Saturday, May 14, 2011

Travel TidBits: Tahoe

Travel TidBits: Tahoe in the ‘in-between’ Season

It’s Monday, May 9th, and I am looking out of my window and it is snowing heavily!!

I love the mountains, the Lake, the smell of pine trees and hearing the crunch of the needles under my hiking boots. I have come up from the valley every Spring over the last many years not for the winter ski season or for the summer but in the ‘in-between’ seasons that is so pristine: In May, the aspens are just sprouting their light green leaves, the creeks and rivers are full of water tumbling down with white splashes, the wildflowers are just beginning with the occasional flowering dogwood along the American River, and in Owens Valley the cows have just dropped their first calves. In October, the aspen leaves whisper in the wind and the yellow/red color sparks between the green pines, the pinecones are starting to drop and nature is getting ready for the winter. The hike up to Eagle Lake and a picnic up there watching the merganser ducks on the lake and occasional raptors soaring high up in the clear autumn air is breath-taking. In both of these ‘in-between’ seasons, the crowds have thinned in South Lake Tahoe, everything is at a slower pace and seems to be breathing before the onslaught of the next season.

To experience this again, I drove up on Friday to visit familiar places and add new destinations.
Along highway 50, Bridal Veil Falls tumbled down the granite and was of course a perfect stop along the way with new leaves greeting the traveler.

Driving up the American River, the first dogwood was just starting to bloom.

The American River is swollen from the snow melt and tumbles down the granite bolders

Reaching South Lake Tahoe, I visit Jon Paul’s Gallery  and admire his latest nature images - stunning scenes from Tahoe and surroundings but also from other national parks and wildlife. Jon Paul is in the gallery and it is good to finally connect a face with the photographer whose work I have loved for a long time. Sunset finds me at my favorite spot at Zephir Cove and the colors were gorgeous.

The next day, I drove over Luther Pass (7700 ft) where the snow was still on the high plateau and the aspens had not awakened yet.

Descending into Hope Valley, I stopped at a wildlife viewing area but in midday only melting snow and not yet green meadows greeted me. But when looking closely, nature was starting to renew its cycle. The first yellow wildflowers kept close to the ground to avoid the still cold wind and some early red leaves erupted from the barren ground.

Following yet another tumbling river, I descended to Owens Valley which was lush and green with lots of cows on the pasture. Here the Aspen were full of budding leaves, the shrubs were starting to bloom and the temperatures were lovely.

Along the Eastern foothills of the Sierra passing horse pastures, seeing deer munching on new growth and flocking to the water in water-logged meadows to quench their thirst.

Puffy white clouds over the sprouting aspens and the wide landscape were gorgeous in the early summer sun.

Approaching Genoa, the road was lined with cars. The yearly Cowboy Poetry Festival had mobilized the tiny town and cowboys and cowgirls from all the surrounding communities had descended on Genoa, and everyone was decked in cowboy gear – boy, did I feel out of place! Cowboys and poetry?!? Since the reading only started later in the afternoon, I did not hang around but had a great sandwich at the Country Store listening to the tales being spun at the other tables!

On my way back to Hope Valley and Tahoe, I stopped at Sorenson’s, an icon in Hope Valley and not to be missed for their excellent Berry Cobbler with ice-cream and of course a good cup of coffee.

Sunset found me again at Zephir Cove but this time the wind was blowing in gale force and I had to protect my lens from the flying sand – sandblasting not advised for sensitive equipment! But the clouds over the lake were fast moving and menacing – storm was on its way.

… and the next morning I woke up to winter wonderland!

It's May and who would have thought my car would be covered by 4 inches of new snow!   But they say, nature up here is unpredictable in the mountains.  I walked around in untouched whiteness which by noon time was gone - luckily, since I had to drive home over Echo Pass (7700ft) but the roads were dry by the time I reached it.  And of course as soon as I was in the valley, everything was green again.  Did I just dream of winter?

Well, it was a great weekend getting away from it all, breathing the fresh mountain air, hiking up to Eagle Falls where the snow prevented me from going on to Eagle Lake. Photographing to my heart's delight and coming back refreshed.