Thursday, January 31, 2019

A Sunrise Hike at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve

Here comes the sun

Date: January 25, 2019
Place: Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, Menlo Park, California
Coordinates: 37.375695, -122.223361
Length: 2.5 miles
Level: moderate

I have a friend who is a docent at the Mid-Peninsula Open Space Preserve agency. One day he sent out an invitation for an Friday early morning hike at Windy Hill Open Space. I took a second to check my calendar and another to reply with yes. Then I told papa Quail that he's in charge of taking both chikas to school on that day to which he answered with a resigned nod.
Windy Hill Open Space Preserve was a new place for me and I didn't know where it was. Our meeting time was set for 6:45 am and a quick check showed that I'd have to get up at 5:40 am to get there on time At first I wondered the wisdom of my speedy commitment to this hike but then realized that it has been a very long time since I went on a sunrise hike. Moreover, it has been a very long time since I went on any hike in which I wasn't the one in charge. So on Thursday evening I set the phone's alarm app, prepared my backpack with water and some snack, filled the kettle, and went to bed earlier than usual.
It was dark when my phone started shaking. I turned if of and rolled out of bed before being tempted into staying there. I dressed up quietly, filled my thermos with tea and sneaked out of home without waking any of the quails.
It was still very dark when I arrived at the Windy Hill parking area. My friend was there already, rubbing his palms and pouring his hot tea from a thermos into a cup. He said there should be about ten people in the group but when time came to get on the trail we were only five.
At 7:00 am it was still dark and most of my photos didn't come out right. Still, my eyes were quickly used to the low illumination and I spotted some interesting things along the way, some of them came out all right on camera at a close up, with the flash on.
Bracket Fungus
We started uphill on the Betsy Crowder Trail at a fast pace. Much faster than I usually go when alone, unless in a hurry for some reason. The brisk pace warmed me up. Then another one of our group stopped and called us to see something on the ground: it was a solitary California newt moving along the side of the trail.
California Newt
We ket ascending on a mild, yet steady slope. Then the trail leveled and the view opened up. The hill was illuminated with a soft, pre-dawn light.
Pre-dawn Moon
Far away the eastern horizon began to glow in soft orange and yellow.
A Bright Horizon
We turned onto the Spring Ridge Trail, which sloped up and plunged into the woods again. Once more we were in relative darkness.

It wasn't as dark as when we started, and I could see better and farther between the trees. Already keelung and eye out for wood rat nests, I was thrilled to see one, perfectly shaped, a pyramid of sticks on the ground. The rest of the group showed a mild interest, then moved on up the trail. I snapped a few shots and hastened to catch up with them.
Wood Rat Nest
My friend didn't plan to take us all the way up the hill. he lead us to the trail intersection with the Meadow Trail onto we'd turn to go down hill. There, at the highest spot of the hike, we stood silently and waited for the sunrise.
Any moment now ...
A clicking sound came from the top of one of the trees below us. It was a sole dark-eyed junco perched on the very top of a tree and chirping loudly.
Junco at Dawn
Then the sun popped out in the east (see header photo). Then, just as we were about to start our way down, another hiker came up the trail. She also was a docent. She paused and offered to take a group photos of us all, then continued to chat with us for a few moments longer, giving us information about other nice places to see in the area.
Eventually we started downhill on the Meadow Trail. The light was getting stronger each minute and I could see the line of sunlight getting closer and closer until we met.
Meadow Trail
More birds were active now. I could hear them all around us. Sparrows, towhees, jays. A spotted towhee perched close enough to us so than even with my broad lens I could get a decent photo of this pretty bird.
Spotted Towhee
It was easier taking photos of the fungi now that the daylight reached the forest floor.

I saw many mushrooms on that hike. Not as many as I've seen on hikes in previous years, but still a good number. The forest smelled heavily of fungi.
We reached the meadow and crossed a wide dirt road leading to private land. I was very impressed by the large trees that grew on the side of the meadow. We didn't get near them, however, and I didn't identify them.

The trail leveled off and once again we were out in the open, now walking in full sunlight.

But we turned on the lower part of the Spring Ridge Trail, heading north in the direction of the parking area.

To the west of us lay a pond, its water very calm. A single bench stood by the trail, overlooking the pond. We went down to look at the water, then u to the bench were we sat down.
Sausal Pond
One of the hikers pulled out a large thermos, poured tea into paper cups and passed it around. I pulled out my own thermos and we sat down, chatting and sharing an early morning tea time.
There were a few ducks in the pond, all of them mallards. They glided silently on the water surface, hardly rippling it.
We finished our tea and hiked over to the parking area. There I found some mushrooms that I missed when we headed out in the darkness.
We completed the hike much earlier than my friend had expected. He suggested we do this (a sunrise hike) on a regular basis and, seeing our pace, suggested going on longer trails. I'm all for it!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

At the Eyrie's Height: A Day Hike at the Desolation Wilderness

Date: November 12, 2018
Place: Desolation Wilderness, South Lake Tahoe, California
Coordinates: 38.952080, -120.112037
Length: about 7 miles
Level: Strenuous

The second weekend of last November we traveled to South Lake Tahoe where in Saturday we hiked at the Emerald Bay State Park and had a wonderful time discovering life at the lake's shoreline. By that night I still didn't know where we'd go hiking on Sunday. Long after Pappa Quail and the chikas were sleeping I kept poring over the maps, looking for a trail that would be just the right length and difficulty level for us, and circular. By the time I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore I had settled on the Eagle Falls trail leading into the Desolation Wilderness, although I was not completely sure how far we should go on it. I was too tired to work out the details.
It was really cold that Sunday morning. We got to Eagle Lake trailhead, got out of the car and quickly bundled up. It was mid-morning already but the freezing air burned its way through our respiratory tracts each inhalation.
Our hike as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS 

The birds, however, seemed more adept than we were. It wasn't long before Pappa Quail and the elder chika started photographing.
Townsend Solitaire 
Right off the trailhead the trail begins ascending at a steep grade. We usually take our time on steep climbs but being so cold we strode right on, hoping to warm up as we walked. While mostly among the trees we would occasionally come to a ledge with more open view. Looking back I could see how high above Lake Tahoe we were getting. 

As we climbed so did the sun. More and more we were walking in sunlight and slowly we warmed up and some layers were removed.
Eagle Lake Trail
Save for a short breather we kept going until we reached Eagle Lake. The trail fork is somewhat above the lake and a short 0.1 mile path leads down to it. It was hard to see the water - it was so calm that it mirrored the surrounding mountains perfect.
Eagle Lake
We walked down to the lake and slumped down on the rocks by it shore. After us came down another family who hiked right behind us. They didn't stay near for long but went around the lake to find a more private spot.
Eagle Lake
A small chipmunk grabbed our attention and Pappa Quail got to on camera.

We had a good, long break on the shore of Eagle Lake. It was sunny there and, while not quite warm, wasn't cold either. I gazed at the lake and enjoyed the near-perfect reflections. I was mesmerized by the shimmering reflections of a small island off to the right.
The elder chika said she heard mallards. Lated we saw them - a few ducks (mallards and ducks of another species) floating near the little island, gliding so smoothly on the water surface that they hardly disturbed the reflections.
Eagle Lake
The short loop trail goes back down from Eagle Lake but we wanted a longer hike. So when it was time to wrap up and go we got back to the main trail and continued our ascend up the mountain, deeper into the Desolation Wilderness. 
At one point I looked down at the lake. It took me a moment to find it although it was right below us - the reflection made it almost unrecognizable as a lake. 
Eagle Lake
We kept going up and up among pretty pine trees. An elderly fellow wearing rugged clothes passed us by, running. He wasn't carrying anything with him. Some steps higher we came upon a younger fellow thad called scoldingly after the elderly man that he was irresponsible to go on such a run with no water. The runner, however, went on unbothered. The younger guy was on his way down. He stopped to chat with us a little but then went on his way while we continued our ascend through the pine forest.

We reached a large rocky ledge and sat down to snack and rest. The view east was grand - were were very high above the lake and the air was crisp and clear. there was no sign of smoke anywhere. It was hard to believe that not too far from where we were the air was hazardous to breathe.
View east from 
Pappa Quail wondered how far we should go on the trail. I wanted to connect with the Bayview trail and he wondered if that wouldn't be too much for the chikas. The elder chika wanted to turn around and go back. The younger said she wanted to go on. I argued that if we'd go back now we'd have to find something else to do for the rest of the afternoon. We had already checked out of the hotel and I wasn't eager to get off the mountain so early. I also argued that when we get down I would walk the additional mile along the road to get the car. Eventually I managed to convince everyone and we continued on up the mountain.
There were fewer trees now along the trail, and each of them had a distinct shape, giving it an interesting character.

We passed big slabs of granite where very few trees were growing and those who did were stunted. At the top of one of these slabs I saw a large rock balanced on the brink. Apparently Sisyphus was on a coffee break.

We made it to the pass and the intersection with the Bayview Trail and sat down for another break. It was early afternoon and but the days were short. A group of hikers came up Bayview and stood for a while at the intersection debating among themselves whether to go down immediately or to continue to Velma Lake which was about three miles north of us. I offered to take a group photo of them and they gladly accepted my offer. Then they decided to go to Velma Lake and disappeared from our view.
View west from the pass
We finished our break and headed up Bayview Trail. The trail was still going up but the grade was much milder. The trees were further apart and we enjoyed the sunlight and its mild warmness.
Bayview Trail
Birds kept calling each other from the trees. Pappa Quail and the elder chika followed the calls and found a pretty Steller's jay.
Steller's Jay
We passed the highest point of our hike. Right after that a narrow path split off the main trail, leading up to summit the peak of the mountain we were on. Half jokingly I suggested we'd summit it. Noe of my family found it amusing. I shrugged and we moved on.
A sharp turn to the right and we found ourselves on a very steep downhill trail. To the east it was a very long drop. The younger chika squeezed herself to the mountain side of the trail but I looked admiringly at the view below. I could see Rte 89 winding way down there, and behind it the vast, blue Lake Tahoe. Lakeview Trail was named correctly.
Lake Tahoe 
Down, down, down. The way down seemed endless at times, but each time I looked down Tahoe seemed a bit closer.
Bayview Trail
We descended at a fast pace but the sun was descending faster yet. Before long deep shadows started covering the east-facing slope we were on. In the shade again, and not straining as much as we were going up we felt cold once again.

Most of our descend was through a thick conifer forest. Every now and then, however, the trees opened up to slow us a good view of Lake Tahoe below. We stopped for a short breather at a wide vista point to admire the view. below us we could see not only Lake Tahoe but also Emerald Bay where we hiked the day before.
Lake Tahoe and Emerald Bay
Almost all the way down we passed Granite Lake. Pappa Quail and the chikas didn't feel like going down to its shore so they waited for me on the main trail while I went down to the lake to take a closer look.
Granite Lake
My photos of that lake were the last good shots I took. After we passed Granite Lake daylight was waning quickly. We made it all the way down to Bayview Campground where I left Pappa Quail and the chikas and went north on Rte 89 to Eagle Falls parking lot to get the family car. By the time I was back to pick up my family (they had made it across the road to the picnic area while waiting for me) it was nearly dark. It was time to drive home.
It was a good day - we had a long and beautiful hike as a place we never really explored before. As we were leaving town I was talking about wanting to go backpacking at the Desolation Wilderness. Pappa Quail was silent and the chikas asked when and where we would stop for dinner.
Not much later we cruised past Placerville and almost immediately were engulfed in the dirty, smoky  air. It took nearly two more weeks before the rains finally came, the fires were quenched and the air was breathable once more. By then it was already Thanksgiving time and we were well on our Thanksgiving vacation down in Southern California.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

A Mind-Minable Gem: Hiking at Emerald Bay State Park

Date: November 11, 2018
Place: Emerald Bay State Park, South Lake Tahoe, California
Coordinates: 38.954780, -120.110441
Length: about 6.5 miles
Level: moderate

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
At first we climbed the large rock that's by the trailhead to get a good view of the bay (header photo). Emerald Bay is a small bay,  connected to the main body of Lake Tahoe by a narrow opening, appearing almost as a separate lake. The entire area surrounding Emerald Bay is protected nature area -  state parks and the national forest.
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 first part of the trail is a wide gravel path. It was bright and sunny and soon we were warming up and shedding our top layers.

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.
I was therefore much surprised to see flowers, a few late bloomers braving the chill.
Larger Mountain Monkeyflower, Erythranthe tilingii 
Less surprising were the birds. Many birds overwinter in the high mountains, and we could hear them all around us. Sometimes they were visible too.
Pacific Wren 
Descending through the forest we passed some sheer cliffs. They look inviting for climbing, though not by me ...

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.
Emerald Bay
The paved road ends at the campground. Beyond that point the trail is a level dirt path that meanders between lovely conifer trees and manzanita bushes. We headed northeast toward Rubicon Point.
The forest by the lake was teeming with birds. Woodpeckers, jays, and LBB's (little bush birds) were very active that day. Pappa Quail and the elder chika were ecstatic.
White-headed Woodpecker, male
Both of them kept stopping and going out of the trail and around trees to try and get the best shots of the woodpeckers.
White-headed Woodpecker, female
Smaller birds filled the air with their chirps. Many chickadees flew in and out of
Mountain Chickadee
We decide to not go all the way to Rubicon Point and settle for reaching Emerald Point at the entrance to Emerald Bay. At some point, however, we find that there is no official trail leading from the main trail to Emerald Point. There were some narrow foot paths leading into the bushes in the right direction and while I tried following one of them Pappa Quail and the chikas focused their attention on a smaller relative of the woodpecker family.
White-breasted Nuthatch
I probably could have bushwhacked my way to Emerald Point but that wouldn't have done so I returned to my family and we turned around and started back the same trail we came with. In the distance, near the shore we didn't make it down to, I saw a wild rose with completely red foliage all glistening in the sunlight and convinced Pappa Quail to photograph it for me.
Fall-colored Rose
As we walked back I turned around and snapped a farewell shot of the lovely shoreline and the Emerald Point which we did not reach.
Emerald Bay
We returned to the Boat Camp, passed it, and continued southwest along the shore. On one of the trees ahead of us sat a raven and heralded our approach of Vikingsholm.

Vikingsholm was a resort built in 1929 in the shape of a Nordic castle. Now it's a museum owned by the State. It was closed for the season.

I was especially attracted to the living roof of the building.
Emerald Bay has an island. A tiny island, but one with a a tea house. Or the remains of what used to be one.
Fannette Island
The shortest trail down from the Rubicon trailhead where we started leads directly to Vikingsholm. The beach there is readily accessible and by the time we got there after our walk to Emerald point there were quite a few people on the beach. It was somewhat challenging to take a human-free photo there.

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,
Steller's Jay
and western bluebirds of which only the males wear the bright colors whereas the females are drab.
Western Bluebird, male

After hanging around Vikingsholm for some time we were ready to continue our hike. Ignoring the chikas hints that we should ascend by the direct route up we crossed the little bridge over Eagle Creek and continued eastward along the shore.
The lagoon of Eagle Creek
We didn't stay by the shore. Following the trail we ascended higher and higher above the water as we move east, then north toward Eagle Point. We were now walking awn the north-facing slope, out of the sun. All the broadleaf trees were bare, and we were cold again. The little creeks we passed along the way were frozen. papa Quail and the chikas increased their pace and I brought up the rear, snapping photos as I walked and ploughing through the fog of my own exhales.
I did pause to admire the golden carpet of fallen leaves that covered the trail in one place, contrasting beautifully with the gray rocks.
Between the trees I could glimpse the water below. Then I had to stop and stare: a patch of pure emerald was visible in the water. I knew it was a patch of sunlight penetrating through the trees but the effect was stunning - it glowed in soft, fluorescent green like a living entity from another world. Seeing this I understood the meaning of the name of Emerald Bay.
Emerald Bay.
As we curved northward we returned to the sunlit area. Now walking on the west-facing slope we were lightly warmed by the afternoon sun.
Emerald Point far behind the water. 
We took a short snack break, then moved on upward. I turned around to look behind me but the trail was empty - no one else was doing that hike at the time.

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.
Pileated Woodpecker
We made it up to Eagle Point campground and to the main road, Route 89. There Pappa Quail and the chikas sad town and waited while I went out to the road and stuck my thumb up. first few cars passed by but then another stopped near me and the passenger asked where was the Rubicon Vista Point. I told them I would take them right to it and they made room for me in the car. On the way I learned that they too had escaped the thick smoke that covered the Bay Area.
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.
Emerald Bay