Beautiful Spring Imagery from Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada

This post comes from our newest TMS Ambassador, Rachel McCullough, an avid mountain biker, rock climber, yogi, cross-country skier and photographer living in Truckee, CA. She hopes her photos and stories will inspire others to get outdoors and appreciate all it has to offer. Her motto: “Be grateful for everything you have, every day.” We’re excited to have Rachel contributing to TMS! Follow @rachelmcphotos on Instagram for stunning images of beautiful Sierra scenery.
Enjoy the views!
1) Mama bear taking a dip in Summit Creek at Donner Lake
This was taken right from my backyard at the time – I could actually see the mama bear from my living room and ran out onto our dock to get this shot. It seemed like she was gone in seconds. Her cubs were shy and hiding in the bushes. I spent the next year running out to the dock anytime I heard or saw anything. Most of the time it was my neighbor’s black lab going for a swim. I never spotted the bears again! Sometimes the most special moments happen unexpectedly and aren’t meant to be repeated.
2) Lighthouse on a stormy afternoon at Thunderbird Lodge
I’ve always thought the east shore was one of the most spectacular places along Lake Tahoe. Its ultra-clear water is scattered with granite boulders and this stretch of shoreline is much less populated than the north shore, in part thanks to the original Thunderbird Lodge owner, George Whittell’s change of heart. He purchased over 10,000 acres on the east shore with the intention of developing it, only to later decide it was too special. Well played, George.


3) Upper Yosemite Falls lunar rainbow
Having lived in Yosemite, I had witnessed the lunar rainbow a few times before this. It usually only occurs during spring runoff and during the full moon, so a road trip from Tahoe has to be timed perfectly. I’ve gone on this adventure a couple of times, once leaving after work and shooting the moonbow in the early morning hours, and then hitting the road back home after a few hours of sleep. This trip turned out worthwhile, and very memorable.

2014 blood moon donner summit

4) Blood moon on Donner Summit
A freezing cold night wasn’t enough to deter me from making a last-minute decision to drive up to Donner Summit to check out the lunar eclipse. I wasn’t quite sure where I was headed, but there were fire dancers at Rainbow Bridge celebrating, so that became my destination. I promptly broke my tripod – cheap models are not meant for numb fingers to adjust – but had a wonderful evening staring at the moon and watching the fire dancers.

2014-Bristlecone sunrise-tahoe

5) Lake Tahoe solstice sunrise
You would think that a night owl would avoid sunrise at all costs, especially the earliest sunrise of the year on solstice morning! Somehow, the night before, I convinced my husband that we should go to Bristlecone Beach for sunrise and then we’d be able to hit the mountain bike trails at Tahoe XC before everyone else! This time, I wasn’t the only one with a crazy idea and got to meet some wonderful photographers who came all the way from Reno just for the sunrise. The lupines do look gorgeous, but some years Bristlecone boasts two-to-three times as many than seen here. You have to check it out!


6) Glowing lupines at Bristlecone Beach, Tahoe City
Ahh, this was the morning light I got out of bed at 4 a.m. for! The sun rose behind the clouds, but there was a small break that created this wonderful glow on the lupines.

2014 lake tahoe summer solstice sunrise

7) Lake Tahoe summer solstice sunrise in Tahoe City
So much for getting on the mountain bike trails right after my sunrise photo session at Bristlecone Beach and beating the crowds. We headed to Syd’s instead, and this wonderful view is right in back. We savored this only to arrive at Tahoe City XC with hundreds of other people about to start a mountain biking race. So it goes!

2014 yosemite tunnel view artist point

8) Tunnel View and storm clouds in Yosemite National Park
Often times, our spring trips to Yosemite are my first time out of ski boots in months. The flip-flops come out and the re-learning to walk on a trail without tripping over myself ensues. This year was different though; I’d been hiking almost all winter and my ski boots looked a bit sad. So, why not hike from Wawona to Yosemite Valley (~25 miles) in a day? It’s most often done as an overnight backpack, but I took that as a challenge. Luckily, I have wonderful people who agree to join me on such adventures, even when the forecast is for rain. We lucked out and had these amazing and beautiful clouds, but not a drop of rain.


9) Fort Churchill, Nevada sunrise
I am approaching ten years in Tahoe and had never heard of Fort Churchill State Park. But I’d heard of a cave near Fallon that sounded worth checking out and figured there must be something else to explore as well. The Great Basin is amazing – abandoned forts, the Emigrant Trail, caves, tufa (a type of limestone that Mono Lake is well-known for), petroglyphs, pictographs and a rich history! I had planned to catch sunset at Fort Churchill but I was too late and, although disappointed to miss it, the sunrise more than made up for it. The fort, which was used to protect early settlers (and the Pony Express route) from 1861-1870 is located in a desolate and dusty valley (to this day). We were the only ones crazy enough to be out there, but were treated to this glow of the sun streaming through the window of an old barracks.

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