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One of the major draws to the Truckee-Tahoe area is, of course, the stunning beauty of Lake Tahoe. I was fortunate to have friends with lakeside homes that I visited numerous times a year for the first three decades of my life, both in summer and winter. It was a playground I loved, but didn’t think that much about because I spent plenty of time there.

Today, living in the Lost Sierra, I don’t go to Lake Tahoe that often, but when I do, my breath still catches at the first glimpse the lake. It’s just that majestic. But the public beaches and access points have become so crowded, it’s just not an enjoyable experience for me.

What I love about living in the Lost Sierra is the sheer number of gorgeous Alpine lakes that are accessible by foot, bike or car. The hardest decision I make most days is, “Which lake shall I hike to or swim in today?” So let’s take a little tour of the Lost Sierra lakes that are right in Nakoma’s back yard. This is by no means an exhaustive list of lakes, but it will give you a sneak peek into one of the great joys of living in the Lost Sierra.





Sardine Lake – for sheer beauty, Sardine Lake is hard to beat in its forested bowl with the Sierra Buttes jutting skyward so strikingly. You can kayak or fish at Sardine, and for swimming it’s just a short hike up the hill to Upper Sardine. Or, if you have young kids, just down the road from Sardine you’ll find Sand Pond, which is aptly named for its sandy bottom and shallow depth.

 
















Bear-Round-Silver-Long Lakes – For the casual hikers both young and old, the commonly called “Bear Lakes Loop Trail” in Lakes Basin Recreation Area provides an astonishing number of gorgeous lakes per mile of hike. The basic loop is just a few miles, but there are offshoots to Round Lake and Silver Lake if you want to extend the hike and increase your lake intake. All the lakes are swimmable and make perfect picnic spots on a warm summer day.

 











Gold Lake – What I call our “Mini Tahoe” is a beautiful, crystal-clear lake nearly 2 miles long with boat launching facilities and a campground along one shore. There’s also a shallow water shoreline just a couple hundred yards from the road with plenty of parking for a long day in the water and sun and easy access for launching a kayak. One of the most special summer treats is moonlight kayaks on this beautiful lake.

Rock, Jamison, Wade Lakes – Located high in Plumas Eureka State Park, it’s a bit more strenuous hike to get to these three lakes but totally worth the effort. Rock Lake looks like an infinity pool from some angles, Jamison has a small waterfall at one end that feels so good pouring on your head on a hot day and Wade has lots of shady spots for a well-deserved picnic.

 










Lake Davis – This huge man-made reservoir was built specifically for recreation. It’s at the north end of the Sierra Valley, above the town of Portola and is on the flyway for thousands of migrating birds making it a wonderful wildlife viewing lake. You can swim, fish, kayak and bike on the bike path that goes along the south and eastern side of the lake. There are a couple boat ramps to launch fishing boats or kayaks and several campground and picnic areas along the nearly 32 miles of shoreline.

None of these lakes compare in sheer majesty with Lake Tahoe, but for plenitude and accessibility, the Lost Sierra is truly a water wonderland.

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The Sierra Valley is a natural treasure trove that lies just east of Nakoma and can be easily accessed via Hwy 70. This 120,000 acre wetlands is about the size of Lake Tahoe and supports an astonishing diversity of bird life. Over 230 species make the valley their habitat, in addition, the valley is part of the Pacific Flyway for hundreds of migratory birds who travel north-south seasonally.

Mid-March through early May are ideal times to view thousands of migratory birds making their way north. My personal favorite is the Sandhill Crane which makes a decidedly un-birdlike guttural sound and has quite the distinctive dance steps in its mating ritual. These are large birds that travel in enormous flocks that you hear coming long before you can spot them hundreds of feet overhead. It’s not unusual to find cars pulled to the side of Hwy 70 watching these magnificent birds organizing themselves into a broad V to continue their annual migration.

In the fall, the valley supports an equally enjoyable variety of raptors. Bald eagles and Red-tailed Hawks are commonly seen, and Golden Eagles have also been spotted. Bird watchers report that migrating flocks of waterfowl and songbirds can also be seen in the fall.

The Valley is also home to a variety of wildlife. A herd of Pronghorn can be seen regularly along Hwy 70 and deer and coyotes are also a common sight.

The Sierra Valley has a rich history and is largely made up of privately-owned ranches, many of which have been placed into conservation through the Feather River Land Trust to preserve the land from future development. The valley forms the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Feather River, which is part of the California State Water Project, a system that provides drinking water to over 20 million Californians. The Land Trust is dedicated to protecting this water source for both drinking water and the wildlife that depend on it.

For more information, contact the East Sierra Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Photos by S. Pettengill

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That ideal home in the mountains is something that many of us dream about. The Lost Sierra offers just about everything on your mountain-dream checklist with its peacefulness, beauty, relaxed pace and access to virtually endless outdoor recreation. But the fantasy may start to fade a bit against the reality of the urban comforts you’ll have to give up to truly live “mountain.” There’s no Peet’s Coffee down the street, nor can you satisfy your 10 pm craving for an In-N-Out burger without driving an hour. However, one modern convenience you don’t have to live without is fast internet. Thanks to a lot of hard work, cooperation and a shrewd electrical coop that’s always looking out for its customers, Nakoma is blessed with the kind of internet that the extremely high-end communities of Truckee and Tahoe would love to have.

Our very own electric utility (Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Coop) with its telecom subsidiary (Plumas-Sierra Telecommunications, PST) saw an opportunity in the last economic downturn to take internet capabilities in our area to the next level. In 2010 they applied for and received grant funds from both the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the California Advanced Services Fund to build a 198 mid-mile fiber optic backbone from Reno, north to Susanville, and west to Quincy.

Their original plan was to find a last-mile provider to deliver business and residential internet service. However, no last-mile provider stepped up, so PST began the unforeseen task of figuring out how to become the last-mile provider for the communities surrounding the backbone.

As PST was planning the last-mile networks, the Nakoma Community HOA (then Gold Mountain HOA) showed its foresight and began discussions with PST to bring the fiber optic network to the development.

Internet options for Nakoma residents were pretty slim before that. There was dial-up or satellite from out of the area providers or WIFI from cell phone providers, but none of the options provided enough speed, bandwidth or reliability to realistically work from home.

In 2016, thanks to a heavy push by Nakoma Resort ownership, the HOA voted in the special assessment that enabled the project to move forward. The Nakoma Community was the first large-scale development in Plumas County to make the financial leap to bring this high-speed capability to every homesite in the development. Other developments in the Lost Sierra are still looking for solutions to take advantage of the fiber optic backbone.

After an arduous, volunteer-led process of improving an existing, but essentially abandoned conduit system, PST ran nearly 13 miles of fiber lines to all residential lots. A dedicated air fiber signal from PST supplies the signal that then runs throughout the development on hard wire. The result is an abundant supply of bandwidth, easily capable of serving the community’s needs for the foreseeable future. Individual property owners can choose from several product packages from PST, the maximum being up to 1 GB/sec upload/download.

As so many of us work virtually in this COVID-19 world, many are discovering that working remotely is a viable option worth pursuing going forward. If you have been torn between your love of the mountains and your need to pursue your career, the reliable high-speed internet available at Nakoma gives you the best of both worlds.

Update 5/24/20: Recently, another development in the area has implemented community-wide internet from a fiber signal through an existing co-axial cable network.

 

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Moderate terrain, 4 mile loop

The Round Lake hike is one that I usually do in early summer because the flowers in the first section of the hike can be lovely. But this year I didn’t get to the hike until today, and even past the wildflower prime, it’s still a great hike.

The first section winds through the forest and passes a seasonal pond (which now seems to bear a name, which I can’t seem to recall since it’s never had a name before!) and then heads up at a slightly greater incline and into more sun exposure. You’ll want good trail running shoes or light hiking boots for the loose rock you’ll encounter.

After a bit of a climb, you’ll be able to see down onto Round Lake and you’ll come across remnants of a prior mine. Take the fork down to the lake where I highly recommend a swim. The water is delicious!

The trail winds around the east side of the lake before departing for the eastern edge of Silver Lake, which has some great picnic spots in the shade. From there, take the right hand turn toward the Bear Lakes and you’ll be treated to three more crystal clear alpine lakes. Follow the signs to the right at Bear Lake, cross the creek and wind your way back toward the trailhead.

Treat yourself to a cold beverage and a rest in the Adirondack chairs at Gold Lake Lodge, just a few hundred yards from the trailhead. Or better yet, plan your hike for later in the day and enjoy a family-style dinner at the Lodge (reservations recommended). Gold Lake Lodge is owned and operated by the Remlinger family who are friendly, inviting and very gracious hosts. Dad, Rob, cooked at Gold Lake Beach resort for many years before purchasing Gold Lake Lodge. It’s a step back in time to old-fashioned hospitality and with the family-style seating, there’s always someone interesting to meet and share stories with.

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It was a Sunday afternoon, my day off after a long work week, and I just had to get up to Lakes Basin and soak in some of that quiet beauty. I didn’t have a specific destination in mind, I just headed up Gold Lake Highway to see what attracted me. I had a vague plan to walk up to Upper Sardine, but when I passed the small sign indicating Fern Falls, I decided to go exploring. I’d seen the sign for the past few years, but had never checked it out before.

The trail from the pullout is very clear and immediately crosses the East Fork of Graeagle Creek. From there, the trail parallels the creek for a few hundred yards until it comes to what the Lilliputians might have considered a waterfall, but to my eye was just a very pretty set of rapids. The topography indicated there might be more dramatic falls further on, so I decided to explore.

This is where things got fuzzy. I followed what I thought was a trail, but after a short while wondered if it was simply a dry creek bed since it ended at the creek. However, after some backtracking, bushwacking and using downed trees as raised walkways to traverse the scrub, I did find a couple of true waterfalls that were gorgeous. The craggy rocks gave a dramatic flair to the shooting water, which settled in inviting pools before dropping into another fall.

On the way back toward the trailhead, I did some side exploring of a lovely hunk of granite that was great fun to scrabble up. The view at the top was delightful. From there I could see some folks atop another hill of granite so went to check it out after they had disappeared, and voila, discovered a picnic table in a particularly lovely setting. From there, the trail was very obvious back to the trailhead.

I’m guessing there’s more to this trail than I was able to find. Even without a good trail, if you’re sure-footed and adventuresome, you can have a lot of fun exploring the area.

Follow-Up: Back at home, I checked Tom DeMund’s classic trail book and discovered that there is in fact, a trail and it does have various forks that go to overlooks on the creek, so perhaps I really was on parts of the trail. One day I’ll go back with the book in hand to see if I can actually find the trail.

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With the recent warm weather, I decided to head up to Lakes Basin this morning to see what’s hikeable. I’ve been out of town for a week and before I left, we were cross-country skiing in Lakes Basin, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I was happy to discover the road in to the Lakes Basin trailhead is in great shape with just a small amount of easily passable snow on the road. I decided to do what I call the “Bear Lakes Loop” and chose to do it counter-clockwise, heading up to Long Lake first, then around to the Bears.

The first third up to Long Lake was wet, but I encountered no snow. As I ascended though, I ran into a pretty solid snow pack. I had enough traction with my heavy-weight hiking boots (they have very good soles) to make traversing the snow pretty easy. I didn’t sink in more than six inches or so as long as I stayed away from any exposed rocks and Manzanita where unexpected air pockets can twist an ankle in a heartbeat.

And what a beautiful panorama greeted me when I reached the lake. Half the lake was still covered in snow and the surrounding walls of granite are dappled with white. There is something about those granite walls at Long Lake that always takes my breath away. This morning was no exception.

Heading up past Long Lake I ran into more snow which continued until I got down to Cub Lake. From there to about Big Bear, there was little snow on the ground. Heading back down toward the trailhead from Big Bear, however, there were large patches of deep snow, but again, I found the footing quite doable in just hiking boots.

I suspect the snow will disappear pretty quickly with the warm weather predicted for this week. If you get a chance to do some hiking this week, you’ll be in for a visual treat.

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Approximately 2 miles round trip, gentle incline, snow on the trail.

One of the first trails to be accessible in the spring is the Smith Lake trail. That would be reason enough to hike it, but it also offers a gorgeous lake set in a volcanic bowl with a rim trail above from which one can see for miles to the north and east. There is also a lovely area for camping or picnicking on the south side of the lake, shaded by massive, moss-covered firs and pines. And the final bonus is that a short, fairly gentle hike provides access to all this beauty.

The trailhead is accessed from the Gray Eagle Lodge road, which is off Gold Lake highway. There is ample parking and a bathroom at the trailhead. The first part of the hike has southeast exposure, which is why the snow melts so quickly there. It’s a steady incline on the side of the mountain offering wonderful views and a nice warm start to the hike.

About half way to the lake, you’ll enter trees and shade, which is where I encountered snow this morning. It was passable, but a hiking pole or a sturdy stick would have been nice to have.

The trail winds around behind the mountain so there was snow for a few hundred yards until the bridge over Smith Creek, which was running with wild abandon as you would imagine in the spring

Just another short quarter mile or so and you’re at the lake, shimmering in all it’s blue-green beauty. I love swimming in the lake in the summer, but today, only my trusty 4-legged companion found the water enjoyable.

If you want more of a hike with spectacular views, backtrack an eighth of a mile or so and you’ll see a turn-off to the north. A few switchbacks will take you gently to the rim of the bowl where you’ll be greeted with expansive views. This time of year the ridge trail is an out-and-back hike because the south side of the lake, which is in shade all year, is still covered in snow and fast-moving creeks cross the trail.
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The late arrival of snow this year has brought many blessings to the Lost Sierra. An added bonus is warm weather cross-country skiing. There’s nothing like experiencing the beauty of winter white in a short sleeved T-shirt.

I was able to sneak up to Lake Davis for a short ski this morning. I chose to ski on the snow packed by snowmobilers rather than mess with the inconsistent conditions that I found in the untrammeled snow. A couple silly spills made that decision easy. I headed up the road on the west side of the lake and then took a right and skied out to the end of the Old Camp Five peninsula. There was plenty of snow on the road where the snowmobilers had packed it, but the edges of the lake were exposed beach. Despite the cold water, my trusty canine companion just had to take a dip. I was not tempted.

As I passed the old snag on the way back, I was wishing I could hear the stories it could tell. It looks like it has seen some pretty severe weather over the decades.

With Smith Peak guiding the way, I headed back to the car with a sense of complete well-being and satisfaction. These springtime cross-country ski days always feel like a bonus to me. I love winter and enjoy all the outdoor activities associated with it despite the cold. But skiing in warm weather just feels decadent — like the whipped cream on top of the chocolate sundae!

I suspect the snow will last another couple weeks, so grab your skis and enjoy a little summer skiing.

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After disappointingly dry weather in January and February prevented the races from being held, the enthusiasm was sky high yesterday at the World Championship Longboard Races held at the historic Johnsville Ski Bowl.

For those of you who have never attended a race, I hope I can convince you to put it on your calendar for next winter. It’s such a fun day for the whole family with sledding and snowshoeing, great old-timey music, food, and of course, Brewing Lair beer.

The races are competitive, but the atmosphere is one of camaraderie and good cheer among competitors. There are always some exciting close races and some hilarious “Keystone Cop” type comedies with fallen racers doing everything in their power to get across the finish line.

Here’s how it works. Anyone who wants to can race. Plumas Ski Club has extra skis, so you will be able to rent skis for the race, until they are all claimed. Period clothing is requested for all competitors and footwear must be leather. No modern ski boots are allowed. Around 11:30, each competitor is assigned a start number by random drawing. The competitors then race in twos, with the winner moving onto the next round. Men and women race separately. It then comes down to the last race of 3 to determine 1st, 2nd and 3rd places.

There is a groomed sledding hill for kids of all ages to enjoy. A simple fare of grilled burgers and dogs is available for purchase along with an endless flow of Brewing Lair Beer. Spectators can set up anywhere they’d like and many folks bring outdoor chairs and a picnic lunch to make a day of it. Bring your snowshoes or backcountry skis and head up to Eureka Lake or Eureka Peak for added adventure.

For more information and the history of the ski bowl and the Longboard Races, visit the Plumas Ski Club website. The races are held the third Sunday in January, February and March each year.




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Winter has hit the Lost Sierra at last. It’s been snowing off and on for the last couple weeks. We’re not talking a dusting or few paltry inches here and there, this is the real deal – FEET of snow throughout the area.

Get your cross-country skis or snowshoes out or fire up your snowmobile and come explore Lakes Basin in all its winter wondrousness.

I only had a short timeframe available today so I took my cross-country skis to a private road I have access to near my house. As you can see from the photos, it was just gorgeous, making for a happy human and an even happier pup.

When I have more time, some of my favorite places for cross-country skiing are:

Mohawk-Chapman road off Gold Lake Highway – This is a gently inclining road that offers fabulous views just a couple miles in.

Lake Davis – Lake Davis is north of Portola off Highway 70. I usually ski from the unplowed dirt road on the west shore.  You can park where Lake Davis Road turns east at the south end of the lake, head north on the road, then ski the wide open terrain that lies between the road and the lake itself. There’s miles and miles of open skiing to enjoy.

Plumas-Eureka State Park – A group of dedicated volunteers groom a set of trails in and around the campground at the State Park. You can access these trails from the Mohawk-Johnsville Rd. and the Campground Rd. behind the Museum. The volunteers produce a grooming report that you can find on the volunteer website. If you use the trails please consider making a donation. No park funds are available to keep the groomers in fuel.

 

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I’ve certainly enjoyed the late season hiking in Lakes Basin this winter due to the lack of snow, but I was overjoyed to awaken yesterday to a few inches of snow on the ground in the valley and a heavy white layer on Mills Peak and the trees leading up to it.

This morning I decided to go exploring to see what’s still accessible. Gold Lake Highway is now closed so we parked in the staging area parking lot conveniently located at the road closure point. There’s a pretty little trail that runs about a mile from the parking lot through the forest and comes out on the Gray Eagle Lodge road.

It’s a fun trail on skis when there’s more snow, but today it was totally enjoyable in hiking boots. There’s a slight elevation gain, which is much more noticeable on skis or snowshoes. On foot, it’s a gentle climb, suitable for any level hiker. This is also a great summer trail because it’s short with lots of shade – perfect for families with young kids or people who lack the stamina for longer hikes. Come on out and get your winter wonderland fix and check out this little slice of nature’s beauty.

Update: 1/21/18 This trail was one of the last ones built by the Forest Service about a decade ago before budget cuts took the USFS out of the trail creation and maintenance business. We’re fortunate to have the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship in our backyard to maintain the myriad trails that wind through Plumas and Sierra counties and build new ones for us to enjoy.

On yesterday’s hike we found a fairly large downed tree that was easy to climb over in boots, but would be very challenging in snowshoes and impossible on skis. I happened to run into Greg Williams, the brain and heart behind SBTS, last night and asked him if he could take care of the downed tree sometime. I received these pictures from him today after he and his son had taken care of the tree. Now that’s some amazing trail maintenance response time! If you enjoy hiking or mountain biking in this area, please check out the work of Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship and consider supporting their efforts.

 

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One positive aspect of this strangely dry winter is the fact that Gold Lake Highway is still open and hiking is still abundant. With a couple hours available before a late afternoon shift at work I was feeling the urge to get out and explore before forecasted rains start up again tomorrow. With recent rain and very cold overnight temperatures I was concerned about encountering icy trails at high elevations. I hadn’t been on the Graeagle Creek trail for awhile so I thought I’d take that route to the Smith Lake trailhead. It would all be fairly low elevation so shouldn’t be icy.

Entering the woods from the parking area just off Gold Lake Highway is like entering a totally new world. The ground is softly carpeted with beautiful red pine needles, florescent green moss adorns the north facing side of the trees and the rush of Graeagle Creek is an alluring siren.


Just a quarter mile from the road lies the beautiful Graeagle Creek crossing. I was struck by the beauty of the frost-encased exposed tree roots that looked like multi-media pieces of art. The rails of the bridge were still frosty yet I lingered to take in the dynamic energy of the coursing creek. The colors of the rocks seemed so vibrant with the overcast sky and clear, clear water. It’s really a glorious spot.

After crossing the creek I stayed on the path to the Smith Lake trailhead, but a short distance up the trail I encountered a new option. The very new sign indicated the Smith Creek Trail was a mile away off to the right. I’d never been on this stretch of trail before, so off I went to explore.

The trail is beautiful, opening onto land I’d never experienced. Initially the trail heads north and slightly west with views to the east of endless pines and towering Beckwourth Peak in the distance. Continuing on, the trail crests the ridgeline and crosses it to head more westward and slightly south offering breathtaking views of Eureka Peak in the foreground and the towering white boulder that is Mt. Lassen in the distance.

After crossing the ridgeline, the trail begins to descend and the wide open expanse gives way to the forest. Initially, the forest feels spacious but as the trail continues to descend, the density of the trees made it increasingly dark and a bit foreboding. It will be a great, cool hike in the heat of the summer. Since I wasn’t sure exactly where it was going to let out and a looming deadline to make it to work, I decided to head back to civilization without reaching the end of the trail. I suspect it ends in the Smith Creek subdivision somewhere. I didn’t track time or distance, but my guess is that the turn onto this trail is about a half mile from the Graeagle Creek Trailhead, and walked about a mile or a little more before turning back.

I’ll definitely explore this surprising new trail when I have more time. It’s a great elevation for early and late season hiking.

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Holiday Greetings to all from the Lost Sierra. It’s a gorgeous Christmas day, made that much better by a walk in the snow by a lake. There is just something about large bodies of water that draw me like a gravitational pull, and today Gold Lake did the pulling.

After being under the weather I was desperate for some fresh air and my dog needed a good romp so off we went with another friend and her dog. It’s unusual for Gold Lake Highway to be open and dry this time of year, but it makes easy access to the high country. We drove to the Gold Lake Campground road once again for a lovely walk. The snow is about 5 inches deep with a light, crunchy layer on top. Someone had driven down the campground road making the walking very easy going.

We wandered down the road and back through the campground to the dam where my friend’s Golden decided that no water is too cold for her. My dog, after barely tolerating the Santa hat, was having no part of that cold water.

The patterns of snow and ice on the lake were fascinating, and with the light haze of cloud cover, the lake had a silvery reflective glow that was stunning. It was as if the lake had been covered with frosting that had been whipped up and then partially melted. Every angle offered a unique perspective.

While it had been cool at the start of the hike, the temperature climbed into the forties and the clouds steadily cleared leaving us plenty warm and sun-drenched by the time we wandered back up the road to the car. What a spectacular way to spend Christmas day.

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The snow has been falling in the Lost Sierra in fits and starts. Way back in September Lakes Basin got 4-5 inches, which was not necessarily a welcome weather change for my friends who were camping at Gold Lake. October also delivered a couple small, early-season snow drops, but the weather warmed up between them so there has been little accumulation and Gold Lake Highway has remained open. However, last week’s snowfall and this week’s cold temps may change that trend.

It’s lovely to be able to get up to Lakes Basin this late in the season. There’s still great hiking to be had and the beauty factor is off the charts! The light covering of snow completely transforms the area and makes it feel like you’re discovering familiar terrain for the very first time. Even roads that you typically drive on become beautiful forest walks, like today’s walk on the Gold Lake campground road. Some of the lower elevation hikes are still hikable such as the Graeagle Creek and Smith Lake trails. The few inches of snow create a bit more of a workout, but hey, that’s one of the reasons we all go hiking, right?

Take advantage of the mild late season and get some wintertime hiking in. You’ll be happy you did.

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The holiday season officially starts in our little corner of the Lost Sierra on the first weekend in December. There is nothing sweeter than the community spirit evident at the two holiday celebrations; one in Portola, the other in Graeagle.

Festivities kick off Friday night with Portola’s Light Parade and Christmas Fair. Despite the chilly evening, Commercial Street was lined with families eager to see this year’s line-up of illuminated parade entrants. They weren’t disappointed as once again the local businesses and organizations created a festive atmosphere with their brightly lit vehicles and holiday-themed floats.

The central bonfire was a popular spot to warm up between shopping at the old-fashioned Christmas fair booths, watching the parade, checking raffle tickets to see if you’d won one of the dozens of donated gift baskets and waiting for the tree to be lit. Christmas music flowed throughout the evening and a warm, neighborly time was had by all.

On Saturday the festivities move to Graeagle. The businesses in the little red shops that line highway 89 are open for early Christmas shopping, each one offering some type of treat for shoppers, either a signature beverage or snack. It’s a very festive shopping experience with a couple hundred of your closest friends!

Santa always makes a visit and the horse-drawn sleigh delights kids of all ages as it makes its way through town. Due to the loss of half of the team of horses that have drawn the sleigh for many years, this year’s sleigh was pulled by a tractor decorated for the holiday. Adults like me seemed to be much more disappointed than the kids who didn’t seem to mind at all.

The bonfire was again a big draw as everyone gathered on the lawn to listen to music by Danny Horton and cross their fingers in hopes they’d win the gift basket full of Graeagle Bucks and treats as they awaited the tree lighting. Nature provided an amazing complement to the man-made visuals with a nearly full moon rising through the trees as the huge pine tree came alive with colored lights.

If you’re looking for festivities that bring out the true spirit of the holidays, make a note to be in the Lost Sierra the first weekend of December next year.

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It was one of those Graeagle afternoons where everywhere I looked, I thought I was in a theater set. The sunlight against the dark, foreboding skies set off the trees and mountainside like a purposefully lit scene. There was a quality to the light that caught my breath each time the clouds opened to let out a new slice of brilliance.

It is the enduring surprise of the Lost Sierra that every season, every day really, offers an opportunity and invitation to shift one’s perspective from the routine of daily life to the limitless possibility the natural world evokes. It’s like living with one foot firmly on the ground and the other in the air, always ready to step into the unknown.

People from outside the area often ask, what on earth do you DO up there in the mountains? I used to actually try to answer the question, but now I see it as similar to the axiom, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” If you have to ask, What do you do? you probably won’t understand the answer. Perhaps this blog is my ongoing attempt to answer that question.

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Some days, I just don’t feel up to taking on the elements. My sister was in town visiting and the wind was howling and the cloud cover was making a hike seem more like effort and less like joy so we decided to see nature through a completely different lens—through art.

We’re fortunate to have in Graeagle a truly inspiring art gallery aptly named, Red House Art Gallery. It’s housed in a little red house on the green in “downtown” Graeagle and is open year-round. The owners, Toni and Brian Carl, bring in many local artists’ work as well as art they discover on their travels. They have a keen eye for finding engaging art of the natural world, whether paintings, photography, jewelry, glass or ceramics.

On this particular day the sun periodically broke through the clouds adding spotlights of illumination to an already perfectly lighted gallery. What a rich and luscious visual experience it was! Every time I go into the gallery I am reminded how much I love experiencing the world through others’ perspective.

As winter approaches and the weather turns colder, don’t forget that you can have a wonderful experience of the great outdoors by visiting the Red House Art Gallery.  www.RedHouseArt.net

 

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Having a mid-week day off is always lovely, but having one in the fall in the Lost Sierra is an extra special occurrence. It’s so gorgeous out that I decided to visit my favorite aspen grove which is just off the Frazier Falls road near the parking lot for Frazier Falls.

The trees circle a beautiful little meadow standing like sentinels until the wind blows, then they dance like they’ve just discovered bebop. Today the bright yellow leaves are all a-jiggle as I lie in the soft dry grass listening to the chatter of birds and chipmunks and the soft rustle of the dancing aspens. There’s only enough moisture in the upper air to form the slightest wisp of clouds in the otherwise bluebird sky. It’s a very fine fall day.

The Lost Sierra is known for its rugged beauty and outdoor recreation, but it’s also a haven for stillness and silence, a place to move at a different pace. I suspect that’s why so many who come to visit end up finding a way to stay. The quiet simply becomes addictive.


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3.75 miles for the full loop, beginner to moderate
Approximately 2.5 miles to the lake and back, which is a great beginner hike 

There are so many good reasons to hike Smith Lake! The photos below are from today’s hike, but it’s equally beautiful in the spring and full summer. Here are my top five reasons for loving this hike.
  1. Because of its full sun exposure at the start of the hike and its relatively low elevation (lake elevation is 6100’) this hike is one of the first to be accessible in the spring and one of the last to remain accessible once the snow starts to fall. The trailhead is also one of the lowest, making it a shorter drive to start the hike.
  2. The exposed rocky ridge on the northern rim (accessed via what was called the Jamison Connector trail, which is supposed to be renamed by the Forest Service to Smith Lake trail) offer views for miles and makes you feel like you’re on top of the world without a strenuous hike (highest elevation is 6300’).
  3. It’s a great loop hike, which is my favorite kind, enjoyable in either direction. Counter-clockwise, you get your climb in at the beginning and finish in the cool shade of the south side. Clockwise, you get the magic of the forest, crossing the creek on a log and the cool shade at the beginning and then end with the fabulous vistas from the northern rim followed by a long downhill.
  4. I’m not sure why the color of Smith Lake is so unusual, but it has a blue-green color that is different from all the other lakes in the area. Some days (or some times of day, I can’t figure out which) the color is nearly emerald from the ridge overlooking the lake. I just love the color of this lake!
  5. You can get a good workout if you go at the uphills with gusto but it can also be a leisurely hike when you’re in the mood to simply commune with nature. When time is short and I want to bust out some quick exercise, I blast up the face, then take the switchbacks to the rim full steam. But sometimes I just want to drink in all the views and the hike is more of a meander. I love the flexibility of the hike!
Note: The trail on the back (west) end of the lake is not maintained. A few of us locals go out periodically with clippers to keep the Manzanita back, but the trail itself is fairly steep with loose rock and not in the same good shape as other trails in Lakes Basin. Also, despite our efforts this year, the south side is massively overgrown due to the plentiful water and warm summer. Hopefully we’ll get back up there before the snow falls to clear some of the brush back.

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