It was one of those glorious days in the fall, when the sun is bright but not hot, and a light breeze makes the golden aspen leaves shimmer. The kind of day that just makes you feel glad to be alive.
It was on one of those glorious days, one of a string of similar glorious days, when Shadow and I found ourselves on the Tahoe Rim Trail, on the east side of Lake Tahoe. We were planning to hike from Spooner Summit to Genoa Peak, but we got sidetracked where a dirt road crossed the trail. I stepped off the trail a bit to grab a snack and some water. While I was looking for a nice log to sit on, the dusty road drew my attention. Conditions were perfect for tracking. No rain had fallen in ages, and the road was covered with a fine dust. Before I could find a good spot to sit, I spied a pair of faint cougar tracks in the dust.
Shadow and I shared a granola bar and some water, then continued down the road in search of more tracks. Chipmunks, coyotes, mule deer, sooty grouse, chickarees, and bear all left their tracks on the road (as did a few vehicles).
The road turned out to be much better for tracking than the trail, which had too much human foot traffic. It’s possible that wildlife were using the road also to avoid the human traffic on the trail.
We soon found ourselves in a beautiful little grove of pine, fir, and aspen. It was alive with the sounds of birds and squirrels, so I strapped my mics to the side of a small fir, turned the recorder on, and continued looking for tracks. In a large aspen grove, we found a few old Basque carvings on the trees, including the best possible self-portraits I’ve ever come across:
Basque shepherds came over from Spain in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to help with the millions of sheep that grazed what is now national forest land. In many areas of the Nevada high country, you can still find their carvings on the trees – usually just a name and a date. I’ve also come across some simple but elegant carvings of naked women (often masturbating). I guess it gets pretty lonely out there herding sheep.
The recorder picked up a nice variety of sounds: territorial and alarm calls of chickarees (AKA Douglas’ squirrels), plus Clark’s Nutcrackers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Stellar’s Jays, Mountain Chickadees, and a Hairy Woodpecker, all furiously gathering food for the upcoming winter. The recorder also picked up a lot of planes – the whole Tahoe basin is popular with pilots – but I was able to extract a few minutes of good audio:
We never did make it to Genoa Peak that day. But it was a good day for listening and tracking, and Genoa Peak is not going anywhere.
A longer version of the recording is available on the album Across the Great Basin.
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