Mother Nature kisses Alpine County with abundance of beauty


Aspens in full color in mid-October in Alpine County. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Hiking in the Sierra in the fall stimulates the senses more so than any other season. Visually, the scenery is more stunning. A slight chill tingles the skin. The decaying foliage casts a distinct aroma.

Often a lake is the destination for a Tahoe area hike. This time it was the starting point. It would have been easy to stay there and call it a day because the aspens and other foliage along the road were going off in mid-October like painters had been there competing to see who could create the most vibrant mosaic. For those wanting a memorable leaf peeping experience without exercise just drive the 5.6 miles of Burnside Road from Highway 88 to Burnside Lake.

Granite is a dominant feature along the trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even though we enjoyed traveling along the dirt road, the hike was even more glorious. While we clocked 6.85 miles round trip, some outrageously terrific views are to be had just more than a mile into the forest. Stopping where the terrain opens into a valley below with mountains framing it will save you from needing poles, and going down, up, down and up again in elevation. This first part of the trail is relatively flat, with an expansive meadow.

When the descent began Sue and I each pulled out our poles. It’s less than a mile down, but it’s steep and about 1,000 feet. Lots of stops were necessary going down and up—all because of the need to take pictures. I won’t admit to needing to catch my breath on the climb up or that I felt it in my calves the next day.

A solo aspen in the middle of changing colors. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The marker at the bottom says it’s another three miles to Charity Valley and four miles to Blue Lakes Road. What it doesn’t say is that going straight would take us to Grover Hot Springs State Park in Markleeville. At several points the meadow at the state park is visible in the distance. We headed to Charity Valley.

Aspens are the primary deciduous tree in this part of the Toiyabe National Forest in Alpine County. While yellow is the primary color, the shades vary, with other leaves orange and red. In some locations it was like a carpet of leaves decorated the forest floor. Against the gray granite of the surrounding cliffs the aspens were even more vibrant.

Vast views are some of the rewards along this scenic trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In October there was not much water until we headed toward Charity Valley. However, there were plenty of signs that this would be a wet trail in spring and early summer. Ferns are a good indicator water is not a scarcity. Other low-growing foliage included a plant with green leaves that resembled a maple leaf. Trees were growing out of the granite where it didn’t look like there was any dirt.

Mother Nature’s glory in Alpine County. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The trail is varied—soft dirt, hard pack dirt, decomposed granite, baseball size rocks, granite (follow the cairns), and a log crossing a dry stream.

Getting a late start meant we didn’t reach our original destination—Charity Valley. That would have been another three miles in total; there wasn’t enough daylight to carry on. We turned around at another incredible aspen grove that punctuated the reason we were out on that day—to witness the changing seasons.

An aspen grove on the way to Charity Valley from Burnside Lake. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Tahoe area ski resorts change policies to combat deadly virus


Ski resorts are hoping riders will come out this season despite the pandemic rules. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Most every ski resort in the greater Lake Tahoe region has made changes to accommodate safety measures related to COVID-19.

According to Visit California, snow sports are among the top five safest activities in California. This has to do with social distancing and being outdoors.

Ski California, aka California Ski Industry Associations, is stressing that riders need to know before they go this season because the rules have changed. Some resorts are mandating reservations, others say day passes must be purchased before arriving at the ski area, while some won’t offer food. It’s best to check online with the resort you are interested in before heading out to know if tickets will be available that day and how to purchase them. Lessons are also changing, so be sure to find out the specifics before expecting to drop junior off in ski school all day.

For those with a season pass, the rules are different, too. Each resort has implemented different regulations. Plan to wear a mask, even in lift lines. Expect to ride only with the people you want to be on a chairlift.

A sample of passenger counts at the Reno airport. (Graphic:  Reno Tahoe International Airport)

Those cold, blustery days when the lodge is wall-to-wall people—not going to happen this season. That means your vehicle may become a warming hut of sorts.

Ski resort officials speculate some protocols could be fluid, as state regulations impact their business. Still, they are excited about the upcoming season, with some resorts having opening dates on the calendar for November even though that white stuff coming down from the sky has been non-existent this fall.

California and Nevada tourism officials are taking a cautious approach when it comes to luring people from beyond their borders to their respective states.

“We are looking at the consumer mindset. What do they think? When do they think it will be safe to travel and how will they travel?” said Lynn Carpenter, vice president of global marketing for Visit California, the state’s tourism agency. She along with her counterpart from Travel Nevada and ski resort reps were part of webinar about the 2020-21 ski season hosted last month by the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.

One of two major programs the Silver State is promoting this winter is in-state travel. Discover Nevada was launched in September.

The North Shore tourism agency is pushing safety, education and responsible travel.

“We are encouraging midweek travel, and encouraging working and going to school from the mountains,” Amber Burke, NLTRA marketing director, said. While NLTRA has been marketing to the Southern California area for years, there will be a more concerted effort this winter season. While it’s farther to drive from compared to the San Francisco Bay Area, these people tend to stay longer.

According to a Reno-Tahoe International Airport official, leisure travel started to return in June. This is because the destination has what the leisure traveler wants—wide-open spaces. It was so bad when the pandemic first hit that one day in April only 200 passengers passed through the airport. Normally thousands of people fly each day.

“If we don’t see the demand, (airlines) will leave,” Trish Tucker with the airport said. This November marks 30 years that Southwest Airlines has been flying into Reno. Until the pandemic hit, the least number of daily flights the airline had was 12. In early September that number was nine. Southwest is expected to have daily service to Dallas Love Field from February to April.

Delta is adding an Atlanta route starting in mid-December, lasting through March. The airline will be flying twice daily to Los Angeles International Airport. The last time this occurred was in 2008. JSX, a 30-seat jet service, started servicing Reno in late September. A one-way trip to Burbank costs $89.

Castle Peak delivers with 360-Degree majestic views


Castle Peak is a popular hike near Truckee. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Looking up I tried to find the castle. Someone with a better imagination must have named this rock outcropping. While others saw turrets, I saw volcanic rock.

Castle Peak is something I have driven by countless times while zooming along Interstate 80, but it wasn’t until the last Saturday in September that I climbed to the top. It was magical even with the smoke. While the air quality hindered our ability to see Mount Diablo, the mountain I grew up by in the San Francisco Bay Area, or Mount Lassen, the southern-most peak in the Cascade Range, the views are why you want to climb this mountain.

Sue Wood takes her time on the loose rock on top of the hardpack trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While the tippy-top is actually 9,103 feet, we made it to 8,998 feet. A fear of heights kept me away from the “turrets”. Plus, there was no advantage to going higher in terms of being able to get a better view.

Looking north was the distinctive Sierra Buttes. Turning to the east was Stampede Reservoir. The nearest iconic fixture were the slopes of Boreal ski resort. It was 360 degrees of beauty—with rugged mountains, a beautiful meadow, peaks whose names I had not heard of nor could I find them all on a map. While plenty of other people were enjoying the scenery and having a bite to eat before heading back, it was a respectful group. No loud chatter, no obnoxious cell phone calling as has been my experience at other times in the Sierra.

While some see turrets on a castle, others only see rock formations. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We started our adventure at the gate just off the interstate, though it would be possible to drive the better part of the way to the top. The reason to drive would be to access other trails without having to hike as far. We ended up doing a loop instead of an out and back. The loop was a bit shorter because the route we took back was more direct. We clocked 6.43 miles total.

Part of the trail includes a dense forest. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

From the gate where you park there is a choice to go left or right. Go right. This would also be the dirt road (Castle Valley Road) you could drive on; four-wheel drive vehicle recommended. Not too far up there will be a fork in the road, with a sign signaling right for Donner Lake Rim Trail. Follow this for the more scenic route. Going straight is the route we came down and the one you would want to drive in order to park as close as possible. You will hit another juncture, Castle Pass, where you will go right.

Be watchful of the wildlife who want to share or perhaps steal your lunch. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Once on the single track part of the trail and off the dirt road the terrain changes dramatically. Trees are closer together, with patches of dried mule’s ear clapping in the gentle breeze. At certain points the view to the west opened up.

Part of the route is along the Pacific Crest Trail, but those hikers are long gone in the fall.

All but about the last mile is relatively easy or moderate as far as Tahoe area hikes go. It’s the steepness at the end that will have you slow your pace. Coming down it was the scree on the path that made me so thankful to have poles.

Views in every direction are the reasons to climb Castle Peak. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Scenery along trail as stunning as Lake Margaret


Lake Margaret is an easy 2.5 mile hike in from the trailhead off Highway 88. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Meandering creeks full of wild trout, granite on the ground and looming above, dense forest, open meadows, lush foliage, and signs of fall—the hike to Lake Margaret has it all. And the lake is even more spectacular than the trail getting there.

On this relatively easy nearly 5-mile round trip hike through the Eldorado National Forest in Alpine County the senses are heightened with the changing terrain. This is one of those rare excursions where the landscape has a little bit of everything. With the seasons changing from summer to fall, even the smells are different with the decaying leaves.

In mid-September the colors were just starting to change, with the underbrush the most notable. A few aspens were beginning to turn yellow. With all the green aspens, this location would definitely be a hike to do during peak foliage season in October.

Sue Wood navigates a creek crossing. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This is one of those treks where you need to be looking up and down. Up to see the cairns because the route is not always discernible by looking down. A few trail markers posted to trees at critical locations were welcome. Looking down is essential to avoid tripping because a good part of the path is full of embedded rocks and tree roots climbing across the trail. Other times it is hardpack dirt.

Starting off there is a slight descent, but don’t let this alarm you. It’s not long. Looking at the elevation data on my hiking app the route was definitely a bit up and down most of the way. But there were plenty of times when it was flat. Granite stairs are in a few spots. Poles would be welcome in some spots for those with knee or ankle issues.

Most of the slabs of granite were easy to traverse, though in a few locations I needed my hands. This was a bit of a conundrum for Sue who was using poles. At one point she threw them ahead of her in order to scootchy down the rock with the use of her hands.

I was most surprised to see a large number of dead trees in various locations. While the trail is in good condition, this section of the forest needs to be thinned and better maintained. Even so, it’s so lush in some places that ferns are growing.

Fall colors are striking along parts of the path. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Caples and Kirkwood creeks add to the scenic beauty. They eventually hook up and spill into nearby Caples Lake in two locations. Even late in the hiking season it’s necessary to cross the water once via logs that span the creek. In other locations the dry waterbed makes it easy to get from one side to the other without testing your balance.

The best part about being the first vehicle in the parking lot was that it meant we were the only ones at Lake Margaret to begin with. A foursome showed up as we were leaving, and we met others along the trail on our way out. The solitude and tranquility would be reasons to start early; but that could be said for any hike.

Granite dominates the view at the lake, with plenty of rock to sit on as a lunch spot or just to take in all the scenery. A distinct line is visible on boulders indicating the high water mark more than a foot from the surface. In summer or on a warm day don’t be surprised to see people swimming in the lake.

Pines and granite dominate the route to Lake Margaret in Alpine County. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Mexican crews in Calif. for first time to fight fires

Firefighters from Mexico arrive at the San Bernardino International Airport on Sept. 23. (Image: USFS)

In this record-setting fire season, California firefighters are getting help from south of the border.

On Sept. 23, 101 firefighters (four of whom are women) from 22 states in Mexico arrived in Central California to work the Sequoia Complex fire. Lightning started the blaze on Aug. 24. It is burning on the Sequoia and Inyo national forests, as well as state and private land. It is being managed by the U.S. Forest Service, CalFire, and National Park Service.

With fires burning in multiple states, personnel and equipment are stretched thin. This is why firefighters have been brought in from other countries. At different times crews from Canada, Australia and New Zealand have also been on the front lines this season.

States where the Mexican firefighters are from. (Graphic: USFS)

The U.S. Forest Service and Mexico have been working together on fire management since 1962. Starting in 1983 the Forest Service began providing training and assistance to Mexico to strengthen that country’s fire management in terms of fire planning, capacity building and research, and how all of that applies to fire issues.

In 1989, the Forest Service sent fire management specialists to assist Mexico in the disastrous fire season that occurred in the state of Quintana Roo. This year is the first time Mexican firefighters have been assigned to a fire in the United States.

“The success of fighting fire in California is our interagency cooperation. We look forward to building our partnership with CONAFOR (National Forestry Commission of Mexico) during this assignment for further collaboration. Fire isn’t just a California problem, it’s a world problem,” said Bob Baird, director of fire and aviation for the USFS.

Eduardo Cruz, director of CONAFOR, spent two seasons as a helitack firefighter on the Sequoia National Forest early in his career as part of the training and exchange program.

“I am very excited for this unique opportunity to visit a station I worked and trained at as a young man and to bring with me firefighters from Mexico to aid in the California firefighting effort,” Cruz said. “Fires do not have borders, fires do not have different languages and cultures. In the end we all speak the same language when it comes to fighting fire.”

The Mexican firefighters underwent an orientation and refresher training before reporting to the Sequoia Complex on Sept. 25. The five hand crews will be tasked with establishing and improving perimeter control lines.

This year the Forest Service and CalFire have responded to 7,982 fires in California that have burned more than 3.6 million acres. This makes it the largest wildfire season in history for the state. More than 7,500 structures have been reduced to ash and 25 people have lost their lives.

One-Man crusade to refurbish Todos Santos auditorium

One man from the U.S. used his own money to furbish the Todos Santos auditorium. (Image: Al Arechiga)

A fresh coat of paint can do wonders to just about anything. One-hundred and 10 gallons can be transformative. That’s the case with the auditorium in Todos Santos.

Thorp Minister took it upon himself to refurbish the multi-use facility near downtown. It would be easy to miss this outdoor playground because it’s walled and behind doors. The auditorium was built in 1972. While initially there were plans to put a roof on it, that never happened. Typically, it’s open to anyone from 6 am to 11 pm, with the day starting by people doing yoga. It’s busiest after 5 pm when locals get off work. Boxers can be seen sparring and training on the stage, while kids play soccer, and groups of guys use the full basketball court. Ceremonies like graduations are conducted there as well as other events.

When Minister moved to this Baja California Sur town nine years ago from Las Vegas he noticed the auditorium was a bit dilapidated and decided to start by painting part of it. He ran out of time and money, with health issues taking him back to the United States. He returned June 15 as soon as air travel was permitted. This go-round he was determined to finish the job. Nearly everything he wanted to do was completed Sept. 5.

Thorp Minister

He used his own money—the exact amount he would not say. It was six figures in pesos, five figures in U.S. dollars. On average three people helped with the work each day for 12 straight weeks. Most were volunteers, including several from the ministry. A few got paid, including the welder who attached the rims to the backboard. The new backboards are three-quarters of an inch thick compared to the old ones that were one-half inch. Those were reinforced because the players like to hang from the rim to celebrate their dunk.

“You have to treat the wood because the sun here is tough. You have to seal the wood because of the insects,” Minister said.

Divots in the concrete were filled in and smoothed out by a professional laborer, which should reduce the number of sprained ankles. Six new lights will make playing at night easier.

Manuel Letayf was the master painter on the project, doing 90 percent of that job. He rolled 22 gallons of paint on the refurbished concrete floor in two weeks. The white, yellow, green and purple standout compared to the chipped paint that was there before.

“The surface was so hot the paint would bubble. We had some issues putting it on concrete,” Minister said of working in the heat of August. “Around the perimeter of the basketball court we used 20 gallons of paint that had sand and plastic in it so if it rains, you won’t be slipping around. It has a good bite to it. We used the same paint for the basketball lanes.”

For Letayf, the painting wasn’t the hardest part, the prep was—cleaning all the trash. Broken glass was on the basketball court, bubble gum under the bleachers. “People had used it as a bathroom; all around the auditorium.”

This is what the auditorium looked like earlier this year. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Minister brought in a porta-potty while the work was going on. He’s working on a deal for one to be on-site permanently. He is also adding three garbage cans to the auditorium in hopes people will use those instead of leaving trash on the ground.

In all, 92 palm trees were trimmed. This included at the auditorium, in the plaza, by the church, police court yard, and cultural center.

“The most important thing now is young people here take advantage of this and take responsibility for maintaining it,” Minister said. “Often times they bring water bottles and leave garbage behind. They need to take pride in the facility and do their part to maintain it. I think this facility will look really nice for seven to 10 years if it’s maintained on a daily basis.”

Asked who is going to oversee the maintenance, he said, “The delegado is going to have to figure that one out.” He believes it will take one to three hours of work a day to keep it pristine. This means picking up cigarette butts, trash, sweeping, trimming trees and whatever else comes up.

The mayor, Tito Palacios, didn’t put a dime of the city’s money into improving the facility. Nor would he comment for this story.

Rules for the refurbished auditorium are:

  1. Respect the auditorium—use of the facility is a privilege, not a right
  2. No drugs allowed
  3. Sleeping overnight prohibited
  4. No glass bottles
  5. No smoking
  6. No chewing gum
  7. Do not use the gutter as a trash can
  8. Use the trash cans provided
  9. Have fun!

Big views on one-Way trek along TRT, through bi-State park


Lake Tahoe and the South Shore from Van Sickle Bi-State Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Don’t let a one-way hike fool you. It doesn’t mean it will be easier than an out-and-back or that it’s all downhill. Such is the case when going from Kingsbury Grade to Van Sickle Bi-State Park. This 5.91-mile hike is uphill the first half, downhill the second.

The first part is all along the Tahoe Rim Trail, while the second is through the state park that spans Nevada and California. This is the only bi-state park in the United States.

Round Hill in Nevada stands out before Lake Tahoe unfolds. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even in smoky conditions, the scenery is stunning with the forest providing ample opportunities for photos before Lake Tahoe comes into view. At the connector to the state park it’s possible to climb a bit higher for more views. This is where Heavenly Mountain Resort’s Boulder chairlift ends and the North Bowl chair starts. The hiking trail is outside the resort’s boundary.

Most of the route is single track, with it being soft dirt going up. It’s not terribly steep, but is distinctly uphill. While there are switchbacks, it’s more of a meander. Starting at more than 7,000 feet, the trees are not as dense here compared to some hikes in the Tahoe basin.

This half of the trail provides views of some large homes on the Nevada side that otherwise go unnoticed. A couple spots along the way the lake comes into view, with Round Hill being a prominent natural feature.

A waterfall tumbles out of the hillside in Van Sickle Bi-State Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The first time I was on this trail I did an out-and-back where we started at the stairs off of Kingsbury Grade and went as far as the vista point. There is a sign marking that location. This was 4.75 miles round trip. Two weeks later I did the one-way with another friend starting on Buchanan Road. Seeing a bear and walking under clear skies were bonuses on the first hike. Doing the one-way meant better views of Lake Tahoe, even with smoky skies.

Descending into the state park the trail changes to where there is more rock to navigate. This would be where poles might be welcome for those with knee issues. Some of that granite comes in the form of stairs, other times it is embedded in the trail. None of it is all that difficult, it’s just different than the first half of the route. Expect to run into more people on the section in Van Sickle park.

Bears also find this section of the forest a good place to stroll. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Once Lake Tahoe comes into view on the descent she is nearly a constant fixture. The entire South Shore unfolds—the natural and man-made. A little water is still flowing before getting to the main waterfall at the bridge. The waterfall is at 4.77 miles in, meaning there is less than 1¼ miles left to reach the vehicle you dropped off in the park.

While there is water along the trail, be sure to bring some for your four legged companions. The opportunities to drink are too far apart at the beginning to be sufficient. Expect to encounter mountain bikers on the Rim Trail. The entire hike is in Nevada.

The dirt single-track path weaves through the conifers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

  • From South Lake Tahoe, turn on Heavenly Village Way. This leads into Van Sickle Bi-State Park. Leave a car in the upper parking lot. From there, exit park by turning right onto Lake Parkway. At light, turn right onto Highway 50. Turn right onto Kingsbury Grade (Route 207), then turn right on Buchanan Road. Park in front of the gate on the left. On the trail be sure to follow the TRT signs at the beginning. There is a distinct right across a small creek. (Going straight will take you to the Boulder ski lodge and parking lot.) Then go right at the connector toward Van Sickle. (Staying straight keeps you on the Tahoe Rim Trail.)
  • Dogs allowed.
  • Elevation gain was 830 feet, with minimum being 6,494 feet and maximum 7,862 feet.
  • For more ideas about where to hike in the greater Lake Tahoe area, check out The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes or Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks.

Ultraviolet light successfully ridding plants from Tahoe’s waters


The UV vessel removes 8- to 10-foot high invasive plants from Lakeside Beach swimming area in South Lake Tahoe. (Image: UNR)

Zapping invasive weeds with ultraviolet light has been so successful that study areas at Lake Tahoe are getting larger.

“A few years ago we started off with a 4 foot by 8 foot UV array. We now have a 12 foot by 32 foot array so we can treat larger areas. We went from treating square feet to acres,” explained John J. Paoluccio, president of Inventive Resources Inc. “UNR is studying the effects on different plants. This is the first time we have been able to study the full life cycle of the plants so we can learn when it is best to treat, and how many times.”

Paoluccio first presented his technique to the Near Shore Agency Working Group in December 2015. Success was achieved starting in 2017 with a two-year pilot project by using ultra violet C light at Lakeside Marina in South Lake Tahoe. The light array is mounted under a barge that goes through the water zapping plants growing on the lake’s bottom. Plants collapsed or deteriorated in seven to 14 days.

UVC light works by damaging the DNA and cellular structure of the plants. This then stops reproduction. Because there isn’t much cellular structure the plants essentially shrivel up and decompose in a matter of days. Eurasian milfoil, curly leaf pondweed and coontail are three of the main targets.

The latest study is another two-year project. It is a private-public partnership between UNR, Inventive Resources Inc. and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. This time a larger area will be treated.

Paoluccio said his three main goals are to: “Build a local team and construct an array that can treat an acre per day. Work more closely with the local scientists to show the benefits of treating plants with UV. See this technology be used in other locations.”

The problem with invasive plants is that they clog water ways, especially in marinas, with the Tahoe Keys on the South Shore being the worst. This can cause problems for boaters. In recent years more plants have been growing near the shoreline, making it nasty for swimmers and making what was pristine water murky.


Gentle climb through verdant terrain to reach Emigrant Lake

Emigrant Lake is at an elevation of 8,602 feet in the Mokelumne Wilderness. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Impressive peaks reaching nearly 9,800 feet create a bowl effect, framing Emigrant Lake in a manner that could captivate hikers for hours. Even more remarkable, though, is the woman Melissa Coray Peak is named after.

Melissa Coray was the only woman in the 46-member battalion that was the first wagon train to go over the Carson Pass and the first to go west to east, according to the Sons of Utah Pioneers. Congress designated the Mormon-Carson Pass Emigrant Trail a national historic trail in August 1992. In October 1993, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names named the peak after Coray. The agency when naming the peak said it was to honor Coray and the “thousands of emigrant women who endured similar hardships in settling the West.”

Melissa Coray Peak at 9,763 feet is actually a subpeak of Peak 9795. Peak 9795, getting its name from its height, is identifiable because it has a small electric tower on it. From Emigrant Lake hikers are looking up to border of Kirkwood Mountain Resort. Skiers are known to venture down this back side in winter.

A few wildflowers decorate the trail even in mid-August. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Hikers can reach Emigrant Lake via Kirkwood, but some bushwhacking is required. A distinct trail juts off toward Kirkwood from the Emigrant Lake trail that leads to Covered Wagon Peak (9,565 feet) and Melissa Coray Peak. The latter is on the border of the Mokelumne Wilderness.

The out-and-back trail from the Caples Lake dam is 8.2 miles. We logged 8.63 miles that day, with the extra including a side trip to the waterfall and then to our granite slabs for lunch.

Water is a feature along much of the trail, with Caples Lake being the initial focal point. Driving along this body of water doesn’t reveal her true beauty; walking it does. The shoreline is pretty and inviting, with plenty of people only going this far. The trail flanks much of the southwest edge of Caples Lake before heading due south to Emigrant Lake.

Emigrant Creek flows from Emigrant Lake into Caples Lake. At various times it is visible from the trail, or can be heard. This would be a welcome relief for four-legged hikers. With so much water, it made for lush, verdant terrain. Small meadow-like grassy areas were a delight around more than one corner, as were the fields of flowers. Even in mid-August wildflowers were still pretty and worth gawking at. It would be a great trail to explore during their prime.

Most of the trail is a gradual climb along soft dirt and decomposed granite. Some was hardpack dirt from recent afternoon rains. Most people would not need poles going up or down. It’s single track, necessitating stepping off the trail so others can pass.

The trail from Caples to Emigrant is one most people in good shape can navigate without difficulty. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

  • From South Lake Tahoe, take Highway 50 west to Meyers. At the roundabout, take Highway 89 south. In Hope Valley, go right onto Highway 88. Just past the Caples Lake dam is parking on the left for the trailhead.
  • Dogs allowed.
  • Permits required to stay overnight; must not camp closer than 300 feet to the lake.
  • Elevation gain was 980 feet, with minimum being 7,840 feet and maximum 8,650 feet.
  • For more ideas about where to hike in the greater Lake Tahoe area, check out The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes or Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks.

Dog treats may help restore Lake Tahoe’s clarity

An aerial view of the R/V John Le Conte pulling a large custom designed trawl to harvest mysis shrimp from Emerald Bay. (Image: UC Davis)

After spending about $2,000,000,000 ($2 billion for those who forgot what all those zeros mean) to improve Lake Tahoe’s clarity, the efforts seem to be for naught. Even so, the Draconian measures placed on government jurisdictions and agencies in the basin by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board remain intact. The silly idea of having every homeowner and business spend thousands of dollars on erosion control measures—aka BMPs—is still in place even though it’s not the cause of Tahoe going brown.

Fingers now point to mysis shrimp, also known as opossum shrimp, for the degradation of Tahoe’s famous clarity. These tiny critters that grow to less than 1 inch were introduced to the lake in 1963 by California and Nevada fish and wildlife departments in an effort to improve fisheries. This was done at multiple lakes. It was a failure in so many ways.

The sun may be setting on the opportunity to restore Lake Tahoe’s clarity. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“It was seen as an ecological mistake, if not a disaster,” Geoff Schladow, director of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center, said during a July webinar about the shrimp. “It does not seem that we can return to our goals; our goal to restore Lake Tahoe clarity to 97 feet.”

Data released earlier this month show the clarity on average in 2019 was at 62.7 feet. It was at 70.9 feet the previous year. A white disc that looks like a dinner plate is dropped over the side of a boat at various times to come up with the average reading. It’s gauged by the naked eye of someone on board. Measurements were first taken in 1968; the level of clarity was 102.4 feet then.

Starting with the 1997 Lake Tahoe Environmental Summit with then President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore launching the inaugural Lake Tahoe Restoration Act there has been about $2 billion spent on efforts to restore the lake’s clarity. Money comes from the feds, both states, local jurisdictions, and private contributions. Results have been mixed, but never enough to accomplish the goals.

Now an effort is under way to remove the mysis shrimp to see if that will turn the tide. Schladow said this invasive critter has “profound effects” on the food web below and above it. The problem is the shrimp “annihilated” the daphnia population. Daphnia are small plankton that consume algae that cloud the water. While the shrimp have short lifespans, they are prolific at reproducing.

A collaborative project between Tahoe Environmental Research Center, UC Davis Graduate School of Management and UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is developing a premium dog food out of the shrimp that is projected to make enough money to keep the harvesting component viable.

Billions of dollars have been spent to restore Lake Tahoe clarity with little to show for it. (Graphic: TERC)

Yuan Cheng, one of the MBA students working on the project, also spoke during the webinar last month. He said the No. 1 goal is to restore the ecosystem, then create awareness and public education, and third is economics, as in generating enough sales to keep the operation going. A nonprofit is the most likely way to bring Tahoe Mysis Treats to market. Food scientists and creative strategists were added to the MBA program’s team.

The mysis come up from the bottom of the lake at night, making harvesting trickier at that hour. A large trawl net is dragged behind a boat. Bioacoustics is also used to determine where the shrimp are in the water.

Researchers were led to the mysis-daphnia phenomenon when in 2011 the shrimp had all but disappeared from Emerald Bay, the daphnia returned, and water clarity increased by 30 to 40 feet, nearly doubling. (It’s not known why the shrimp left.) This was the first time anywhere that the relationship between mysis, daphnia and clarity had been established. A five-year study was started with private money that confirmed this link. Then in 2018 a two-year study began to determine if the shrimp could be harvested to levels that would allow daphnia to return.

The next step is to launch a pilot study in Emerald Bay in fall 2021 to determine how quickly the shrimp can be removed and how fast clarity is restored, outline the cost constraints, and determine the market demand for the product.

This would not be the first time a tiny critter was harvested from the lake in hopes of improving water clarity. Crayfish were the rage several years ago with more than one commercial outfitter working traps and selling the crustaceans to regional restaurants. Those businesses are no longer operating.

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