November 28, 2012

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By Nathan

We took a couple days off in early October and headed up to Lake Tahoe for a photography focused vacation.  The goal for the trip was to photograph black bears, aspens, and a couple unusual rock formations.  Unfortunately we never did see any bears, which was definitely disappointing, but we saw a lot of other cool sites and enjoyed a long weekend in Tahoe.

The 10 hour drive to Tahoe was broken up with a stop at Mono Lake to check out the unusual rock salt columns protruding out of the water.  These columns (tufas) are formed by the high salinity lake’s level receding.  The lake has a salinity of 78 g/L compared to ocean saltwater at 31 g/L.

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Of course with Katharine’s planning we hit the lake right at sunset and were quickly swamped by a photography class.  You know you’re in the right place when you move your tripod and it’s quickly replaced with another.

Just down the road we enjoyed an unusual gourmet meal at a gas station, the Tioga Gas Mart and Whoa Nellie Deli.  It is a little pricey, but so much better than typical gas station food/regret.  We recommend it to anyone who’s driving along the Highway 395 south of  Tahoe, north of Mammoth or east of Yosemite.

One of the main reasons we went to the Lake Tahoe area in October was to time our visit with the Taylor Creek salmon run. Taylor Creek is unique in the fact there is a land locked salmon run where the salmon come out of Lake Tahoe and spawn upstream in Taylor Creek.  This mass exodus of salmon usually attracts the attention of many black bears in the area.

I spent a few hours every morning hiking up and down Taylor Creek looking for black bears, but as I mentioned before we didn’t see or hear about any bears that weekend.  One rainy morning I was crouched in some bushes completely hidden when 4 hikers checking out the salmon got within 20 feet of me before I waved at one of them and got a pleasing startled response.

You can see hundreds of salmon waiting their turn to jump up stream.

Click to enlarge the photo and see all the salmon

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The Taylor Creek Visitor Center also has a nice exhibit, which is a tunnel with large aquarium connected to the stream holding salmon, trout and other native species.

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The scenery around Lake Tahoe is pretty nice and is worth the trip alone.

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We also enjoyed a couple hikes in the mountains on the south side of the Lake.
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Granite Lake Hike (2.5 miles, 1,000 feet of gain), overlooking Emerald Bay

Round Lake Hike (6 miles, 1,000 feet of gain)

Every sunset we tried to position ourselves along the lake shore to get the best shot.  The first evening we started at Emerald Bay, but the mountains along that shoreline are too high leaving the bay in the shade.
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Emerald Bay
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The second evening we headed across the lake to Sand Harbor, which has unique rocks in the foreground, but the water was choppy from the wind and there weren’t any clouds to make the sky more interesting.  Although we did try some shots with a slow shutter speed, which gave kind of a mystical look to the photos.
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The last evening we went a little south of Sand Harbor and the wind cooperated, giving us the best sunset of the trip.
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We also managed to time our trip with the Aspens turning yellow. On our last day in Tahoe the mountains got a dusting of snow which made a picture perfect landscape with the aspens in the valley on the drive home.
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Despite not seeing any bears, Lake Tahoe was beautiful and we had a lot of fun getting a taste of West Coast fall. We’d love to return for summer and winter too!