I’m just popping in to offer a few fun bits. Our summer travels have included excursions in Northern California, NJ, and now Europe. Today’s format is a casual one-off. Routine posting will resume sometime in August unless I need to release some verbal exhaust between now and then.
Northern California — Dunsmuir
Over Memorial Day weekend we explored the area of Dunsmuir, CA near Mount Shasta. A few highlights:
We did one waterfall on each of the 3 days. With the record rains this winter they were gushing!
- McCloud upper, middle, and lower falls
- Burney Falls (the largest waterfall in CA)
- Mossbrae Falls (the 25-minute walk along the rail tracks to the falls was one of my favorite treks ever — Stand By Me meets a scene from the gold rush as the passage is hemmed by mountain on one side and rushing white water on the other).
- Yak’s on the Five. In the running for best burger I’ve ever had. I spent 30 minutes talking to its founder. Her stories would warrant their own post.
- The Wheelhouse in Dunsmuir is casual bar fare — but has an epic boardgame collection rivaling any nerd cafe. I picked up a game on my wishlist…Sheriff of Nottingham. A delightful habit to offer your future self is to keep wishlists and when you come upon one of its entries at a mom-and-pop shop you don’t think twice, you just lift it. Games are a relatively modest indulgence and it’s tempting to just treat them like books, give Bezos his tribute and just load them into a cart all at once. But it’s more fun to manufacture delight by creating artificial scavenger hunts for your interests.
- Railroad Park Resort: Spend a night on a decommissioned caboose or other train cars. Super charming property and if you have kids in train phase (mine have outgrown it) this is doubly recommended.
- Mossbrae Hotel: I loved the aesthetic and design of this place. Comfortably sized rooms that marry the best of vintage and new. The details are carefully curated and its reasonably priced. We had 4 families so we took up all but one of the rooms on the upstairs level so if you go with a group it’s like taking over a hotel. Gave me warm Hudson River bed and breakfast vibes without the doilies.
Northern California — Lake Tahoe
For one of the excursions, I took a clear kayak on Lake Tahoe.
Our guide was a kick-ass outdoorsman, ex-Marine, super curious, and generally really kind and fun to talk to.
I learned lots of fascinating bits about Tahoe. Here’s what I can remember.
- Tahoe is an alpine lake at about 6,200 feet of elevation. It was carved out by a giant glacier.
- Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the US (by max depth) and has an average depth of 1000 ft
- If you spilled the water across California it would cover the state in 15 inches of water. It contains nearly 40 trillion gallons. (By comparison, the contents of Lake Superior, the country’s 3rd deepest lake, would cover all of North and South America in 1 foot of water! And that’s just one of the Great Lakes although the largest)
- On a hot day, 330 million gallons of water can be lost to evaporation. A large evergreen tree is capable of absorbing nearly 100 gallons of water vapor in a single day!
Why Tahoe water is so clear
- Its core temperature is 39 degrees. Not a lot of plant life can withstand that.
- The lake is fed by over 40 tributaries instead of one giant sediment-producing river.
- In the 1920s, the National Forest Service introduced the western beaver to the area. Their dams filter the snowmelt.
A Dark History
The Washoe tribe inhabited the Tahoe area for between 1,000 and 10,000 years before American settlers arrived. The word “Tahoe” is a derived from the Washoe name for the lake which translates to “the water’s edge”
The Washoe called it water’s edge because they actually never went into the lake. They fished from the shore. They never entered the lake because they believed it was teeming with bad spirits.
In a tradition you might associate with Spartans, the Washoe were known to sacrifice babies they deemed unfit such as those born with birth defects.
The Washoe would toss the babies from Cave Rock 400ft into the lake (Cave Rock is in the South Lake Tahoe area).
The bad spirits were from the so-called sacrificial “monster babies”.
“Tahoe Dance Floor”
The core of the lake is 39 degrees and because of its volume it never freezes over. It’s also cold enough to preserve dead bodies. It’s estimated that 250 people have died in the lake in the past 100 years. Sometimes when a body is discovered (in a relatively recent case a diver lost for 17 years) they are often well preserved.
Because of the interplay of water depth pressure and atmospheric pressure at elevation, bodies do not sink to the bottom but can actually find themselves suspended in a band of water at about 400 ft conjuring an image of a spooky dance floor.
The mafia was very active in the region especially nearby casinos on the Nevada side. The mobsters had mansions on the north side of the lake where they would throw parties. The lights displayed on the outside of the homes would advertise the type of party. One color meant “family-friendly”. Another meant keep your wife and kids at home — girlfriends only.
The second deepest lake in the country offered more than stunning views for entertainment. It was a convenient grave. While it’s unclear if Scissor Sal or Angelo Armpits found the Tahoe Dance floor scuba diving, they weren’t taking chances. They secured victims’ feet in buckets of cement before casting them in the cold lake. If they made it to the bottom you can imagine why we call them “statues”.
Enough darkness, time for a nice story
Our guide told us of a beaver family he’s been following for years. As he tells it, there was a beaver couple that started by building a bungalow and as time passed it had grown to a “5-star lodge”. At this point they had a litter of “kits” or baby beavers that are the size of guinea pigs. 2 kits would jump on each parent’s back to get around.
As the kits grew and reached sexual maturity it was their turn to launch. On their own, they would create their own families. The guide gushed in the 3rd generation of beavers the way one might dote on their own children.
There was one beaver on the lake that had established a degree of local notoriety — his name is Chunk. For one season whenever the guide took out a kayak tour, Chunk would show up like clockwork. Chunk’s commitment to punctuality afforded our guide a pleasant subterfuge…as the tour approached Chunk’s territory, the guide would make outrageous calls tricking guests into believing he was a beaver whisperer.
What the guide realized eventually was Chunk was using the kayaks as an escort so he could travel undetected to his work site without tipping off his nemesis — coyotes. Clever beaver.
One day, as the guide led the tour, Chunk didn’t hold up his end of the ruse. The guide nervously looked around eventually spotting Chunk hanging out on the shore. It wasn’t a great day to break the routine. Close by, a mama coyote was on watch as her three cubs played and wrestled.
A conundrum. On one hand, nature is just that — natural. Red in tooth and claw as the saying goes. On the other — “Come on, it’s my boy Chunk”. Respecting his role as just another animal in Earth’s grace and wrath, both terms imbuing far too much teleological significance to an otherwise routine moment on the trail of cosmos, the guide sat back. The tour had gotten real.
Real fast too.
Mama suddenly went into stalk mode. Tense, straight as an arrow from head to tail. As she slowly crept towards Chunk, the cubs assumed the hunt position, following Mama as school was now in session.
She crept closer to Chunk until her pounce was sure. Latching on to Chunk’s tail only to be mirrored by her babies who practiced the hunt on a nearby branch.
Chunk desperately clawed towards the cold refuge of the lake, bad spirits be damned. Mama extended her paws forward, digging into the sand, her back braced in opposition for the life and death tug of war with our beaver friend’s powerful tail.
What I haven’t told you is that the American western beaver can grow to over 100 lbs and if Chunk’s name didn’t give it away already you can be certain he was testing the upper limit. At twice the weight of a typical adult coyote, what Chunk lacked in munition he made up in physics.
Today, Chunk still scoots around the lake, wiser probably. A local legend whose nickname born of rotundity foreshadowed what would be missing from his tail.
A tip — Taylor Creek
In the 1950’s the National Forest Service introduced a particular species of salmon to the lake. The fish lifecycle is 4 years with them swimming upstream at Taylor Creek in their final season of life. At the start of autumn, the females spawn eggs that males fertilize before the fish expire. In the spring the snowmelt will wash the hatched babies into the lake to renew the cycle.
If you visit Taylor Creek in late September/early October you will see red. The fish are scattered everywhere, even in the trees. It’s a smorgasbord for the local black bears who gluttonously make their way through the salmon’s gathering place which doubles as a nursery and mortuary. Eating only the heads before retreating back to cover in the day, the bears are ready for the coming winter. If you arrive at the end of the spawning season (it lasts about a month) expect the odious stench of dead fish. But you will also be rewarded with the clearest waters of the year.
Lake Tahoe’s beauty rivals anywhere on Earth and it is right here in our backyards. Keep it blue. And if you’re in Tahoe and want to do the tour let me know and I’ll connect you with our guide.