CHAPTER XV. TRAIL TRIPS IN THE TAHOE REGION
From this point the trail is clear and well defined, being traveled constantly during the season by guests of Deer Park Springs. Passing through a fine nursery of beautiful and exquisite red firs we drop into the canyon of Bear Creek. To the left are great andesite crowns on the mountain tops. Here also are more glacially polished masses and cliffs of granite, clearly indicating great glacial activity in the upper part of this canyon. The trail is ticklish in a few places, with steps up and down which our horses take gingerly, but nothing which need excite an extra heart-beat to one used to mountain trails.
In less than half an hour we are at Deer Park Springs, drinking its pleasant waters, and while we still have six and a half miles to go to the Tavern it is over easy and ordinary road, and therefore our pleasant trip is practically at an end.
* * * * *
TO ELLIS PEAK
Homewood is the natural starting point for Ellis Peak (8745 feet) as the trail practically leaves the Lake high-road at that point, and strikes directly upon the mountain slope. Hundreds make the trip on foot and it is by no means an arduous task, but many prefer to go horse-back or burro-back. In its upward beginnings the trail follows the course of an old logging chute for a distance of some two miles, the lake terminus of which is now buried in a nursery of white fir and masses of white lilac. There are a few cedars and pines left untouched by the logger's ax, but they are not prime lumber trees, or not one of them would now be standing.
To the right is Dick Madden Creek, which, like all the streams on the eastern slopes of the great western escarpment of Lake Tahoe, comes dashing and roaring down steep and rocky beds to the Lake.
When at about 7000 feet we find few other than red firs and mountain pines. Here is a wonderful nursery of them that have secured a firm hold upon life. Throughout the whole region the year 1913 seems to have been a most kindly one for the untended, uncared for baby-trees. There has been comparatively little snowfall for three successive years, and this has given the young trees a chance. As soon as their heads appear above the snow and they are not battered down by storm they can make their way, but if the heavy snow falls and remains upon them too long, they are either smothered, or so broken down, that life becomes a fearful struggle and scores of them succumb. Yet in spite of this fact hemlocks and red firs seem to prefer the north or shady slopes of the mountains and invariably thrive much better there than where there is sunnier exposure.
When about three miles up from the Lake we reach a richly-grassed meadow, about five acres in extent, confined in a bowl-shaped rim, broken down at the east side, through which a rivulet, which flows across the meadow, finds outlet. This is undoubtedly one of the many mountain lakes of the region, too shallow and with too sluggish a flow of water into it to clear itself of the detritus washed down from the disintegrating slopes above, hence it ultimately filled up and entered upon a new life as a meadow.
On the upper side of the meadow the trail passes through a glorious grove of hemlocks, the clean and clear "floor" of which leads one to the observation that hemlocks generally seem to be hostile to other and lesser growth coming in to occupy the ground with them.
Sierran heather of purple color now appears here and there in patches and we find quantities of it further along. There are also several peculiar puff-balls, and close by a remarkable fungus-growth like a cauliflower, fully a foot in diameter.
Nearing the summit we come to another meadow followed by another grove, where scarcely any trees but hemlocks are to be seen. Here also we see great beds of the California primrose which grows with a straight upright stem crowned with blood-red or deep scarlet flowers above a rich duster of leaves. These flowers generally can be found blooming quite late in the season, following the snowline as the summer's sun makes it climb higher each day. When the winter's snows have been extra heavy the plants are covered and no flowers appear, as the snow melts too late, but when there is a lesser amount they bloom as freely as ever, apparently none the worse for their dormant period.
Over the peak billowy white clouds are tossing, like giant cradles built of the daintiest and most silvery cloud-stuff to be found in the heavens for the rocking of the cloud-babies to sleep.
On a sister peak to Ellis Peak, just to the south, is to be seen a remarkable and strikingly picturesque cluster of hemlocks. It is almost circular in form, with eight trees in the center, and twenty-three on the outer rim, which is over a hundred feet in circumference. Seldom does one see so interesting a group of trees anywhere, even when planted, and these, of course, are of native growth.
The summit itself is of broken and shattered granite, which has allowed a scraggly mountain pine to take root and grow close to the U.S. Geological Survey monument. A fierce gale was blowing from the west, and turning toward the tree-clad slopes of the east, we stood in the wind, with the everlasting blue above and the glorious and never-failing green beneath. Unconsciously there sprang to my lips Joaquin Miller's lines:
And ever and ever His boundless blue, And ever and ever His green, green sod, And ever and ever between the two Walk the wonderful winds of God.