October 24, 2013
By now, the Sierra foliage season is winding down, hopefully transitioning to a robust snow season in the mountains before long. With two dry years in a row, California badly needs a strong rainy season which usually means a good snowpack, which translates to a good ski/snowshoe/other winter activity season. My previous post from earlier in the month was a gallery I put together after a late September trip to the south Tahoe area. That trip was a little early for foliage, but I did manage to find a few aspens starting to change. I also found other flora showing color. I’m usually so focused on my beloved aspens that I overlook other plants. In that post, I’d mentioned the Fall Fish Festival (formerly the Kokanee Salmon Festival), but because of the US government shutdown, the festival was cancelled for this year. At least the salmon had an opportunity to spawn in relative privacy.
I returned to Tahoe last Thursday & Friday (10/17 – 10/18). Thursday was my drive-up/semi-sedentary day when I just did some car touring and low impact meandering by foot. I do spend most of my time at sea level, so I need to be quasi-sensible. Usually I drive in on Highway 50 along the American River (South Fork), but I wanted a little change so I came in on Interstate 80 through Auburn & Truckee. I took the scenic route by getting off near Sugar Bowl, taking Old Highway 40 along Donner Lake. The first photo on this post was taken as I stood on the north shore of the lake. This view, and the drive to get here from the ski resort area made me vow to stay somewhere on the lakeshore sometime soon (summer or winter, I’m not particular). Donner Lake Village is a prime candidate.
After Donner Lake, I dropped in on Squaw Valley to see what kind of foliage they were sporting. I grabbed a cup of coffee at McStarbucks (I was desperate!) and tried a very quick hike up the Shirley Canyon trail, but didn’t find much color or water in the creek along the trail so I called it quits after less than half a mile. Besides, ski resorts without snow are a little depressing.
South of Alpine Meadows I drove along the Truckee River. There’s a bike path that I’ve since learned is part of a larger system of paths called the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway. This particular section stretches from Tahoe City to Truckee. I parked in a turnout and scrambled down an embankment to explore. It made me wish I’d had my bike with me, because I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to ride. Again, not much foliage color, but it’s hard to complain about a setting such as this.
With South Lake Tahoe as my ultimate destination, I chose to drive clockwise around the lake which means in Tahoe City, I continued towards Crystal Bay and Incline Village along highway 28. There were lots of aspens along the road, but most seemed to be planted on private property. I just drove past them and admired. I’m not about to stop for photos and feel like a voyeur or trespasser. Besides, I knew that I’d eventually come across some public trees.
On Friday, I made up for my evil sedentary ways by doing a hard climb up the Bay View Trail in Desolation Wilderness up to Middle Velma Lake. I started in the cold quiet of morning (probably low 40’s). With Bay View Campground closed and gated for the season, I parked along the road. For foliage, a better hike would probably have been the Mt. Tallac Trail further south, but I did find some aspens, mountain ash, pinedrops, and other sources of color, especially early during the hike. There was even some snow on the ground in a few spots from a recent flurry (not enough to really call it a storm).
Eventually, I reached the Pacific Crest Trail and Middle Velma Lake. Once there, I enjoyed my lunch and I must confess, a few puffs of a cigar, as I enjoyed the view and the stunning silence. The only sounds were birdcall, the breeze and an occasional trout breaching the water. It made the long hike worthwhile.