It was a year ago July 13 that Lassen Volcanic National Park was forever changed. All because a 70-foot Douglas fir tree toppled onto a PG&E distribution line in the Feather River Canyon.
Of the 963,309 acres that were consumed in the 2021 Dixie Fire (which as of today is the second largest wildfire in California’s history), 73,240 acres were in this Northern California park. That equates to 69 percent of the park being ravaged.
Despite that horrendous reality, so much beauty still abounds in Lassen.
I wasn’t too sure what to expect, though, on this first Thursday in July. After all, the hike leader did her best to dissuade people from joining her. Her description: “It’s my LEAST favorite hike … hot, dry, dusty, barren, crowded … everything I avoid.” Her reason to go was to acclimate to higher elevations for an upcoming excursion in Europe. My reason for going was I had never been to the top of Lassen Peak.
It was so worth it.
Beauty is everywhere on this hike. The rocky trail necessitates a lot of looking down, but taking the time to pause brought more enjoyment to the hike. Not stopping would make it a grind. The trail is barren. But the views above shoelace level are breathtaking.
Brokeoff Mountain is a constant visual. The sapphire blue of Lake Helen, while minuscule in comparison to Lake Tahoe, stands out in this stark, volcanic landscape. The lake is named after Helen Tanner Brodt, who in 1864 became the first white woman to hike to the top of Lassen.
Our group of seven from the Chico Oroville Outdoor Adventures clocked 4.79 miles. The low point was 8,451 feet, with the highest being 10,272 feet. Lassen Peak is actually 10,457 feet tall. Those last 185 feet require scrambling up the rocky cone. My height issues said no way.
After all, the views were not likely to get any better from where we and most others turned around.
At this elevation we could look across to snowcapped Mount Shasta that scratches the sky at 14,179 feet.
Looking in the other direction are more volcanoes—like Cinder Cone, Hat Mountain, Mount Harkness, Reading Peak, Bumpass Mountain, Mount Conard, and Diamond Peak. Even farther out is Lake Almanor.
One of the fascinating things about Lassen Park is that it contains all four types of volcanoes that exist in the world—shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome.
Lassen most recently erupted in 1914. This was 27,000 years after the previous eruption.
One sign pointed out, “While the area sleeps now, steam vents, boiling springs, and bubbling mudpots remain active—direct evidence that the volcanic center still smolders. No one can say when or where the next eruption will occur. We can only say that it will.”
Walking is usually listed as one of the best forms of exercise. Add sand to the equation and it’s even better for you.
I had forgotten what a good workout it is until I spent two weeks in Todos Santos in June, with beach walks a nearly everyday occurrence. Thank goodness Rubi and Pepper need afternoon walks, otherwise it would have been easy to say it was too hot to move—at least that was the case the second week.
Muscles have to work harder when walking in sand compared to a hard surface like a concrete sidewalk or asphalt street. Quads, calves and glutes are getting a good workout. The soft sand is also good for achy joints. Sand can also help reduce injury because the pounding is not so intense.
Exertion is also dependent on whether you are walking closer to the water where sand is firmer or higher up where it’s deeper and softer. I like to do a bit of both.
Mentally, being on the beach has to be so much better than a street. No cars to worry about. It’s definitely a more serene setting when enveloped by nature and not concrete. And next to the ocean, as was the case when I was in Mexico, meant being able to inhale the sea air and to listen to the waves crashing.
Most of the time I had flip flops on; sometimes I was barefoot. No shoes meant more senses to be aware of. And sand is a great natural exfoliator.
Plus, there were the conversations with my good friend, Jill, as we solved our problems and those of the world’s on our walks. That’s what I will miss most about no longer walking on the beach.
While Americans have a love affair with their vehicles, the powers that be in the greater Lake Tahoe area doing all they can to make car keys less of a necessity for locals and guests.
An increase in free transit throughout the region is being designed to be efficient and timely. And for those who prefer human power to get around, the bike/pedestrian trail system is expanding beyond the immediate needs of cleaning up the ravaged terrain created by the 2021 Caldor Fire.
“I think we all understand that transit has to be free and frequent. If you don’t have one of those things, you are not likely to be in consideration,” Carol Chaplin, executive director of the Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority, said. “Transit success is dependent on dependability. Part of the formula for success is free, frequent and year-round, and then expand service to connect to other services.”
Free is the key
Chaplin’s agency is behind the South Tahoe Events Center, which is slated to open the first quarter of 2023. The operating permit mandates the Stateline facility provide microtransit on both sides of the state line. It will likely go from Round Hill on the Nevada side to Al Tahoe in California. The permit from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency says the bus service can be seasonal for the first five years, but must be year-round after that.
TDVA isn’t waiting for the center to open to launch the bus service. The fleet could be on the roads starting in late June. To begin with hours are expected to be weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and weekends until 10 p.m. Expect seasonal changes. Four buses, two of which will be wheelchair accessible, will run at all times. Each bus seats nine to 14 passengers.
It’s not really about getting event attendees to the venue because many of them are expected to stay within walking distance. Instead, these smaller buses are designed to transport locals (and tourists) in a more reliable, efficient manner. Fewer vehicles on the road means less traffic, a reduction in emissions, and less fine sediment clouding the waters of Lake Tahoe.
“I know there are lot of us if we parked our cars at our offices and could take microtransit over to Ski Run for a meeting and get back to the office, we would,” Chaplin said.
While negotiations with Downtowner were ongoing as of press time, Chaplin expects the contract to cost $940,000 a year. This is without marketing dollars. A variety of funding sources are in place and still in the works.
Downtowner is the same company the North Shore uses for its service called TART Connect.
This service, which links with the larger TART bus system, started in June 2021. It, too, is free to ride. The 12 vehicles had 40,000 passengers in the first two months of service, with locals a large contingency.
As with all the bus companies in the Tahoe-Truckee area, the best way to know how to get from Point A to Point B is to go online or download the appropriate app, then use the “trip planner” to start your ride.
The North Shore also changes its hours of operation seasonally, with the spring schedule ending June 29, and summer going from June 30-Sept. 5.
“We are encouraging TART Connect as a way to connect to recreation—bring your bike and stuff for the beach,” said Sara Monson, executive director of the Truckee-North Tahoe Transportation Management Association.
North Shore transit officials are operating with the pandemic in the rearview mirror, which means free shuttles for Truckee Thursdays, as well as Fourth of July events returning.
TART runs from Incline Village on the east side to Tahoma on the west, and then connects to Truckee, as well as to Northstar and Palisades resorts. TART Connect is designed for shorter trips, and then connects to the main bus line.
Truckee will be adding a microtransit pilot program similar to TART Connect starting in late June and running until early September, as well as an on-demand point-to-point service within select areas of town.
The microtransit will allow for connections to the TART system so people can reach areas within the Tahoe basin.
The South Shore microtransit, which still needs a name, will connect to the larger bus service run by the Tahoe Transportation District.
TTD is focusing on finalizing the transit hub at Lake Tahoe Community College, where electric buses will be charged. This fast-charging infrastructure will service the electric buses that are on order. TTD buses remain free as well.
With federal transportation dollars, TTD is looking to expand parking areas mainly in the Spooner Lake area along Highway 28. This would be in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service. It would also involve relocating the boat inspection station.
What still needs to be worked out is how to link the North and South shore bus systems so riders can easily get around the lake.
Improving and increasing trails
The Caldor Fire that ripped through El Dorado County last summer derailed some of the Forest Service’s trail building plans because resources are being reallocated to the South Shore to clean up the scorched earth and make the trails safe. Some work was done last fall before winter set in, but more needs to be done.
“We have some funding for stabilization work on the trials; things like installing drainage features and rebuilding any section of trail that seems at risk of failure,” said Jacob Quinn, engineering technician with the USFS.
Trail failure includes infrastructure like bridges that were damaged, erosion issues, as well as precarious trees.
Caldor issues will be addressed with the help of Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association and TRPA. About 22 miles of trails sustained some level of damage. The human-caused blaze burned 9,885 acres in the Lake Tahoe Basin, while the entire fire consumed more than 220,000 acres.
All the emergency work is expected to be completed this year, with long-term restoration an ongoing endeavor that will require obtaining the dollars to do the work.
A priority for the USFS is working at Echo Summit where the Tahoe Rim Trail and Pacific Crest Trail overlap, then going to the heavily used Corral Trail, Armstrong Connector Trail and Saxon Creek Trail (aka Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride). Replacing the burned out bridge on Corral Trail will be one of the first projects.
“We have a pretty modern trail system in the basin. There is a lot of design and layout work in those trials to make them sustainable,” Quinn said. “And generally they are well maintained. That all contributes to why the trails are still there in really good shape.”
Completion of the basinwide trails environmental assessment is expected this summer. The document includes 25 miles of new trails, much of which is on the West Shore to fill in gaps in the network. More public comment will be solicited before it’s wrapped up.
The Perimeter Trail near Heavenly Mountain Resort will be a multi-year project. The phase that goes from the midstation of the gondola, northeast around East Peak Lake and connects to the Tahoe Rim Trail is expected to be completed this year. It’s about three miles.
Still needing approval, which could come this summer, is a trail from that same midstation, going south to High Meadows.
It’s called the Perimeter Trail because for eight or nine miles it will loop around Monument Peak. There will also be a new trail connection to Heavenly’s base lodge and Powerline.
The Caldor Fire means the maintenance and reconstruction of the Bayview Trail near Eagle Falls will be scaled back or delayed until next year. The Incline Lake property will include restoration of the creek and meadow this year.
Still on the South Shore, the California Tahoe Conservancy should wrap up all the trail work at Cove East, where the path was relocated as part of the Upper Truckee Marsh restoration project. Pads will also be installed at the end to create lookout areas for people. The work is expected to take place in September, with trail access off-limits for a short time.
The ribbon-cutting for the Dennis T. Machida Memorial Greenway is slated for June 16. The leader of the CTC died unexpectedly at age 58 in 2005. The greenway is a paved path through parts of South Lake Tahoe.
TTD as the lead on multiuse trail that connects the Nevada side will be working on planning the next eight miles of asphalt that goes from Sand Harbor to the junction of highways 50 and 28.
Here are some of the projects Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association plans to undertake this building season:
- Kaspian Rim—A variation on the Stanford Rock Trail that will connect down toward the Kaspian Campground/Blackwood Canyon sno-park and make for a shorter loop option for those not wanting to go all the way to the top of Stanford Rock. In the future this will help connect single track south toward Homewood and beyond.
- Lower Stinger Reroute—A Nevada OHV grant will help reroute the lower 1.5 miles of the Stinger Trail so it no longer finishes in a neighborhood. Instead it will end at a better developed trailhead off Sewer Plant Road. It will have an additional 300 vertical feet that incorporate lake views and features.
- Lower Tyrolian Reroute—Continuing a reroute of the bottom half mile of Tyrolian that crosses back to the east side of Incline Creek and incorporates some more technical features instead of the flatter pedal among the homes.
- Meeks Ridge Trail—Starting a new trail that will connect from Meeks Bay up to the Lost Lake Trail that will follow the ridge line to the north of Meeks Meadow. The old logging road on this route will be replaced with about four miles of single track and will make for a 10- to 12-mile loop when completed next year.
- Road 73 Bypass—Construction will begin on a single-track option on the North Shore by Tahoe City to avoid Road 73 (Fiberboard Freeway) for those going from Beartrap Connector (No. 17E14) up to Whoop Dee Doo or the Tahoe Rim Trail.
- Tunnel Creek Single Track—Breaking ground on a trail connecting the Incline Flume at Tunnel Creek Road down to the bottom of Tunnel Creek Road. This project is a partnership between Nevada State Parks, Great Basin Institute, Tahoe Fund and a Nevada Recreational Trails Program.
Note: A version of this story first ran in Tahoe In Depth.
Looking up at the night sky it’s easy to wonder: What am I not seeing?
Plenty would be the short answer. A star party at the Robert Ferguson Observatory (RFO) proved that to be true.
RFO is home to the largest (40 inches in diameter) public telescope in California. In May we were looking at Arcturus, a giant red star 37 light-years away.
While RFO does research, the primary purpose is public outreach, according to a docent. A group of hyper-enthusiastic amateur astronomers regularly bring their personal telescopes to the parking lot at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Sonoma County, where RGO is located, to let the public see what they look at on a regular basis.
While the scenery, so to speak, is always changing since the Earth is constantly rotating, the experts knew to keep adjusting the focus to make sure those of us with less than rudimentary knowledge of astronomy were looking at the “right” object in the sky.
One telescope was focused on the Cigar Galaxy, which is about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major.
So much is out there—it’s all so fascinating and a bit mind-boggling.
History is all around us, if only we would take the time to see it.
In all the years I have been driving between Chico and South Lake Tahoe I never took the time to check out the pretty scenic overlook on Highway 20 that would whiz past my window. I was always in a hurry going in either direction. I finally stopped last month.
The Omega Overlook, as it’s called, is on the north side of the highway, with plenty of parking. It gets its name from a hydraulic mine that was in the area during the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s.
“From the overlook one can see the Alpha and Omega Diggins, one of the largest hydraulic mine operations in the Sierra. Yuba River water was diverted to the Omega Ditch and into wood flumes hung from granite cliffs above the Yuba River,” according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The overlook is in the Tahoe National Forest.
Hydraulic mining ended in 1883 with the Sawyer Decision because of the damage this type of activity caused the environment. The land, rivers and habitat were adversely affected.
From the parking lot there is a quarter mile paved (though not completely flat) circular path that leads to an outstanding overview of the area. A panel highlights what is visible in the distance: Sacramento Valley, Graveyard Hill, Sierra Buttes, Saddleback Mountain, Mount Alma, Mount Fillmore, Celina Peak, where the 2008 Scotchman and Fall fires were, and more mountaintops I’ve never heard of.
The vastness of the terrain is quite spectacular. While I always enjoy the drive along Highway 20, it feels closed in. Amazing how this little jaunt on foot changed my perspective of the area.
Today the trails left from the diggings are popular with mountain bikers.
Along the paved trail are other markers with information—like why snags are important, advantages to tree thinning, and what makes a mixed conifer forest.
Beyond being surrounded by beauty a bonus of hiking in redwoods on a hot day is that you will undoubtedly be cool.
This is because “coast redwoods are classified as temperate rain forests and they need wet and mild climates to survive,” according to California State Parks.
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Sonoma County gets about 55 inches of rain a year and seems to create its own fog on some days.
More than 20 miles of designated trails fill the 805-acre reserve in Guerneville. Unfortunately, it is easy to see the damage created by the 2020 LNU Lightning Complex fire. Armstrong was closed for more than a year to deal with the aftermath. Lightning caused this fire, which burned 363,220 acres.
Even so, this has always been one of my happy places. I loved hiking in Armstrong when I lived in Sonoma County. Visiting in May was the first time in years. It definitely did not disappoint. In fact, it had been so long it was like it was a brand new experience.
We played a bit of tourist by going on the Nature Trail which led us by multiple signs explaining various aspects of this forest. What we thought was clover turned out to be redwood sorrel. Good thing not much time was spent looking for a four-leaf clover.
Various species of fern were visible; always a sign of there being plenty of water. Hazelnuts, maples and Douglas fir were some of the species of trees we encountered beyond the redwoods.
One of the most magnificent trees calling this park home is Colonel Armstrong. It is more than 1,400-years-old, is 308-feet-tall, and has a diameter of 14.6 feet.
Col. James Armstrong bought the acreage that now includes this swath of state land in 1874. He saw the damage logging could do and decided to preserve the land. Armstrong Woods became a county park in 1916 and part of State Parks in 1934.
The tallest tree in Armstrong goes up 310 feet.
“The ancient coast redwood is the tallest living thing on our planet. These remarkable trees live to be 500-1,000 years old, grow to a diameter of 12-16 feet, and stand from 200-250 feet tall. Some trees survive to over 2,000 years and tower above 350 feet,” State Parks says.
- Parking is $10.
- Dogs limited to paved areas; as in no hiking trails.
- Adjacent Austin Creek State Recreation Area remains closed because of fire damage.
- All amenities within Armstrong Redwoods are open except East Ridge Trail and Pool Ridge Trail, which connect to Austin Creek SRA.
As the nearly full moon was rising before us for most of the first part of the hike, the sun was setting behind us.
It was one of those perfect Chico nights to hike; not too hot, not any wind to speak of.
We started from the Horseshoe Lake parking lot in Upper Bidwell Park. It was a steady climb via Middle, Red Bud and North Rim trails. The uneven basalt rock made having poles a good thing. It’s easy to get a little off balance.
Going up it was a definite climb, but probably would have seemed a little easier if we weren’t going at such a good pace.
A few wildflowers grew alongside the path, with taller dry grass and oak trees the predominant flora.
While we were warned of snakes, ticks and mosquitoes, they didn’t make their presence known. Though, I had put on bug spray before leaving home.
The eight of us with the Chico Oroville Outdoor Adventures climbed 949 feet in elevation. The low point was 333 feet, while the high point was 1,183 feet. In all we hiked 5.82 miles.
We didn’t make it to Sentinel Point in time to see the actual sunset, but we did sit there a spell to enjoy the changing colors as the sky went from dusk to night. In the distance we could see the lights of downtown Chico and its growing sprawl decorate the land.
I’m glad I was with people because I never would have known to make a hard right and essentially a 180-degree turn to get to the scenic lookout. No signs pointed the way. It would have been tricky finding my way back to the Jeep on my own, too.
It was going down when I was happiest to have hiking poles. Some of the loose dirt was easy to slip on, and tiny rocks were like ball bearings that wanted my boots to slide instead of take a firm hold of the ground.
We made a bit of a circle at the end because we returned via the North and Maidu trails.
All the while the moon was getting brighter and bigger. Unfortunately, it wasn’t casting off enough light for us to make the second half of the trek without the assistance of headlamps—at least for most of us. This was two days before the actual full moon/eclipse in May.
One does not have to hike or climb Castle Crags to be impressed by this rock formation that towers above Interstate 5 north of Redding at more than 6,500 feet.
But for those who don’t just drive by, you will be even more awed by the views.
While sometimes natural formations are best viewed from a distance, that is not so with Castle Crags—though it is dazzling from afar. These granite spires are captivating from so many points along the trail.
The last Saturday of April was my second time to hike the trail. The first was in November 2009, so it had been a while.
This time we started at the vista point parking lot, thus avoiding unnecessary mileage from the ranger station. We started on the Root Creek Trail and then got onto the Crags Trail. The group of six hikers were part of the Chico Oroville Outdoor Adventures group.
Looking at the pictures from my first excursion there were some differences in the terrain, which has me scratching my head. Was I on the exact same trail? Has the trail been improved in the last nearly 13 years?
In a 2009 photo there is a distinct metal railing. No railings existed this spring. While there is a narrow section, it would not have made things better with a railing—and this from a person who has some height issues.
What I’m wondering is if on the first hike the four of us ignored the “trail ends” sign and kept going. Or maybe the sign is new and we didn’t know better.
Kristin, who was leading the recent hike, said we could have gone farther, to ascend a bit of Castle Dome (4,996 feet) like her group had done a few days earlier. None of us wanted to. Now I wish I had to see if that might have been where I was the first time.
We took our time getting to the base of Castle Dome; stopping to enjoy the handful of wildflowers along the trail and trying to appreciate the bird calls that a fellow hiker was attuned to. At this pace it made the elevation gain not seem that difficult.
When it’s not cloudy, the 14,179-foot Mount Shasta makes her presence known. While this majestic mountain is 30 miles north, it doesn’t seem that far away from the trail. Shasta was never completely visible on either of my hikes at the Crags. Still, you knew she was there and you could sense her grandeur.
Then there are the monoliths that climbers were aspiring to tame. According to thecrag.com there are 116 routes for rock climbers. Some were being scaled when we were there.
By definition a crag is “a steep or rugged cliff or rock face.” The castle part of this particular formation is derived from how many granite spires there are; some would say they are castle-like.
- We put in 6.15 miles, with an elevation gain of 2,123 feet. The high point was 4,716 feet and the low mark was 2,586 feet. The park has 28 miles of hiking trails.
- There is a fee to park at Castle Crags State Park.
- Dogs not allowed on trails.
- Part of the Pacific Crest Trail runs through the state park and the wilderness area.
Luther Burbank was such a force in the horticulture world that in California his birthday (March 7) is celebrated as Arbor Day.
Burbank is credited with creating nearly 1,000 varieties of plants, including more than 200 fruit species. One of his goals was to increase the food supply in the world.
Burbank’s aptitude for cross-cultivating plants led to the creation of the Russet Burbank potato. His goal was to create a potato that would resist blight, and therefore help other countries like Ireland that were enduring a famine because of potato blight.
This potato is still the No. 1 spud used in food processing—think McDonald’s French fries and the like.
Burbank is also the creator of the plumcot, a combo of apricot and plum.
A sign on the property states, “The thousands of experiments conducted on this site and on his nearby Sebastopol farm were largely responsible for turning plant breeding into a modern science. His work with plums was influential in making them a major industry throughout the world.”
Many plants that we take for granted were the creation of Burbank’s at his 4-acre home in Santa Rosa. Today the property is 1.6 acres, with a garden that is free to roam. The old carriage house is now a museum. Docent led tours are available seasonally, which provide access to buildings and information not granted to non-paying visitors.
Here is a snippet from the Luther Burbank Gardens’ website about a flower that is rather ubiquitous today, “2001 marked the 100th anniversary of Luther Burbank’s introduction of the Shasta daisy, one of America’s most beloved garden flowers. Burbank spent 17 years developing this quadruple hybrid which he named after Mt. Shasta. Others have continued Burbank’s work and many new varieties of the Shasta daisy have been introduced since Burbank completed his work more than 100 years ago.”
Roses were Burbank’s favorite flower, with a section of his garden dedicated to them. Prior to Burbank’s death in 1926 plants could not be patented. Posthumously the Blushing Beauty and Apple Blossom rose varietals were patented in his name.
Today his Santa Rosa home is a registered landmark at the national, state and city levels. It also has been designated a horticultural landmark by the American Society for Horticultural Science.
Something was clearly wrong. We were supposed to only climb 200 feet total and we were already beyond that marker. From our vantage point the hill we were on looked like it stretched to the sky with no end point.
What was wrong was the markers for the ride got screwed up. We weren’t alone in being on the wrong route for the Wildflower bike ride in Chico last weekend. I don’t know how many cyclists ended up climbing when they didn’t expect to.
We were supposed to ride 60 miles of flat terrain with a total elevation gain of 200 feet. The route (there were seven) we ended up on was the 65-miler with hills. My app recorded 2,350 feet of elevation gain.
I never wanted to climb Clark Road to Paradise. Not that day, not ever. That’s what serious cyclists do. I am not a serious cyclist.
I’m so unserious that I don’t even know how to change a flat tire. In fact, on a training ride the weekend before my sister came to pick me up when my tire blew. In retrospect that flat was a good omen because the bike shop said the whole tire needed replacing.
Going up Clark was a grind. Fortunately, there was a rest stop essentially at the top of the hill. This is where we found other people with orange wrist bands who were now on the wrong route. While we knew we could have turned around on the hill, I had lobbied to keep going. I decided a hill was better than added mileage.
At the rest stop people said the hills were over and that only small ones, like going over an overpass, would be all we would encounter. I soon learned that description was a bunch of BS. I had been taking this whole wrong, hilly route in stride with a good attitude until I hit Pearson Road. Damn. I walked the bike a bit. It’s not that it was harder than Clark, it’s just that I hit a mental wall. We weren’t even 25 miles in and I started getting pissy because I didn’t want any more climbing.
After Pearson there wasn’t. But I did have to get off the hill. While so many people relish this part of a ride, I get scared going downhill. I don’t like to go fast. In fact, my hands hurt so much from braking that I literally have to stop on a downhill. In this case, I stopped twice to stretch out my hands.
More proof I am not a serious cyclist.
Positive attitude resumed once we were back on the flat. The roads took us to the town of Durham. From here it was confirmed we could ditch this 65-mile route and take a short cut back to the fairgrounds.
We ended with 50 miles. Less than we intended from the get-go, but with more than 10 times the elevation we had planned for. Not bad for a Sunday ride by a non-serious cyclist.