Visitors can help Markleeville recover, Town survived fire but needs tourists

Scarred landscape from the Tamarack Fire heading toward Markleeville. | Tim Hauserman

One of my favorite places to bike ride is just east of the Sierra Nevada between Genoa, Nev., and Markleeville. Here lightly traveled roads hug the feet of one of Tahoe’s highest peaks while providing great pedaling through pastoral meadows and wide-open sagebrush slopes. It begins in Nevada but gets really good when you ride into Alpine County: California’s least populous county with the little town of Markleeville as its county seat.

I found miles of giant burned trees, but also a charming little town that survived the fire intact. Now this town could use help surviving the aftermath. All we have to do is go visit and eat good food.

I recently decided to include in my ride the quiet 6 miles of Highway 89 south of Highway 88 to see how Markleeville fared in this summer’s devastating Tamarack Fire. I found miles of giant burned trees, but also a charming little town that survived the fire intact. Now this town could use help surviving the aftermath. All we have to do is go visit and eat good food.

Read more about how to help Alpine County recover

I started my ride near the California/Nevada border in Fredericksburg. The first few miles of the ride were exactly as it always has been: horses and cows grazing in the meadows, the scent of sagebrush, the lofty peaks just above. Then I crossed Highway 88 and soon the evidence of the fire surrounded me: burned trees and scorched earth on both sides of the road well off into the distance, a meadow still green because the fire flowed around it, a new utility line surrounded by rows of downed blackened trees and a burned entrance to Turtle Rock Park Campground.

The burned area didn’t end until I descended into the edge of town, which sat like an oasis of green trees amongst the blackness. It’s a small, but lovely place with several excellent restaurants and great hiking and fishing nearby — a place that would like to see you.

Historic Markleeville. | Courtesy Alpine County Chamber of Commerce

“We definitely would like to get visitors; tourism is what drives our economy. We are gearing up for a number of activities this fall. Come cycle to town and enjoy one of the great eateries,” said Alpine County Chamber of Commerce executive director Becky DeForest.

“This community took a huge hit. We are saddened that the corridor coming into town is burned, but the portion of the county that burned is such a small part of our area,” said DeForest.

Fall color in Hope Valley. | Dick White

By the time I’d arrived at Markleeville I was hungry, so I stopped into Out West Cafe where they had a nice to-go bakery. I knew I needed some sugar to get up that steep hill back out of town. Out West Café owner Joey Daly told me he was one of the last folks to leave town when it was evacuated and remembers listening to the police scanner and thinking at the time it was unlikely his town would be there when he returned. Fortunately, 12 days later they were able to return to a town covered in red retardant, but all in good shape, except a few cabins on the edge of town that were lost (one of which was owned by my nephew Logan Carnell).

“While we were allowed to return, we had no power. My hat is off to the contractor they brought in to restore power. They worked their asses off, cutting down 10,000 trees to put in new electric lines,” said Daly.

Alpine County events

Live Music
Sundays at 2 p.m. | Cutthroat Brewing Company

Eastern Sierra History Talks
Oct. 30 & 31 at 10 a.m. | Wylder’s Hope Valley

Halloween Shenanigans
Oct. 30 at 4 p.m. | Wylder’s Hope Valley

Fall Colors Photo Contest
Through Nov. 1

It took a few more weeks to get the power up and businesses open, but now, they are open for business.

“Come back and support us,” said Daly. “Nowhere else can you get such good food. It’s a cool place with a rich history. We are still standing and open.”

Alpine County is especially attractive in the fall with lots of aspens turning colors in the area, especially in Hope Valley and up on Monitor Pass.

I had plenty of time to contemplate the fire and this town that is trying to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes while I conquered the 2-mile climb out of town and headed back to where my ride began.

The ride
I started at the intersection of Foothill and Fredericksburg roads, just 1 mile from the Nevada/California border. Out and back was a bit more than 29 miles with about 2,000 feet of climbing. You could extend the ride without adding much in the way of elevation gain by starting at Kingsbury Grade, Genoa or Carson City in Nevada but then you are getting into mega miles. I skipped Diamond Valley on this trip, but it is a worthwhile part of the loop, and the area was spared from the fire. |