Monday, May 30, 2011

Sunrise at Eagle Falls & Emerald Bay - 5/30/11

Pre Sunrise at the top of Eagle Falls

          I pulled up to the Eagle Falls lot about half hour before sunrise to find several cars already there. Eagle Falls is a popular place for photographers, especially at sunrise. The sky was dimly lit with a hue of pink at the horizon line. I walked down to the brink of the falls where several photographers armed with tripods were jockeying for position.

Top Tiers of Eagle Falls

Cascade on top of Eagle Falls

Rising Sun Washes out the Sky at Eagle Falls

          As I snapped off several photos and the sun got closer to the horizon I realized I didn’t have proper filters to get the shot that I wanted when the sun peaked. So with a few minutes to spare I abandoned the brink of the falls and scrambled down a granite ridge to get a shot of the falls themselves with the first rays of sunlight.

Eagle Falls at Sunrise

          From my vantage point I was able to look down upon the multiple tiers of the falls leading into mighty Lake Tahoe. The view of Emerald Bay and Fannette Island with the sun rising overhead was extraordinary.

Sunrise & Emerald Bay

          I must say that when the crowds are not around, this is one of my favorite places in the South Lake area.
          I then walked back up to the area on top of Eagle falls which is full of small cascades and wonderful pools. The light was beaming in magically and where there wasn't white water it was crystal clear.

The Brink of Eagle Falls

Shimmering Water on the Brink of Eagle Falls

Crystal Clear Stream Above Eagle Falls

Magical Morning Light on Crystal Clear Creek

          Once the sun was up and the road stared to busy with more cars I headed back the car and drove back to camp at Fallen Leaf Lake. (Click Here to read my Fallen Leaf Lake car camping trip report.)

Glen Alpine Falls - 5/29/30

Glen Alpine Falls

          Sarah and I decided to head out of Fallen Leaf Lake campground to check out Glen Alpine Falls. The drive down Fallen Leaf Lake road is a journey in itself as the narrow road follows the picturesque Southeast shore. I could only imagine what it would be like to stay in (let alone own) one of the magnificent homes that dot the shoreline. Once you reach the far end of the lake you will see signs for Glen Alpine Springs and will soon see Glen Alpine falls from the road on your right.
          We found a parking spot along the shoulder and got out to check out the Falls. With the amount of snow pack the Sierras have had this year it made for a terrific torrent of water.

Glen Alpine Falls

Glen Alpine Falls

Tahoe Day Hike - Rubicon Trail - Vikingsholm - 5/29/11

View of Fannette Island and Emerald Bay from Trailhead

          Sarah and I set off from the empty Vikingsholm parking lot and descended along the paved road that descends toward the Rubicon Trail and Vikingsholm Castle itself. Although there are signs warning that the trail is steep, it is mainly there to deter extremely unfit tourists from making the trip, because by my standards it is a walk in the park. Fresh snow melt had filled the small streamlets cascading down the hillside which made for nice little waterfalls here and there. Within several minutes we were at the shore of Emerald Bay and Vikingsholm.
          During certain times of the year they offer tours of this wonderfully crafted Scandinavian Castle that has some great history. At the time of our visit the building was under construction and scaffolding obstructed all of the good views of the building itself. It is incredible, however, to walk the grounds and observe all of the ornate detailing that went into its craftsmanship.

Vikingsholm Under Construction

          From Vikingsholm we hiked along the Rubicon Trail which skirts along the west shore of Emerald Bay. We passed Parson Rock and headed towards the Boat Camp where we stayed a couple years ago on a canoe camping trip. (Click here to read my blog post on Emerald Bay Canoe Camping.) With all of the snow the landscape was dramatically different from when we visited previously in July of 2010.
          As we hiked the weather seemed to change every other minute, with light snowfall alternating with small bursts of sunshine. We ventured to Emerald Point and then veered off trail to navigate the circumference of the point itself. There are a couple of nice hidden beaches as well as some wind protected picnic areas along the shoreline. As a break in the weather came we found a nice spot to sit down and enjoy lunch. The sun brought with it spots of tropical blue to the lake.

View Looking up the West Shore of Lake Tahoe from Emerald Point

          As we started eating we watched as a white cloud cover quickly blew in from the northwest and within minutes we were in the thick of heavy snowfall and a cold wind. We donned our rain jackets and headed for what little tree protection we could find.
Then just as quickly as it started the snow let up and we were able to finish our lunch.
          We finished our navigation around Emerald Point stopping at by our favorite beach on the south side of Emerald Point.

Our Favorite Beach along Emerald Point

          We then returned along the Rubicon Trail back toward the car. As we approached Vikingsholm and the trail up to the parking lot we encountered the rest of the crowds. The parking lot was overflowing with people when we got there and we thankfully retreated back to camp leaving the brief moment of madness.

Fallen Leaf Lake - Car Camping - 5/2711 - 5/30/11


          Being Friday on Memorial Day weekend we decided to wait until traffic died down before making the journey to Fallen Leaf Lake near South Lake Tahoe. We left a little after 7pm and breezed all the way up without any resistance.
          We pulled into camp and set up at site #94 which I had reserved months in advance. We have stayed at this site before and like it because of its close proximity to the lake as well as the views of an open meadow right from camp. We were glad to see that there was no snow on the ground at camp for the recent storms had us a little worried. We unpacked our food items and put them in the bear box then pounded a couple of cold ones before heading to bed in the back of the 4runner. Typically there is not that much room for sleeping in the back of a 4runner, however, I removed the two back seats and built a platform which extends the leg room by almost a foot.


          We woke up to crystal clear skies which soon faded to overcast. And by mid morning it had started to lightly snow. We assembled our canopy and set up camp best we could.

          After breakfast we hopped on the mountain bikes and set off on the Moraine Trail which leaves right from the campground near site # 75.
          The Moraine trail starts off as a singletrack that parallels Taylor Creek which is known for its spawning salmon in October. It weaves in and out of trees following the creek to the outlet of Fallen Leaf Lake. The snow continued to fall lightly as we pedaled on. From the outlet we rode our bikes across a narrow bridge where the trail turns into doubletrack and heads along the north shore of the Lake.

Bridge Crossing Taylor Creek @ Fallen Leaf Lake Outlet

          The trail leads to an old run down cabin that looks to have been quite the spot back in its prime.

Run Down Cabin Near Trail Junction

          From the cabin we took a brief ride down a dirt road to the lake’s edge. We stumbled upon an old foundation with a picnic table and the decrepit remains of a stove still standing. This section of the shore was greatly wind protected and offered a very tranquil setting. No wonder somebody had chosen this place for their cabin. The snow fell harder and harder and eventually we decided to journey back. Again we got on the bikes and pedaled back with the snow falling in our eyes.

Riding in the Snow & Lovin' It!

          After the ride we relaxed under the canopy and watched the snow continue to fall. We ended up crawling back into bed and taking quite a long nap. There is nothing like a nice nap on vacation!
          We awoke from our nap and the snow was still falling. By that point the snow had started to stick and the meadow and trees were now blanketed.
          Our canopy provided good shelter and I was thoroughly impressed with its design. Although the Kelty Carport Canopy got terrible reviews, I picked one up on clearance and have to say it worked very well. It has the option of being raised up or lowered depending on conditions. The snow kept falling until just before we went to sleep at around midnight.

Base Camp in the Snow


          I crawled out of bed just after 5AM. Sarah lay asleep as I made my way up to Fallen Leaf Lake for sunrise. The tranquility and peacefulness was indescribable. Besides several honking Geese and the thumping of a woodpecker, the only sound was that of the crunching beneath my feet as I walked along the frozen shoreline. Mt. Tallac, cloaked in white, towers above the lake to the north.

Mt. Tallac Looms Above Fallen Leaf Lake at Sunrise

Sunrise Lights the Clouds above Angora Ridge & Fallen Leaf Lake

          As I walked back towards camp I admired the serenity that is obtained with freshly fallen snow in the quite morning hours.

A Flooded Trail Along Camp Road Offers Snowy Reflections

First Light Floods the Sky Above Fallen Leaf Lake Campground

          I then made my way back to camp to wake Sarah and get ready for our day hike along the Rubicon Trail. As we prepared our lunch and ate breakfast it started snowing again. We ended up getting a later start than we had hoped for and pulled out of camp a little after 8am. We drove northwest along Hwy 89 and as we passed the parking lot for Eagle Falls I was surprised to see it completely empty. I decided we must stop as it is rare to have this tourist trap all to ourselves. The top of Lower Eagle Falls is quite possibly one of the most spectacular views in Tahoe.

A Rare Moment of Solitude Atop Eagle Falls

          After enjoying the views from Lower Eagle Falls we took the short half mile hike to see the less spectacular Upper Eagle Falls. This trail is also very popular; therefore it was nice to enjoy in solitude.

Snowy Solitude at Upper Eagle Falls

          Because of the current snow situation we opted to shorten our planned hike a bit and start at the Vikingsholm parking lot as opposed to Calawee Cove at D.L. Bliss State Park. We left our car at the Eagle Falls lot and walked the short distance to the trailhead at the Vikingsholm lot which was also empty. (Click here to read about our hike along the Rubicon Trail.)
          After the hike we returned to camp, passing by the Eagle Falls trailhead which was now jam packed. Back at camp the snow had let up but it was still quite cold. Not your typical Memorial Day weekend weather.
          I took a walk up to the lake while Sarah stayed at camp. As I strolled along the shoreline I was delighted to feel the hot sun beating down on me from time to time.

Angora Peak Beyond Fallen Leaf Lake

          We relaxed at camp for a while before taking a drive to check out Glen Alpine Falls located at the far end of Fallen Leaf Lake. (Click here to read more about our visit to Glen Alpine Falls.)

Glen Alpine Falls

          That evening as we were relaxing at camp, the cloudy sky light up beautifully and part of me had regretted not being up at the lake to fully enjoy it. By the end of the night most of the snow on the ground and in the trees had melted.


          My alarm went off at 5AM and I gathered my gear before hitting the road. With Sarah still asleep in the back of the SUV I drove to Eagle Falls to catch sunrise. (Click here to read more about my Eagle Falls sunrise experience.)

Pre Sunrise at the Top of Eagle Falls

          Eventually I retreated to the car and drove Sarah and I back to camp. We leisurely packed up camp and gazed out on the meadow. Several bright colored Western Tanagers rustled about in the pine trees.

Western Tanager

          We watched a coyote run through the meadow, then cross the camp road before disappearing into the forest. I tracked it a short ways and was able to capture one good image before I lost its trail.

Healthy Coyote

          After packing up camp we headed up to Fallen Leaf Lake to kill some time and let traffic die down. Although the wind was howling, we were able to lie flat on the shore while most of the wind whipped right over our heads. There was enough sun to keep us quite warm and we both dozed off for a short while.
          Later in the afternoon we decided to hit the road and head home. Traffic turned out to be not so bad. I wanted to stop at Bridal Veil Falls along HWY 50 near Pollock Pines, however, when we drove by there was a wedding party taking photos so we passed it by. I will say it was beautiful and full of water for the split second we saw it from the highway.
With little traffic we made it home without incident.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ring Mountain - Tiburon Mariposa Lily - 5-21-11

Tiburon Mariposa Lily (Calochortus tiburonesis)

          With a few hours to kill on a Saturday afternoon I decided to go to Ring Mountain in search of the Tiburon Mariposa Lily. I headed up the Phyllis Ellman Trail and noticed that the blue eyed grasses were starting to diminish. Ithuriel’s Spears on the other hand were in full bloom.
          I made my way quickly up the hillside and observed only a few shriveled up Oakland Star Tulips hidden amongst the grass which had grown significantly taller since the last time I was here a few weeks ago.
          The trail was busy with damselflies. I captured one image that shows bright red eggs beneath the body and another image where several eggs had been let loose onto a rock. As with all images on my blog, click to enlarge.

Vivid Dancer with Red Eggs Underneath

Vivid Dancer with Small Red Egg Deposit on Rock Below

          Damselflies and Dragonflies look very similar however, there are a couple of key differences that help tell them apart. When a dragonfly is perched it leaves its wings outward where a damselfly tucks its wings together and behind itself (as seen in my images). Also a dragonfly's eyes are in front of the head and nearly touch where a damselfly's eyes are on the side of the head and separated.

Damselfly - Vivid Dancer

          Toward the upper section of the trail were dense patches of the light cream colored Pitted Onion.

Pitted Onion (Allium lacunosum)

Pitted Onion (Allium lacunosum)

          I hiked up to what I call butterfly knoll where I was treated to my first Tiburon Mariposa Lily of the season.

Tiburon Mariposa Lily (Calochortus tiburonesis)

          Because mariposa is the Spanish word for butterfly I am now calling butterfly knoll mariposa knoll. I feel the name is more fitting because of the abundant species of butterflies that flock to the knoll and the magnificent display of Mariposa Lilies. Although I only found one in bloom, I did notice many buds getting ready to open.
          Also in bloom was the stonecrop known as Bluff Lettuce.

Bluff Lettuce

          As usual several Fence Lizards perched on top of their serpentine thrones.

Western Fence Lizard aka Blue Belly

          As I continued along the path my eyes were drawn to a brightly red colored wildflower called Indian Pink.

Indian Pink

          On my way down the hill I opted to take the loop trail. I was disappointed to see that the small labyrinth had been disassembled but I guess it is for the best as it keeps people from trampling the rare flora.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Backyard Wildlife 5-15-11

Pacific Chorus Frog

          Sometimes you don't have to travel far to see wildlife. Chances are you might find some in your own backyard! For months we've been having a Red Shouldered Hawk perch on a Catalpa branch in our backyard. I often hear it's shrieks throughout the neighborhood. I've even seen it carrying a vole once.
          The other day I was watering some plants in the back yard when I came across a frog on a lily plant. I went and got the camera and was able to snap a few shots off before it hopped away.

Pacific Chorus Frog

          There is a swale behind our house and during certain months of the year the frogs mating calls are so loud it is hard to sleep at night.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Day Hike - Kent Trail - 5-13-11

          Another after work excursion led me to the Sky Oaks Area of the MMWD. I parked in the dirt lot near Bon Tempe Dam and set off up the short steep fire road leading to the top of the dam. Crossing over the dam I observed the usual Osprey soaring overhead. The resident cormorants glided gracefully through the water disappearing from time to time as they dove for food.

Great Black Cormorant

          At the end of the dam I headed right toward the Kent Trail which skirts the edge of Alpine Lake.
          Dragonflies and Damselflies were abundant along the road to the pump.

Mating Pacific Spiketails

Western Larkspur

          The fire road passes a junction with Rocky Ridge and heads to the pump house where the Kent Trail begins as singletrack. The section of the Kent Trail leading along Alpine Lake is one of my favorites. It is often crowded on weekends but quite the opposite on weekday evenings.
          Oakland Star Tulips bloomed along the trailside thriving in the serpentine soil. Another serpentine soil lover was the Sickle Leaf Onion, with its brightly colored blooms jutting out of the rocky soil.

Sickle Leaf Onion (Allium falcifolium)

          I walked along the lake shore through rocky serpentine and chaparral. The trail briefly enters some grasslands and then into a forest of Douglas Fir where I came across several Spotted Coral Root Orchids.
          I eventually found a nice section of shore where I relaxed and let my thoughts wander. The sound of the water lapping up onto the shore nearly set me into a trance. A Great Blue Heron elegantly soared over the water hardly discernible from the shiny blue lake itself.

Great Blue Heron in Flight

          With all the days worries washed away I returned to my car and drove the short distance to Lake Lagunitas.
Along the way I passed by a Black Tail Deer in velvet and later a Red Shouldered Hawk perched conspicuously on a snag.

Black Tailed Buck in Velvet

Red Shouldered Hawk

          From the Lake Lagunitas parking area I made my way up to the dam where I noticed an Osprey perched in a tree along the shoreline.


          After walking around a bit I headed home for the evening.