Date: November 11, 2018
Place: Emerald Bay State Park, South Lake Tahoe, California
Coordinates: 38.954780, -120.110441
Length: about 6.5 miles
On the second weekend of November we were planning to go on an organized group hike at the Sutter Buttes near Yuba City. Three days before that trip broke out the Camp Fire which decimated the town of Paradise, killing dozens of people and leaving thousands more homeless. The smoke was so heavy and reached so far from the area of the fire that for nearly three weeks the air was hazardous to breath in large regions of Northern California, including the Bay Area.
So we altered our destination to one of the few green spots left in the map of California air quality, and that was Lake Tahoe. Late fall isn't the high season in that area - it's too cold for summer outdoors activities, and no snow cover yet for skiing and snow play. But by the time we got there the little vacation town of South Lake Tahoe was full of people who were looking for breathable air.
The air was certainly good, although very cold. Below freezing temperatures welcomed us when we left our hotel room early on Sunday morning, heading out for the day's hike. It was already mid-morning and the sun was high when we started our hike, yet there was ice on the trail still.
Our hike was at the Emerald Bay State Park. Pappa Quail and I have hiked there many years ago before the chikas were born and I remembered it as a lovely trail and wanted to hike it again. We parked at the Eagle Falls trailhead area and crossed the road to the Rubicon trailhead.
|The trail we hiked as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS|
The trailhead is high above the lakeshore and as we started down on it I kept hearing my chika in the back, "Are we going to all of this back up?"
|Fall Colors uphill of the Rubicon trail.|
The happy sound of running water came from little brooks trickling in the trailsides. Looking closer at these happy streams it was evident that winter was already in the air - the sides of these brooks were frozen still.
|Larger Mountain Monkeyflower, Erythranthe tilingii|
Close to the lake surface we connected to a paved road leading to a boat campground below. There we needed to decide: left or right? Turning right would take us to Eagle Point and the hike would be over sooner. We turned left toward Rubicon Point and followed the road.
I was surprised to see that many broadleaf trees wore their fall colors still. I expected them to be bare already. Some were indeed (like the aspens in the photo above), but the willows glistened in fall gold, shimmering in the light breeze and bright sunlight.
At the boat camp we took a short break. The chikas and I walked out on the dock but the sharp, cold wind chased us back into the protective woods.
|White-headed Woodpecker, male|
|White-headed Woodpecker, female|
Pappa Quail took photos of birds of blue color along the hike there. There were the impressive Steller's Jay in their brilliant blue plumage,
|Western Bluebird, male|
|Emerald Point far behind the water.|
Suddenly we heard it - loud knocks with a very distinct pattern. Pappa Quail and the elder chika exchanged glances: a pileated woodpecker! We saw two of them below near Emerald Point but they hid to well for a decent photo. The woodpeckers we saw now were more cooperative. There were three of them calling and knocking at the trees near us. Two of them kept flying back and forth between the trees while the third remained distant. They were very busy birds.
I brought the car back to Eagle Point, picked up my family and we all drove back to South Lake Tahoe. It was a very good hike for the day. Now I needed to figure out what hike we would do tomorrow. At the time I had no plan yet.