Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: tahoe

Donner Summit

I took this on Donner Summit near Truckee, California while there in June 2006. There’s something peaceful about this little alpine lake even if it is right off the I-80 access road.

Photography is all selection. I get in the moment, frame the shot, and everything outside the frame falls away. Usually forever.

When I return to a familiar site, those unshot surroundings are always a surprise, unknown and alien.

Bird Blogging

This is for I and the Bird

Birds have always been a source of endless fascination for me. I had parakeets when I was in high school and spent hours photographing them and watching them fly in circles around my bedroom.

Parakeets Sam and Pat

For awhile my dad was breeding canaries and finches and so no matter where I went in the house, there were birds. I suppose my love of watching birds was inherited from him.

Every place I’ve lived I set up a bird feeder and have spent hours happily watching the birds come to the feeder and doing what they do. We had a purple martin house at our old home, and I used to love sitting on the porch watching the flying lessons every spring. I always felt a little sad each July when they left.

So what’s so interesting about birds? I think it’s the wildness. There’s something about seeing wild animals that makes me just stop and stare, that reminds me that as far away from nature as I sometimes feel, it’s still there. Birds – beautiful, funny, graceful – are the wild animals that most of us see most frequently and so watching birds is something of a way to reconnect with nature without leaving our cities or even, for that matter, our homes.

Whenever I see birds while I have my camera on me as I did on our recent trip to Lake Tahoe, I always try to photograph them simply because they’re so hard to shoot. A good bird picture is an accomplishment. I don’t know how good these are, but I’m happy to have shared a space with these birds for a few moments as our separate journeys brought us all together for a few fleeting moments.

A seagull flying over Lake Tahoe (taken in Tahoe City, CA):

Seagull over Tahoe

Canadian Geese at the Tahoe City Commons:

Canadian Geese

Canadian Geese

A Stellar’s Jay at Sugar Pine Point State Park on Lake Tahoe in California:

Stellar's Jay

Birds are transitory creatures. They’re here for a while and then they move on. Whenever I see a bird, I wonder where it’s been, what it’s seen.

I get jealous.

Pictures from Tahoe: Friday

Friday was our last day in the Tahoe area. I spent the early morning drinking coffee and staring out at the mountains around Squaw Valley, trying to drink in as much of it as possible before returning to Texas:

Squaw Valley

We had to check into the airport in Reno at 12:30 so we had time to drive down to Tahoe City one more time to look at that beautiful lake:

Lake Tahoe

On our way to the airport we stopped to get a shot of the Truckee River, which is the only river that flows out of Lake Tahoe:

Truckee River

And finally we arrived in Reno to find that our flight was cancelled. We became accidental tourists, and American Airlines put us up at the Reno Hilton:

from the Reno Hilton

Spending an extra night wasn’t bad even if it was in Reno. We ate good food at the Hilton, which is a really a gigantic Vegas-style casino complex. We’re not gamblers, but we did go bowling. I hadn’t bowled in probably fifteen years, but my first shot was a strike. I forsee more bowling in our future.

The trip was fantastic, and I’m sure we’ll find a way to go back sometime. Hopefully soon.

Pictures from Tahoe: Thursday

On Thursday, we hiked at Sugar Pine Point State Park on the west shore of Lake Tahoe:

Sugar Pine Point SP

We only did one hike while we were there and so we took this one because it would get us close to the water:

Lake Tahoe

The trail was pretty easy, but we were in it more for scenery than exercise. We hiked along a beach that we had to ourselves:

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

After walking along the beach the trail veered back into the woods and led to what one guidebook described as the highest altitude lighthouse in the world. The park’s literature described it as the highest navigational aid. It was a gigantic yield sign with a light on top set in place to warn boaters of some rocks near shore. I don’t know why I was expecting a more traditional lighthouse, but we had a few good laughs about it and continued our hike:

Sugar Pine Point SP - Big Trees

As we were heading back to the trailhead, something black moved quickly across the trail about forty yards ahead. Our first thought was ‘bear’ but then we decided it must’ve been a bird. When we got around the bend we saw to other hikers who had had a clear view of our bear/bird. Turns out it was a bear, and they were trying to decide if they really did in fact want to go hiking, but seeing that we were alive, they soldiered on.

I’ve always been fascinated by bears and was hoping to see one (preferable from the car) but I feel lucky to have gotten even the most fleeting glipmpse of a bear. Especially one that didn’t have an apetite for Texan.

After hiking, we went back to Tahoe City for lunch and then paid a visit to Truckee. From there we drove up to Donner Summit to stand around in some snow since we don’t ever see any around here.

This picture was taken at the trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail that runs from Mexico all the way up to Canada:

near Donner Summit

Pictures from Tahoe: Wednesday

This is looking up at the mountains from Squaw Valley on a perfect morning:

Squaw Valley

We drove across the Sierras to Nevada City, CA to visit my uncle and aunt who have a house in the woods near there. Before lunch they took us to see the South Yuba River about a mile from their home.

This is looking up the river:

South Yuba River

This is looking down the river:

South Yuba River

When we got back to Squaw I tried my hand at glowing aspens, inspired by Ansel Adams:

Squaw Aspens

California Beer

Irish Pub in Squaw Valley
(inside an Irish pub in Squaw Valley)

In 1994, I was working on a made-for-TV movie in San Jose. On a day off, I drove up to Mountain View with one of the sound guys. We attended the Small Brewers’ Festival of California where I tried many beers including Pete’s Wicked Ale, which quickly became my favorite.

When I returned to Austin, I preached the gospel of Pete’s but it would be another year and a half before it made its way here. By the time I found it, in a 7-11 on MLK, it tasted different. I still liked it, but it wasn’t quite what I remembered. Perhaps beer tastes better in memory?

A few years ago, I mentioned it to a friend’s father who is an alcohol distributor. He claimed that all California and all European beers were skunky by the time they reach Texas and that they taste totally different (meaning fresh) closer to the source.

I don’t know if this is true or not, but when we were in California, I found that my favorite beer of all time, my comfort beer if you will – Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – was not the same in the Sierra Nevada mountains as it is in the hills of central Texas.

I love Sierra Nevada for its crisp hopiness, almost IPA-like in character. It’s the cascade hops that I love, I suppose, which is why when I make beer I try to load it up with similar-tasting hops. Still, there’s nothing like a cold pint of Sierra Nevada Pale. The idea of drinking a pint of Sierra in the Sierras was too much to pass up, but imagine my surprise when I tasted it. It was like a great beer made perfect. It had greater complexity of flavor than it does here. There’s an almost floral presence in the taste, but it’s not sweet or soapy, it’s just… better.

Perhaps my friend’s dad was right. Perhaps Sierra is a bit off here in Texas, but I still like it. The test will be if I can locate a local purveyor of any of these fine beers that we tried on our trip and see if they taste as I remember them:

  • Tahoe Red Ale from the Lake Tahoe Brewing Company (whose site I can’t find) somewhere on the Nevada side. I liked this one. Reds aren’t my favorite, but it was smooth and pleasant.
  • Steelhead Extra Pale Ale from the Mad River Brewing Company in Blue Lake, CA. Truly a light pale in color. Nicely hopped, and I say the hoppier the better. This was my favorite of the beers we discovered.
  • Eye of the Hawk Select Ale by the Mendocino Brewing Company in Ukiah, CA. You can tell it’s a very alcoholic beer (8.0%) without reading the label. It’s thick, full, and strong. Reminds me of some Scottish ales. One is enough.
  • Great White Hefe-Weissen by the Lost Coast Brewing Company in Eureka, CA. I like a hefe after a hot day. It wasn’t really hot the day we tried it, but it still went down clean and smooth. Very refreshing with a wedge of lemon. Beautiful rich golden color.

We also drank Sierra Nevada Pale. Of course.

In his book River Horse, William Least Heat-Moon at one point describes reaching the west coast as coming to the end of the “Great American Beer Desert.” It’s not too deserty here in central Texas, but I do love going to California if for nothing else than to try new beers.

Pictures from Tahoe: Monday and Tuesday

This is our first glimpse of Lake Tahoe, taken from Tahoe City, CA last Monday:

Lake Tahoe

This is the view from our room in The Resort at Squaw Creek in the mountains halfway between Truckee and Tahoe City:

Squaw Valley

I took this on Tuesday morning when the sun was trying to come out, but only really made it to the upper slopes. The rest of the day was overcast and drizzly, but still beautiful.

This is from a waterfall leading into Emerald Bay on the southwestern shore of the lake:

Emerald Bay

The island – Fannette Island – is the only island in Lake Tahoe.

We didn’t stay long at Emerald Bay because rain was coming in and thunder was booming down from the mountains, so we spent most of the rest of Tuesday relaxing, playing cards and watching the clouds crash into the mountains and then billow down the slopes of the valley.

Back from Tahoe

Mountains around Tahoe

We returned from our Lake Tahoe/Sierra Nevada vacation late on Saturday. It should have been Friday, but a cancelled flight left us stuck for the night in Reno, which is really not the worst place in the world to get stuck.

We hadn’t vacationed since the summer of 2001 when we went to New York, New England and Quebec, and this time we wanted something that was easy and relaxing. Basically a vacation we wouldn’t have to recover from when we returned. Getting away to Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada mountains seemed like a perfect getaway.

Overall, we had a wonderful time away from central Texas where the sky is a furnace set on ‘hell.’ The weather in the Sierras was mostly sunny (one rainy day) and temperatures never reached higher than the low sixties. We stayed in Squaw Valley which is five miles north of Tahoe City, California and was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. We stayed at the Resort at Squaw Creek, which is a ski resort, but ski season was over and summer hadn’t really started so it was pretty quiet, and there were no crowds either in Squaw Valley or at the lake, just total peace.

The area around the lake is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Water and sky are so cold and blue and would come together as one if not for the mountains that surround the whole area. I’d forgotten how good mountain air smells, full of pine and a crispness that just doesn’t exist at lower elevations.

Here’s the run-down on the week:

Monday: Arrived in Reno and drove to Squaw Valley to check in. Drove down to Tahoe City, CA for our first look at the lake and to pick up groceries. Spent the evening sitting in our room, drinking beer, playing cards and watching the sun disappear behind the mountains while enjoying the slow changes in the sky as night settled into the valley.

Tuesday: Rainy day, but still a good one for exploration. We drove to Emerald Bay to view Tahoe’s one island and check out the waterfalls. Later we drove along the north shore to King’s Bay. We found a little record store run by a guy and three dogs that specialized in indie/punk/alt rock and bought the new Sonic Youth CD. Then we spent the rest of the day in the hotel lobby sitting by the fire, playing cards and watching the rain fall in the mountains.

Wednesday: Gorgeous, sunny morning. We drove up to the old railroad town of Truckee, CA, which has been heavily gentrified. We walked around the historic downtown before driving to Nevada City, CA in the western foothills of the Sierras to visit my aunt and uncle. We ate lunch with them in Nevada City at a little restaurant whose name escapes me, but it was probably the best meal of the trip. That night, back in Squaw Valley we went to Fireside Pizza for dinner and drank my favorite beer, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which we learned tastes very different in California than it does in Texas, thus confirming what a beer distributor I know once told me: all California beers are skunky by the time they get to Texas.

Thursday: Another beautiful blue-sky mountain morning. We went hiking along the lakeshore at Sugar Pine Point State Park and even saw a bear. It crossed the trail about forty yards ahead of us so quickly we didn’t even know if it was a bear or a bird since we only saw it’s upper half. We came around the bend where it crossed and saw two other hikers frozen on a bridge. They tentatively asked if we were okay and if we’d seen the bear. They’d had a much better vantage and confirmed the sighting. I would like to have gotten a better view, but I guess I’m lucky just to have seen one.

After the hike we had lunch as Rosie’s Cafe in Tahoe City, which is apparently something of a Tahoe tradition. Then we wandered about the main drag, checked out the stores, but ultimately decided to drive back up to Truckee for our souvenir shopping. After some hard shopping, we enjoyed another Sierra Nevada Pale at a local bar and then headed up to Donner Summit to stand in some snow for a little while. We hiked around the trailhead of the Pacific Crest Trail and then cruised back to Squaw Valley for some beers in an Irish bar and then Pizza again for dinner.

Friday: Another perfect day, but unfortunately the one on which we had to leave. We wandered around Tahoe City, taking in as much of the lake as we could, filling up our minds and memories with mountains, lake and sky. We had breakfast in Truckee at a diner called ‘Coffee &’ and then drove out of the mountains and back into Reno. After we learned that our flight was cancelled, American put us up at the Reno Hilton and we wound up having a great time.

We got back to Austin on Saturday afternoon and reunited with Morrison and the hounds who all seemed to miss each other more than they missed us.

Pictures (real ones with the real camera – the one above is digital) will be ready tomorrow. I’ll probably post more about our trip through the week, but for now that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Weekend Hound Blogging: Vacations

It’s vacation time. Morrison and Phoebe left for the resort spa yesterday, but since Daphne is too afraid to be boarded, she’ll be staying with my sister’s family for the week. She doesn’t get to start her vacation until later today, though. In the meantime, you can tell she misses her friends.

Lonely Daphne

Or maybe she’s just glad to have the bed and couches to herself for a little while.

And where are the apes going?

Lake Tahoe - Emerald Bay
(Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe – Image by Neil Li borrowed from Wikipedia)

We’re off to Lake Tahoe for the week. I’ve wanted to see the area ever since I read Mark Twain’s Roughing It back in high school. We won’t be roughing it, but we also won’t burn down half the lake shore as Twain accidentally did in the mid-nineteenth century.

See you next week.

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