Memorial Day at Skunk Harbor, Lake Tahoe, NV — 2018.05.27

Memorial Day at Skunk Harbor, Lake Tahoe, NV — 2018.05.27

It seems the extended cycle of low-pressure storm systems, that seemed to continually rotate across the Great Basin, has ended momentarily. And, of course, after a few weeks of dramatic skies, morning and night, I get a break to get out on a short landscape photography evening. The western sky looked promising all day; some mid-level rotation and even some brief rain squalls at home, and I was sure I would get some golden hour to sunset light over Lake Tahoe. I have been wanting to get down to Skunk Harbor for awhile now, so this would be the afternoon to head out.

It is Memorial Day weekend, so I expect some traffic and maybe even a crowd. The cove of Skunk Harbor can get a few boats at anchor, social platforms of a kind, and I anticipate folks out for a day-hike. The cove isn’t too far from the highway, and the dirt road is an easy hike–the return can be warm and seem very steep in the heat of summer.

We’d worked around StoneHeart much of the day, trying to get a viable tree and garden irrigation system going, and planned an early dinner before I left for the Skunk. It’s about thirty minutes from StoneHeart to the Spooner turn-off on Highway 50. The gated road to Skunk Harbor is only a couple miles north of the Spooner State Park. Traffic was a bit heavy, but it is Sunday afternoon at the “official” start of summer and all Sundays will be busy around Tahoe now. The turn-out and overflow parking on the south-bound side of Highway 28 were full, not summer-time full, but I was let-down by how crowded it felt. Snuck my Subaru into the last of a long line of parked cars in the main pull-out just above the gate.

I packed up and headed down, it’s a nice easy walk. I was unsurprised when I began to pass an exodus of out-bound day-trippers; counted thirty-one as I approached the waterline. Am I alone now? No, a few folks hanging around in the last light, but I bet the pull-out parking is pretty lonely.

There are some nice rock buildings here, and some comprehensive interpretive signs telling the story. Come see and it all makes some sense. Otherwise, it is a classic and lovely east-side Tahoe cove with a small beach and the cliché-rounded granite boulders. There are some jetty pilings that sometimes provide leading fore-ground elements (ones the John Peltier has used to perfection) but with the return of high lake levels these are now inundated and only a single wooden support breaks the water’s surface, and just barely-it looks like flotsam.  Although the parallel series of abandoned, now-submerged pilings would be a nice addition to any composition, it’s the current lake-level that helps their preservation so we should be thankful when the lake overtakes them; I had hoped to catch an image of the parallel dock remnants, but happy to see the lake high and the beaches practically gone–we need some water in the bank.

I wandered back-and-forth a bit, hoping to catch a composition. I’m not always patient enough to do this, but tonight I focused on simply taking my time and seeing what presented itself. I thought about the sunset–for once, I had a couple hours to consider it–and wandered to some bouldery outcrops on the north side of the cove. From here I could look back toward the rock building, let the setting sun help me out, and maybe get some backlit clouds in a wide angle view.

It was about now, although the thought had occurred to me at the car, that I realized how heavy my pack was. Why do I carry all this stuff?  I should be able to trim this kit once my experimenting and learning catches up with my gear syndrome.  Still, it’s fun to set up my main composition and then wander around practicing with other gear. Right now, I’m typically shooting “target” images with my Canon 5D mIV, while wandering with a Canon 80D. The lens choice varies with my composition, but I’m usually carrying a 17-40mm, a 24-70mm, a 70-200mm, and a prime 20mm. That’s simply too much and too many, but I’ll make better choices eventually, I hope.

I set up looking back toward the building and waited an hour for the light to grab the clouds. Wait, what? Where are those clouds that have been here for weeks, teasing me each evening as I stare longingly toward the Carson Range? They are basically gone. A few filaments hang here and there but I can tell the storms are spent and I’ve timed my excursion for a cloudless golden hour. Good light nonetheless, and a good time to practice patience to see what unfolds.

 The cove lights up for a few minutes at sunset and the clear skies feel like summer. It must be Memorial Day.

Checkout more images in the Skunk Harbor Gallery here.
Advantage of Windshield Time — Argenta Rim 2004

Advantage of Windshield Time — Argenta Rim 2004

I drive a lot. Moving from project to project, I might be doing a pre-project reconnaissance, meeting clients or agency specialists, visiting field teams already on-the-ground, or seeking new study localities. It is part of the job and, for me, one of the pleasures of my vocation; it seems to be a highlight of my avocations too. Any highway or backcountry road puts me in touch with landscape and creates a discipline of watching for landform changes and of searching for new routes and trails deeper in.

When a project takes me across the state (or anywhere really) I almost always take time for a trail, route, or locality excursion to expand my experience, or maybe just to bag a peak, run a ridge, or photograph an outcrop–there is little difference. In April 2004, I worked on a project on the US Air Force ranges of western Utah, studying the Wildcat Dunes at the margins of the Bonneville Basin and the Great Salt Lake Desert (i.e., the West Desert from the perspective of Salt Lake City). This required several back-and-forth trips on Interstate 80. Each time, between Battle Mountain and Carlin, Nevada, Argenta Rim called out for a walk.

The Range

Argenta Rim is a volcanic ridge that rises prominently above Interstate 80 and the Humboldt River. A northerly extension of the Shoshone Range where Mount Lewis (2950 meters) wears the crown, Argenta Rim is a relatively low, tilted fault-block separated from its parent range by Whirlwind Valley. It is a minor set of hills and scarps that gains its prominence (and ease of access for a walk) as it rises abruptly above the Humboldt River floodplain and the busy interstate travel corridor – the escarpment looks more imposing than it is. The rim and adjacent rimrock-stepped hills are not your typical highlighted range or peak-bagging target, but on my many traverses of I-80, I have always stared at its capping outcrops and I simply had to get up there.

My Route

Exit 244 – Argenta – provides a jumping-off point from either direction while traveling Interstate 80. Turning south and then immediately east, a paved road heads toward the mine entrance at Mosquito Canyon; do not turn for the gate. Continue east on the highway frontage road as it changes to a maintained dirt road. This road veers sharply south as it heads for Water Canyon on its eventual path to a set of radio towers at the southern prominence of the rim. The towers sit at what is sometimes referred to as Argenta Rim West, but I am not sure where databases in Googleland collect naming information – I have not seen this on a USGS map yet. As a very simple alternative, driving the road to the towers gets you to the rim, if hiking the escarpment without much elevation gain sounds attractive.

I stopped driving as soon as the road overlooked the swale of Water Canyon. A cold morning rain made the road slightly interesting and the truck’s tires were beginning to chew things up and spit muddy clods into the wheel wells. Although some clearance gives confidence, the road is an easy drive for most vehicles, when conditions allow. There are places to pull off along the road and these provide good parking, but use caution and quickly shut down your rig as, in season, the grasses can be brutally dry and fires start all too easily. But on this spring day, the rain had soaked everything.

My route basically dropped into the dry wash of Water Canyon and continued straight east to southeast, up swales and ridges toward a narrow break in the rimrock. It was still quite cold and the freeze line seemed to remain at about the 2,130-meter contour (7,000 feet) where ice draped the rocks and pogonip clutched at larger brush. The ice crystals playing in the bright yellow lichen made for a pretty hike, the scudding clouds gave it a touch of drama. I cut through a few outcrops and gained the top of the rimrock – you could pick about any spot to access the top, but there are a few natural stairways. The summit is undramatic but the views into the Humboldt River Valley and along the slopes into Whirlwind Valley are worthwhile, especially when framed by the low, moving cloud-line. A thin veneer of snow and windswept frost decorated the sloping escarpment.

After the relatively brief vertical gain of about 500 meters (~1,600 feet) from truck to summit, the drop back to Water Canyon Road was quick and easy—500 meters is my minimum rule for thinking about an ascent as a “climb”. It is an arbitrary number, but it allows a lower margin for routes to search out and consider.  The point is to get out and see things, experience the pogonip, wander an escarpment, and get into the view that the windshield fleetingly provides. Argenta is worth a stop.

Trail Option – An Update

Chasing some ideas and new motivation where boundaries and borders are optional — where trails lead in many, diverse directions. Hoping to shed some light on our amazing natural world as I travel various directions in pursuit of landscape and science.

Not sure where this will lead but I started here: Stinson Beach, CA.