Independence Day. A time to give thanks for freedom and recognize the beauty of the country where we live. What’s a girl to do? Go hiking of course. Not only hiking, but for the first time in a long time, hiking without a cell signal. No phone calls. No emails, no outside contact. An honest-to-goodness real day off. True freedom.
Even though I love the touristy energy of the Lake Tahoe beaches on the Fourth of July, all I could think of was heading to the hills to check out the wildflowers. Let me clarify a bit. As Lake Winnemucca in the Carson Pass area was the destination, using “hills” as a description is a bit of an understatement. Those with altitude struggles should know that this particular hike ranges starts around 8,500’ with an elevation climb of approximately 600′.
So off we went (gal-pals Lynette & Karen in tow) donned with cameras, water & snacks for our planned morning of chatter, sightseeing, fresh air and exercise. I wasn’t driving so naturally I surmised a purse wasn’t needed. It might have been helpful if I had at least grabbed my wallet. But no – the morning coffee hadn’t quite cleared all of the cobwebs as we and headed out the door at 7 am. Upon arriving at the Carson Pass parking (be sure to get there early this time of year as the parking lot fills up rather quickly) I remembered that the daily parking fee was $5. Heartfelt apologies on my behalf were met with Lynette’s calm, “I have it covered.” Of course she did.
This small stretch of Paradise crosses the Pacific Crest Trail coursing along the mountain crests through California, Oregon and Washington from Mexico to Canada. The hardest part of this particular hike of the day is honestly within the first 100 yards starting behind the privy’s which I recommend you visit prior to heading out. The following two miles or so offers fairly gentle climbing with views in every direction. Along the trek to Lake Winnemucca (what a great name) one will find treasures such as a reflection pool nestled in the shadows of surrounding pines, an meadow covered by a blanket of low-lying flowers (I am not a botanist & never will be hence names of flowers will not be provided), Bull Frog Lake, creeks, open vistas, mysteriously twisted tree trunks, a chorus of song birds, and of course the highly-sought after array of wildflowers.
How long is this hike? For most folks, the average walking time is about an hour in and 40 minutes out. The three of us on this particular day took 4.5 hours to reach the lake. Seriously! Folks greeted us as they passed going in and bid us a great day as they once again passed upon their return jaunt. We were so slow we gave the phrase “slow as molasses in January” a run for its money. There were simply too many glorious visual treats demanding our attention. It would have been rude to pass them by without paying due respect. And besides, there were hungry mosquitoes and biting flies that had been waiting all morning for our arrival. (word to the wise – bring bug spray) We couldn’t let them down, now could we?
It never fails that while hiking, some thought manages to enter my brain and like a song on an endless loop, that thought gets worked from every angle possible. On this particular day, the voices were dwelling on feedback I had received from various folks to whom I had mentioned I was going to check out the wildflowers. “There simply not here this year.” “A disappointment compared to previous years.” “It’s not like it used to be.” Why, I wondered, does there always seem to be a level of comparison.” Is it that hard to just dwell in the uniqueness of the moment? It’s beautiful. Whether one flower is in full bloom or an entire hillside, it’s beautiful. Why do we set level of expectations? Why is it so natural to make judgments? The lesson I am earnestly going to try to take with me from this lovely day is to simply be as open as I can to the present moment. Something tells me that by doing so, I will actually see more.
Not a year goes by that I don’t make this hike and each and every time, I am thrilled with the overwhelming beauty. Keep in mind that this hike is popular and the odds of finding yourself alone on this trail is rare. But at the same time, one can’t help but notice how happy everyone is along the way. It’s an infectious feeling and adds to the joy this hike provides. If you have a moment, check out this snappy little slide show. It will show you a small sample of the beauty of the Lake Winnemucca hike.
Epilogue: We wrapped up the outing with a glass of wine and a fabulous bowl of Burgundy Beef Stew at Sorenson’s. (A must do for all.) In an effort to be both appreciative and gracious, I suggested Karen and I buy Lynette’s lunch as she had volunteered to drive. Karen enthusiastically agreed and it was then I once again remembered that I had no money. Whoops. “I have it covered,” Karen responded. Of course she did.
We didn’t make it to the fireworks this year. But then again, the display of color we witnessed on the mountain this Fourth of July held a splendor all its own.
Time was very limited this past week, so the only logical decision to stay true to my weekly hike vow was to search out a destination that wasn’t time consuming yet provided a refreshing break from a busy work schedule. Being overdue for a “girls’ play-day,” I called upon “soul-sis” Lynette for company. Feeling rebellious concerning the daily need to look “presentable,” I donned the one pair of shorts that my “what not to wear” fashion adviser, Karen Leland overlooked when she threw out the majority of my clothes a month ago. To top off my “I am not into fashion” look, I completed my ensemble with an old over-sized shirt, a base ball cap and a pair of very unattractive hiking shoes. Much to my delight, Lynette greeted me at the front door with a greeting of, “I look like a real dork” and pointed to her calf high socks, equally unattractive shoes and a walking skirt. You got the picture, right? But then again, we decided it was pretty fun being at a point in life where one simply does not care if others notice or not.
We started our hike at the trail entrance at the west end of Skyland Drive within the Skyland neighborhood of Zephyr Cove on Nevada’s East Shore. As parking can be limited, I strongly suggest reversing the direction of the hike and instead start at the Zephyr Cove Resort area. Either way, this is a win-win outing. Within an approximately 2.5 round trip excursion, one will experience a tranquil forested environment, endless lake views and a colorful resort atmosphere (during tourist season.) Trail arteries meander in a variety of directions yet seem to always work their way back to the main path. I highly recommend you take your time and explore. Two years ago, the forest service thinned the forest and burned some of the lower growth. Remnants of their efforts are still visible yet this hike is enveloped by beauty. Soaring pines, chirping birds, lapping water along the shoreline, sandy beaches and impressive granite boulder formations call to you in nearly every direction.
At one point I wanted to head toward the shoreline only to be surprised to find that our path ended abruptly by a new fence line restricting admittance. Turns out, there is a plant from the mustard family that is an endangered species and Lake Tahoe is the only place in the world in which it grows. Those that know me well are aware of my mustard obsession. I was in awe. This was like discovering a powerful new vortex right here in Lake Tahoe. A rare mustard plant. Who knew? One more reason to rank Lake Tahoe at the list of the world’s most popular destinations. Recovering my composure, we ventured westward until we found a new trail that did indeed take us to the shoreline. Continuing along our hike, we found a large estate that is now owned by the US Forest Service (but apparently not used for any known functions,) ideally located park benches and Lynette’s “picnic rock,” the perfect place to sit and soak up the sun.
As we neared the Zephyr Cove Resort, the sounds of sun-worshipers overtook the songbirds. An explosion of color met our eyes and the buzz of families having fun was in the air. That’s fun with a capital F-U-N! Dogs were chasing balls, kids were creating masterpieces in the sand, kayaks were gliding by, volleyball games were underway and folks were lining up for a “3 hour cruise” on the Dixie. (The round-trip cruise to Emerald Bay truly takes about 2 hours but I like the nostalgic ring of “3 hour cruise.”) Grinning from ear to ear, Lynette and I both remarked how important it was for us to take time to play like a tourist in our backyard. After all, folks come from around the world to do just this.
What I enjoyed most about this hike is that, aside from the beauty and fresh air, the ease of the outing allowed us an opportunity to chat freely and therefore solve the problems of the world. Meanwhile the transition from serenity to tourist buzz and back left me with the feeling of having truly escaped from the daily routine of work and chores. All of this under an hour. Trust me – this hike is a joy. Try it yourself and let me know what you think. Better yet, give me a call with an invitation to join you. I promise, I will make an effort to not embarrass you with my choice of wardrobe. But then again . . .
It’s rare that I find myself with an opportunity to enjoy Lake Tahoe’s gifts on a weekend. Especially a weekend when the sun is in full performance and the temperature is hovering at just about perfect. What the heck – it was perfect. As my dearest friend, Ann ws visiting, hubby gave me the day off. And as I had not yet taken my weekly hike per my public vow, guess what I suggested we do? Hike. In deciding where to go and knowing that there were no time restraints, I decided we should venture up to Echo Lake. Those of you that travel up Highway 50 to Lake Tahoe are familiar with Echo Summit. This is the point where one begins the descent into the Tahoe basin. The lake itself is approximately 2 miles in from the Highway at the summit. Easiest enough to find. Right?
Okay, not necessarily so easy for one with a pathetic sense of direction. It’s certainly not the first time I have been to the lake over the past 20 years either. Never-the-less, despite signs and arrows indicating the way to Echo Lake, we drove in circles. The third time we found ourselves back at the Highway entrance, I gave up and called Don for directions. With the patience of a saint (and the mind of someone that was probably conniving his next fishing trip) he led us back to the main road leading to the trail head. Eureka – we found it. For those of you that have not yet been to Echo Lake (or have as lousy a sense of direction as do I) take Highway 50 to Echo Summit and turn onto Johnson Pass Road. Stay left and the road will lead you to the parking area by Lower Echo Lake.
Following a minor incident of backing the car into a small rock wall, we laced up the walking shoes and headed out. At the beginning of the hike, there is a lodge type store and public restrooms. Strong advice – consider using those restrooms prior to your walk. There isn’t a lot of privacy along the way. The glacial lake is divided into two sections; an upper lake and a lower lake. The level of the lake is maintained during the summer months with a dam located at 7,414 feet above sea level. I point this out because those coming from sea level could experience effects from the altitude. Be sure to bring lots of water. Overall the trail is rated easy to moderate.
To begin the hike, head to the right, cross over the dam and veer to the left to locate the trail. THE TRIAL. The Pacific Crest Trail. For a moment, I embodied the spirit of Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild : From Lost to Found.) Reality hit as reality does and I remembered that I was only carrying a water bottle, a light snack and a small camera. And, I was only on a 5 mile round trip trail. So be it. We were on the Pacific Crest Trail. And what a trail! The trail climbs a bit to allow an endless view of the lake below where one can oversee a variety of small cabins, watch kayaks gliding by and fisherman tossing their lines. The uphill side of the hike provides a stunning display of striped granite formations adorned with lichen and small springs. Throughout the walk, a variety of songbirds performed, lizards scampered and hikers (as well as crazy fitness runners) passed by repeatedly expressing what a glorious day it was. Yes, there were numerous folks passing us by as we meandered along at a pace that very well could have caused a turtle some frustration. But how could one rush through this hike? Each Western Juniper held a beauty that called out to be individually admired. The wildflowers deserved attention. The clouds overhead were constantly changing to create a new visual landscape. This was truly a time to simply be in the moment and absorb all that was being offered.
At the point we felt was a good half-way mark, (midway through the upper lake) we sat to enjoy a small snack. I can honestly tell you that this was one of the best apples I have ever eaten. There is truth to the adage that fresh air is the best ingredient to enhance flavors. Eventually we encouraged our sorry tushes to get back up and on the trail again. Now here is a delightful bit of news to share with you. The hike back along the very same trail is a whole new experience. The views are even more dramatic. Or at least they certainly seemed so to us. All in all, this particular hike would take the average hiker about 2.5 hours. We took almost twice as long. As far as I am concerned, we doubled the pleasure.
There is more than one way to give your heart a work out. You know the feeling where you find it beating so hard that you fear it will push right through your skin. And honestly, does anything make you feel more alive than when your heart reaches this level of intensity. Aerobic workouts can do the trick. So can an adrenaline rush. Yet what I experienced on this week’s hike topped the charts. L-O-V-E.
My father, 83 years young, was visiting and wanted to spend some time with Aubrey, my granddaughter of 6. I am also spending time babysitting Porter, (the grand-dog) while his parents are off gallivanting around Turkey. Where could I take a hike that would easily accommodate all three with ease? After a short bit of pondering, it dawned on me that the trails along the Valhalla Estates were perfect. On this particular day, we parked the car at Kiva Beach and headed toward the cabins in the direction of Camp Richardson.
For those of you not familiar with this tourist destination, the Tallac Historic Site is an area along the Highway 89 (Emerald Bay Highway) shoreline which at one time was the summer “get-away” for socially elite families in the early 1900’s. In recent years, the US Forest Service along with the Tahoe Tallac Association have restored the buildings and grounds to provide visitors the opportunity to glimpse into the charm and lifestyle of yesteryear. Enough history for now – back to the hike.
Throughout this hike, one has the options of strolling along the beach, venturing out on piers overlooking the crystal clear water, meandering along the garden trails, peering into cabins furnished to recreate their original purposes, and resting on well placed benches to take in the surrounding beauty. So off we went. I didn’t realize how ideal this hike was for such a wide variety of age and legs until we were actually there. For dad, a nice easy flat stroll. The pace was tolerable with numerous breaks (Porter puppy feels inclined to sniff every bush/pole/tree/pinecone along the way) to take the time to reflect on days gone by. For Aubrey, there were many garden circles to race around, bridges to tromp over, signs to read and questions to ask. As for me, I lagged behind assuming the role of the silent observer and photographer. That’s when I felt the heart grow from a flutter to a point where every nerve in my body tingled. Look at them – 83 and 6. They held hands. She asking the how and why questions, he answering as best as he could. “Yes Aubrey, this cabin was here before black and white TV.” “See this Aubrey, this is where cold foods were kept as there were no refrigerators.” On and on this dialogue continued. After awhile, I realized I was no longer hearing their words. Instead, I found myself watching their movements, a dance of life. 83 and 6. Bookends of four generations sharing precious time. No doubt, generations of families have enjoyed similar experiences here along the shores of Lake Tahoe but this was my moment, my family and my LOVE.
What a week! Between “Teflon Real Estate” (non-stick escrows) and Columbo Lending (Oh, just one more thing) the phones never stopped ringing. And the phones weren’t just ringing for business. Adding to the manic business schedule, I hosted a Dining For Women meeting, a reception for an art exhibit and organized an association luncheon for next week. Making matters even worse, there has been more than a fair share of heavy news involving close family and friends. It reached the point where it seemed there were so many voices yakking in my head that I couldn’t think straight over the noise, self-inflicted noise reaching higher levels each day. It finally dawned on me that the only way to turn down the volume was to fill my senses with fresh stimuli. Time to take a hike. Knowing I was scheduled to host an Open House in Montgomery Estates, I decided to lace up the sneakers and venture up the nearby High Meadow Trail.
The High Meadow trail can be accessed at the top junction of Marshall Trail and High Meadow Trail roads. I would classify this hike as “Good for Grandma.” Then again, I am a grandma and could handle a much harder trail if I wanted to (operative word – want) The trail is wide and easy and has a gradual incline during the lower part of the hike. About 30 minutes into the stroll one can experience a steeper grade with options to cross over to single wide trails. Scenics along the way include blossoming wild flowers, babbling creeks with small waterfalls, an open meadow and impressive rock formations.
Although the goal was to “turn off the noise,” it took nearly 20 minutes before my mind began to clear. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the tranquil beauty that did the trick nor the elevated heart rate. Just as one might hang a wind chime or install a water feature to deflect road noise, it was tuning in to nature’s choie that did the trick. At first I became aware of the steady crunch of my footsteps along the trail. Before long the “cheeseburger” birds were serenading throughout the forest. (What is the cheeseburger bird you ask? A black capped chickadee. Click here for a demonstration.) As I ventured further, the sounds of a nearby creek called to me. Squirrels chattering happily while chasing one another around tree trunks. A gentle breeze was rustling the pine branches overhead. Stellar Jays were doing what Steller Jays do – squawk.
Approximately 40 minutes into the walk, I estimated that I had approximately 20 minutes before I needed to head back to be in time for the Open House. Rather than continuing with the walk, I opted to impersonate a lizard on a large granite boulder. As the warmth began to seep into my back, I closed my eyes, exhaled deeply and tuned in deeper to Mother Nature’s concert. No miracles took place and none of my pending issues magically vaporized. Yet, for a small window of time, there was a sense of balance. An “all is as it should be,” if you will. My shoulders retreated from my ears and the conflicting voices in my head lowered their volume to just above a whisper. It was time to head back.
While heading down the trail, I remembered once reading a quote from Mother Teresa. Thank goodness for the internet. I googled Mother Teresa and quotes about noise and there it was. And here it is: “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass-grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence . . . We need silence to be able to touch souls. “ Trust me, I get it. And those words still resonate in my heart. Quiet the senseless noise. Breathe In – Breathe Out – Let Go. Yet my visit today showed that nature is not at all silent. Nature today was a finely tuned orchestra. Minor falls and major lifts. Pure harmony. Bravo! Encore! Thank You.