Our annual first trip down to Palisade Falls came very early this year. This is the earliest we have ever been able to get down Kidd Lakes Rd which is usually choked with snow at this time. The really scary thing is this should be the maximum flow over the falls, but the flow right now looks more like the end of the melt. It looks like the Falls will probably be dry by the middle of May at the latest this year. If you want to get down and see them, you better hurry. If you don’t make it, here is what you will miss.
If you haven’t picked up on it already, I have a very strong addiction, namely, wildlife photography. I’ve been afflicted with this compulsion for going on 30 years and it doesn’t seem to be subsiding. This week I had one of those rare moments that every wildlife photographer (and lover) cherishes. My addiction has cost me tens of thousands of dollars in travel costs to places like the Galapagos, the Amazon and the crown jewel Africa. You pay the big bucks for these places because the wildlife is abundant and more importantly, willing to let a photographer get close enough to get some great shots. Well this week I got one of those same moments right in the summit neighborhood.
See that little dot. That’s an eagle.
A couple of days ago we loaded the kayaks into the pickup and headed down for our second paddle out on Van Norden Lake. That in itself is pretty special in March. As we started paddling east out into the lake from the spillway we spotted a couple of raptors skimming over the lake. At first I thought it was a couple of early Ospreys out fishing. As we got closer and got the binocs on them we were thrilled to see it was a pair of Bald Eagles, an adult and a juvenile. As we paddled out they flew up into a couple of tall pines to rest after their fishing. I got a couple of those “see that dot in the tree, that’s an eagle” shots which is what I usually get.
We continued out to the north end of the back bay area of the lake to check on whether the Western Toads had started their annual mating season in the shallow waters of that area of the lake. To our surprise, they had. We saw many toad heads bobbing on the surface and lots of courtship action, but that’s another story. As we were watching the toads all of a sudden this huge shape dove out of the air above us and scooped up a young fish about 30 yards from us. It was the juvenile Eagle. It proceeded to land on a rock about 10 yards from us and eat its catch. It seemed to be completely oblivious to us despite our close proximity. Needless to say, I was happily snapping away as it calmly devoured its meal and then sunned itself on the rock. It stayed on that rock for about ten minutes preening itself. I felt like the nature paparazzi.
Some people wonder why we live at the summit where life is pretty remote and the weather can be extreme. It is moments like this one that make any minor inconvenience like a blizzard worth it. It’s also another reason why Lake Van Norden is so important to the summit area.
Just two weeks ago we were skiing out on Van Norden after what looks like the last significant snow storm of the winter. This week spring has sprung and the lake is clear of ice and ready to kayak. This has not happened in March in all the 30 years that we have been coming to the summit. I would highly recommend that if you’ve never kayaked this lake, that you get out soon and do a paddle. Not only will the melt water be gone very early this year, but if the Truckee Donner Land Trust goes ahead and drains the lake, this will be the last year that there is a Lake Van Norden. If you haven’t paddled out into the middle of the lake and just taken in the spectacular surrounding summit peaks, you have really missed a special treat.
We expect that the summer schedule is going to be about a month and half early this year. That will probably mean that the water will stop flowing down the Yuba at the end of June rather than the end of July. No telling what the wild flowers will be doing out in the Summit Valley. This year is going to be a new adventure. We wouldn’t be surprised if the Camas Lilies bloom and are gone by the middle of May.
Here is a little peek (pun intended) of our first kayak trip out on the lake this week. This should give you an idea of what to expect if you venture out there.