Sunday, May 26, 2013

Great Danes And Cats

Some companies have Bring-your-daughter-to-work day. Others have Bring-your-dog-to-work policies. I get a version of that, people who bring their dogs to my book events.
One of the most fun parts of my job is when people bring their Great Danes to my signings. (For those of you who don't know, one of the characters in my books is a 170-pound Harlequin Great Dane named Spot.)
I've had people as young as 11 and as old as 70-something show up with their Danes. It's a joy because the dogs are always so fun to meet. The sweet, lean-against-your-leg friendliness of a Dane that's just met you is what immediately wins the affection of everybody, even those who claim to not be dog lovers.
One hot summer day in Sacramento, Jon, an 11-year-old, brought his Dane to one of my signings. The store owner had left on an errand. It was so hot outside that I made an executive decision and let the dog into the air-conditioned bookstore. The dog lay on the floor, soaking up attention from every person.
The tiny store cat walked right over, sprawled on the carpet next to the Dane, whose jaw was stretched out, chin-to-carpet. The cat stretched out his head, and the two animals sniffed each other's noses. Seven pounds of cat nose-to-nose with a 150-pound dog.

When the store owner came back, he was astonished that his cat had come up to lie next to the Dane.
“He always runs and hides from any dog,” he said.
“Not from Great Danes,” I said.
The store owner wondered why.
I explained when a cat sees a Great Dane, they often feel a sense of safety. I told him about our own cat and how he instinctively knew that seeing a terrier was like looking the Grim Reaper in the eye, but a Great Dane created the opposite reaction.
When our Great Dane was snoozing, sprawled out on her side, our cat would climb right up on the dog and lie down on her. Other times, when our dog was curled up in a semi-circle, our cat would step into the center of her curved body and curl up in her embrace.
Great Danes are imposing because of their size. But a cat can sense the personality separate from size. Just maybe, to a cat, a Great Dane's personality and size add up to a safe zone, especially important if a terrier comes into the room.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tahoe Rock Cairns – Ancient Communication or Ancient Art?

Hike anywhere in Tahoe, especially in areas where you are not in a deep forest, and you will likely see a cairn, a small pile of rocks stacked up. They are designed to show you something, usually the correct path to take. Often on a hike, you will come to a juncture of sorts. It looks like the path goes two ways. Game trails can confuse, and natural formations can obscure the trail as well. Often, people will build a small cairn to mark the correct way to go.

Where did the path go? Oh, it's over here, around this tree.

In Tahoe, especially in the Desolation Wilderness, there are many trails that cross open areas of solid rock. When there is no way to discern the trail, you will usually find cairns that mark the path.
Just as cairns can be obvious or hard to find, their meaning can be obvious or hard to find. And sometimes, their meaning will elude you. You will think, is this a path? Or is there something else here that I'm supposed to notice? If you see a cairn that doesn't seem to show a path, consider that it might mark a hazard of some kind, an unseen drop-off, a slippery slope, something else that made a previous hiker think, “I should mark this so that others will notice.”
A cairn can say, "Climb up to this rise and see a great view."

Cairns have been around for as long as people. Scientists have dated many cairns back tens of thousands of years. Many mark burial sites.
Cairns can also be art. Often, people will make an elaborate cairn simply to be a beautiful object.
When a large boulder tumbled down onto Meyers Grade,
some kind hiker thought to make it into art for all of us to enjoy.

The next time you are hiking in Tahoe, keep a lookout for cairns. And if you come to a place where there should be a cairn and there isn't one, maybe you should add your mark to the world.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Best Beaches In Tahoe - Sand Harbor

Sand Harbor – (Northeast corner of Tahoe)
Parking – Plenty, but always a good idea to get there early!
Fee - $12 per vehicle
Dogs – Sorry, not allowed, not even in vehicles!
Boat Launch – Yes

Tahoe has many classic, all-natural beaches with tons of sand and crystal-clear water, which, in August, can warm up to an almost tolerable temperature in the 60s.
Some of the classiest beaches of all are at Sand Harbor State Park off Highway 28 on the Nevada side of the lake about 3 miles south of Incline Village.

Sand Harbor is made up of a point of rocks and trees and sand that poke out into Lake Tahoe in a more prominent way than any other place on the shoreline. There is one very long beach facing south, a small and a medium beach facing north, and many little cozy areas tucked into hundreds of giant boulders that look like they were sprinkled onto the area by the Boulder gods.

Talk about clear water

Because of the way the the south-facing beach is protected, the water is often warmer, and you will likely see more people swimming at Sand Harbor than at any other beach on Tahoe.

The park has multiple restroom facilities, a store, and meeting areas that large groups can  rent, making it very comfortable.

Perhaps the most famous aspect of the park is its outdoor stage and natural amphitheater where the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is held everysummer. This year it is A Midsummer Night's Dream. Click here to get your tickets now.
 There is no other theatrical experience like it in the world. You sit under the stars watching your favorite of the Bard's delights.
Shakespeare on the beach is a great experience.

Behind the stage is the lake. Visible 20 miles away are the snow-capped mountains of the Desolation Wilderness looming over the West Shore.

Look closely down by the waterline, just right of center, and you
will see the rock slide at Emerald Bay (the gray triangle).
This is where the mountain slid away in 1955. 

There's a reason why Mt. Tallac is one of the most photographed mountains on the planet...

If you turn and look northwest, you can see the mountains of Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley.
In the distance to the northwest are Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley.

The boat-watching is great. Motor boats with skiers, sailboats and kayaks.

Kayaking Crystal Bay is like magic.

Sand Harbor is a unique and gorgeous spot that - sappy cliche here, but it's true - will give you a spiritual renewal. Highly recommended.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Best Hikes In Tahoe - Cascade Falls

Cascade Falls (Southwest corner of Lake Tahoe)
Category – Easy, but for sure-footed, experienced hikers only. There are many tall steps and smooth rocks coated with slippery sand designed to make you slip and fall. I strongly recommend hiking boots with real tread. This is not a hike for casual shoes.
View Rating: 9 out of 10
1.5 miles round trip, little overall elevation gain, but sections of up and down.

Snow on the cirque between Mt. Tallac out of sight on the left and
Dicks Peak just behind the 9500-foot ridge in the center. Cascade Falls
is the white mark lower, center right

Everybody loves to go to Emerald Bay, see the Vikingsholm Castle, and hike to Eagle Falls. With its unique and spectacular beauty, Tahoe's only bay is deserving of its countless admirers.
But locals heading toward Emerald Bay often follow Frost's dictum and take the less traveled path out to Cascade Falls. You'll find fewer crowds, views nearly as grand as those at Emerald Bay, and literary antecedents that helped propel a writer toward an eventual Nobel Prize.
Emerald Bay and Cascade lake were formed by two parallel glaciers during the last Ice Age. The Emerald Bay glacier pushed all the way to Tahoe, forming a bay when it melted. The Cascade glacier pulled up short of the main lake, forming Cascade Lake.
Were Cascade Lake and the falls that tumble toward it in nearly any other state, it would be a state park, and freeway mileage signs would count down the distance as you drove the SUV packed with kids and hiking gear. Cascade Falls State Park 98 miles. Cascade Falls State Park 47 miles.
You get the idea. But because Cascade Falls is in Tahoe, it's just another amazing place with no highway signs announcing its presence.

The trail starts off as a pleasant stroll through the forest
Cascade Falls seen from the trail

We had lunch there May 1st. Because of the low snow year, the trail was free of white stuff a month early. Because it was a Wednesday in May, the trail was also free of people. Because the temps were in the 60s, the river and falls were gushing.
To get to the Cascade Falls trailhead, drive to Emerald Bay, but don't go to the popular parking lots for the Vikingsholm Castle or the lower one at the very head of the bay.
Instead, drive to the higher part of the highway south of the bay's head. The Bay View Campground – closed this early in the season – is on the mountain side of the highway, across from the Inspiration Point vista overlook. When the campground gate is closed, you can usually find a place to park near the highway. When the campground gate is open, drive through it to the end where there are several parking places and a trailhead sign just beyond.
Please note that, as with most hikes in Tahoe, it is best to go on weekdays, and parking is best found early in the day. Always resist the bright idea to go hiking late in the morning on Saturday!
There are two trails that depart from the trailhead sign area. The sign explains that you need to fill out a permit for a day hike in Desolation Wilderness, but that only applies to the right trail, which leads up to Maggie's Peaks and Desolation beyond.
Our trail to Cascade Falls is the left one, and you do not need a permit.

The trail has many large steps - not good if you have knee problems.

The trail winds through the woods heading south (where the sun is at 1 p.m. during Daylight Saving Time).
After a hundred yards or so, you come to the edge of the glacial moraine that forms the northwest side of Cascade Lake. The view over Cascade Lake is immediately spectacular.

Cascade Lake with Tahoe in the far distance

The trail goes along the side of the steep moraine slope. Cascade Falls will appear in the distance to the south. Lake Tahoe dominates in the distance to the northeast. Heavenly and the 10,900-foot Freel Peak massif spread out to the southeast.
As you approach the falls, you will be tempted by many beautiful places to sit on the rocks by the rushing water as you eat your lunch and maybe even dangle your feet in the ice water that only melted minutes before.
This is a fine idea but requires a word of warning. If you slip and fall in the water, you could be sent off the cliff. This especially applies to children and dogs etc. Enjoy your visit and all its beauty. But please don't become a statistic!
Looking down from the upper part of the falls

The rushing river above the falls
Lunch above Cascade Lake with Tahoe in the background

Stellar's Jays are beautiful but noisy birds. This one was looking for a handout that didn't come.
While you munch your lunch, ponder what it was like in 1926 when the 23-year-old John Steinbeck left Stanford and got a job working as a caretaker for the Brigham family estate on Cascade Lake. (The lake is still largely private, so we are very lucky to have a public trail to Cascade Falls.)
Steinbeck was a caretaker on Cascade Lake 1926-1928

Steinbeck worked on his first novel while snowed in during that first winter in Tahoe. From where you sit near the falls, you can look to the northeast end of Cascade Lake and visualize some of the locations that influenced Steinbeck's perceptions about landscape and loneliness.
Behind you is a large cirque of mountains leading up to the 9974-foot Dicks Peak. 
These are the snow fields that feed Cascade Falls. Look very closely
and you can see three avalanche tracks on the upper snow field.
The one on the upper right looks to be about 1000 feet long.

The cirque contains two good-sized lakes, Snow Lake and Azure Lake. They are scenic, but be aware that the trails to them are over bare rock and are not well marked. It is easy to get lost.
If all you do is have lunch at Cascade Falls, you will be well-rewarded. The round trip is short, but the views and memories will stay with you forever. Okay, not forever, but they'll occupy your neural synapses until you supplant those memories with your next amazing Tahoe experience.