Date: August 11, 2016
Place: Hope Valley Wildlife Area, South Lake Tahoe, California
Coordinates: 38.778331, -119.924538
Length: about two miles in and out
This year we went on our summer road trip with very little planning. I had a semi-solid plan for the first three days to explore the Gold Country, but only a vague idea of where to go next. Then Papa Quail came up with the idea of visiting the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, because it has been a while since our last visit there, and it rained then. I immediately went with his idea - there is much to see in the Eastern Sierra on the way to and around the White Mountains where the ancient trees were. So after visiting the Calaveras Big Trees and the Indian Grinding Rock State Parks, and rafting down the American River, it was time to drive east across the Sierra Nevada.
At first I thought to stop at South Lake Tahoe and hike Emerald Bay State Park, but a couple of big traffic jams caused by road construction, plus a huge crowd of vacationeers and not a single parking spot had caused us to give up on that hike before even setting a foot outside of the car. In fact, we didn't even wish to stay in town for lunch. So we purchased some supplies and fled south on CA-89 to Hope Valley Wildlife Area.
I had discovered Hope Valley a couple of years back when I looked for a place to snow-shoe while my chikas were at ski school. Since then I visited that place a few more times, during summer, with the family. I knew it would be a perfect place to stop for a picnic lunch and for a short hike to break our long drive (we had planned to get all the way to Bishop that night).
On all our previous visits we hiked on the old paved trail that crosses the Carson River and extends to the mountains on the north. This time we stayed on the southern river bank and hiked along the water (and some of us in it).
There are a couple of fishing docks on the south bank, connected by a narrow, paved path with benches. The chikas looked for fish (they found a few dead ones, I guess the 'catch and release' approach doesn't always work for the fish). I focused on the plants and the views.
|Pine (Pinus sp.)|
Very early on we lost Papa Quail. He went after a bird he'd spotted and soon vanished around the curve. My chikas, on the other hand, took their shoes and pants off and went into the creek to explore it up close. I told them they'd have to come back to fetch their things but Grandma Quail picked up their clothing articles and followed them along the bank.
The only big fish we saw there were dead, but there were many living fish - very small fish in good size schools.
|Back to School day|
I hurried to where Papa Quail's nieces were and saw them pointing at a small striped snake that was moving quickly on the muddy creek bank. I gave them a little talk about garter snakes and that they shouldn't worry about them. We saw another one later on the hike too. It was a nice, warm day - perfect for snakes.
|Mountain Garter Snake|
|Arnica (Arnica sp.)|
I did have to run ahead of my chikas in order to get a nice shot of the beautiful reflection in the creek before they stirred up the water.
|West Coast Canada Goldenrod (Solidago elongata)|
|Song Sparrow, juvenile|
|A Beaver Dam|
Wasn't it worth it?
It was, even if there was no flower on the other side. The water was surprisingly mild in temperature and the dip was very refreshing. While I was in the water Papa Quail returned from his solo hike and took some shots of the flowers with his high zoom lens, without setting a single foot in the water. Still, my close-up photos are better.
|Oregon Checker Mallow (Sidalcea oregano ssp. spicata)|
My elder chika, always in search of critters, has found the molt of dragonfly nymph. These are little Nature treasures that are always fun to discover. This small, discarded skin encompasses the big story of the dragonfly's fascinating life cycle.
|The Shodden Skin of A Dragonfly Nymph|
While pines dominated the tree scene in Hope Valley, it was primarily willows that grew near the river. Not quite trees, but thick, round shrubs. In winter they are bare and show their rust-red barks. The willow flexible twigs were used by the Native Californian women for basket weaving and the willow bark was used as medicine.
|Willow (Salix sp.)|
Even if they don't look fancy, these little crucifers can be quite adorable.
Papa Quail must have been waiting for a while because soon I got a phone call from him, inquiring when we expect to be back. Feeling a bit rushed I took off from the river and led everyone on a shortcut route through the meadow in the direction of the parking lot.
Away from the river the meadow was already dry and brown. There were a few pine trees and some awesome boulders that the chikas and their cousins enjoyed climbing on. We were slow in getting back to the car and when we did, there was still no sign of Papa Quail there. I called him and found out that he was waiting for us by the river.
Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!