This story starts a little bit before we arrived at our destination, so you, dear reader, get a bonus. We had been staying in South Lake Tahoe and were looking for a place to play in the snow. A quick check on the phones found a snow park on Spooner Summit. Neither of us had ever been there and we decided we’d have an adventure and check it out. We drove up according to the directions (again, on the phones), and turned off where we were supposed to. And before we knew it, we drove right on past it and down the mountain toward Carson City. Five miles later we had turned around and made it back to the park and found….very little snow.
But we also found a trail head. We had the dog, who was practically vibrating with pent up energy from being stuck in her crate the whole drive. We had our walking shoes, since we’d planned to do some snowshoeing that day. And we had time. We walked uphill and set out on the trail, which wound around Spooner Lake, which lay to the west of us.
However, before we made it to the trail, our path was beset by three menacing enemies. I managed to capture a photo of them:
Ok, so the threat was, well, nonexistent, but nothing you could tell Nora would convince her that they were anything but the deadliest of creatures bent on destroying her. She cowered away from them and barked out a warning when we got too close.
The trail was a thin dirt path that meandered through pine, aspen and other assorted trees along the way. Many of the aspens had been carved with initials of those who had traveled there before us. It was something to wonder about as we walked – who were they? Were they from nearby, or all the way across the country? or the world?
There were small patches of snow every so often when we started out, and eventually the small patches became larger and larger stretches. The pup loved every minute of it, running along and sniffing, bounding when the snow gave way beneath her. She picked up sticks and pine cones and anything else that she found interesting along the way.
I think its safe to say she enjoyed herself immensely. She gave no thought to anyone else, anyone who had been there before or would be there after she was done. It was fun to watch her gallop and prance along, enjoying that moment, taking in all it had to offer. I thought she had the right idea and joined in. Not so much the galloping and prancing, but definitely enjoying the moment and casting away all my worries about tomorrow. It was nice to just be somewhere and nowhere else for a while.
Just as we began to wonder if we had taken a wrong turn and that we would never arrive at the lake, it came into view between the trees.
There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife along the trail. A bird or two chattering in the trees, and maybe a stray chipmunk every so often. While spring was in fact in the air, it hadn’t fully blossomed yet. The temperatures may have reached comfortable levels (when you were in the sun, at least), but the residents of the area hadn’t decided to make an appearance yet. I like to sleep in, too, so who am I to judge?
The lake was peaceful and calm, despite the chill of the wind. The view was beautiful and we decided that a photo of us enjoying the area was a great idea.
We were wrong.
As we made our way around the lake we crossed a wooden bridge, the second that we had come across. It crossed a marshy area covered in golden reeds that had grown rampantly the year before. Surely once they had been tall and beautiful, but as we passed by, they lay scattered across the swampy expanse.
The last leg of our trek was all uphill. While we had been bracing ourselves against the chill just a short time before, during the uphill climb back to the car we were peeling off layers and missing the snow that had suddenly gone missing. Finally, I could take no more and sat for a short rest. Nora pulled at her leash, eager to keep moving. I caught my breath and steeled myself for the last push. In a few moments we were up the hill and past the garbage bag monsters, then safe in the car again.
As we drove back down the road, we enjoyed one last look at Lake Tahoe before we headed back down the hill.
P.S. When I decided to slow down and enjoy the world around me, I began to notice a multitude of intriguing sights along the way. Thanks to my camera and shutterbug ways, I have plenty of photographs to share with all of you. Enjoy.
(Click the image to see the larger version.)
I have been a busy little bee lately! But despite being too busy to blog, I have managed to escape the daily grind (and the weather) for a little excursion in the Mother Lode. A few weeks ago, my friend and I ran away for the day and explored on a new kind of hike – underground, at Mercer’s Caverns in Murphy’s.
Mercer Caverns is accessible via forty five minute tour, which costs about $15 per person. On the tour, we learned about the discovery, history and geology of the caves. While we listened, we descended, and then climbed back up, a maze of staircases that tilt and turn in all manner of angles and directions. The reason for the precariousness of their positioning is to skirt around the intriguing and imposing formations.
Most folks tend to explore he caverns when the summer heat drives them away from the great (hot) outdoors in search of cooler temperatures. Mercer’s Caverns stays in the comfortable sixty-degree range year round, which makes it perfect for summer. Unless you are crowded in a cramped space with twenty other hot, sweaty tourists, all trying to look at the same miniscule formations.
No, instead of facing swarming crowds and eager shutterbugs, we had the caves all to ourselves. In the wintertime, those sixty degrees feel toasty and it is a nice, dry place away from the soggy earth above. We were treated to a face to face encounter. Instead of just listening to our surly tour guide ramble through her maybe too well-rehearsed (although interesting) spiel, we were able to ask questions and be insulted directly.
The cavern was made up of several chambers and smaller caves, though the tour takes you through only a fraction of what’s there. However, what you are able to see is amazing enough. You pass places with such impressive names as the Gothic Chamber (the largest in the cavern’s networks) and the Cathedral Room. Throughout the tour you are treated to formations of stalactites and stalagmites (take the tour to learn what the difference is between the two…), as well as some more unique features such as cave bacon. The cave also has a large wall that is covered with the rare mineral formation Aragonite, which won an award at the Paris World Faire in 1900.
Mr. Mercer, the man who “discovered” the cave in the late 1800’s, named many of the formations based on their appearance: there are the Cave Twins, the Angel Wings, the Beehive, and the Bridal Veil and more.
As we toured, our guide told us (in her own charming way) about the Cavern’s not-so-recent history. The cavern formed over millennia, with each formation growing about one cubic centimeter every five hundred years. More recently, the cavern was discovered by William Mercer in the late 1800s. He not only preserved it against damage but began providing guided tours within weeks after the discovery.
He and those he guided used candles affixed to wooden boards to illuminate their exploration. While climbing (which was most of the time) they held their lights in their mouths. They carried open flames, inches in front of their faces, while their hands were occupied and unavailable in the event of something going horribly wrong. Let that sink in for a bit, I’ll wait here.
After the climbers perfected the art of not burning their faces off, they also had to make sure that they didn’t drop them, as the meager candles were their only sources of light. The group would be left in absolute darkness until someone managed to scrounge up their spare.
During the tour, we were treated to this latter experience of complete cave darkness. At one point, our guide lit a board that held four candles and turned off the electric lights that are now used as the standard illumination throughout. The difference was startling. We were unable to see much more than a few yards away, and when she blew out all but one, we could see only a few feet in any direction.
But all of that was bright compared to what came next. Our guide unceremoniously blew out the last candle, plunging us into utter, pitch black. Waving a hand in front of our faces was useless, we found. As we tried anyway, our guide told us that the human eye tries incessantly to focus in total darkness and will eventually burn itself out, rendering the person it belongs to completely blind. She then told us of miners and cave explorers who had gotten lost in caves for too long. By the time they were found, they had been driven mad and stricken blind. We gave the obligatory (and honestly, irrepressible) shiver.
Our guide then turned on the lights as we breathed a sigh of relief. She then told us that the only lights that had been turned off were the ones in the immediate area. The lights that were down the staircase from us had been on the entire time.
There are several differences between a “regular” hike and a cave hike. Some are quite obvious, such as the fact that it takes place under the ground – that is a bit hard to miss. But one thought that may not immediately present itself until it is too late is this: on your typical hike, after you reach the halfway point, most times the rest is all downhill. In a cave, well, the last leg is always going to be up.
In this case, its way up, and quick. We climbed and huffed and puffed our way back up one of the steepest staircases I have ever seen, making sure to avoid the many low-hanging rocks along the way. Not only would we have to deal with the worst headache imaginable, but we would also face fines of more than $1000 due to caverns being protected by state law. The ultimate addition of insult to injury.
Before long, the counterfeit light of the electric bulbs gave way to the cool natural light filtering through the clouds and the exit looming ahead. We climbed with renewed strength and the stairs transformed from wood to concrete. And then we were back on the surface. The rain had let up since we had been inside the cavern, so we strode quickly to the car before it could start pouring again.
It has been too long since we took a hike that was actually out of the book that started this whole thing. Between taking (much needed) vacations and taking wrong turns (whoops!), we have been all over the place. But now we’re back on track, so take a look at our trip out to the Cosumnes River Preserve Trail!
The weather report said rain but when we got there the only clouds were white and fluffy and completely non-threatening. We hopped out and, after taking a good long look at the map (and another one for good measure), we started up the path. Turns out we didn’t need to be so careful this time. The trail started out as a wooden boardwalk leading away from the visitor’s center.
So with the thunk, thunk, thunk of our footsteps keeping us company (and likely all the wildlife alert to our approach), we crossed the bridge over the swampy water that the sign assured us was full of spawning salmon.
A little ways after crossing the bridge, however, our path became…concrete. Hmm. We shrugged and supposed that was one way to preserve nature – not allow anyone to even touch it.
The trail notwithstanding though, we were treated to pretty scenery and an abundance of wildlife. Ducks abounded, and there were other birds around as well. The surrounding brush and plants were almost constantly shaking and moving with the scurrying little creatures within. After we crossed the road we came to a sign that told of the shrinking wetlands in California. It was some pretty interesting information.
We quickly crossed the road again and wound up back where we had started.
This time when we crossed the bridge, instead of taking the concrete pathway we turned to the right and strode down the dirt trail. I think I heard my hiking boots sigh with relief. We walked for another hour or so on this half of the trail, once or twice running into a group of birders.
Twisting through giant oak trees and around small streams was relaxing enough and after we slowed up a bit to let the bird watchers pass it was absolutely peaceful.
The light filtered through the gnarled branches and fell lightly on our shoulders as we walked in quiet contentedness. Maps were posted at nearly every point of intersection on the trail, and we continued to consult it as we passed by.
The trail wound its way underneath a concrete train trestle and continued through a dry grassy field until it reached the river side.
After taking a second look we noticed that its limbs had grown so long and heavy that they had begun to grow downward into the ground and were large enough to be trees on their own.
We sat and rested a minute or two and enjoyed the view (and the rest. Let’s be honest, we haven’t done many long hikes lately). After taking advantage of a photo op with the tree, we turned back to finish our hike.
As we walked back under the train trestle I mused about how interesting it would be to stand there while a train passed. Coming out from under the other side, we looked down the track and what do you know, there was a train coming. We ran back under the trestle just as the train passed overhead. It wasn’t as loud as expected, but we could see the concrete rumbling as the cars passed over top of us. After the train passed, we journeyed on.
During the last few turns on our dirt trail, we saw a sea otter, swimming away through a section of the river.
We passed by the other side of the little pond we had seen in the beginning of our walk and it seemed that the ducks had multiplied (and apparently organized) in our absence.
We passed over the bridge for a third time and before long we were back in the parking lot and ready to head for home.
I also discovered my camera’s macro function that day.
And although we did enjoy exploring the strip a couple of nights, we welcomed the chance to go explore some rocks and hills.
Thankfully, there are plenty of both to be found off the strip.
On the second day of our vacation, we took a drive outside of town to visit the Valley of Fire State Park. In the park are myriad red rock formations to be seen. The road was constructed in such a way so as to take visitors by some of the interesting monoliths.
They are a type of sandstone, worn into unique shapes by the desert winds. In addition to stunning roadside observations, there are several hikes to be taken that are easily accessible to those driving in.
We chose to take the short Mouse’s Tank hike, which was only about a half mile round trip. The hike is so named because of a natural well that is located at the end of the trail. It had been used as a lifesaving water source by a Native American called Mouse at the turn of the last century.
As we walked along the trail we were surrounded on all sides by walls of red rock, and under our feet was a powdery covering of fine red sand. In several places along the way we could see etchings in the dark red rock face, revealing the bright reds underneath. These drawings had been created throughout the years by Native American tribes that lived in the area.
Throughout the hike it was hard not to think of the history of the place, at how many people had walked in the same places that we were walking, seeing the same things we had seen. And how much it had changed throughout the years. Wind is constantly altering the landscape, wearing a bit here, some more there, sculpting a new masterpiece a little every day.
What had they seen ten years ago? Twenty, forty, one hundred? A thousand.
How about ten thousand? The stripes in the rock, however small, are reminders of how much time and nature combine to change the world. It is strange to think that those stripes, those layers of colored rock, had all once been sand, just like the kind we were crunching under our boots.
A humbling experience to say the least.
The weather was mild and the high rocks surrounding us broke the wind perfectly, so we took our time walking and looking. We were rewarded for our patience by small, interesting details that were not immediately apparent.
When we got to the tank, we leaned over to take a look. The water was low and it looked like quite a fall if we were to tip over into it. So we leaned ourselves right back.
On our return trip, we noticed a section of rock that the wind had worn so thoroughly that it had created a hole that a grown person could fit through.
We continued to walk back out, wondering all the while how and why those who had lived so many years before had taken the time (and in some cases the risk) to climb up and carve the little pictures. Must have been important.
Soon we were done and as we hopped back in the car for a long drive back to town.
|Ohh. THAT trail. Whoops.|
|This. Is. AWESOME. -Nora|
|Are we…supposed to go…AROUND the lake?|
|Racing ahead. Well, trying to at least.|
|Old Time Photos|
|Lady Adams Bldg, oldest building in Sacramento|
|I’m not even sure what this is, but it was fun to photograph.|
|Ok, I know I’ve never seen this in Old Sacramento before.|
|Heading out on to the wharf|
|I see something…|
|Hah! Got it.|
|Taking it all in|
|That’s plenty of people for me…|
|Branches of the yew tree – The park is
the only place these trees and
the giant sequoias grow together.
However, I’ve come to the realization that just because I can’t hike doesn’t mean I can’t write. Until I find myself with more time and opportunity to get out and about, I will be doing a little bookshelf maintenance. I’ve been working on a few other pages where you can find all sorts of goodies like books and hiking odds and ends (that I actually use), and some workouts to help get in shape, both to get started hiking and to prep for big ol’ hikes, like half-dome or the John Muir trail (both on my hiking bucket list – ok, that may become another page unto itself)
These installations will be permanent editions that you will always be able to find with a quick click, and not blog posts sorted by date and becoming increasingly buried by more and more entries. In addition, they will be “living pages,” in that I will keep adding to and tinkering with them as new ideas or information surfaces.
So keep a lookout the next few days, because new goodies are coming…and maybe another excursion to add some icing onto that cake…hmmm?