in the world, water is precious and there are conflicting needs. Mexico is getting better about understanding the consequences of not protecting the environment. It’s not just about the birds. Wetlands, lagoons, marshes – they play a huge role in the ecosystem.
Late last year there were times when the Pacific Ocean was flowing into the lagoon. This is one of the benefits of wetlands like these, they help with storm surge and provide a holding area for excess water.
While the ocean can be mesmerizing, often times there is so much more activity going on at the lagoon. Birds circle overhead, walk along for what the most part is a lush boundary, while some are floating on the water looking for dinner below them.
The entire area covers nearly 35 acres, with about 10 of those being water.
Size matters, at least when it comes to tires and the terrain they will be used on.
Looking at what the proprietor of Over the Edge bike shop in Todos Santos wanted me to ride I thought he might be thinking he was in the South Lake Tahoe, California, shop and that it was mid-winter. Those tires were way bigger than what I have on my mountain bike (that didn’t make the trip to Baja), but weren’t quite as big as the tires I had for riding in the snow in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Sand – and not just on the beaches – is what the trails in the greater Todos Santos area are known for. Big tires help riders plow through the soft stuff without needing to dismount.
They were awesome. In the past, my tires stopped me in my tracks. Not these 2.8 inch babies. It was slow, but manageable. Slowness was really the rider, not the bike.
This was the first time I had been on a bike in Baja. It made me miss two-wheel adventures. This Trek Roscoe for women is something I would buy if I knew I would be here indefinitely.
Bikes at Over the Edge are available for rent, with guided adventures another option. (Daily rates are 850 pesos, or $45 U.S.) This fifth Over the Edge shop opened in December 2017. It seems rare that owner Dave Thompson isn’t in the shop. Still, he is out on the trails plenty, and even heads up a youth racing team. He is a wealth of information about cycling, local trails and equipment.
Since I know the area to a certain extent I opted to be Sue’s guide for the afternoon. Thompson recommended going to the old port. This was perfect because it’s a view I wanted Sue to see, but was hesitant to walk/hike since I had been there the week before. Cycling would give the whole experience a different perspective.
Leaving the shop, we rode through town to get to the recreation path near Jazzamango restaurant. That’s where the dirt begins.
The hardpack dirt has various cacti on either side, and the Sierra de la Laguna mountains as a focal point. Nothing technical. After all, this is also a walking route to get to the beach. It is a slight descent, which of course meant having to pedal uphill near the end of the nearly 10-mile excursion.
Crossing the highway was no big deal in either direction.
On the other side headed toward the Pacific Ocean the trail is essentially flat, more cacti, and some of that soft, sandy dirt. Just keep pedaling; those tires will take care of the rest.
Unfortunately, signage ends at the hotel at the coast. I knew where to zig left to begin the ascent to get to the overlook of the old port. While the route is not as smooth as the actual trail we had been on, there is nothing too jarring about this next segment. It was just a little steeper than I would have liked.
The views, though, well – totally worthwhile. White sandy beaches, mixed with rugged rocky cliffs, inlets that look inviting if we were to pedal forward.
We tried a couple off shoot trails, but decided they were beyond our desire and capabilities.
We turned around, enjoying the decline we had just ridden up. It seemed a bit trickier with some speed, but certainly manageable.
Back to the shop we went after a couple hours on the bikes.
I may have to get one of these bikes no matter how long I stay. What a fun way to explore. I had forgotten I really do like to be on a bike. And there are so many dirt trails and roads here that I could be pedaling for years and not see the same thing twice.
Mountain desert hiking. It seems like a contradiction, but it’s exactly what the Sierra de la Laguna is.
This mountain range has the only pine-oak forest in Baja California Sur, which is at the higher elevations. The trail we were on started off with cacti and trees more common to deserts. A few ocotillos had red flowers that are reminiscent of Indian paint brush. Splotches of yellow jumped out from an unknown tree.
Laguna, meaning lagoon, is such an appropriate name for this range because it is where the water comes from for most of the towns and farms in the lower half of the state.
Signs are infrequent and not completely easy to interpret based on not knowing these mountains. Some have English descriptors. Even the maps confused us, and Sue loves map.
A large sign pointed right toward El Mezquitillo. In Spanish is said there were tourist services, and mule rentals with a guide on authorized trails. We thought we’d check it out. The road kept getting narrower, and foliage denser. A wrong zig had us at a ranch that wanted nothing to do with gringas. U-turn.
Continuing on the terrain got worse. Thank goodness for an old four-wheel drive because branches were scraping against the Jeep, with one nabbing me in the arm. We finally turned around while we still could. It still amazes me there was a high-quality sign saying to go where we had just come from and nothing more once we were on that road.
After circling back, we stayed on the main dirt road, which led us to a gate. It was from there that we started walking.
The trail is really a dirt road. It’s perfect for walking side-by-side to converse. Plenty of horses had been on it.
To our right a dry, wide creek with granite rocks appeared. It must be spectacular after a good downpour. On the other side looked like a single-track trail. We opted to stick with our road.
At one juncture there was a sign for Rancho Sierra de la Laguna. It’s a place to camp, has guides and interpretive paths. I have no idea how far it is from where we were.
While the ranches were essentially grandfathered in, UNESCO in June 1994 declared this a protected biosphere.
Not much wildlife was out, which was fine based on knowing what lives in these environs. Driving in a caracara, a large predator bird, was perched on top of a cardón.
We didn’t go far that day because we had gotten a late start. This meant it was hot, especially for AJ’s paws on the soft dirt/sandy trail. We were nowhere near the highest point, which is 6,857 feet. We did get to 1,635 feet, with our minimum elevation being 1,494 feet. I’m still accustomed to the temperature dropping when you climb in elevation, as is the case in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Here it drops the closer you get to the water; at least that was true in May.
This trek left me wanting to explore more of the 277,838 acres in the Sierra de la Laguna.
- From Todos Santos, go south on Highway 19 toward Cabo. Take the La Paz connector. Take the first right. Drive for 11.7 miles to the end.
Belly rubs. Who knew a sea lion would love one?
The baby swam around me, then stopped underwater as I stroked her stomach. It was just like petting my dog, AJ, where she can be so submissive. I had no idea how playful these wild creatures could be, or how soft they would feel.
Swimming with sea lions was one of the highlights on this particular excursion to Isla Espíritu Santo off the coast of La Paz.
In addition to being a national park, in 1995 UNESCO declared it a world heritage site and biosphere reserve. Espíritu is 15½ miles long and nearly 5 miles wide. The highest point is about 1,968 feet. It is the 12th largest island in Mexico, at more than 31 square miles. There are more than 1,000 islands just in the Sea of Cortez.
Hector, our guide with Alonso Tours, and captain Polo, were wonderful with the information they provided and skill in navigating the waters in what was a rather small panga. It was perfect for the seven tourists who hailed from Baja, Europe and the United States.
The tour is actually of three islands which make up the national park. Isla Partida is where we stopped for lunch on the beach in Ensenada Grande Bay. Just north of it at the top of the trio is Los Islotes where the sea lions were.
Even before we reached the main island, which takes about an hour to get to by crossing the San Lorenzo Channel, we cruised by Seagull Island. We were treated to the rare sighting of a blue-footed booby. Baja is a gathering place for birds from North and South America, making it a paradise for birders.
Thirty-eight endemic species call Espíritu home, with 500 animals on land or water residing in the area.
The heads of a few green sea turtles seemed to bob in the water as they came up for air. Dolphins and a couple manta rays did their dances.
As we snorkeled past the sea lions, it became an underwater party with all the fish – puffers, parrot fish, trumpet fish, golden jack, balloon fish, sergeant major and more. We swam through a narrow rock passageway that led to a lovely coral reef. Here sea urchins, starfish and other creatures were nestled into the coral.
Without a wet suit, being in the water for about 30 minutes was plenty.
We had another opportunity to swim and snorkel at our lunch stop; glad we chose to do so.
Unfortunately, we were not permitted to explore on land beyond the beach; this was a protected area. A hiking trip might have to be the next trip.
Espíritu is mostly volcanic rock and sandstone. It’s an interesting blend with the volcanic rock appearing to be prehistoric and the yellow-red sandstone looking almost delicate to the touch. A few cacti are growing out of the rocks. Other vegetation seems to be minimal, at least from our vantage points.
Most of the trip is on the boat – which is wonderful in itself for sightseeing, then swimming with the sea lions, and the lunch stop.
The only negative was witnessing a worker from another boat rinsing off the lunch plates in the otherwise pristine waters. This happened with an occupied park police vessel two boats down. Back on our boat, I mentioned this to Hector, our guide, and he said everything on the plate would be natural, citing the ceviche in particular. I called him out on this, saying that isn’t what fish eat. He said in recent years there have been a lot of improvements when it comes to being ecologically mindful, like not having individual water bottles for patrons. He concluded that things like dish washing in these protected waters is the difference between how a First and Third World Country treats national parks.
Going to Espíritu requires doing so with a guide or purchasing a permit. Kayaking and hiking are also available, with multi-day excursions an option.
Water so clear I could fill my bottle with it if only it weren’t salty. A warmth that is inviting enough to dive in if only it were deeper. Beauty that necessitates the camera not stay in the waterproof pouch.
A kayak is not needed to enjoy Balandra Bay – it’s that shallow. The human-powered vessel is perfect, though, for rounding the corners to explore a bit more and to get to the main waters of the Sea of Cortez.
This spectacular oasis in La Paz is a popular spot for locals, expats and tourists. The white, sandy beach is so soft it’s almost like walking on cotton balls. The water, a hue of turquoise that is mesmerizing. A depth that is more ideal for wading than swimming, at least right in the bay.
Down, up, straight ahead. There is something to see in every direction.
Fish tend to hang out near the mangroves. The more colorful ones were found going around the point on the right. Last fall it was mostly what I call bumble bee fish; this is based on their yellow and black stripes. In April, the biggest variety of underwater life was seen – a sting ray, moray eel, red crabs, and many more creatures.
This spring is when the birds have been most abundant, with the pelicans seemingly having an endless feast as they repeatedly dove in the water. They paid little attention to all the people; getting closer than I am accustomed to.
The May excursion included a scamper up the rock formation to the right from the beach as you drive in. It’s less than a half mile round trip. My app says we gained 35 feet, but it felt like more – not much more, but still. Regardless, it’s worth doing; bring something other than flip flops for this.
The bird’s-eye view had me gaping in awe. The white sand giving way to the aqua blue then to a navy blue in the middle, with mangroves in some areas and the stark desert all around was almost too much to take in.
To the right is El Hongo (mushroom) beach – more sand saying, “Come walk on me, your feet will practically melt.”
A day before the May visit we got a brief tour of the area by boat before heading out to Isla Espíritu Santo. Another stunning perspective.
While much is written about the mushroom shaped rock that is to the right of Balandra, it isn’t that spectacular. Our boat guide said it crumbled under the weight of a soccer team, and then the government rebuilt it.
The other volcanic rocky formations are more interesting.
It’s hard to know which is the best month to kayak Balandra. I’ve done so in October, April and May. Like most paddles, wind will be the biggest variable. Each month the water was warm enough to take a swim. Weekends are busier. Nonetheless, I’ve been able to rent a kayak without a reservation each time. They are tandems, which was perfect for my needs with various friends.
Each experience has been a bit different because of paddling to various sections of the bay and then beyond. The main beach, the ones in the bay and just outside of it to the right, along with the water, land masses and aquatic life are captivating no matter how you experience Balandra.