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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My Favorite Restaurants in Nevada City, California

I get to go to the adorable historic mining town of Nevada City for work fairly often. There are a ton of great environmental non-profits based there that I work with, and nearly half of our AmeriCorps Members are based in the area. I was there in January for the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, last week for site visits, and I’ll be back in April for a training and watershed restoration project.

Nevada City 1

Nevada City is a California Gold Rush town about an hour from Sacramento, and the entire downtown is a National Historic District filled with funky shops and great restaurants. There are a ton of outdoor activities in the area – mountain biking, hiking, road biking, fishing and exploring the amazing Yuba River, as well as art events, concerts, festivals, and plays – Nevada City is an arts and culture hub for the Sierra

After a long day of playing outside or festival-going, there’s nothing better than something good to eat and a nice beer/glass of wine. Here are some of my favorites:

Best Restaurants Nevada City // tahoefabulous.com

Best Beer/Breakfast Baked Good Joint: 3 Forks Brewery

Named after the three forks (North, Middle and South) of the Yuba River, 3 Forks Brewery does great beer and baked goods. (So you can have beer for breakfast!) I had and amazing millet muffin when I was there, and I love the Emerald Pool IPA. The brewery supports local farms and sources as much as possible from local, organic producers.

Favorite Coffee Shop: Cafe Mekka

There are several great coffee shops in Nevada City, but my favorite is Cafe Mekka. This place has a crunchy feel – frequented by the hippie population, funky decor, dinosaurs made from appliances hanging from the ceiling, and a great coffee and chai. I recommend the dirty chai for early morning wake up calls after late nights out at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival.

Best for Scenic Dining: Lefty’s Grill

Lefty’s Grill has a great location with an outdoor deck overlooking Deer Creek in downtown Nevada City. Sit outside on the deck, order the Napa Style Pizza or anything with onion jam and you will not be disappointed.

Best Adult Grilled Cheese/Beer Selection: Matteo’s Public

I love a fancy grilled cheese sandwich, and Matteo’s Stinky Grill Cheese is awesome with cheddar, parmesan and blue cheese. The onion rings are great as well. I’ve always been impressed with their beer selection (they always have IPA 395) with fun microbrews from all over the Sierra and California. Additionally, Matteo’s Public is another Nevada City restaurant with a focus on local, organic ingredients whenever possible.

Favorite Food Truck: Fudenjuce

After a long, hot day of invasive blackberry removal last spring, one of the Nevada City AmeriCorps Members introduced us all to the amazing Fudenjuce and their delicious smoothies. Fudenjuce also has wraps, rice bowls, salads and other healthy dishes with a lot of gluten free options. Fudenjuce is a little out of town, but worth the drive or bike ride.

Best Dive Bar: The Mine Shaft Saloon

The Mine Shaft Saloon is more than just a place to get a cheap beer and check out the vintage Budweiser posters hanging from the ceiling. Despite its main street location, it’s a true locals hangout, and you can get a feel for the “real” Nevada City by spending some time here.

My Favorite Restaurants in Truckee

Truckee Restaurants // tahoefabulous.com

My Favorite Restaurants in South Lake Tahoe is one of my most popular posts, so I thought I’d do a similar post for another place that I frequent – Truckee! Greyson lives in Truckee, so I end up spending a lot of time up there. Though I love South Lake Tahoe, I think of Truckee as South Lake’s slightly more charming neighbor to the north. The Truckee River flows right through town and is parallel to Truckee’s adorable historic downtown. These choices might be a little more well known that my South Lake favorites, but they’re great and I’ve hopefully exposed a few (slightly) hidden gems.

Best Happy Hour:

Pianeta: This upscale Italian restaurant has a fantastic happy hour on weekdays from 5:00 – 6:30. You have to sit at the bar, and it can get crowded, so I suggest showing up right at 5:30. They have $3 microbrews, $5 house wine, $5 well cocktails, $6 martinis and a few other cocktails on special. They also have happy hour appetizers that are generously sized – we often go in groups and split a few plates. I love the bruschetta duo and the caprese.

Best Mexican:

Taco’s Jalisco: South Lake is definitely lacking in the Mexican food arena, but Truckee delivers! Truckee has several great Mexican restaurants, and Taco’s Jalisco is by far my favorite. I love their veggie burrito, burrito bowls, and chicken tacos.

Best Hipster Coffee Shop:

Dark Horse Coffee Roasters: I’ve mentioned that I can be a bit of a coffee snob, and I love Truckee’s newest coffee shop! It’s a great place to hang out with a slightly funky vibe. Dark Horse is not at all style over substance – all the coffee I’ve had is to die for, the homemade chai is delicious, and they even do their own vanilla syrup. There’s also a Dark Horse in San Diego.

 

Dark Horse Coffee Roasters – Truckee, California
Dark Horse Coffee Roasters – Truckee, California

Best Sandwiches:

Full Belly Deli: This place is pretty well known, but for a good reason – the sandwiches can’t be beat. This is a super popular lunch spot for locals, so be prepared to wait during the lunch rush. The sandwiches are worth the wait, and there is outdoor seating for the nice weather days. I love the Cuban sandwich or build your own on the asiago bread.

Best Barbecue/Brunch:

Smokey’s Kitchen: Barbecue was the food I missed most during my 5 years as a vegetarian, and Smokey’s does not disappoint! I love the pulled pork sandwich and the garlic fries, but prepare to be garlicky for hours afterwards. They also do awesome (huge) brunch meals with a decent beer selection and big screen tvs, so it’s an off the beaten path place to watch football in the fall.

Best Grocery/Convenience Store:

Sticks Market: So you’re hanging out on Donner Lake’s awesome public docks and you run out of beer/chips/sunscreen/gourmet cheese. What are you going to do? Luckily, there’s Sticks Market. This adorable little market has pretty much everything you could need for a day at the beach and a great beer selection too! Note: I bought so much Deschutes Fresh Squeezed there this summer that the owner started (good-naturedly) teasing me about it.

 

I bought this Ninkasi Total Domination at Sticks Market!
I bought this Ninkasi Total Domination at Sticks Market!

Planning a California North Coast Road Trip

So I’ve mentioned a few times that Greyson and I went on an amazing road trip up the North Coast of California. We managed to hit a bunch of must-see spots, both well known and off the beaten path.

Planning a CA North Coast Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

I’ve already written about one of the hidden gems we visited, Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but I thought I’d share the other stops on our amazing road trip.

Road Trip Map via Google Maps

  1. Truckee, California to Inverness, California (200 miles, 3.5 hours):We stayed at the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore in Inverness, California for Greyson’s sister’s wedding. I’ve written about what to do in Point Reyes in the past – it’s an amazing place full of tons of things to do.
  2. Inverness, California to Westport, California (163 miles, 4.5 hours via Hwy 1):We headed north on the legendary Highway One, on our way to Fort Bragg and Westport-Union Landing Beach. In the Fort Bragg area, I knew I wanted to return to Pacific Star Winery and eat fresh seafood. I got my wish, and we tasted wines and watched a new batch of grapes be unloaded at the winery while the staff gave us a tour and let us taste test the different grape varieties. We ate dinner at Sea Pal Cove restaurant, where I had local rockfish fish and chips.  I had been to the area before, and I knew that I wanted to stay in a private that I had discovered allowed camping on the sand, north of Fort Bragg on Westport Beach – Westport Beach RV Park. Though it is also an RV park, the tent camping sites are secluded from the rest of the park, and all we heard all night were crashing waves.
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Beach camping at Westport Beach near Fort Bragg, CA. Photo by Greyson Howard
  1. Westport, California to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California (75 miles, 2.25 hours via Garberville, CA):I’ve already written about the amazing Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but I just want to emphasize again how incredible it is! If you enjoy the outdoors, it should be on your California Bucket List. On our way to Sinkyone, we stopped for lunch in Garberville at the Eel River Cafe – a cute diner with good food in generous portions.
  2. Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California to Redwoods State and National Parks, California (142 miles, 3.5 hours): On our way to the Redwoods, we drove through the Avenue of the Giants, a well known drive that’s definitely worth getting off the highway for.
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Avenue of the Giants. Photo by Greyson Howard

 

One of the main things Greyson wanted to see on this trip was Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park(part of Redwoods National and State Parks). We found that Gold Bluffs Beach Campground was the closest access to Fern Canyon, and open on a first come-first serve basis in early October during our trip. We arrived fairly early on a Thursday, and by Thursday night the campground was pretty much full, despite it being a weeknight during the off season. If you plan on staying at Gold Bluff Beach, Fern Canyon is a pretty much year-round attraction, so plan on getting to the nearby campgrounds early in order to find a spot. Our campsite was tucked away behind some bushes for a wind break, and a quick walk to the ocean beach, surrounded by the gold cliffs that give the area its name. Fern Canyon can be accessed by a less than quarter mile hike from the parking area, but we chose a longer 7 mile loop through old growth redwoods to access the back side of the canyon. The longer hike was definitely worth it, full of wet forest plants and creatures that we don’t get to see in the Sierra, and not very strenuous at all.

Banana Slugs in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Banana Slugs in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Fern Canyon was like nothing else I’ve ever seen – sheer walls entirely covered with ferns – and worth a trip to the Redwood State and National Parks just on its own.

Fern Canyon. Photo by Greyson Howard
Fern Canyon. Photo by Greyson Howard
  1. Redwood State and National Parks, California to Nevada City, California (328 miles, 6.25 hours via Chico): The only problem we ran into on our whole road trip came on this leg. We had planned to stop in Chico, California for our last night and do a tour and tasting at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and just get a cheap motel room when we go into town. It turns out that we arrived on the Saturday of Parents Weekend at Chico State, and there wasn’t a room to rent within 50 miles. We ended up just having an early dinner/beer tasting at Sierra Nevada, and we pushed on to Nevada City. We grabbed a couple of beers at Matteo’s Public, and were asleep before ten in our room at the Emma Nevada House.
  2. Nevada City, California to Truckee, California (102 miles, 3 hours via Hwy 49 & 89): Since our inadvertent night in Nevada City meant that we were further along on our road trip, we decided to take the long way – Highway 49 to Highway 89 through Downieville. This route has beautiful views of the Sierra Buttes, and our quick stop in Downieville had us lamenting the fact that we didn’t have our bikes. This meandering, scenic route was the perfect end to a perfect Northern California road trip.
Looking back at the Sierra Buttes from Hwy 49
Looking back at the Sierra Buttes from Hwy 49

And finally, in true data-nerd form, here’s my spreadsheet of trip mileage, travel time and a few notes, for reference:

CA North Coast Road Trip Plan // tahoefabulous.com

Fall in Yosemite Valley

Fall in Yosemite Valley // tahoefabulous.com

I was lucky enough to spend some time in Yosemite for a work training that I put on. (Lucky me!) While we spent most of our time in a classroom setting at the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort (more on that later), we were able to spend a gorgeous fall afternoon in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park. Fall is definitely my favorite time to visit Yosemite Valley. It’s less crowded, the temperatures are cooler, the waterfalls may be running again, and the changing leaves are amazing against the stark bare rocks and dark evergreens.

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We headed into the park on Saturday. After it rained all night on Friday and most of Saturday morning, the rain cleared out just in time for our arrival in Yosemite Valley. The precipitation had left a coating of snow on the high peaks surrounding the valley, while leaving the valley floor just a little muddy, and awash with the smell of fall leaves in the rain. After many years in the Pacific Northwest, that’s one of my favorite smells.

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Though the rain had cleared out, there were wispy clouds blowing in and out of the otherwise clear sky, resulting in gorgeous light and dappled patterns on the granite monoliths. We headed out of the park in the early evening and we were able to watch the setting sun as we drove away.

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If you’re going to be spending your days in a classroom looking at powerpoint presentation, the Yosemite Bug has got to be one of the best places in California to do it! I love hosting events at the Bug due to it’s perfect location, amazing staff, on-site amenities and gorgeous facilities.

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The Yosemite Bug is not just a great place to host events! Located in Midpines, California, it’s a wonderful home base for exploring Yosemite National Park – only 26 miles from the Yosemite Valley entrance which is open year round. The Bug has private rooms, tent cabins, and shared dorm rooms. It’s also a member of Hostelling International, if hostel hopping is your thing!

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In addition to the beautiful grounds, which you can explore on their well maintained trail, the Yosemite Bug has a luxurious spa (you can soak in the essential oil hot tub for only $10!) and a restaurant that’s in my top ten. The food is organic, local, delicious, and affordable. In fact, one of the training evaluations said the food was “too good. I gained 3 pounds.”

Yosemite Bug is not at all paying me to say this – I just love the place so much and think that everyone should check it out, even if you’re just passing through for a meal. They also host events throughout the year like a Thanksgiving dinner, live music, Wilderness First Aid trainings, yoga retreats, art events, and scientific lectures, just to name a few examples.

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We had a great time at the Yosemite Bug and visiting Yosemite Valley in the fall. I can’t wait to make my way back, hopefully for my first winter trip to Yosemite!

Where to Go: Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park

Where to Stay: The Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort, Midpines, CA

 

Tahoe Paradise: Webber Falls

This weekend I was lucky enough to experience possibly the coolest spot I’ve explored since moving to Tahoe – Webber Falls.

Webber Falls, Truckee California // tahoefabulous.com

Webber Falls is created by the Little Truckee River pouring out of Webber Lake. Water cascades down two tiers of solid granite, creating a nearly perfect swimming hole above the main part of the falls. The two tiers total about 65 feet, with about 15 feet above the pool and 50 feet below. The view down the canyon is incredible, and the surrounding rocks and deep waters make for perfect jumping off rocks or just lounging in the upper falls’ light mist.

Webber Falls // tahoefabulous.com
Have you ever swam at the top of a waterfall?

While Webber Falls often feels isolated, it’s not too far off the road and is becoming a more popular destination. If you do find your way to this natural playground, be respectful and pack out everything you pack in. While this place is still nearly pristine, we did find some garbage, including cigarette butts and beer cans.

Though Webber Falls is not very far off the road (less than a 1/4 mile hike), the way down is steep and could be treacherous. Not recommended for dogs, drunk people or children! During the spring the flow is too high (and cold) for safe swimming, but the water is usually perfect by mid-summer. However, use your best judgement! Don’t swim there if you feel it is unsafe and be sure to check water depth before jumping.

Webber Falls // tahoefabulous.com
Greyson climbs around on the fun boulders surrounding the pool.

This spot is an absolute gem, and I’m so glad that I got to experience it. I’m sure I’ll be back many times in the future.

What: Webber Falls

Where: North of Truckee, California

How to get there: I’m not going to tell you! This is such a small and special spot, you’ll just have to ask a local.