Sunday, April 28, 2013

Best Hikes In Tahoe - Angora Ridge Lookout

Angora Ridge Lookout (South Shore)
Category - Easy
View Rating: 10 out of 10 once you get to the lookout, 5 out of 10 on the way up
3.5 mile round trip to the Fire Lookout, 500 feet elevation gain
5.5 mile round trip to Upper Angora Lake, 800 feet elevation gain

Within the Lake Tahoe Basin are hundreds of fantastic hikes. Many are well-documented classics, like those around Emerald Bay or up on the Tahoe Rim Trail.
On this blog, I will periodically mention some hikes, but I'll often focus on those that are less well-known and not in all the guide books. These hikes will still have something substantial to recommend them, whether views or solitude or bird-watching or beach-picnicking.
With recent temperatures in the 60s combined with a low snow year, many great trails have already opened a month earlier than normal. One is Angora Ridge Road. Hiking up Angora Ridge is not like a charming, single-track, wilderness trek, but most of those are still buried in snow for another month or two.
Plug “Angora Ridge Road, South Lake Tahoe” into Google Maps, and you'll find your access between Fallen Leaf Road and Tahoe Mountain Road.
The beginning of this road is at a Forest Service Gate. Yes, when the gate is open, you can drive the one-lane, mostly-paved route, but why? Walking is the key to smelling the piney forest, hearing the birds, getting blood to your brain and heart.
What recommends this hike is that it is an easy access to a fantastic lunch spot at the old Angora Fire Lookout, and the views are spectacular. It is also a great hike for groups who would like to do a “Walk-and-Talk,” because it is a relatively wide thoroughfare compared to most single-track hikes. Instead of being spread out single file, only able to talk easily at a lunch spot, Angora Ridge Road is the perfect venue for a group of four or more who want to get some exercise instead of just sitting on someone's deck.
Mountain Biker going through one of the last snow patches on Angora Ridge Road

Yes, you will have to move aside for the occasional vehicle crawling up to Angora Lakes Resort, but if you avoid going on the weekends, the vehicle count is minor inconvenience.
The road climbs at a gentle-enough angle that even people who avoid hiking because they feel it is too much work may find it agreeable.

At first, the road sits in a cleft on Angora Ridge. After a mile, it begins to rise up enough that Mt. Tallac pokes up above the ridge on your right. 

Mt. Tallac appearing on your right as you walk up Angora Ridge

Then the road pops out on the top of the ridge at 7200 feet and all of Tahoe Valley appears below you on your left (including the 2007 Angora Fire burn area which came up to the top of the ridge you are walking on but did not cross over and go down the other side).

Steven's Peak at the end of Christmas Valley with the Angora Fire burn in the foreground:

To the east is the Country Club Golf Course on Highway 50:

The old fire lookout buildings will be on your right. Just a few feet from the fire lookout is a bench and an information plaque. From the bench area you will have jaw-dropping views of Fallen Leaf Lake 800 feet below you with Lake Tahoe in the distance:

Fallen Leaf on lower left, Tahoe in the background, snow on Mt Rose 30 miles to the north

 I know... a writer should know better than to use cliches like jaw-dropping, but my jaw drops every time I visit, so there you go.

 Mt. Tallac looming 2500 feet above you:

The 10,000-foot Crystal Range up Glen Alpine Valley:

Here's a close-up of Pyramid Peak:
Lots of spring corn snow for back-country skiers and boarders

Fallen Leaf Lake 800 feet below with Stanford Camp on the distant shore:

If you like, you can hike another mile to the family-run Angora LakesResort

Upper Angora Lakes/ Angora Lakes Resort

They have 9 cute little cabins on Upper Angora Lake (there are two lakes – hike on past the lower one) that are all booked months and even years in advance. Rumor has it that they are already booked solid for this coming season. They serve lunch sandwiches and lemonade starting in June, and you can sit at the upper lake and watch the kids jumping off the cliffs into the water at the far side of the lake.

Whether you go all the way up to Upper Angora Lake or stop at the Fire Lookout, Angora Ridge is one of the easiest hikes close to South Lake Tahoe, and it has great views.

UPDATE: 10-4-14

Signs that say "No Parking Any Time" have just appeared near the entrance to Angora Ridge Road. I have no idea why other than to suppose that the hike has gotten too popular and many cars are now parking at the side of the narrow road (could this blog be that influential?). Perhaps someone didn't get their vehicle far enough off the road and the authorities decided it was a public safety hazard if there wasn't enough clearance for fire trucks and such. Of course, I am disappointed. However, parking on public roads is legal where not marked as prohibited, so I recommend arriving a bit earlier and parking above the signs in the Angora Highlands neighborhood. From the Angora Ridge Road gate, go up toward the Angora Highlands houses on the narrow road (which is still called Tahoe Mountain Road). You will come to an area where the asphalt widens. This area is before the first houses and above the highest No Parking sign. You can park off to the side and not obstruck traffic or bother any of the homeowners. 
You could also park down by Fallen Leaf Lake Road if you like, although that would be farther from the gate. Consider the extra minute of walking as bonus exercise! When you get to the view up at the old fire lookout, you will think it was worth it.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pull Up A Chair To Owen McKenna's Kitchen Table...

The single best thing about being an author is getting up in the morning and reading fan mail. People write to say what they liked about my books. And occasionally they point out glitches and mistakes and other things I've overlooked!
A couple of days ago, I got a really fun email from a reader named Debbie. In addition to complementing my books, she pointed out some discrepancies about Owen McKenna's kitchen table in my various books. This was interesting because I haven't thought much about Owen's culinary environment. I guess I should pay better attention!
I've put Debbie's letter below, followed by her notations of my table descriptions.
My return note to Debbie is below that.

Here is Debbie's letter:

Firstly---let me say I LOVE your 10 books!  I just finished #9, since I started w/#10....then went in chronological order---I now have my sweetie reading them.  Your Owen McKenna series is as exciting as the Lee Child's Jack Reacher series.
I am an avid reader, and noticed spelling mistakes...but, the mistake that bothered me the most---was---does Owen have a kitchen table or not?  I didn't cut & paste all the references---but, I do want to know!
Thank you!

Another reference to "Owen"  having a kitchen table:
as I carried it to my little kitchen table
Borg, Todd (2011-07-15). Tahoe Hijack (An Owen McKenna Mystery Thriller) (Kindle Location 1780). Thriller Press. Kindle Edition.

and again!
Diamond sat with me at my little kitchen table.
Borg, Todd (2008-08-01). Tahoe Avalanche (An Owen McKenna Mystery Thriller) (Kindle Location 1268). Thriller Press. Kindle Edition.
add this:   entrance to my kitchen nook. Her eyes were wild, ransacking my homemade butcher block table and Shaker chairs,
Borg, Todd (2007-08-01). Tahoe Silence (An Owen McKenna Mystery Thriller) (Kindle Locations 111-112). Thriller Press. Kindle Edition.

Dear Debbie,

Thanks so much for writing. I'm glad you are enjoying the adventures of Owen and Spot!
I believe you've set a new bar for astute kitchen-table observation! I'm impressed! Of all the letters I get about writing details, you are the first to notice my discrepancies regarding McKenna's kitchen table.
To bring you up to date:  
McKenna used to have a crude, home-made butcher block table.

But one day, Spot, in his excitement about going for a walk, spun around, hit the table, and broke off one of the table legs. The table top fell to the floor and cracked in half. McKenna used his splitting maul to turn the butcher block table into firewood for his wood stove, and the heavy pieces heated his cabin for two weeks.
McKenna ate standing at the kitchen sink for a few days and then found a cracked vinyl table top for free at a garage sale (no one was willing to pay the $4 price), and with some hinges from Scotty's Hardware in South Lake Tahoe, he attached it to the wall of his kitchen nook.

The laminated table is homely, but the hinges work great. When it's folded out of the way, Spot can now push his food bowl around the area without bumping so many obstructions.
As for the spelling mistakes you've noticed, I claim no excuse. Were I to attempt an explanation, I'd venture to say that most are of the homophone kind: altar/alter, rein/reign, peek/peak etc. I clearly have a neural dysfunction that permits me few graces in the spelling department.
Fortunately, many readers point out the spelling errors to me, and they gradually get corrected in reprints. 
Thanks again for your thoughtful culinary comments, although I must now confess to a bit of trepidation about my new book, which is due out in August. Does Owen eat at the counter? The table? Is it still made of vinyl? We'll know in a few months!
Sincerely and earnestly (Really!),


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Do Dogs Grieve?

Years ago, when our first Great Dane was two years old, we learned of a Great Dane pup that needed rescuing. We never knew what the puppy's owners were struggling with, but we saw the need for a new home for the puppy when we went to their apartment and found the puppy chained to the handle of a kitchen cupboard, barely able reach its food and water.
The people were relieved to have us take that dog off their hands. We named her Scarlet.

That little puppy grew up to be the happiest, sweetest dog you could ever know. She clearly was connected to us in every great doggie way. But Scarlet had an even greater devotion to our other dog. Watching those two dogs play together was a great joy. Their emotional connection was deep and obvious.
Eventually, the inevitable happened, and our first Dane died at the age of 10. Scarlet, now 8, was so profoundly depressed that she couldn't function in any way. She stopped eating, drinking, sleeping, playing. The dog who lived to run wouldn't even walk. Desperate, we took her to the vet.

My wife's sketch of Scarlet with her nose tucked under her paw

After examining her for a few minutes, the vet said, “I hate to tell you this, but it appears that your dog is dying of grief.”
We asked, “Is there anything we can do?”
He said, “I can't promise it will save her, but I think your best hope is to get another dog as soon as possible.”
We immediately went dog shopping and brought home another puppy.
The effect on our depressed dog was slow, but she began to get better. She began drinking and eating. Eventually, she rediscovered play. She went on to live until the age of 13, the oldest Great Dane our vet had ever seen.

As all pet owners know, the emotional lives of animals are as real as the emotional lives of people. Yes, people might be more complicated, but our emotions are no more profound. When you watch dogs play, it is obvious that their joy is just as joyful as that of any human. And when you watch a dog dying of grief, you can't deny that it is their depression that's killing them. Animals under severe stress sometimes give up and die just like humans do.
Scientists studying animals – and the general media that reports on them – made another small step forward into the obvious this week as Time Magazine did a story on Animal Grief. (Note that you have to be a subscriber to read the entire article.)  The article reports on scientists who've studied how various species deal with the death of their own. They looked at elephants and apes and dolphins and crows and horses and, of course, dogs and cats, and they found significant and unmistakable signs of serious grief in the animal world. Many species even have complex rituals they enact when one of their own dies.

I've written about animal intelligence and emotion before: 

This new article in Time Magazine prompts me to visit the subject again. Scientists are coming around. They've slowed down their knee-jerk impulse to label our observations of animal emotion and animal intelligence as anthropomorphizing, the unfounded attachment of human qualities to animals.
Some day, the experts will finally recognize what the rest of us have always known. Animals have lives that are nearly as rich and full of complex behaviors and social structures as the lives of people. (It seems that some of the time, some animals have richer and fuller lives than some people!)

When a Dolphin baby dies, the mother shows profound and complex grief. She keeps lifting the dead baby to the surface for days, and other Dolphins join in a long-term mourning ritual, refusing to leave the dead baby.

People are clever, and we are lucky enough to have opposable thumbs, which led to specialized brain development (imagine what dolphins might do with opposable thumbs!), but it's arrogant to think that our suffering when one of us dies is greater than the suffering animals endure when their loved ones die. If your grief is powerful enough to kill you, it's all powerful, regardless of what species you belong to.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Beauty Follows Science, or Sailing On Lake Tahoe is Another Kind Of Wind Power

I often watch the sailing regattas on Lake Tahoe and admire the beauty of airfoils designed to extract power from the wind.

A few weeks ago, I saw a second cousin to those gorgeous sailboats.
I was driving through the Mojave Desert when I overtook a slow-moving truck with a flashing sign that said “Oversized load.”
Wow, talk about understatement. You know those logging trucks where the cab is connected to the rear wheels not by a truck structure but by the logs themselves? This truck was like that, except it seemed like it was maybe 200 feet long.
I slowed as I moved into the left lane to go past.
What I saw was a fantastic, beautiful, monstrous curve of white. It may have been made of fiberglass or titanium or some other techy material. I couldn't tell. It curved in all three dimensions and brought back hazy memories of reading about hyperbolic paraboloids from science texts back in college.
I thought it was the largest – and one of the most beautiful – abstract sculptures I'd ever seen. Then I realized what I was looking at.
It was a single blade for a monster wind turbine.

I slowed my car, matched speeds with the truck, and stared at this wing that was much longer than those on a 747 jet and, with its complicated multiple curves, probably more complicated in design. It was like an America's Cup sailboat-meets-Mars-mission technology.
Up close, it was one of the coolest things I'd ever seen, a beautiful shape that was designed to extract power from the wind. It was beautiful because the the science behind its design made it that way.

It is humbling to realize that the science of function is integral to many things of beauty. When I look at the spectacular sails of the boats out on Lake Tahoe, I realize that their beauty comes from a design that is all about function. 
WoodWind II Sailing Cruises on Tahoe

After seeing that huge turbine blade, I can never again look at the spinning blades of wind turbines without seeing them like sailboats. These are sails that turn. They take the invisible wind and turn it into electricity. A wind farm with many turbines is like a regatta with many racing boats. Instead of producing an afternoon thrill ride on the water, the turbines power our lights and appliances.
Beauty follows science.