Time for the Aspen colors at Spooner

It's about this time of year that I begin thinking about the best place to watch the quaking aspens turn brilliant gold, and I usually come up with Spooner Lake's trail.

Not that the aspens don't quake colorfully in Hope Valley, but Spooner has such a vast spread of aspens.

As we all know (or should) aspen groves are almost always just one plant, spread out over a lot of ground. Biggest plant in the world, some claim. And if you want to see big aspen trunks, the Spooner Trail is probably your best bet.

For birders this is a rich opportunity. Osprey fish the lake. Three species of nuthatches, Steller's Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Brown Creeper, and Mountain Chickadee are resident as are Red-breasted and Williamson's Sapsuckers and Downy, Hairy, and White-headed Woodpeckers.

Spring migration brings Common Loon, Spotted Sandpiper, Western Wood-Pewee, Tree and Barn Swallows, Hermit Thrush, Western Tanager, Warbling and occasionally Cassin's Vireos, and a variety of warblers. Sooty Grouse, Northern Pygmy-Owl, and Black-backed Woodpecker are among the more elusive species here.

Two ways to get on the 2.1-mile trail that circles the lake: go to the Spooner Park entrance on Highway 29 just past the turnoff from Highway 50 West. You pay to enter and park. The way to the trail is clearly marked and adds a four hundred yards to the walk. And walk it is; no strenuous effort required as the trail pretty much hugs the shoreline. There's a trail here for Marlette Lake and another to the north peak.

The other way to start out is right at the junction of 29 and 50. All the road building equipment has moved on so there's plenty of parking. A sign points to the trailhead and a few feet down you'll find a box and reminder that you should pay if you're going to hike. Do so. I've never been checked to see if I paid, but it costs to keep a trail in shape, and this one is in fine condition. You go down about 100 feet and join the trail where some broken snow fences line the path. You can go left or right, I always go right as that way takes you almost at once into the aspen forests. (To the left sends you mostly into open area, better if you need some sun and warmth.) And a real spread the aspen are, with some aspen trunks a couple of feet in diameter. Much carving of names and dates on these aspens, but nothing from the Basque sheep herders of yore.

There are many benches sited around the lake, all offering splendid views. And there are at least two trails branching off, one to Marlette Lake, the other to the Tahoe Rim Trail. Keep meaning to try the lake one but somehow just keep going along the Spooner trail.

Be sure to have a camera with you (as well as water and sunscreen) because in the next few weeks the aspens are going to be glowing yellow. Lots of vantage spots to capture the beauty of this lake, one of the larger in the Sierra Nevada and certainly one of the most beautiful.

Soon the trail begins angling to the left, following the shoreline, pretty low this time of year. You'll cross many plank bridges over soggy spots on this trail, evidence of how the Nevada State Parks takes care of this popular trek. On a day last week I met at least 15 hikers, some local but others from distant areas.

You're over halfway finished when you reach the dam that was built to create Spooner Lake, which before the dam was a shallow puddle in a grassy area. Some of the large metal devices used to control release of water are still there, although they don't look like they've been used in years.

As you continue along the trail you come to signs about fishing regulations, and just about every time I've hiked this place I've come across fisherman at play. Gotta have a license, of course. You'll also cross a large, concrete spillway, but it's far above the lake level so probably isn't ever used.

At this point a dirt road angles upward, but don't take it. Instead walk down toward the lake and the trail will appear, hugging the shoreline.You can take the road but you'll cut away up a ways so you might as well stay with the lake. Soon you'll come to a wide meadow, with signs asking you not to cut across the wildlife and bird breeding area.

Then more plank bridges as the trail meanders up and down heading counterclockwise to the start of the trail. If you parked at the ranger station you'll see a sign pointing uphill to the parking area. If you're like me and parked outside the park, keep on going. After the 2.1 miles you'll get back to the broken snow fence and the uphill path.

I hope you paused often along this trail; there are so many beautiful and inspiring vistas. It's so easy just to keep putting one foot in front of the other and not take time to look around. Plenty of critters in the area and all those birds are so graceful as they cross over the lake. I gave up mountain biking when I decided that it just didn't give me time to pause and enjoy.

As mentioned earlier, Hope Valley is another fine place to catch the aspens acting up. The road to Blue Lake at Pickett's Junction is one fine area, but then all along Highway 88 toward Kirkwood is aspen country. Lots of places along the road where you can park and take a short hike into the aspen. And along Caples Lake the trail leads around the lake from the parking area. And then there's Carson Pass...but that's another hike.

This weekend we're going to the Bay area to see old friends and to go to Big Sur to camp for a couple of nights at Andrew Molera State Park. I've been there before and enjoyed it muchly. Have to park right off Highway 1 and then walk in to camp sites, but the ocean is right there and the courmarants dive bombing the fish and the beach are lovely. More on it next week.

DIAMOND PEAK EVENTS

Here's what going on a Diamond Peak this ski/board season:

Dec.11: Scheduled Opening Day (weather permitting); Dec.11: Passholder Appreciation Day/Community Appreciation Day; Dec.12: Diamond Peak is Open Party at the Hacienda; Dec. 13-14: NLTRA Learn to Ski & Ride Days; Dec. 23, 24, 25: Santa Visits Diamond Peak.

Witht the upgraing program moving along, here's what things look like at the Peak:

Ttotal renovation set for a completion on Nov. 1 includes new restrooms in the Loft Bar area, a 300 square foot banquet room, a new food service counter, an outside deck with a stairway that leads to the bottom of the lodge, an expanded rental shop, expanded food and beverage storage, raised loft ceilings with skylights, upper deck with heated paving stones, new siding, new F and B offices, fresh paint, new carpet, new fixtures.

MT ROSE CHECKS IN

Mt. Rose is offering a season pass renewal rate that goes from $330 to $599 and seems like a good deal. It's valid for any previous Mt. Rose passholder and a passholder from another area. Ages 18-64.

Adult New : $399/$599; Senior ages 65-74 $222/$399; Super Senior ages 75 and up: $111/$199; Teen ages 13-17: $222/$399; Child ages 6-12 $111/$199; 5 and under free.

Important note: September is the only time to receive the season pass sale price. Mt. Rose will not sell season passes by phone, fax, e-mail, regular mail, etc. After Sept. 30, the season pass will only be available at the retail prices.

Season passholders will receive: Season equipment leases for kids ages 3-12; $40 Rosebuds when space is available and not on holidays; repair shop 50 percent discout at any time, 24-hour turnaround on repairs and full tunes; 20 percent discount on all logo wear.

This is a one time offer available during this month only. Renewal qualifiers for the 2009/10 season pass will only include a Mt. Rose Pink Slip Season Pass from the 2008/09 season. New passholders must have photo taken prior to pass use. It is highly recommended to take care of this photo prior to opening day, slated for mid November.

If the pass picture is more three years old or you've simply changed how you look, please make a quick stop at the Guest Services office within the Mt. Rose Main Lodge to have a photo "refreshed." This is especially important with kids and teen passes.

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