From Burning Man to Horsetail Falls

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After all the swirling dust at the Burning Man, it's a real pleasure to get back to the Sierra Nevada for an old friend of a hike: Horsetail Falls. This is one of the best day hiking trails around as you can go far or keep it short and simple.

From Carson City take Highway 50 West through South Lake Tahoe. Soon, maybe 10 miles, you'll come to a hairpin turn with a massive rock straight ahead " that's Lovers' Leap, and a fine hike in itself. But what you want is at the Twin Bridges sign on the right. Plenty of parking there and the Forest Service Rangers almost always have trail guides out. Sign in at the base even if you're only spending the day, and take your sign-in copy with you.

There are two trailheads actually. The one on the left looking uphill past the toilets is a scrambler; lots of big, flat rocks but nothing too difficult. Say moderate.

On the right the trail follows Pyramid Creek, which feeds the American River downstream. This is a pleasant path, much of it in the shade for those hot days. Eventually you'll emerge and encounter those big flat rocks. Keep an eye on the trail, but don't worry if you lost it. Just keep going uphill and soon you'll come to the Ranger sing-in point for the Desolation Wilderness.

From there you can see that Falls, even at this time of the year when water levels are low. Head for the Falls along Pyramid Creek, which is pretty low at the time of the year, but there are always deep pools there. Be careful if you've got your dog along. Every year dogs drown in this part of the creek, and on occasion people as well.

Looking up at the falls you can only see the lower link, one of several sections of 500 feet of falls. Most people stop there and admire the scenery: the glacier-scrubbed canyon walls where the ice tore everything loose 10,000 years ago.

Some hearty souls opt to climb up right next to the falls. This is not a recommended path; it can be slippery and you've got to use your hands a lot.

Much better is to look to the left for a green arrow painted on a large rock. This points to an alternate trail that winds off to the left. You'll be scrambling on this one as well, but it's just a bit below strenuous. Some great views here across the valley.

Once you reach the flat area above, you can head for Ropi Lake, about a half-mile over flat rocks. From Ropi to Aloha Lake (the biggest in the Desolation Wilderness) is about a mile over easy terrain. From Aloha there are a dozen lakes that are fine places to stop and picnic or take a swim.

Sometimes the power company that owns land here decides to take some water out of Aloha but usually there's enough for a swim or wading. From here you can see Pyramid Peak, a lofty mountain that is inviting but is a bit of work. Save it for next time.

You can also reach Aloha Lake and all the terrain up there from Echo Lake, a turnoff well marked on Highway 50. Follow the road down to the parking area and check if the ferry is running. If it is, take it as it cuts about two miles off the trek. Weekends are the best bet for the ferry, which costs a few bucks.

You'll debark at the north end of the lake, where there's a pier. The trail then leads up and away for about three miles. Initially, the trail is very rocky, tough going for dogs' feet. Not a good idea to take a dog up this trail unless you've got booties for him or her.

Lots of grand views along this trail, with a nice lake on the left. You'll cross Haypress Meadow going to Aloha. It's a pleasant change of pace and the trail is well maintained.

A quick take on another fine hike: Round Lake. Take 89 out of Minden and watch parking on the left. You cross the highway on the way to the Big Meadow, about a half-mile of grassy terrain. This is a delightful hike, and we'll report on it next week.


That Saturday whiteout was enough to make anyone think twice about going to the fire. This year's burning of the Man was somehow different, with the tremendous fireworks display lasting longer than in the past. And when the Man started burning, it was almost as if the whole guy was on fire, rather the legs, arts and head individually. Still, when he fell and the booming blasts of propane marked his demise, it was another fine celebration of the different and the unusual. Next year? Maybe. That RV made it all so comfy.


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