Sunday, September 29, 2013

Best Hikes In Tahoe - Meyer's Grade

Category - Easy
View Rating - 6 out of 10
Distance - 3 miles round trip
Elevation gain - 700 vertical

Meyer's Grade isn't in the hiking books because it isn't a classic trail through the woods. So why is it one of the most popular hiking/biking spots in all of Tahoe, especially for locals? Because it is easily accessible year 'round, and it is one of the classic walk-and-talks. Unlike the narrow single track trails that fill the hiking books, this is a real road where vehicles aren't allowed, so groups of people can walk side-by-side and visit while they exercise. (For me, as with many people, the single track trails that climb up the mountain are my favorites. But I hike Meyer's Grade more often because of its accessibility.)
Meyer's Grade is the old highway from Echo Summit down to Meyers, the first community that you come to in Tahoe when you arrive on Highway 50.
To get to Meyer's Grade, take Highway 50 to the point where it starts to climb up Echo Summit. Turn off on South Upper Truckee Road. (This is just “up” from the bridge over the Truckee River.) Drive south about 1/10 of a mile, then turn right.
You are now on Meyer's Grade. This is the old highway, narrower and steeper than the current highway. You'll come to a locked gate. Park anywhere on the shoulder below it. Caltrans maintains Meyer's Grade, and even plows it occasionally in the winter because it is the back-up road in case an avalanche or an accident blocks the newer highway.
This means that Meyer's Grade is the ultimate people's highway, free of cars and trucks. It is just for pedestrians and their dogs. (Again, leash laws apply. You will see many people with their dogs running free. But if the Animal Control officer shows up and finds your pooch off-leash, you will face a stiff fine.)
A few hardy bicyclists also use the grade, but most days you won't see them.
(We know a man who takes his unicycle up and down “The Grade.”)
Meyer's Grade makes a gentle, curving climb up 1.5 miles and 700 vertical feet. At the top is another locked gate where it joins the newer highway.
All along the way, you'll get great views of Christmas Valley below, Stevens Peak to the south, and Lake Tahoe in the distance to the north.
Sometimes, you can hike the grade and see very few people. Other times, you will see many, young and old, even moms pushing strollers. (Yes, there are multiple, super-fit young mothers who push their kids up and down 700 vertical feet every day! Imagine what kind of shape they'll be in when they get to 50 or 70.)
Plug “Meyers Grade, South Upper Truckee Road, South Lake Tahoe” into Google Maps, and you'll be able to print out your map.

After you walk past the locked gate at the bottom, the road climbs up at a gentle angle.

As you climb, you begin to get some nice views.
The light areas, below center, are the sides of the road you've just walked up.
In the distance, the gray stripe without trees is the path of the
Angora Fire. Back in 2007, it burned from left to right and took out 254 houses.
Fortunately, no one died.
It was started by an illegal campfire.

On the left side of this dead tree perched a large hawk.

After a rest, it flew away.

In a moment, it found a thermal updraft, and it rose high up into the sky.

When you get to the top of Meyer's Grade, you come to another locked gate.
This view is beyond the gate, looking back down from where we've come.
How wonderful to have a road just for pedestrians!
To the left, you can see a car driving down the current, newer highway.
The cars all drive along unaware that hikers and bikers have
their own highway that descends, at a steeper angle, to the right.

From the top are great views. In the distance on the left is Heavenly.
Come winter, thousands of skiers will have a great time, skiing from California to
Nevada and back. Who knew you could ski from one state to another?
Hiking Meyer's Grade is a great way to get a sense of what Tahoe locals do for everyday exercise. Come join us!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Best Beaches In Tahoe - Kiva Beach

Kiva Beach - (Southwest corner of Tahoe)
Parking - Not very much, get there early!
Fee - NONE! More reason to get there early.
Dogs - YES! More reason to get there early! Note: Bring a leash! (More below.)
Boat Launch - No, unless your boat is a kayak, paddleboard, or canoe that you can carry to the water.

There are few places where dogs can frolic in Lake Tahoe. When one of them happens to be a spectacular beach, you can bet it is popular. When there is also no parking fee, you know where the crowds are going to be.
Because of these factors, Kiva Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the lake. Located east of Baldwin Beach and west of Camp Richardson and in the Tallac Historic Site, it is close to South Lake Tahoe. Even during slow periods, Kiva often has lots of people when the other beaches are mostly empty.
As always, if you plug, "Kiva Beach, South Lake Tahoe" into Google Maps, you'll get the appropriate picture. However, Google puts the little marker pin on the straight section of narrow beach. The most beautiful portion of the beach is the curved area to the west. Walk around, you'll find it.
So lets go back to Kiva's raison d'ĂȘtre: Dogs.
Dogs are allowed, but there are some rules. They have to be on a leash. Yes, you'll see dogs running free, and you'll be tempted to let yours join them. But be aware that if a ranger shows up, you'll pay a hefty fine, rumored to be in the $200 range. The rules even say you have to have your dog on a leash when it's in the water. You be the judge.
It goes without saying that you must pick up after your dog.
Dogs are also not allowed on the meadow behind the beach. Too ecologically-sensitive. (The meadow, not the dogs.)
As for the beach? It is a beautiful crescent of sand with great swimming and awesome views, very much like its neighbor Baldwin Beach, which doesn't allow dogs, and does charge for parking.

Bottom line: If you want to bring your dog to the beach, and you want it to be beautiful, Kiva rules like no other.

Turn off the highway at this sign. It is about a quarter mile west of the Camp Richardson Hotel.

You will drive in and come to a fork in the road with this sign. Take the left fork.

The left fork road brings you to an oblong oval parking lot. On the west side is a somewhat inconspicuous trail.
That's your path to doggie heaven.

Pay attention to the dog rules.

The trail goes back about 100 yards to the water.
The beach you probably want - the large, crescent-shaped beach - is on your left.
To your right is a much narrower beach that makes for a nice walk down
toward Valhalla and Camp Rich.
The backdrop to Kiva Beach is Mt. Tallac on the left of this photo and Maggies Peaks
to the right. Yes, your thought about the name origin is accurate. Maggie was a shapely maiden.

Kiva Beach rocks for dogs. But of course, there is always a flip side. If you have young kids who are afraid of dogs, drive down to Baldwin Beach and pony up for the parking fee. See my previous post on Baldwin Beach.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Best Beaches In Tahoe - Baldwin Beach

Baldwin Beach – (Southwest corner of Tahoe)
Parking – Plenty, but always a good idea to get there early!
Fee - $7 per vehicle
Dogs – Sorry, not allowed, not even in vehicles!
Boat Launch – No, unless your boat is a kayak, paddleboard, or canoe that you can carry to the water.

As the bulk of the tourists return home in September, Tahoe's beaches become even more attractive. By several measures, Baldwin Beach may be Tahoe's greatest beach. It is a mile long and quite broad from water to the shore plants, it has great swimming if you're brave when it comes to cold water, and it has great views of the lake as well as of Mt. Tallac and Maggies Peaks. Further, if you're looking for a good place to launch your kayak for a great paddle to Emerald Bay, Baldwin is the closest public beach.

Looking east toward the ski runs of Heavenly
Looking west toward the mountains that border Emerald Bay

Behind the beach is Mt. Tallac, snow-covered in the spring and early summer and beautiful in the fall.

Baldwin Beach has picnic tables and barbecues as well as nice rest rooms (a big benefit at a beach). Bring your sweetheart or your family and friends for one of the great Tahoe beach experiences.
Get there early to claim a picnic table

Waiting for cheeseburgers

The nicest beach restrooms on the lake

Baldwin Beach has parking closer to the beach than most, especially the west lot (turn left at the T).

Baldwin Beach is bordered on the west side by private property and on the east side by Taylor Creek, which drains Fallen Leaf Lake. East of Taylor Creek are Kiva and Pope beaches. More on those in another post.
Please note that the water in Taylor Creek is very cold and swift in the spring and early summer. It is also deeper than it looks! While some people wade through the creek when the water is low in the fall, I do not recommend taking the risk. You could possibly get swept out into the lake in the ice cold current.

How to get there:
Baldwin is a bit over 4 miles northwest of the “Y” intersection in South Lake Tahoe. Head out 89 toward Emerald Bay. When you see the Camp Richardson Hotel, drive another 1.4 miles toward Emerald Bay and look for the Baldwin Beach sign.

If you plug “Baldwin Beach, South Lake Tahoe” into Google Maps, you will get what you need.
While they charge $7 per car to drive in, you can park for free in a lot just before the check-in building. The walk in is a pleasant half-mile or so.
You will come to a T with parking lots to both the right and left. I prefer the left lot, although, if you're walking, it is a greater distance. Also, if you want to rent a kayak, the vendor usually sets up on the beach near the right lot.
The beach closes to vehicles in the middle of October, although you can still walk in after that. In the winter, if it isn't snowing and the roads have been plowed (i.e., making it safe to park without getting towed), you can park on the highway and cross-country ski or snow-shoe in. Baldwin is a fabulous winter picnic location on the lake with few, if any, other people around.

There is a fenced area to protect the endangered Tahoe Yellow Cress, the only place in the world where this little flower grows!

A rainbow of colors to choose from, but note that the kayak vendors only come when there are enough people to justify it. If the beach is mostly empty, there won't be kayaks to rent.

Bring an umbrella, lots of sunscreen, and a mystery novel to read, because Baldwin Beach is a sweet place to spend an entire day!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Do You Have To Read Series Books In Order?

People often ask me if they should read my books in order.
When that happens, I'm often reminded of a book event I did a year or so ago. A woman walked up to my table and began looking at my books. A second women, and then a third, approached, one on the left, one on the right. 
The woman who came first asked if she should read the books in order.
Before I could answer, the woman to the left said, “I've read them all and you don't have to read them in any particular order.”
Immediately, the woman to the right said, “Oh, no, I've read them all as well, and you simply must read them in order.”
So what's my answer?
I tell people, “I write the books so that you can pick any of them up, without having read the others, and you won't feel that you're missing any critical information. The stories all stand on their own. However, if you are the kind of person who always prefers to read series in order, then that is a good idea with my series as there is a small amount of continuity from one to the next.”
Sometimes I add, "Like most writers, I feel that I've become a better story teller with time, so I believe my last book is my best. I think that would be a good one to start with." 

What is the order?

If you are looking at this blog in the normal blog window, the books are listed in reverse order to the left. If you are looking at this blog with a "blog reader," here is the order in which they were written:

1) Tahoe Deathfall

2) Tahoe Blowup
3) Tahoe Ice Grave
4) Tahoe Killshot
5) Tahoe Silence
6) Tahoe Avalanche
7) Tahoe Night
8) Tahoe Heat
9) Tahoe Hijack
10) Tahoe Trap
11) Tahoe Chase

Enjoy in whatever order you typically prefer!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Tahoe's Grand Estates - The South Shore's Valhalla

Where: The southwest corner of the lake, just northwest of Camp Richardson, 3 miles from town on Emerald Bay Road. Plug “Tallac Historic Site” into Google Maps, and you'll find it.
Parking is on the side of the highway just northwest of the Camp Richardson Hotel. You walk in on a beautiful network of paths. There is no charge for parking.
Alternatively, there is a wonderful bike path from South Lake Tahoe, and you can ride to Valhalla, and also to all of the nearby beaches. If you'd like to rent a bike, visit Anderson Bike Rental on Emerald Bay Road at the southern end of miles of bike paths.

As one of America's premier resort areas ever since the larger world discovered it, Tahoe has always attracted wealthy people who built fabulous estates. Three of them that were built around the turn of the 20th century on the South Shore have been preserved at the Tallac Historic Site.
Wandering the grounds on foot or bicycle is a bit of a time machine back into their lives.
I won't give you the details here as they can be easily found on the links that follow. Suffice to say that the Baldwin Estate, the Pope Estate, and the Heller Estate were all built by prominent San Francisco families. Lucky Baldwin was an especially dramatic figure of his day. After he became very rich investing in the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, he built a large hotel and casino on the grounds, both of which are now gone. Never mind that gambling was illegal. No one seemed to mind such flamboyance “way up in the mountains.”
Baldwin is also credited with saving many old growth Ponderosa from the late 19th century loggers that clear-cut the Tahoe Basin. Those giant trees (6-feet in diameter!) are still scattered about the area.
Valhalla Tahoe Visiting the site, Events, etc.
Tallac Historic Site info from the Tahoe Heritage Foundation 

Look for this sign on the highway. Park off the highway anywhere near and walk in.

This is the Valhalla Grand Hall, originally the Heller Estate. Popular for weddings, inside the
grand hall is a stone fireplace so big you can walk inside it (when there isn't a fire burning!).
The back side of Valhalla is a grand lawn leading to the lake.
One of the beautiful bike/walking paths that wind through the grounds.

If you want to check the water clarity,
the bike path will take you to the pier.
The old boat house was turned into the beautiful Boathouse Theater for plays and musical performances.

You can tour the Pope Estate and stroll the grounds to look at the many servant quarters,
blacksmith shop and other outbuildings.

Enjoy the Pope Estate gardens.
Wander the paths through the flowers.
Yes, Tahoe does have some Giant Sequoias,
although the Pope version is only 7 feet in diameter.
The Popes built a honeymoon cabin right on the shore.
The Baldwin Mansion is made of massive logs.
At the end of your day, you can catch a cold one on the deck of the Beacon Restaurant.
Or you can find a quiet bench and enjoy the amazing view and imagine
what it would have been like to stroll these grounds during the Roaring Twenties.