Things to Do in Mammoth Lakes, California

This weekend, Greyson and I were in Mammoth Lakes, California. We were mainly there for mountain biking, but there are so many awesome things to do in the area, it’s definitely a worthwhile summer trip. Mammoth Lakes is a decent sized (pop. 8,000) town in Mono County in the Eastern Sierra. It’s about three hours from Tahoe, five hours from LA and the Bay area. There’s a ton of vacation rentals in town, which I’ve used pretty much every time I’ve stayed there, as well as hotels/motels, and camping in and out of town. There’s a bunch of great restaurants, bars, hikes, and outdoor activities, among other things. Here are a few of my favorites.

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  1. Ride the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain: Even if you have no interest in mountain biking, you can still ride the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain for some scenic hiking. Two kids can ride for free with every paying adult!
  2. Mammoth Brewing Company: This was the first brewery I visited in the Sierra, and it probably remains my favorite. The first time I visited, the “tasting room” was just a small area in a big warehouse that housed the brewing equipment, and the woman working the taps poured us more free tastes than we could drink, and we walked away with a growler filled on the cheap. Over the years, they made improvements to the tasting room, and started charging (a very cheap fee!) for tastings.

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Last year, Mammoth Brewing Company moved into a beautiful new location, and, as of our visit this weekend, they are now serving food. They also have an outdoor seating area and a place to hang backpacks for through hikers. The brewery offers tasting flights of their Originals and their Seasonals for a very reasonable $7 each, and you can get pints, pitchers and growlers to go. My favorites to get on draft at the brewery are Golden Trout Pilsner and Epic IPA. Those are actually two that you can get in bottles and cans in stores, but they taste so much better on draft!

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  1. Local hikes: There are a ton of great day hikes around Mammoth Lakes, and it’s a popular stopping place along the John Muir Trail. The Mammoth Lakes Trail System has more than 300 miles of trails. There are trails for every ability level, from an easy nature stroll to rugged trails with 6,000 feet of climbing. Mammoth Lakes is at elevation, so if you’re not used to that, be prepared for an extra challenge and be sure to drink lots of water. You can also use Mammoth Lakes as a jumping off point for multi-day backpacking trip.
  2. Day Trip to Mono Lake: One of the best things about Mammoth is its proximity to other great Sierra destinations. It’s only about a half hour drive to Mono Lake – the unique alkaline lake that inspired massive conservation efforts in the 90s. The weird chemistry going on at Mono Lake has led to amazing formations – tufa towers being among the most iconic.

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There’s also interesting bird watching, as it’s an important stop for many migratory birds. Check out the Mono Lake Committee’s website for more information, including guided hikes and tours.

  1. Visit the Restaurants: Here are just a few of my favorite places to eat and drink in Mammoth Lakes.
  • Base Camp Cafe has really good vegan chili and breakfast burritos
  • Stellar Brew is where I go for coffee, chai and wifi
  • Latin Market is a tucked away gem with the best burritos and a killer salsa bar
  1. Mammoth Festival of Beers & Bluesapalooza: This is an awesome festival featuring dozens of amazing breweries and great blues performances. A group of us went last year, and we had an amazing time.

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We camped within walking distance of the festival, and tried dozens of amazing beers. This year’s performers include Jonny Lang, Jelly Bread, and Robert Cray. This is the 20th Anniversary of the festival, and tickets often sell out – so if you’re interested in attending, get them sooner rather than later.

Mountain Biking Mammoth Mountain

This weekend I checked a couple of items off of my Summer Bucket List: mountain bike at Mammoth Mountain and visit a local brewery (2 down, many to go). On Friday evening, Greyson and I packed up The Toaster with biking and camping gear and headed east towards 395, the Eastern Sierra, and Mammoth Lakes California. We made a pitstop in downtown Truckee to meet my grad school roommate Allison and her husband for happy hour at Pianeta, and we were off!

Hwy 395

Driving down Highway 395 is always a gorgeous drive, but driving at sunset on this classic American highway is a must-do. It’s especially great if you can time your drive for watching the sunset from the Mono Lake overlook, but for this trip, we were too late and witnessed the sun set further north. The drive was smooth sailing (especially for high construction season!) and we arrived at our Airbnb rental by 10:30. I had plans for an early night since we were going to be biking all day on Saturday, but catching up with friends won out, and I didn’t go to bed until after one. I slept in a little, but Greyson and I and our two other friends were out the door and at the mountain before 11. It was now time for the fun part – mountain biking at Mammoth Mountain!

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I’ve been coming to Mammoth Mountain for lift-serviced mountain biking about once a year since I moved to Tahoe in 2010. Mammoth has diverse terrain, something for every level – beginner to advanced:

“Mammoth Mountain Bike Park offers terrain for every ability level, boasting 3,500 acres and over 80 miles of single track. We offer the best beginner experience in the industry with the Discovery Zone, miles and miles of forested intermediate trail riding and are the leaders in building diverse and creative gravity fed DH and all-mountain expert and pro level trails.” 

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Though it might seem silly to drive the three and a half hours to Mammoth Lakes from Truckee when Northstar at Tahoe is just 20 minutes away, the quality and condition of Mammoth’s trails and terrain blow Northstar out of the water. If I’m paying $50 for a lift ticket, I want amazing, fun and well maintained trails, which Mammoth delivers. The views from some of Mammoth’s trails are among the top in California, too!

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Mammoth Mountain Trail Map from here.

My Favorite Trails at Mammoth Mountain Bike Park

  1. Off The Top:This trail is my #1 everyone must-do trail at Mammoth Mountain. Ride the gondola to the very top of the mountain and prepare for amazing views! The trail itself is graded intermediate, but I think it’s pretty easy – nothing too technical, just exposure with some tight switchbacks (that are easily walked if you’re uncomfortable). This trail has views that are up there with the Tahoe Flume Trail. The steep mountain side covered in bare volcanic pumice means unobstructed views in at least 180 degrees. You can see the Minarets, as well as other stunning Sierra Peaks. If you’re a more advanced rider, take the Kamikaze cut off and bomb down the loose and rocky fire road, home to the Kamikaze Downhill race. Beginners and intermediate riders can follow Off the Top into the trees for a fun cross country trail of mostly smooth dirt, broken up by a few easy rock gardens. Take the easy Beach Cruiser trail to a fire road, and you’ll quickly be back at the base. Watch for faster riders speeding by on the fire road and stay right!
Off the Top trail (blue section) via Strava
Off the Top trail (blue section) via Strava
  1. Brake Through: This is another fun intermediate trail, though it involves more exertion and climbing that Off the Top and is slightly more technical. To ride brake through, you get off the gondola at McCoy Station at mid-mountain. After exiting the building, turn left and follow the signs to Brake Through. You’ll climb a slight incline for about a half mile, before turning left at the well-marked Brake Through trailhead. The first half mile or so after the turn off has the most technically difficult rock sections of the trail, including a small water crossing (that was already mostly dry in June 2015!). Brake Through weaves in and out through trees and exposed volcanic sections. The trail itself is mostly smooth dirt, with some loose pumice sections and small rock gardens. Towards the bottom, there are several intersections, but they’re well marked. Keep following Brake Through trail until it runs out (about 3.25 miles from the top) and hop on Downtown. You can continue on Downtown all the way into Mammoth Lakes, where you can catch the shuttle from the Village and head back to the bike park. If you’re looking for more of a challenge you can follow the signs to Shotgun – see more info below.
Brake Through (blue section) via Strava.
Brake Through (blue section) via Strava.
  1. Shotgun: This trail is more of a downhill trail than Off the Top and Brake Through. You’ll definitely want a full suspension bike with some travel to handle some drops and rocky sections. Shotgun is one of the “easier” advanced trails at Mammoth, but it’s definitely not for beginners. The best way to access Shotgun is from the Downtown trail which starts at the Mammoth Mountain base, and can be connected to from a bunch of higher mountain trails. There’s a very obvious sign pointing out the right turn onto Shotgun, and after a short, but butt kicking climb, you’ll have arrived to the fun part of this trail. The trail was fairly chopped up when I rode it, with lots of small drops and loose dirt and rocks, but it was still so much fun! I felt like I could ride it fast and aggressively (for me!) and take on features that I would normally chicken out on, because the trail is so well designed. It’s a short trail (~0.6 miles), and you end up in the parking lot of one of the ski bases that is closed in the summer. Ride downhill on the road coming out of the parking lot, and you’ll end right at the Mammoth Village shuttle stop.
Shotgun trail (blue section) via Strava.
Shotgun trail (blue section) via Strava.

Greyson hadn’t been biking at Mammoth Mountain since the mid-nineties, and he had a great time exploring the trails on his new bike. This is the first time I’ve ridden at Mammoth since I put the improved fork on my bike, and the difference it made was incredible. We had beautiful weather and didn’t wait in line once! Whether you are an experienced mountain biker, or want to try it for the first time, Mammoth Mountain Bike Park is a great destination.

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Tahoe Summer Essentials

The weather is warm, the pine pollen is in full swing, and I’ve started checking items off my Tahoe Summer Bucket List – summer is here! I thought I’d share my list of my essential gear for an amazing summer in Tahoe (or anywhere warm with a water body and unlimited trails!)

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  1. A swimsuit you can actually swim in! I have a few of these, ranging from a one piece Tyr for open water swims to cute and functional bikinis. My current favorite thing to do is to pair this Patagonia top with these prAna Ramba bottoms
    . I also have a Calavera suit(lifeguard top and bottom), which I really like. I like how their sizing tool lets you put in measurements for your optimal size. Note – the bottoms I got fit me well, but don’t have as much coverage as I was expecting. They stay in place and look great though!
  2. Healthy sunscreen and a hat. While I care about protecting myself from sun damage, I also worry about the potentially harmful effects of certain sunscreen ingredients on our waterways. I try to choose sunscreens that are mineral based (as opposed to “chemical”). If you’re looking for a healthy sunscreen that is activity, sweat and water-proof and works, my friend Kristen at Wayfare Collective did a great round up of environmentally friendly sunscreens to help you find one that will hold up to hard use: Part OnePart Two,Part Three. I’ve been using Beyond Coastal 30 SPF and, while I don’t love the smell or the way it feels – I can’t deny that it stays put. Greyson’s beard sometimes still smells like sunscreen, even after all day outside and washing his face.

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Another great way to keep sun off my face (and prevent scalp burns – thanks, fine hair!) is a hat. While there are a ton of cute and stylish floppy hats out there, my favorite is an old baseball cap I got in a thrift store in Bishop, California. Baseball hats seem to work well when I’m active, keeping my hair and sweat off my face and covering up the second or third day of camp hair.

  1. A way to keep your drink cold. Having a cold beer or icy Negroni on the beach or dock is one of summer’s true joys. If the sun is beating down on you, keeping your drink refreshing can be a challenge.

Beer coozie

You can always go with a standard beer koozie, but if you need your ice to last longer, I like the 16 oz insulated Klean Kanteen. It keeps cold drinks cold for up to 12 hours, and never gets a gross smell, no matter how long you leave old lemonade festering in there. (Not that I know from experience or anything.)

Negroni photo by Greyson Howard

Negroni from Reno Provisions. Photo by Greyson Howard.

  1. A bike to ride around town. While I own several bikes, I’m most attached to the one I ride the most – an early 2000’s Cannondale hardtail in Sobe green. While this bike is still great on the trails (I rode it on the Flume Trail this spring), it’s the bike I generally ride around town. Really, there’s nothing more fun than throwing a towel & sunscreen, a great book, some chips and a water bottle into my backpack and pedaling down to the beach. I also love riding to the bar to meet friends for a happy hour beer, and racing home as an adult bike gang.

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  1. For night rides and camping – a headlamp. I can slip mine (the Petzl Tikka 2 Plus) under my helmet when I’m bike commuting home after dark and it’s light enough (no heavy battery pack) that I don’t really notice it when I’m reading in the tent.
  2. Adventure sandals. I know that adventure sandals have their specific place – and, in my opinion, that place is almost everywhere. Ha! I personally love Chacos (I recently bought my 4th pair) and the Z-tanline is pretty much permanently ingrained in my foot at this point. Other great brands are Keens, Teva and Sanuk.

Tahoe Summer Essentials // tahoefabulous.com

These are just a few of the things I love for summer. What’s on your summer essentials list?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!

Tahoe Summer Bucket List

Though it has felt like summer in Tahoe since about mid-February, official summer is almost here! Summer is the best time of year to be in Tahoe, but it always feels like summer slips away before I know it. So for this summer, I’ve created my official Tahoe Summer Bucket List! My list consists of new experiences and things I’ve done before, activities close to home and a few that are a short road trip away.

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  1. Backpack in Desolation Wilderness. I’ve lived in Tahoe for almost five years now, and I still haven’t gone backpacking in this gorgeous area in my backyard.
  2. Jump in Webber FallsI went a couple of times last summer, and I’m excited to go back.

Webber Falls // tahoefabulous.com

  1. Ride the Downieville Downhill.This world famous bike trail is famous for a reason. It’s 6,000 feet of epic descent, through smooth berms, loose rocks, slippery shale, and perfect dirt, and you can cap off the day with a jump in the Yuba River. (I actually checked off this item last week, but I hope to go back again this summer!)
  2. Boulder in Tuolumne Meadows.While the Yosemite Valley is popular for good reasons, the less crowded, east side of Yosemite National Park is an underrated gem. We have plans to do some bouldering, and then jump in the Tuolumne River.
  3. Soak in culture with Shakespeare at the Lake.The state park at Sand Harbor near Incline Village, Nevada has one of the best theatre venues in the world. All summer long, you can watch a Shakespeare play while the sun sets over Lake Tahoe at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. This year, the show is Romeo and Juliet.

Tahoe Shakespeare Festival // tahoefabulous.com

  1. Go Gnarbuckling in the Yuba River. The South Yuba River near Nevada City is a pretty magical place. The area’s mining legacy created boulder fields, deep pools and mini waterfalls. One of Greyson’s friends invented the sport of “gnarbuckling”, which is traveling upstream in the Yuba River, via hiking, scrambling, swimming, jumping and falling. It’s quite a workout, and is best chased by a Mammoth 395 at Matteo’safterwards.
  2. Do my first bikepacking trip.Neither Greyson or I have done bikepacking before, but we have big plans do a one or two day bikepacking trip on the Tahoe Rim Trail, or some other local spot.
  3. Visit all the local breweries!Tahoe is finally stepping up its local beer game, and I have yet to sample all of the new options. That’s going to change this summer. I haven’t tried Alibi Ale Works in Incline Village or The Brewing Lair in Blairsden. I need to give Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co. in Tahoe City another shot and return to Cold Water Brewery in South Lake Tahoe. I’ll hopefully go on some road trips, and visit my favorites, Mountain Rambler Brewery in Bishop, June Lake Brewing in June Lake and Mammoth Brewing Company in Mammoth Lakes. New and new-to-me breweries seem to be popping up all over the place, and I plan to visit as many as I can! Also, I hope to hit up one or two beer festivals. Maybe Truckee Brew Fest or Reno’s CANFEST.

tahoefabulous.com

  1. Raft the American River. Just down the hill from Tahoe, the American River runs through Coloma. This spot is a world class white water rafting destination, and I’d love to do a raft trip this summer.
  2. Climb a 14-er. Probably not Mount Whitney, but I’d like to climb one of California’s 14,000+ foot mountains this summer.
  3. Bike at Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. Last year was the first year in a long time that I didn’t spend at least a day biking at Mammoth Mountain. Even with lift serviced trails, you’re working hard on the fun trails with great views.

Tahoe Summer Bucket List // tahoefabulous.com

  1. Hike from Sugar Bowl to Squaw Valley on the Pacific Crest Trail.Hopefully the wildflowers will be in full bloom when I do this hike.
  2. Swim every week! We may be in the midst of a drought, but Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe still have excellent swimming. Once it warms up, my goal is to swim at leastonce a week, and spend a lot of time on our pristine beaches.

These are just a few of the things I hope to do in Tahoe this summer. Anything epic I’m missing? Or, if you are visiting the Tahoe/Truckee area and want some suggestions, feel free to get in touch!

Donner Summit Canyon in Truckee, California

Earlier this week, Greyson and I checked out a fairly new local hiking trail near the Donner Summit area in Truckee.

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Donner Summit Canyon trail is yet another awesome trail built by the Truckee Donner Land Trust (the organization behind the amazing Wendin Way Trail. The trail is open to hikers and mountain bikers, and we explored via hiking this time. We decided that we were glad we did, because the trail is a pretty steady uphill gravel path that turns into a narrow and rocky trail.

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From Truckee Donner Land Trust

Though the trail is uphill the whole way, the climb felt pretty easy, and we weren’t working too hard. About a mile into the trail, there’s a sign pointing left to a scenic view point – definitely follow that detour. You’ll get a nice view of Donner Lake, and there’s even a picnic table for a quick snack or picnic lunch.

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After the scenic detour, we headed back to the main trail, and up the trail, heading higher towards the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail. We hadn’t planned to hike all the way to the PCT anyway, but we ran into a creek crossing where the bridge was missing! We’d gone about 2.3 miles at this point (including the detour to the scenic overlook), so we decided to turn back instead of risking getting wet.

The spot with the missing bridge had great views, with Donner Peak above us and Donner lake below, so we enjoyed the view for a few minutes before the wind got too cold, and we headed back. The whole trip was just under 4 miles, and took us about an hour and a half with our stops for scenery and attempts at wildflower identification.

Donner Summit Canyon Hike // tahoefabulous.com

Not technically a flower.

While it’s not the most rugged or challenging hike, and there are some with better views, this is a great quick hike (or gravel grind on your bike). If you’re looking for an easy hike with great views in the Truckee area, the Donner Summit Canyon Trail is perfect.

 

Mountain Biking the Tahoe Flume Trail

One of the most iconic mountain biking trails in the country is the Flume Trail, and I finally rode it last week with Greyson and my friends Katie and Gavin.

Mountain Biking Tahoe Flume Trail // tahoefabulous.com

The flume trail is known for it’s incredible views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains. For much of the trail, you are more than 1,000 feet over the tropical-colored East Shore of Lake Tahoe, looking down at the aqua waters and sandy beaches, and across to the snowy mountains on the West Shore. The flume trail itself is not very technical and can be done by anyone in moderately good shape with fairly basic mountain bike skills (though it does have a fair amount of exposure for those nervous about that). This is definitely a trail to savor the views, not rushed through for thrills.

Map via Strava
Map via Strava

The Flume Trail is usually done via shuttle (though it can be looped). We shuttled it ourselves, but there is a really convenient shuttle provided by Flume Trail Bikes for $15, a shop located at the end of the Flume Trail, where you can also rent bikes. Self shuttling is super easy with two cars. We parked a car on the side of the road by Flume Trail Bikes and Tunnel Creek Cafe (don’t park in their lot!) at the end of the Flume Trail and took off from the parking near the Highway 50 and Highway 28 boat inspection site at Spooner Summit. Both of these places have free parking, but you could also pay $5 to park at the Nevada State Park entrance to the Spooner Summit area. We just rode the half mile from where we parked to the park entrance along the road. Note: even if you ride into the park, you do have to pay an entrance fee of $2 per person for bikes, so be sure to  have a little bit of cash.

Map via Google Maps
Map via Google Maps

Trail Ends at Flume Trail Bikes and where to leave a shuttle car.

Map via Google Maps.
Map via Google Maps.

Intersection of Hwy 50 & Hwy 28 – where we started and left a shuttle car.

Once you’re in the park, hit up the super nice restrooms and follow the signs to the Flume Trail/Marlette Lake.

Elevation Profile via Strava
Elevation Profile via Strava

Now we get to the only really challenging part of the Flume Trail – the climb to Marlette Lake. This section of the ride is on an old fire road that was in really good riding condition in mid-May, but I imagine will get sandier and sandier as summer progresses. You’ll climb from ~6,850 to ~8,020 in about 4. 5 miles, with the steepest section occurring in the last quarter mile or so of the climb. We took our time on the way up to save our legs for the last climb, and I even got off and pushed on a couple of the steeper sections during that last quarter mile. It took us over an hour to make the 4.5 mile climb, but going slow was the right decision and kept us from being miserable on the fun parts!

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Forced smiles only on this part.

After the climb, there’s a quick downhill via fire road to Marlette Lake. I recommend taking a long-ish snack and water break here. You’ll want to feel good enough to enjoy the scenic portion of the Flume Trail.

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Photo by Katie Riley

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After eating our snacks of PROBAR Meal and workout candy (aka Clif Shot Bloks) and enjoying the view, we rode along the side of Marlette Lake and finally connected with the Flume Trail. Though the whole ride is commonly called the Flume Trail, the actual Flume Trail is a 4.5 mile section built on top of an old logging flume. The Flume Trail is flat, sandy and easy to ride. There are a couple of high-consequence technical sections (ie, don’t fall off the cliff), but those come with large warning signs asking you to dismount well in advance. Though we could have burned through this slightly downhill, non-technical section quickly, we didn’t want to. The views are what makes the climb worth it!

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We quickly got our first view of Lake Tahoe – and it only got better from here. We stopped and took a million pictures along the way. It took us over an hour to ride 4.2 miles of non-technical, net downhill trail! But, like I said, the views are the reason that you ride this trail, so there’s no reason not to linger.

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The trail is fairly narrow, and has a steep drop off in sections, but as long as everyone is cautious and polite, passing is not really an issue as even the narrowest sections eventually widen out for a safe passing area. People generally ride it in the downhill direction (or south to north), but we did encounter a few people taking the opposite way. Here’s a typical picture of the Flume Trail – as you can see it’s flat and non-technical.

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And here’s an example of a more technical section. Katie and Greyson are picking their way though a narrow opening in the rocks.

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photo by Gavin Feiger

We could not get over how awesome the views were! We decided that the view of Lake Tahoe from the Flume Trail is one of the few things that could be accurately described as “hella epic”.

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Since we weren’t in any sort of race to the finish, we took a ton of pictures – not only of the stunning views, but also pictures of us enjoying the trail. One of the cool things about the Flume Trail is that it is cut through huge granite outcroppings in a few areas. So you are surrounded by and ride through these massive boulders!

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photo by Greyson Howard

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photo by Greyson Howard

Sand Harbor is one of the most well-known spots in the Lake Tahoe area, and for good reason! It’s got aqua blue water, large sandy beaches, and spherical boulders dotting the shores. If you’re on the ground, you can hang out on the beach, paddle board or kayak through the clear water and even attend a Shakespeare play on the beach! Now that I’ve done the Flume Trail, I can say you haven’t experienced Sand Harbor at its best until you’ve seen it from 1,000 feet up.

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photo by Gavin Feiger

After the incredible views of Sand Harbor, we started winding our way back into the trees and towards the end of the trail. But not before a final view of Lake Tahoe!

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photo by Gavin Feiger

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The last part of the ride is 3 miles of a fast fire road down to Flume Trail Bikes and Tunnel Creek Cafe. The fire road is in excellent condition, but there are some sections with loose gravel and ruts, as well as plenty of hikers so be sure to keep your speed under control. When we got to the end, we were totally ready for food and beer, and luckily, Tunnel Creek Cafe has both. We all enjoyed Deschutes Fresh Squeezeds in the sun – well deserved after an awesome day on the bike!

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P.S. Did you notice I added a “Beer” page to my site? You can check out my favorite breweries by clicking here!

Santa Cruz: Sea Otters and Sea Otter Classic

I told Greyson that all I wanted for my birthday was to see some otters. We ended up going to Santa Cruz, and the trip delivered!

The first sea otter we visited was the Sea Otter Classic.

Sea Otter Classic // tahoefabulous.com

The Sea Otter Classic is a massive bike festival and expo that takes place in Monterey Bay, California over a few days in mid-April. Greyson had great memories of attending the festival when he was younger, and we were excited to check it out. The only word I can use to describe Sea Otter is…overwhelming. Maybe people who are more experienced with massive expos would have gotten more out of it than I did, but there were so many booths and exhibits and things going on that it was hard to find anything I wanted to see. We also went on Saturday (the festival started on Thursday), so I don’t know if it was our random wandering or if the booths were already cleared out, but we didn’t score any swag. I did get a good deal on some new bike gloves and I ran into my friends from TAMBA. While I’m glad that I went at least one time in my life, I don’t feel the need to head back to Sea Otter next year.

We drank Sierra Nevada beer, ate some expensive teriyaki, watched some cyclocross, and then it was time for the main event of the day – Men’s Pro Dual Slalom.

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The Men’s Pro Dual Slalom race kicked off with a race between two tandem teams!

Dual Slalom isn’t a super popular race anymore, but it’s a super fun one to watch. Two bikers race head to head on identical courses full of features like berms, drops and jumps. The riders then switch tracks, and their times are combined. The slower rider is eliminated and the other moves on to the next round, until a winner is declared.

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As much as I love biking and all things related, I was even more excited for the next iteration of otters – actual live sea otters in the wild!

Elkhorn Slough // tahoefabulous.com

Greyson and I drove south from Santa Cruz to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve with one goal: to see some otters!

The Elkhorn Slough NERR is

“one of 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves established nationwide as field laboratories for scientific research and estuarine education. The Reserve is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The 1700-acre Reserve is a hub of activity and hosts programs that promote education, research, and conservation in Elkhorn Slough. The Visitor Center has award-winning exhibits that invite everyone to explore the Unseen Slough. There are five miles of trails that meander through beautiful oak woodlands, calm tidal creeks, and freshwater marshes. We offer tours on the weekends and special events throughout the year.”

More importantly, Elkhorn Slough is home to the largest population of California’s sea otters, a fact I learned by watching Saving Otter 501 (a PBS Nature Documentary, available to watch online here and via Netflix!) over and over.

saving otter 501

Picture from Saving Otter 501 found here.

California’s southern sea otters were hunted nearly to extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries, but a surviving population of around 50 was found off of Big Sur in 1938. The population has grown to nearly 2,000, many of which live in the protected Elkhorn Slough.

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Greyson and I didn’t really have any concrete plans for finding the sea otters, other than going to Elkhorn Slough, and potentially renting kayaks. We ended up just pulling into a beach parking lot on vague instructions from Greyson’s sister, and we immediately spotted otters! We were on a little spit of sand with a manmade breakwater that made a perfect spot for otter spotting.

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I only had my phone camera, so my photos aren’t great. Greyson got some great shots though, and made an adorable video that I already posted.

Photo by Greyson Howard
Photo by Greyson Howard

A highlight was definitely the two juvenile otters who wrestled near us for 15 or 20 minutes.

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The shot I got with my phone.

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The shot Greyson got with his camera. Ha!

I also loved this otter that floated contentedly while a fisherman and his dog worked on a boat nearby.

otters-and-sailboats-elkhorn

In addition to the dozens of otters frolicking about, the Elkhorn Slough was packed with other wildlife. We saw sea lions, harbor seals, cormorants, herons, and the ubiquitous Velella velella. If you’re in the Monterey or Santa Cruz area, I highly recommend a trip to the Elkhorn Slough. If you’re interested in the crucial conservation work they’re doing, you can learn more on their website, or become a member!

We did a few other fun things in the Santa Cruz area over the weekend. We hit up the Monterey Bay Aquarium just in time for the otter feeding and to visit the fluorescent-ly lit jellyfish:

sea otter 12

sea otter 13 sea otter 14

And we hit up Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing for some birthday beers just before we left town on Sunday. These weren’t my favorite beers of all time, and I probably won’t write up a whole review of the brewery. I did enjoy their Peoples Organic Coffee Porter and Devout Stout, and I loved their location with an outdoor beer garden and tap room.

sea otter 15

The whole weekend was a great way to celebrate my 31st birthday, and it will be hard to top next year!

Try This Beer: Mountain Rambler Brewery – Bishop, California

I have been waiting for Mountain Rambler Brewery to open for almost as long as I have been visiting Bishop! As awesome  as Bishop, California is (and it is incredibly great), they had been lacking a great place to get a beer, a delicious meal, and hangout with friends after a day outside.

Mountain Rambler Brewery Bishop // tahoefabulous.com

Mountain Rambler had its grand opening in early February, and it was already super popular by the time we visited in March. We ended up going there twice in two days, and it always had a good crowd. The brewery has high ceilings, and a light, airy feel, and the walls are covered with Eastern Sierra inspired art and photography. I heard a rumor that the bars and some of the tables were constructed from reclaimed bristlecone pine wood, giving Mountain Rambler a very Eastern Sierra feel.

We tried three of the beers while we were there – Peaklet Porter, Pale Ale First Release and Extra Pale First Release. Mountain Rambler offers very generous half pints, which we went with for sampling, and I went back for seconds (over the course of two days) of the Porter and the Pale Ale. We also had the polenta tots with delicious pesto aioli. Whether you’re staying in Bishop for a longer climbing trip or just passing through, a visit to Mountain Rambler Brewery should definitely be on your 395 bucket list!

 

Trail Report: Mountain Biking Sawtooth Trail, Truckee, California

I’ve officially given up on winter. Not that I haven’t been riding/climbing/hiking all “winter,” but I’ve now officially given up on having any real winter in California this year. In honor of this revelation, I went on my first hard mountain bike ride of 2015, the Sawtooth Trail in Truckee, California.

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Sawtooth is a really fun and challenging lollipop trail through pine forests and across rocky pumice. The trail is easy to access, with the trailhead at a gravel parking lot on Sawtooth Court, just a couple of miles south of downtown Truckee. Click here for Google Maps directions.

Map via Google Maps
Map via Google Maps

Though I used to be more into riding trails that went generally in the downhill direction (via shuttle, chair lift, steep push up, etc.), I’ve gotten more into technical cross country style trails, hopefully with a mix rollers, technical sections, short but hard climbs, fast, flowy sections and awesome views. Sawtooth Trail delivers across all of these requirements!

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Sawtooth Trail is an 11 mile lollipop with about 750 feet of climbing. The 750 feel of elevation gain definitely worked me, though I don’t know if I should blame it on being out of shape, or the fact that a lot of the climbing is more technical that I’m used to. Though there are long, smooth sections of the trail, Sawtooth is rocky enough that I would strongly recommend a full suspension bike for it. It would definitely be doable by a skilled rider on a hardtail, but I don’t think it would be very much fun!

There are some really long rocky sections, but I didn’t find anything un-rideable (and rocks are definitely not my strong point!), but my wrists and hands were exhausted by the end, and loose rocks made the short, steep climbs lung busters. It took Greyson and I about 2 hours to complete the whole loop, which included several breaks for scenery, water, mechanical difficulties, etc – we definitely weren’t in a rush.

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The one main recommendation I would make with this trail, is to be sure to ride the lollipop clockwise. At about two miles in, you’ll hit a fork in the trail with a sign pointing straight to “Sawtooth Trail” and left to “Sawtooth Road”. Take the left toward Sawtooth Road! The trail crosses the dirt road and keeps going, eventually looping back to this intersection. I’ve ridden the trail in both directions, and riding the trail clockwise is way more fun! Otherwise you’ll be climbing up some nasty loose pumice.

Map and Elevation via Strava

This trail is closed to ATVs, and though it was a beautiful Sunday, we didn’t run into too many other mountain bikers, though I imagine it will get more crowded as more people give up on winter. It’s also fairly shaded for most of the trail, so I imagine it will be a little cooler in the summer than some of the other area trails.

Sawtooth is a really fun trail, and a great place to practice your rocky climbing skills. I can’t wait to go back! Also, Greyson has playing with the slo-mo feature on his new phone, and took a silly slo-mo video of me riding on Sawtooth Trail. You can check it out here.

Trail Stats:
Location: Sawtooth Court, Truckee, California
Mileage: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 775
Difficulty: Intermediate

 

Try This Beer: June Lake Brewing

When driving back from the Eastern Sierra this weekend, Greyson and I finally got to try the new-ish brewery in June Lake – June Lake Brewing.

June Lake Brewing // tahoefabulous.com

We sampled both tasting flights the brewery offered, and the awesome owner threw in samples of the other two beers on tap so we could have the full experience. Here’s what I tried (all descriptions from June Lake Brewing website):

Deer Beer Brown Ale (3/5): Having a love for traditional English Browns we used UK Fuggles and UK Goldings hops coupled with 2-Row Pale, Crystal 15 and Chocolate malts to craft this beauty.  By doubling the amount of Fuggles and Goldings recommended for the original style we introduced a slightly higher hop flavor (read Westcoast style) to the traditional English Brown, and complimented the hoppyness with the additional of Chocolate malt.  With an ABV of 5.8%, an IBU of of 24 and an SRM of 21, Deer Beer Brown is smooth, refreshing and packed with character.

Alper’s Trout Pale Ale (3.5/5): Working with Tim Alpers, father of the famed Eastern Sierra Alpers Trout, we put together a well rounded grain bill comprised of 2-Row Pilsner, 2-Row Pale, Munich, Crystal 15 and White Wheat malts to compliment the heavy additions of Cascade, CTZ, Mt. Hood, and Crystal hops.  This beer weighs in around 5.8% ABV with 35 IBUs and a light 6.6 SRM color profile.  Combined with our phenomenal water, the primarily Pilsner malt grain bill provides a nice, slightly creamy mouth feel, with the strong citrus notes compliments of the Cascade and CTZ hops.  In the finish hints of spicy can be found from the Crystal and Mt. Hood aroma hop additions after the boil during the whirlpooling process.

SmoKin Porter (4/5): Brewed and named in honor of TestPilot 001 Jeff Kramer the SmoKin Porter is a full bodied robust porter exhibiting a mildly smoky character complimented by a generous helping of CTZ hops for bittering and Mt. Hood hops for flavor and aroma.  With an ABV of 7.2%, a bitterness of 51 IBUs and a deep dark SRM of 32, the SmoKin Porter drinks remarkably smooth for such a dark colored beer.  With skills that rival Kramer’s own, the SmoKin Porter is a delicious choice for any occasion.

Hutte Double IPA (4.5/5): Working with our Brewfather and a number of our brewer friends we developed this Goliath of a beer.  Think big Westcoast style DIPA with a massive hop bill that includes Cascade, Millenium, CTZ, Ella and Nugget, countered by an even larger malt bill comprised of 2-Row Pale, Carapils and Crystal 15. Oh yeah and throw in 66lbs of dry hopped Cascade, Ella and Armarillo for a citrusy, orangy finish that accentuates the overall super hoppy goodness. Though light in color at 9 SRM, Hutte makes up for it in flavor and body with 9.5% ABV and 120 IBUs of palate crushing awesomeness!

This beer was my far away favorite, and reminded me of a couple of the beers I really liked at Crux. When we told the owner that, she said that she was super flattered, as Crux is one of her and her husband’s favorite breweries!

Silver Lake Saison (3/5): You’ve spoken, and we’ve listened… This is our lightest beer in color, flavor, alcohol and palate… But never ones to fully capitulate to other’s opinions we utilized a fruity/spicy Belgium Farm House Saison Ale (BFHSA) yeast as opposed to our standard California Ale yeast to keep it foot! Combining equal parts 2-Row Pale and 2-Row Pilsner with some White Wheat and Munich malts, we ended up with a light refreshing BFHSA that is lightly hopped with Cascade, Columbus/Tomahawk/Zues, Crystal, Ella and Mt. Hood.  Perfect for a long day at the downhill park, and/or a hot day in the sun, the Silver Lake Saison

Rock-N-Dirt Milk Stout (3/5): We love Mammoth Rock n’ Dirt so of course we wanted to make a collaboration beer with them to express our deepest feelings and gratitude. You may ask how a heavy equipment and excavation company can collaborate on a beer, well all we can tell you is that it’s got real dirt in it and that’s how you can tell it’s authentic (*does not actually contain dirt, we just think that sounds good). The combination of 2-Row Pale, Carapils, Chocolate and Crystal 75 malts creates the perfect backbone for the conservative Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus and Mt. Hood hop profile. Brewed with English Ale yeast as opposed to our standard California Ale yeast, this brew has a smooth, slightly sweet finish.

Archimedes Red Ale (3/5): RIP Tyson Archimedes Montrucchio. Gone, but certainly not forgotten we brewed this kickass Red Ale for our fallen friend Tyson.  As a tribute to the intensity with which he lived life we packed this beer with a sh*t ton of love and respect.  From a grain bill comprised of 2-Row Pale, Crystal 75, Munich, Victory (that’s where the biscuityness comes from), and Chocolate malts, to a hop profile of Cascade and Mt. Hood, we didn’t pull any punches on this one.  As a full bodied Red Ale that isn’t over the top, the Archimedes Red is our TCB go to beer, and is a constant reminder that we all need to be thankful for each new day with our friends and family.  La Familia Por Vida!

8140 IPA (4/5): 8140 ain’t our altitude folks so don’t go telling our friends at Mammoth Brewing Company they aren’t the highest brewery in California. The 8140 Black IPA was brewed in homage to the eight thousand one hundred and forty square feet of sheet rock we had to hang in our brewery.  As the ring leaders of the monumental task we naturally asked our supreme friends Jonathan Widen and Dave Thomas from Premier Painting Plus what kind of beer they wanted and naturally they said BLACK. So before you sits a Black IPA with an ingredient list as ominous as the color (basically it has more ingredients than will fit on the page). So enjoy the black hoppy goodness and avoid hanging drywall at all costs!

ESBzar (3/5): Rest In Powder BZ! We hand crafted this traditional Extra Special Bitter to honor our fallen friend Larry “BZ” Miller, without whom it would have been very difficult to open our brewery. Utilizing ESB as our base malt (think English style malt similar to Marris Otter) we combined Crystal 15 malt with Golding and Fuggle hops to provide the perfect base for the WLP 002 English Ale Yeast to do it’s yeasty magic and create this full bodied, subtly hopped 7% ABV 32 IBU beauty. If big hop forward beers aren’t necessarily your thing, the ESBzar may be your new go to fermulation.

Not So Hoppy Holiday Ale (3/5): Picture Santa crying…. Taking a step away from our hop forward roots we crafted this recipe with the help of our Brew Father to highlight the tastyness of holiday spices.  Utilizing cinnamon sticks, fresh ginger, nutmeg, fresh orange zest, grains of paradise and amazing awesome sauce we concocted this wickedly good holiday mix.  With an IBU of 19 and 5.7% ABV, this crimson beauty can be sessioned all night without fear of praising the porcelain thrown.  Spicy, malty, goodness.

I really liked this brewery – it’s in a really cool space and Sarah the owner was super friendly, not only giving us a couple of free tastings, but offering mountain bike suggestions in the area. The brewery doesn’t do food, but there is an AMAZING Hawaiian food truck parked outside – Ohanas395. You can order at the truck, and they’ll deliver your food in the brewery. Try the Big Kahuna Fries!

If you’re road tripping up or down 395, June Lake Brewing is worth taking the scenic route on the June Lakes loop!