Summer days are drifting away |

Summer days are drifting away

Christina Proctor

The morning air is chilly and the days are noticeably shorter. The on-again, off-again fall season is on in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Although Labor Day weekend signals the end of the main summer tourist season, South Shore residents know there is still time left to get in their favorite activities. There are still fewer weekends left than many might think as different summer businesses start to wind down.

Jan and Allan Killeen live in an area of the United Kingdom known for hot air balloon rides, but it took a visit to Tahoe for them to try the experience. They went up Wednesday on a “textbook” morning, according to balloon pilot Mark Boulet.

“This is a fair weather sport,” Boulet told his passengers. “You have to have good weather conditions for it.”

Boulet explained there aren’t many more “perfect” days left. Boulet and his wife, Dawn, are in their sixth year operating Balloons Over Lake Tahoe. The basin’s weather usually allows consistent rides from May to the middle of October.

“I’ve wanted to do this for some time. It’s funny. I guess you have to go away on holiday,” Jan said.

Cassie and Randall Roulette came to Lake Tahoe to get married and honeymoon. Cassie called about the balloon ride two months before they left their home in Sarasota, Fla.

“It’s greater than my expectations,” Cassie said. “It’s so beautiful here, and there’s so much to do.”

The eight-story balloon meanders down Lake Valley from the airport.

“The balloon has no directional steering,” Boulet said. “You just fly up and down finding different wind currents.”

The cold morning air drains down the valley floor to the lake pushing the balloon out over the water. The balloon rises to more than 2,000 feet over lake level giving passengers a spectacular panoramic view.

The landing is one of the easiest found in hot air ballooning. The landing pad, a 40-foot Catamaran power boat, matches the balloon speed as it descends, causing only a small bump as it settles on the deck.

“Flying over a lake and landing on a boat had really never been done before,” Boulet said. “We designed the boat for just this purpose.”

There are only two companies that provide rides at the lake. Lake Tahoe Balloons started offering rides four years ago. The balloon takes off and lands on a custom barge on the lake. Their season runs as long as the fall weather permits. Both companies offer a locals’ discount.

Backwoods adventures

South Shore’s beach campgrounds will soon have the sign “closed for the season” across locked gates, but for the more adventurous the Desolation Wilderness is always open. And, after Labor Day the quota system isn’t in effect for overnight campers. All of the popular trails are still open, but access to some is more limited. The Echo Lake boat taxi, which can take two miles off the hike to many of Desolation’s lakes, is operating only on a limited basis. The water level in Lake Aloha, a popular hiking destination below Pyramid Peak, also drops after Labor Day as water is let out of the dam. The water level in Echo Lake has already dropped about 6 inches.

U.S. Forest Service officials also caution that unpredictable fall weather can make back country stays hazardous for novices. Thunder and lightning storms are still possible and temperatures can drop quickly.

The 4.6-mile climb to the top of Mt. Tallac for a view of the lake is considered a must among many locals, but unless the hiker is looking for a skiing adventure the opportunities to make the legendary trek are growing short. True locals “ski the cross” once the peak is covered with snow. The path sometimes gets so well beaten that a snow staircase marks the way to the top.

Die-hard mountain bikers usually continue until the snow is over their tires. For the rest, fall is a good time to pick up the rides they might have been wary of early in the season. The intermediate riders might want to challenge their first advanced trail before the snow comes.

Leisurely pursuits

Even if the fishing rods and tackle haven’t been out of the closet yet this season they won’t be unless they come out soon.

The fishing season for many of the popular local streams ends Nov. 15, but for streams that drain into Lake Tahoe the close date is the end of September.

— The majority of horseback riding stables don’t stay open past Thanksgiving. Once the snow arrives several are open for sleigh rides. Call the stable for closing dates.

— Tours of Vikingsholm in Emerald Bay will end Sept. 30. The Ehrman Mansion at Sugar Pine Point State Park closed their tours after Labor Day.

— U.S. Forest Service roads generally close to off-highway vehicles by Oct. 15, but they may close earlier depending on weather conditions.

— To catch fall colors, people can call the fall color hot line, (800) 354-4595.

— Taylor Creek activities still include the Kokanee Salmon Festival Oct. 3-4 and a chance to see the salmon run.

— U.S. Forest Service visitor centers close in October, except for the supervisors office, 870 Emerald Bay Road, which is open all year.

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