Cascade Falls, California

I found myself with some time to myself on the back end of a work trip to Reno, about 23 hours worth. I decided to use that time to explore the Lake Tahoe area, a place I had heard mentioned so many times but had never been.

If you have never been, you should go. I don’t care who you are, you should go. I made some loose plans and didn’t have an expectation of what I was going to see, so all things were a marvelous discovery, from the drive in (after a sideline journey through Carson City) along the Clear Creek area that follows along Hwy 50, a road that wraps around a mountainous grade, to the picturesque drive through Zephyr Cove.  My hotel wasn’t much to rave about (Howard Johnson), but it was walking distance to a public beach access.

I checked that out first, and was brave enough to enter the cold, clear water.  I floated around a bit, marveling at the mountains around us and how relaxing it was there in the water.  I could have stayed longer, but I felt a pull to go hiking or at least geocaching up in the Emerald Bay area.  So after about 45 minutes at the beach, I got out of the water and changed my clothes into something dry and headed out that direction in my rental car.

I drove out of the touristy area that included little shops, hotels and restaurants, and headed further down a road that turned into more of a camping and outdoor recreation area.  Bear signs started to appear, and hiking and biking trails looked like an inviting place to explore.  Signs about Pope Beach and Baldwin Beach beckoned, but I was on a mission to get to a couple of geocaches with high favorite points.  One was a virtual at the Emerald Bay overlook.  This view was so beautiful, and I could have have stayed here a while, but the pull to explore further was strong.
I was trying to find the best place to park to look for an allegedly awesome regular sized geocache, and ended up in the trailhead parking in the Bayview Campground. After parking and looking around, I realized this was not the right spot to approach the geocache. However, I saw a sign that said “Cascade Falls”, with an arrow pointing in a direction that I felt a pull to go. I debated on the wisdom of this decision. I was not actually prepared for a hike. I hadn’t packed any of the ten essentials. I really wanted to know what was down that trail, though.
I saw a man coming back down the path, and I asked him how far away the falls were. “About a mile,” he answered. I asked him if the trail was hard. “It’s not hard…but there are a lot of rocks”. Okay, not sure what to do with that information, but I decided to roll with the “not hard” part and ignore the “lot of rocks” part. Later, I was cursing myself for ignoring the latter…but I made it back safely enough to write this little story a couple of weeks later so it’s not like it killed me. Although I did feel like it tried.


The trail started out very nice, and I wondered what rocks the man was talking about as I strolled along a soft pine covered trail.  It was everything I wanted it to be: a soft forest trail with a view of a glistening lake, and snow peaked caps teasing me in the distance.  Eventually, though, rocks began to appear, just a few here and there that I needed to work around.  The soft forest floor began to be replaced with uneven stones.  I had to concentrate on not falling, and on listening for sounds of bear and making sounds of my own to send them notice in case they were there (not sure how much of a danger it was, but there were bear boxes in the campground and signs all about).

 

I came upon just a handful of hikers along the way.  Towards the end of the hike, I asked a couple how much farther it was, and the man gave me some tips about how to approach the falls, that there was a way to follow the water down below the trail to get above them.  I followed his advice, as well as steering towards another family who had already made their way to the top of the falls.  I even took a family photo for them.  Another couple arrived shortly after, and I was caught off guard by a smell after they had found a cozy spot to sit above the falls.  I kept forgetting that marijuana is legal for recreational use in California, as it was a common smell I kept coming across during this trip.  And why not.

I could have spent some time marveling at the flow of the water from these little creek-like flows down to the torrent that raged down the mountain, but I did start to worry about making my way back before dark, and I really should have brought some water with me.  I headed back, feeling glad I made it all the way to the falls but also being annoyed with myself for not coming prepared to hike.  Also, I should have taken some safety precautions, like at least sending Jason a ping to know where I was.  I kind of didn’t want to make him jealous of my good time, and also didn’t slow down enough to concentrate on that task.

I came across some young people taking selfies on top of the boulders, and I felt my age and maturity as I lumbered past them, probably flush faced and open mouth breathing.  After some time lurching around the rocks, I finally made it back to the soft forest again.

I finally make it back to parking and realized the best parking for that geocache was at the overlook where I started.  I found it and it was totally amazing.  In the end, I felt very happy with my experience.

When I returned from my trip, I told a couple of friends about this, and both of them acted like I was completely crazy for making that hike.  One of that never would have considered that adventure in the first place, and the other one would not have attempted it without a friend/companion along for safety.

I am not a person who has been afraid to have adventures alone, for better or worse.  My sense of adventure has always been higher than my fear of danger, I suppose, and I don’t let things like not having a companion stop me.  I like exploring new towns, trails, places by myself, although there are times I have felt like I wished I had a friend with me.  When I was driving around Reno looking for the wild horses, I had a strong feeling of wishing Jason was with me, but I think it was mostly because I think he would have really enjoyed it (well, and also he makes me laugh). We couldn’t afford to all come along, though. I did invite my exhusband’s sister to join me on my trip in Reno, but she couldn’t/didn’t commit and then wasn’t answering my calls before my trip. It would have been fun to share that experience with Jason or my former sister in law, or any of my friends, but that is not the way it played out and I wasn’t willing to sit alone in my hotel lamenting the lack of a friend.
I saw some great views, had a good time by myself, and, when I got back into the town area, had a killer eggplant parm sandwich for dinner. I can’t wait to go back someday and bring my family to see this area. Also, I have some unfinished business there, which I will explain about in a later post.

 

Krause Springs

Krause Springs is not for the weak.  It is not for the very young, or the very old.  It’s not handicapped accessible, or even that easy for those with balance issues.

There are slick spots.  There are sharp spots.  There are shallow parts and there are deep parts.  In order to get to some of the good spots, one might have to walk carefully over algae covered rocks, delicately walk across a balance beam-style concrete ledge, walk across fine little pebbles that cut into your feet, and dance around cypress tree roots.  You might have to lay down on your belly and climb up along rock faces, scramble a bit for good footing, which is what is going on in the picture above (no toddlers were injured in the making of this picture, although it seemed likely at some points).

In order to get in the water, you might have to carefully feel your water across the roots, and perhaps suddenly slide into spongy vegetation on the river bottom.  Or perhaps you might be standing on a rock ledge, then take a step further and sink into an abyss of unknown depth.  Perhaps, if you are very brave, you might get into the water by swinging off a rope from the top of the ridge, after having to climb your way up there along rocks and stand in a long line of others trying to prove their mettle.  If you are interested in a further challenge, you might enter the cold river by throwing your body off the ridge, slightly higher up.  The fact that we didn’t see anyone get injured this way is a testament to how deep the water is in certain parts.

For those in the 5-35 age range (with no physical handicaps), this place is great fun.  The kids in our group had a great time.  The two of us who were parenting a toddler were experiencing some stress trying to keep him safe.

Initially, I took him down to the river access area on my own, while my friend and her husband where with the older kids and my husband was still getting dressed.  I went for the obvious choice on where to enter the water – the first area you come to as you come down the steps on the far left, which looked fairly shallow.  I even asked some folks how deep it was and they said it was shallow there.  I got in first, and then stepped back a foot to allow the toddler room to follow me.  Only, it turns out I had been standing on a ledge that only extended about that first foot, and suddenly I was flailing a bit as I sunk into questionably deep waters.  My toddler, showing some good sense here, stepped back and said “No like river!” and then refused to come in, even when I got back in control and on the ledge.

After this, we tried the swimming pool area.  The pool is fed by the natural springs, and is very cold!  It has a gradually increasing depth, being about 2″ deep on one side and possibly 6-8″ deep on the other side.  On the deep side, kids lined up along the rocks forming the back ledge and jumped into the water, sometimes one at a time and sometimes in a group.  There are two ladders into the pool, and other than that, the whole surface is straight concrete and rock base.   We tried to cajole the toddler into the pool, but he dipped his feet in, felt the temperature, and said, “I no like pool!”.

We eventually got him in both places, but only for short times. A nice picnic was had by all parties. Some resting might have occurred by various parties while I was chasing the toddler around the grounds. He made friends with a three year old girl in the gazebo, although he might need a little work on his game (she had a scratch on her face, and his only lines he could come with were “Hi” and “You have owie on face. Are you okay?”). We admired the interesting features on the stone benches and planters (squirrels harvesting acorns and lion’s faces carved into them). We experienced all the grounds, including the incredible butterfly garden at the entry way when we arrived.

It was a very pretty place, although quite crowded on a summer Saturday.It was a good place to experience, a place we would go again, but probably not until several years from now, when little Sebastian is not so little and the place seems a little less fraught with danger.

Estero Llano State Park, in Photos

*not pictured:  the Common Pauraque that we only observed from the ranger’s scope, nor the Golden Fronted Woodpeckers that were often seen, some even from just outside our hotel, and many others

Cinnamon Teal
Common Yellowthroat
Black Crowned and Yellow Crowned Night Herons
Yellow Crowned Night Heron
Eastern Screech Owl (in the nesting box)
Tri-Colored Heron with Alligator escort
Another Alligator Friend
Yellow Bellied Sapsucker
Northern Shoveler and Mottled Duck
Northern Shovelers
Least Grebe
One of the three variety of teals that are park residents
Talk about having your ducks in a row!
Somewhere in this picture, a White Faced Ibis is hiding
We all marveled at this lovely turtle

Bentsen – Rio Grande Valley State Park: Dude, Chill

It’s a crisp Saturday morning in the Rio Grande Valley.  The air has that just-after-a-rain feeling, when the clouds had finally burst and released the humidity and all the plants look freshly washed.  A cool, refreshing breeze is blowing over us, assisted by the forward momentum of the electric tram.

We are in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, home of one of the nine World Birding Centers along the southern edge of Texas.  This park is unique in several ways, and one of those ways is that vehicles are not allowed in the park.  Once you pass the park gate, you are either walking, riding a bike, or riding one of these electric trams (kind of a bigger fancy golf cart).

We rode the tram twice: once on Saturday afternoon for the Nature Tour, and once on Sunday morning for the Bird Walk.  Both times, we had the same guide, a ranger named Roy who had some interesting stories to tell.  We did not realize when we decided to do both these activities that it would be mostly the same stories and same tour stops between the two days, but I understood.  He had somewhat of a script that he probably gave day after day in this job, and we were probably the rare visitors that came to both.

Plain Chachalacas

I try to find the joy in all experiences, so even when when we stopped for a long time to watch the same bird feeding station we spent time at the day before, I found new things to delight in, like the fact that my two year old could now point out and say “chachalacas” when those heavy brown year-round residents showed up at the feeder, or that instead of seeing a handful of Green Jays like the afternoon before, a handful of Great Kiskadees were present this time around.  I was entertained trying to get pictures of all the characters in this little nature play.  I would just sit on a bench or on step, feeling the breeze on my face and listening to the bird calls, feeling happy just to be out here.

Great Kiskadee

I could tell my ten year old was bored of it, though.  Sometimes he was engaged and listening, but when Roy started into a story we heard the day before, I could hear my son sigh, or see him start circling or flinging his hands around, habits he has developed to “entertain himself”, he says, when he gets bored.  Sebastian was having a hard time with the sitting still, watching and listening part, so this day, Jason just took off down the road on a hike to the Hawk Tower with Sebastian in the backpack, saying we could catch up with each other later.

Chachalacas and Red Wing Blackbirds

As we drove further down the road to other feeding stations and viewing areas, I thought about how it was going for Jason and Sebastian.  I knew exactly what Jason would tell me if I asked him how that morning was for him, that the peace and solitude had been refreshing, that the weather was perfect, that he really enjoyed just sitting at the top of the Hawk Tower watching the raptors soar and holding Sebastian in his arms.   At one point, he was mentally considering what he would say to that question, and came up with the same answers.  I didn’t even need to ask him, then, because I already knew.  When we finally did talk about this the next morning, we had a bit of a laugh about this because it is tied to this long-standing joke that we are already in each other’s heads, often thinking the same thoughts or predicting the other’s thoughts with startling accuracy.  I suppose it is something that happens in most marriages.

On our way to the overlook by the oxbow lake, we were approached by an older man (looked to be retirement age) carrying a camera with a nice, big lens.  He flagged the tram down, and then started harassing poor Roy about the feeding stations.  He was basically expressing anger that all the feeding stations were not full.  He said he had called the office just yesterday, and a few days ago, to verify that the “provisioners” would be freshening the feeding stations this morning.  Roy explained to him that it was Spring Break, and the volunteers he usually had to do that job were usually leaving the park by this time (“winter Texans”), and that they usually stopped feeding the birds around this time of the year each year because food was plentiful and bird feed would go to waste, so they had only fed at certain stations.  The birds had not been coming around so far even to usual expectations, so feeders had kept seed in them longer than desired.  All these logical reasons fell on deaf ears, as the man remained angry.  He then dismissed Roy with a wave of his hand, saying, “Well, thanks….FOR NOTHING!”

I have been thinking about this man ever since.  My son and I talked about his response.  I tried to get my son to think about this from Roy’s point of view, from the man’s point of view, from our point of view.  We tried to imagine what kind of scenario would even result in that man having the right to be so mad at Roy for that, or so disrespectful that he would stop a ranger in the middle of a tour and give him his piece of mind like that in front of all those passengers.  Could this man have gotten away with acting like the world revolved around him all these years?  Has life never taught him otherwise?

Maybe he spent a lot of money to come to the Valley and had specific target birds he wanted to get, or certain shots he wanted.  Maybe he is a professional photographer and not getting his shots meant he didn’t recoup his trip expenses.  Maybe he is having a Big Year and this just wasted his time because he didn’t see anything exciting.  Does any of that justify his behavior?

Great Kiskadees Singing In the Trees

I was talking to my son about that side.  I told him that we had spent money to come here as well, and I had target birds I wanted to see.  We were wrapping up our visit out here, and I had only one target bird left unfulfilled (the Altamira Oriole), but I explained to my son that even though we would try to find it in the area by the World Birding Center buildings, and maybe again the next day at the tropical section of Estero Llano SP, if I didn’t see it before we left, I wasn’t going to cry about it or blame it on the rangers for what provisions they did or didn’t leave out.

More Kiskadee

I felt very fulfilled and happy with our bird count for this trip, despite the fact that rangers at both parks we went to talked about how low the species lists were compared to normal.  Where they usually were finding 60-70 species, we only found 40-50.  Perhaps it is because I am a beginner birder, or perhaps it is because I have low expectations, but I was quite thrilled to have found all the birds we did find.

Northern Cardinal

I think living with the attitude I have will help a person be happier in life than the angry guy is, but I also wonder sometimes if it allows me to accept less than what others would.  I have had a couple people in my life tell me I should be a bigger diva, that I should stand up for myself more, demand more in my life, but sometimes I wonder, if I am happy with this, why argue the point?

More Chachalacas

As luck would have it, though, right after we talked and as we literally left the paved stone area of the park and headed to the parking lot, I saw the Altamira Oriole I was talking about, feeding in the trees above.  My feeling when I left the park was one of satisfaction, that I had gotten everything I wanted out of it.  I guess I could be more like that dude, but then I would be less happy with life, and that seems like a trade off I am not willing to take just to get my way more often.  I feel like in the end, karma will reward those who treat others (including park rangers) with kindness, and perhaps those dudes who need to chill will find karmic justice for their actions as well.

Altamira Oriole