Friday, December 18, 2015
What's Not to Love about Lake Tahoe
I've been to Lake Tahoe a hundred times. Probably more. I mean, it is one of the most beautiful spots on the planet in my humble opinion, and it's right in our very own backyard. So to speak. Some of those times it has been merely a drive along, getting from here over to Hwy 395 in Nevada. Sometimes it's been just a quick day trip since we're only a couple hours away from our locale here in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.
Many times it's been for a weekend, sometimes a week. One time it was for a few months. That's when a then girlfriend ran away from an abusive home into the shelter of my arms. Only, you know, that shelter was only a few blocks from her abusive home. That would have been a pretty easy find.
It was the late summer after my high school graduation, she had just turned a senior. I was probably 18. She was probably 17. So besides a runaway situation we also had that statutory thing going for us. We also had oodles of life experience to aid us with our decision making process. But she had to get out. It was bad. To make a long story short, we concocted an overnight plan and lit out to Lake Tahoe. What the hell. Why not Tahoe?
I didn't have a job. I didn't have a car. And apparently I didn't have a brain in my head. But I did have a few hundred graduation bucks in my pocket. What the hell. Why not Tahoe? It sure sounded better than Modesto. Or Topeka.
A good friend drove us up and we three camped out for a few days. But he was gonna have to go home sometime and it also dawned on us cold and snow would be coming soon and we certainly could not live in a tent forever. Or at least through winter.
We found a small studio cabin with a kitchenette in Kings Beach on the North Shore for like $95 week. Yeah, really. 1972. I left the girl there, returned with my buddy to the bay area and regrouped. I found some more money in an old shoe box, gathered together some warmer clothes and another old friend drove me back up a week later.
The girl and I stayed at that little place another couple weeks, then we ran into an old high school chum who was actually working at a resort nearby. One thing led to another and he ended up getting me a maintenance gig there. I wasn't going to be making any cash, but we would be getting a studio cabin rent free in exchange for my labor.
The resort was located a few miles down the road in Tahoe Vista, also on the North Shore. The big, main lodge was a throwback to old Tahoe, with acres of knotty pine adorning the walls throughout the first floor. That floor was inhabited by the drunk manager and his pregnant wife. Then there were three or four rooms for rent on the second floor and a special "Honeymoon Suite" on the third. I eventually painted that honeymoon suite kitchen red and white. Bright. I thought it looked abhorrently gaudy, but the drunk manager's wife loved it. She also loved clowns and unicorns. What can I say?
Directly in back of the lodge was a row of six cabins, the last two of which were occupied by our bud and us. On the other side of an oval asphalt drive with lawn and pines scattered throughout was another row of eight to ten cabins. It was all very rustic and cool in 1972, but I think it's all been mowed down and replaced with newer units. I mean, I think the originals were built in the 1940-1950's.
Even though we had our rent covered we still needed to eat. The girl found a part time job as a hotel maid and then fortunately our bud and we ended up eating with the drunk manager and crazy pregnant wife about five nights a week. It was entertaining as hell.
They were Southern California transplants who were related to either the owner or someone who knew the owner of the resort. Or maybe they were cousins of somebody. I don't remember. They certainly had no experience nor should they have been managing a resort. Hell, I could see that when I was eighteen.
But when they were asked, they said, "Sure. We know how to manage a hotel."
And because they were cousins, or knew somebody that might have been related to somebody remotely connected to the owner of the resort, they got the job. I think she had some book keeping experience. No decorating experience, but she could add. And he had some charisma, which was rapidly dissipating during our time together. Book keeping and dissipating charisma, that's all anyone needs to run a resort, right?
They were also lonely. So the three of us would end up down at the lodge for cocktails and chili dogs quite often.
Dude, the drunk manager, was a first rate absolute alcoholic. He was a really nice guy, but he started drinking cheap scotch whiskey around five every MORNING. And let me tell ya, from much later personal experience, when you start drinking that early in the day you can be pretty fucked up come sun down.
So there he'd be, our evening entertainment, passing out in his recliner, lit cigarette in between his index and middle fingers. When the hot box would finally touch his skin he'd jump and say stuff like, "Who did it honey?"
Or, "Which way's up?"
Then he'd pass back out. There was also the time we had an electrical problem in one of the cabins. It was a pretty straight forward and simple fix, but ol' drunk dude at eight in the morning insisted on trying to make the hot connection with a screw driver himself. As screwed up as he was. And he kept on shocking himself. Time and time again. He must have shocked himself twenty times before finally relenting to my assertions that I would be happy to do it.
As a matter of fact, I'd be much happier making that fifteen second connection than peel him off the floor once his heart got the absolute last little tickle it could take.
I'd go grocery shopping with him once in a while in the resort's 1964 Mercedes sedan at 9:00 in the morning. He'd be pretty much shit faced by that time and driving drunk on icy roads. Not really paying much attention to anything, like the completely stone cold sober guy next to him that would have driven if he let him. But denial is a real big deal, especially when you're a fifth in.
One thing led to another and the whole Tahoe play house fantasy blew chow. My bud got in a verbal altercation with drunk dude and lost his job. So I got promoted, and then within a few weeks the girl and I started to fizzle. I mean, we were kids, playing house, a long way from home.
She moved in with an older sister and eventually started riding Harley's. And liking other girls. What the hell. No wonder we fizzled.
I returned to San Jose and eventually rekindled the relationship with the love of my life who had recently returned from a three year sojourn on a high New Mexican desert. The rest is salacious history.
I had actually been to Tahoe quite a few times before that little sojourn. Another memorable time we went up to visit an old partner of Dear Old Dad's that had recently retired up there. He and his wife bought a small place in Kings Beach with a big picture window over looking the beautiful lake, circa 1962.
Charlie took us shore fishing one of the days. As per my customary luck, I caught nothing. But I don't think anyone else did either. We might have even taken a boat ride and tried for the elusive Mackinaw on that excursion, but my memory can't be certain. I do know for certain that no Mackinaw was caught. Never has been when I've been on the boat. Hell, except for pictures I'm not sure they even exist.
Mackinaw, by the way, is another name for a Lake Trout, which is actually a freshwater Char. They typically inhabit colder lakes in North America. Keep in mind this has nothing to do with Cher, the entertainer, who probably doesn't like to swim in cold lakes at all. Other names for Lake Trout include Touladi, Togue and Grey Trout. It is prized as both a game and food fish. I'll betcha ya didn't know all that, especially the part about Cher.
The one thing I am certain of on that trip was that I was introduced to Baklava. One night, after a fantabulous buffet dinner at one of the then bustling North Shore casinos, I stumbled upon that sumptuous Greek treat for dessert. And DOD's old partner Charlie also stumbled upon it. I think we bonded big time after scarfing down a half dozen or so each of that tasty little rich tidbit. He'd keep sending this eight year old kid to fetch a couple more Baklava's. And I happily complied. It was the first time I had an adult ally, with a twinkle in his eye, in my quest for the ultimate sugar land high. It was majestic overindulgence.
Then there was the three year running summer vacation to Meeks Bay with DOD, his 2nd wife and my lovely blond step sister who also happens to be my same age. Actually, she's a few months OLDER than me, a fact which I am constantly reminding her of.
Back in the early 1970's Meeks Bay on Tahoe's West Shore had a huge campground as well as a few cabins. It was still very laid back and rustic. It is substantially more built up today, with most of the campground replaced with all kinds of money making improvements and rental units. The campground went the way of the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley. I think you can pitch about twenty tents now. Back then you could pitch a hundred. Anyway, the first two years we camped, the last year we stayed in one of the cabins.
Besides a large sandy white beach and pine studded campground, Meeks Bay also boasted a recreation type building. There were a couple pin ball machines, a ping pong table, a juke box and other activities designed to occupy adolescent minds, young or old. It was an evening hangout for kids of all ages, and teenagers many times hooked up there and then disappeared into the night.
One evening on our way over to the rec building my sister informed me she had met a couple guys that day that we were going to hook up with. We hung around for about ten minutes before two guys our age approached us. Initially they were a little dismayed, thinking I was my sister's date. But once they learned I was merely a brother their mood lightened considerably.
Turns out my lovely sister had wandered into an almost unbelievable situation. One of the guys, another blond, his father was a Beverly Hills banker. The guy owned the bank. He also had inherited a huge, old style Tahoe manse from his father which sat right on the point of Meeks Bay. Right on the lake.
They also owned a couple ski boats, one of which was almost always in the boy's hands. The remainder of our stay that year was spectacular. I learned how to water ski and my sister had a summer fling. What the hell.
The next year the boys were also at the lake when we were. The previous year I had bonded more with the friend of the banker's son, probably because he was the one who wasn't making out with my sister all the time. Turns out we had both discovered alcohol over the winter. I think we were fifteen.
Since the old style manse was not winterized, the banker and his family would spend weeks at a time there during the summer months. During this time they hosted many friends and relatives in the big, ten bedroom house. And the butler's pantry had about as much alcohol in it as any local bar would. Whatever you wanted, it was there. At least a hundred bottles.
Even though there was a ton of booze, we still wanted to be discreet. We made up a couple bottles of suicides a couple nights in a row. What is a suicide? Well, that's when two fifteen year old boys find a bottle of alcohol about one third to one half full. Then they proceed to fill that bottle up with bits and pieces of same colored alcohol until the subject bottle is full. Gin. Vodka. Tequila. Rum.
It was especially effective when the fire water was swallowed straight out of the bottle. Little did we know that if we just added a splash of cola and ice we'd have my old drunch lunch favorite, a Long Island Tea.
Ah, sweet ignorant youth.
The first night it was just him and me, getting hammered on the beach, talking baseball and philosophizing as well as any inebriated teenager might. The second night we got lucky. We had met a couple dollies from Reno that day on the beach. Made a date that night. Passed the fire water around in a circle and then couples disappeared into the pines. I don't know about Steve, but I got to play baseball that night, sliding rather easily into second base thanks to the fire water.
Ah, sweet innocent youth.
The third year when we stayed in the cabins the boys from Beverly Hills were not present. Dang, we were on our own. No water skiing. No suicides. It was still a good stay though. By that time I had started smoking pot and an acquaintance I knew from working at the Red Barn hamburger joint in San Jose happened to be camping there. Chicken Man was flying on acid most of the time, but he had also traveled to the campground with an African American pot smoking fiend. Who was also a little bit crazy.
Back then most of the weed we got here in the states had to be cleaned of seeds and stems. And this crazy stoned out dude claimed you could fry the pot seeds in a pan with butter and they would pop into a little kernel just like popcorn. So there we were, several stoned out pot naivete's, intently watched this crazy black dude with a big hat try to pop some pot seeds.
"The lil kernels are green," he said, "Just like the seeds."
As he took another hit of reefer madness.
After we moved to the Sierra Nevada Foothills my lovely wife and I would always try to get up to the lake a couple times a year. Many times we'd go the casino route, staying at either Harrah's or Caesar's at South Shore. Which is way more Vegas than North Shore.
Those hotels were always great venues to catch a show. Willie Nelson. Crystal Gayle. Linda Rondstadt. Glen Campbell. Peter Allen. A host of others. A simple $20.00 tip would get you in the front row, three feet away from the artist.
Then there was the time we caught Jimmy Buffet's solo Margaritaville tour. It was the dead of winter. I remember this because I had to chain on/chain off our non four wheel drive Volvo sedan about a dozen times en route. What was normally a two hour drive took six. No wonder I started drinking cocktails early the next morning. Or, maybe I just never stopped from the night before.
Either way, and it doesn't really matter, I got completely obliterated on Margaritas during Jimmy's show. Nothing like tequila to open the door to the magic kingdom of besotted madness. Somehow my lovely wife and I ended up in an offshoot lounge with a bad comedian. Why do I say bad? Cause I made his show.
When he asked the audience where they were from, out of the chorus of standards like "Topeka", "Des Moines" and "Modesto", my shout of "Zimbabwe" apparently stood out. It also got a pretty good laugh from the audience.
With that comment Mr. Bad Comedian (BC) decided to hone in on little ole shit house howdy more than FUBAR me.
"Zimbabwe huh?" he inquired, "What part?"
He thought he had me. The audience laughed.
"The northern part," I slovenly responded.
The audience howled.
My memory escapes me after that. But apparently, not to be out done by a completely sloshed audience member, Mr. BC mercilessly tore into me for the rest of his unimaginative show.
Who cares? I was drunk. Don't remember a thing. I had my six seconds in the spot light. I was good with that.
We went up to the lake quite a few times when the kids were little too. We even brought them along once in a while. One time we were staying in a small cabin on the North Shore and I decided to let my lovely wife sleep in and took the kids to breakfast at one of the casinos.
I have very fond childhood memories of dining and playing Keno with Dear old Dad during meals, breakfast in particular, when we were at a casino. It was the only time we kids were allowed inside, when we were going to and from one of the restaurants. I think I had my first "Roy Rodgers" cocktail at the old Harold's Club in Reno.
I also saw the the movie "Johnnie Tremain" about six thousand times while hanging out in the children's lounge at the casino. Dear old Dad liked Reno. He liked Tahoe too. Some of his ashes are scattered at both locations. Harrah's too.
Did I just say that?
I decided I wanted to share this gaming fun with my four and six year old kids, so in addition to pancakes we played a little Keno. More specifically six spots. And I'll be go to hell if we didn't win a $1,495 six spot. Everybody got a little something special on that trip. 'Cept me. I think I paid some bills, like the trip to the lake.
I'm not much of a gambler, I've played some Blackjack, some Craps. Keno. Won a little. Lost a little. Nothing much. There were also a couple of times I played Baccarat.
The first time I learned and played the game I had gone up with a bunch of poker playing buddies to South Shore for a private tournament. We played monthly locally, but then every year about fourteen to sixteen of them would make a trek to Tahoe. There they'd rent a casino hotel suite and play poker with each other in the suite all night. Not venturing out, at all. Seemed a little weird, but what the hell.
I mean, why go to Tahoe if you're not going to do anything Tahoe? If you want fresh air why not just go to Jim's and put two picnic tables together in his backyard? It's a lot closer. Cheaper too.
Anyway, it was our first year playing with these guys, so four of us newbies headed up together for the clambake. It was the mid-eighties, a lot of alcohol was involved. There was also a powdered energy elixir usually formulated in South America involved. That concoction allowed folks like me to party and drink forever. We arrived at the hotel early, got our rooms and then wandered around the casino.
I wandered around and around and eventually found a pretty girl all by herself behind a Baccarat table. I put some money down and she taught me the game. It was an expensive lesson, I dropped about three hundred bucks toot sweet. But I knew I was going to win. Somehow. So I borrowed a hundred bucks each from a couple of my traveling compadres and kept playing.
After a couple hours I eventually paid my buddies back and put an additional $500 in my pocket. I also tipped the dealer a couple hundred bucks. What the hell. She was a single mom, her kid needed a bike and she had a pretty smile.
Editor note: This was during what I call the "lost" years, when I was strolling about the galaxy inebriated, separated and single. There's actually a book about this period of life called "Late Night Letters to the Moon". There's a link around here somewhere if you're interested in purchasing that critically acclaimed not yet a best seller.
After playing for hours, one of my poker buddies finally coerced me out of my Baccarat Bacchanalia and convinced me to come upstairs and play poker. It was, after all, the reason we were there.
I did come up to the suite and I did play poker for a few hours, but it was all completely weird and different. It was different because I was then playing for nickels, dimes and quarters instead of $5, $10, and $25. Trust me, it's not quite as exciting.
It was weird because when I got up to the suite around 10:00PM half the guys were walking around in their underwear. I guess it was late summer. And it was warm. But not underwear warm. With a bunch of guys. Who weren't gay. I think. And trust me, playing poker with a bunch of sweaty guys in their underwear was not nearly as pleasant as playing baccarat with a lovely girl who had a beautiful smile. Especially when you're single. And not gay. There is simply not enough alcohol on the planet to make that experience better than the other.
Another time I went up with my best bud and his ex wife. They were over from the coast visiting during those same "lost" years and we decided to mosey over to the Lake. What the hell. The lake was close and we were beautiful. I also had this feeling I was going to win if I played baccarat.
With my bud's gorgeous wife on my arm, I sat down at a table. Once I was rolling I kept handing her chips with the implicit instructions not to give any of them back to me to play. About a grand later the trip was paid for as was the Peruvian marching powder purchase we made earlier that afternoon. It was still the 80's. I was still lost. What can I say?
I've never really played much baccarat other than those two times. While under the unfettered influence of alcohol and other nefarious schemes. Go figure. If that's the cosmic combination that allows me to win at that game of chance then I'm probably not gonna be playing it again. I left those two neuron harassing dalliances of destruction behind a long time ago.
There have also been a number of larger family gatherings at the lake where we'd rent a condo or house for a weekend to a week. Fill it up with all sorts of crazy family members. Chaos and pandemonium at one of the loveliest spots on earth. Many, many birthdays and an extra special 60th anniversary for my wonderful in-laws have been celebrated there. It's always been a go to place, for my lovely wife's family as well as mine.
Turns out her family vacationed there often during her youth as well. Another thing we have in common. Like being born in the same hospital, a couple months apart. She's older, of course. Beautiful, but two months older. A fact I bring up from time to time. Like when I want to sleep on the sofa.
Before I amble right on by and forget to mention it, there are quite a number of ski resorts offering world class snow skiing and boarding all around the lake. The snow capped mountain views from the top of any of the lifts, especially Heavenly Valley, are unparalleled in the dead of winter.
I have been to the top once or twice, although I've never been much a snow skier. I did ski for a few years back in my 20's until I blew my left knee out. I never became more than an intermediate, at best, but did have a lot of fun for the most part.
There was this time I went up with an avid rabid expert who kind of left me alone for most of the morning on my "barely better than bunny slope" traipses down the mountainside. At least that's what he called them. They were decent intermediate runs. I was zooming and jibbooming and shushing quite fine, comfortably challenging myself and pretty much staying on my skis. And off my ass.
But then he kind of challenged me during lunch, where he had a peanut butter and banana sandwich. With milk.
I had three beers.
"All righty then, bonsai buckaroo, " I confidently responded, slamming my third empty beer on the table. "Lead on."
So we took the lift all the way to the top. Actually I think we went beyond the top, into uncharted territory as far as I'm concerned. A left could have taken me on a much safer route. A sinister Gollum on steroids led right.
"This way master, er moron," he hissed.
We turned right and he led me around a few trees. The slope was very light and gradual.
Then he jabbed his poles in the snow and shouted, "See ya below," he disappeared over a precipice.
I slowed to a stall. The view beyond where he had just disappeared was unbelievable. Unfathomable. It filled my heart with rapture and my spirit with awe. In the distance was that beautiful, pristine, deep, blue, oval lake ringed by snow capped peaks. The view went on forever. It was post card and fairy tale perfect.
But when I got to the edge, and I mean edge, I looked down, and I mean straight down an incredibly imposing slope. Er, cliff. That view filled my heart with despair and my spirit with "Holy Shit".
Fortunately, there were all these little humps or hills on the slope that good skiers called "moguls". They went all the way down, about fifty thousand of them. A good skier would use them for fun, jumping and flying over them as they sashayed down the slope.
An intermediate skier, like me, would call the moguls small, life saving platforms or ledges, which could slow their descent and where maybe they could stop and rest for a while. Possibly even bivouac over night, if necessary.
I might, and should have turned around then, but we'd already traveled slightly downhill a few hundred yards to get to this point. So that would have meant taking off my skis and trudging in ski boots up hill.
"Oh bother," I said to myself. "What the hell."
I have found that every once in a while when I utter that phrase, "What the Hell", I get into something that ends up being just a little bit more than I had bargained for. Or a lot more than I could have even conceived being possible. This would be one of those times.
With gusto I launched, sideways, over hump and dale. And I pretty much fell at every hump and dale. They were spaced like ten feet apart, so, you know, I fell a lot. And that was just going one diagonal way. I hadn't yet turned to go back to the other side of the run. I had traveled about three hundred feet. I had gone down hill about fifteen.
Somewhere along the line, like probably at this point in the juncture, I figured out it would be easier if I took the skis off. I mean, I was pretty much on my ass most of the time anyway, why have them as a hindrance?
And that's the way I went down the fourteen mile slope. From side to side. On my ass. It took about an hour. My companion, on the bottom of the hill, was laughing his ass off.
I never went skiing with him again.
One of the most memorable road trips up there occurred when I was around twenty years of age. It wasn't actually to Lake Tahoe, but to Fallen Leaf Lake, which is about five miles west of Tahoe. The paved access road is near Camp Richardson on the Southwest shore.
It was an intrepid trip, logistically speaking. It also contains some of the most magical scenic moments of my life.
It started in San Jose innocently enough. My lovely fiance's roommate kind of got sweet on a friend who had recently taken a winter care-taking position at the pretty much deserted for winter Stanford Sierra Camp, which is located at the south end of Fallen Leaf Lake. So we decided to take a weekend road trip so she could see him.
That was her motivation. A road trip anywhere with amigos to see an amigo was good enough for me. So we packed up Edith and hit the road.
Edith? My orange VW bug. So named because I have no idea why.
Packed up? My lovely fiance's roomy, my dog Sid, our mutual friend Miguel, who is also featured in "Late Night Letters to the Moon" and his guitar. The first leg of the trip to Sacramento, the half way point, was uneventful. In Sacramento things got a little crowded. There we picked up my lovely fiance and her twin sister. They had been visiting their grandparents.
What the hell. We were young. So what's the deal with five humans, a dog and a guitar all fitting into a VW bug for a two hour road trip? I know, today we'd need a mini van at least, or maybe a bus, but back then we were young. And a lot thinner.
As per instructions from our Bud, we called from Meyers, which is a teeny weeny little hitching post near South Lake Tahoe. He told us to drive to the Camp Richardson stable parking lot. He'd meet us there.
We arrived at the parking lot a little ahead of schedule. We all got out of our cramped quarters and stretched a bit under the clear, full moon lit night. It had been snowing recently, there was a good snow pack on the ground and the trees were littered with the crispy white stuff. It was also in the brisk high 20's at the time, about 10:00 PM.
Our bud soon arrived on a snow mobile with a trailer attached. The three girls and most of the luggage climbed aboard. Miguel, Sid, the guitar and myself stayed behind. Oh yeah, a couple cases of Budweiser also stayed behind.
We made the most of the forty-five minute wait as they motor skied the five miles in and then our bud motored back out. Miguel and I drank beer, sang a few songs and drank more beer. By the way, Miguel is not even remotely Spanish. That's a pseudonym. I think Miguel is Scottish. You know, from France.
When he arrived, we climbed aboard and were off on what would become one of the most awesome scenic adventures ever. My lovely wife has the same memory of her snow mobile trip in as I do of mine. It was spectacular. It was a stunning five mile ride through snow covered meadows and frosted pine forest; white, leafless Aspen's shimmering in the magic full moon light. A picture perfect Norman Rockwell epic excursion to grandmother's house. Only, you know, the house we were going to was full of derelicts, hot dogs, pretzels, and beer.
Once at the camp we hung out, drank beer and tried a little fishing the next day. If you read my blog post Gone Fishin you know how that turned out. Then we drank some more beer and had to walk the five miles back out the following day because the snow had melted too much for the snowmobile to slide. We'd either have to walk or wait until night for the snow to harden.
The trip out was not nearly as fun as the trip in. Epic? Yes. Fun? No. None of the girls had brought any sort of snow gear. What were they thinking? So they borrowed boots from the guys there that were five sizes too big and we all hiked out. Well, they sort of trudged. Complained and trudged.
Miguel and I ended up carrying a lot of luggage. Like all of it. And Miguel had his guitar. Fortunately the dog didn't bring a suitcase and didn't need to borrow any boots. He did just fine.
After that trek we all amazingly found the comfort of the VW rather appealing. Warm and appealing. We dropped the twins off in Sacramento where their Grandmother could nurse the seventeen blisters both of them had on their feet. Miguel and I bought two six packs of Budweiser to get us home.
I made one other memorable trip in Edith. Another old chum and I went on a road trip to see some buds who had moved to New Mexico. The main and almost only thing I remember about that rather uneventful road trip was the first night.
We were camping at Lake Havasu City. Down south on the Arizona and California border. You know, the place where the London Bridge is located. That place, you know, in the middle of a desert that you would most expect to find a bridge from London. Apparently that town has had quite a renaissance around that bridge. Back in the early 70's there was this bridge from London in a desert in the middle of nowhere. Now it's like a big deal.
It was hot there. Real hot. How do I know? Cause my bud and I couldn't get to sleep. We were laying on top of our sleeping bags at midnight, sweating. It was still 102 degrees. We felt like pizzas. In a BIG oven. So we went swimming.
If you've never been to Lake Tahoe you simply must go. Especially if you live in Northern California. You have no excuse. And you really need to experience it's utterly unfathomable beauty when snow covered in the dead of winter as well as it's high sierra rustic charm in the middle of summer. Where it is usually cooler than the middle of the state, yet also closer to the sun because of it's altitude. So wear sunscreen.
After visiting this breathtakingly beautiful spot for so many years and so many seasons we have found our favorite time to visit is autumn. In between the high season summer and winter months. There are usually less expensive hotel rates and we find the fall scenery spectacular.
We were actually up there a couple months ago. We were going to go up there last year in October to see the Psychedelic Furs but my pesky appendix got in the way and perforated on me. Damn failing body parts.
But we did get up there this year. Found a great deal, pay for two nights and get a third for free. My kind of travel deal. Studio place with a kitchen at South Shore. Perfect.
Which brings me to another point. There are certain shades of ambiance about the lake that newcomers should be aware of. First of all, the California Nevada border goes through the middle of the lake, more or less. So two states straddle it.
Back in the days before Indian gaming took a foot hold here in CA, Lake Tahoe was a go to place to gamble. Scenic and sizzling. How can you go wrong?
Back in the day there were three or four casinos on the North Shore, the most famous being the Cal-Neva Club, in which Frank Sinatra boasted part ownership for a while. But South Shore has always had the largest play houses, still does. So if you're looking for scenery and action, head to south shore. If you just want scenery and laid back type ambiance, then try out the North or West shores. There's not a hell of a lot of anything but granite on the East Shore, although for a while the "Ponderosa" of "Bonanza" TV days was a fun amusement place to visit with the kids. I think it's closed for business now.
We didn't really care what shore we were staying at this time, we just followed the deal. We can find fun anywhere around the lake. We did want to re-trace our Fallen Leaf route for this post though so actually South Shore made the best sense.
Here's a travel tip I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH. Even if you're tired after your travel, maybe even a little bit grumpy, be as friendly as possible without getting arrested for indecent exposure with the person that is checking you in. Maybe ask about their day. Ask about the area. Get some dining recommendations. Inquire about THEIR town. Ask their personal opinion about things. I can't tell you how many times we've received complimentary upgrades by doing this.
On this particular trip, after a few minutes of engaging conversation with our host, my lovely wife inquired, "Does the room have a lake view?"
I could see from the map he was preparing quite the opposite would be true. We would be having a highway view. With ambient traffic sound no doubt. Hey, that's why it was a deal and a steal.
"Well, no, it doesn't," our host responded.
"Do you have anything that does?" my doe eyed lovely wife innocently inquired.
"Let me see what I can do," our host responded.
Magic words. A couple minutes later we did not have a lake view but we were checking into a 3/2 condominium with a garden view. A football field away from the highway. No extra charge.
ALWAYS CHAT UP YOUR CHECK-IN PERSON!
Prior to check-in we did a little shopping at South Shore's TJ Maxx. Yes, South Shore has a TJ Maxx, if that excites you. It's a discount home goods store that sells clothes and home goods at a great price. I guess. I don't do a lot of shopping. My lovely wife does though. If it were up to me I would be wearing what I wore when I was fifteen, Levi's and a T-shirt, all the time. Maybe a sweater when it gets cold. But thanks to my lovely wife I have a couple of shirts now too.
If it were up to her she would clothe the world. She would be very good at it too. Cat class, cat style.
I discovered something this time while I was doing the male shopping shuffle. Other guys do it too! That's where guys who have gone to the store with their wife end up aimlessly shuffle around. They usually feign interest with her for four or five minutes, but once they realize she's launched into a full scale discount assault I think they find the need to shuffle for cover. I do. Besides that, I think there's too much gee to gaw at.
I shuffle here and look at stuff, I shuffle there and look at stuff. I usually end up shuffling to the sock section. I understand socks. There's a lot of unbelievable crap out there for sale, an ocean of notions. That nobody really needs.
It all becomes rather overwhelming to me. This. That. Those other things. What on earth is all this crap? Why on earth is there all this crap? Who on earth buys all this crap?
About this time in the shuffle I usually end up running into my lovely wife. Whose cart is full of crap.
And then the realization hits me that I would probably be sitting in the living room on a lawn chair in Levi's and a T- shirt if not for my lovely wife. Watching a transistor radio.
At least now I have a sweater. A couple shirts. A TV. Pictures on the wall. And my lovely wife is always gloriously and appropriately attired.
Our trip to Tahoe this year was usual. There had been recent snow so the scenery was just a little more spectacular than normal. The high mountain air was fresh and crisp. We balanced adventure and romance, fine dining and fire side picnics. It was usual, and lovely, as always.
We retraced our route to Fallen Leaf Lake. It had been almost forty years. We drove the car this time cause there wasn't seven feet of snow on the road yet. It's also grown quite a bit. Back in the 70's there were maybe twenty houses in there besides the camp. Now there's at least twice that many.
Most of the houses are summer only, though it looked like a dozen or so hardy souls wintered over. They'd have to be prepared to get snowed in for a while I would imagine. Otherwise it would be a long walk to the highway, trust me, I know!
A couple of rather handsome coyotes crossed the road about twenty in front of us as we approached the lake. I say handsome because they were both sporting a lush, full, thick coat of fur. Unlike the mangy ones we see around here. At first I thought they were wolves, but they had that customary coyote skulk and sneaky look about their gait. Apparently the cool, crisp high mountain air is more conducive for fancy fur growth than lower elevation temperatures.
We also took a sixty-five mile round trip road trip south through Meyers, then SE through the Hope Valley and then winding back up North, eventually landing at Genoa, Nevada's oldest settlement, established 1851.
The road trip itself was gorgeous. Snow capped granite peaks and mountain meadows. There's nothing more beautiful to me than an effervescently green high sierra mountain meadow, ringed by majestic pine and shimmering aspen trees. If I could choose a place to leave this planet it would be in one of those.
Genoa itself was a vintage meh. There's a bar and restaurant and a couple B & B's. Other than a couple architectural photo ops we weren't terribly impressed. But we have now been to Nevada's oldest settlement. So we can cross that off our bucket list.
I think we casually dined that night, then wandered around Harrah's. Most of the gambling crowd seemed younger. Maybe all the old chronic gamblers are staying close to home these days and hitting the Indian casinos instead. I mean, if you live in a mobile home in Oroville it'd be a heck of a lot cheaper to go to one of the three Indian Casinos next door than to travel all the way to Tahoe. That way they can lose more money locally.
How do you compliment a woman from Oroville?
My lovely wife tossed a few quarters in a dollar machine. Or vice versa. Either way. Somehow she won a hundred bucks. I say somehow because we didn't understand how, who, where or what line she won on. It was a mystery until the machine started spewing out nothing.
Yeah, nothing. Gone are the days of carrying around a big cup of change. The machine spits out a receipt now if you've actually got a credit and you take that to the cashier. Makes more sense I guess, but coinage spilling out onto the carpet always created such an exciting mess.
There's no more Keno either. Both Harrah's Keno lounges have been converted to sports betting. I have always enjoyed playing a ticket or two in tribute to DOD. There goes the end of an era.
Plus there's a plethora of cards games now nobody's ever heard of. Three and crazy four card card poker, Pai Gow, Ma Jong, Egg Fu Yung. It's turning into a Chinese buffet. Where will it end?
It didn't matter, I wasn't going to play anything anyway. I enjoy the crazy, manic energy in the room. Most all the tables were full of wild-eyed testosterone and estrogen filled youngsters, catching a buzz and maxing out their credit cards on exciting games of chance. That they were more than likely going to lose. But what the hell, right?
Lake Tahoe was first discovered by John C Fremont in 1844. He caught sight of the lake while making his way west, marking Tahoe as a crossing-over point in the Sierras for explorers and settlers. He had no idea it would eventually become a mecca.
When silver was struck in nearby Virginia City in the 1860's, a vibrant lumber community sprang up along the shores and mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe. As transportation to and from the lake improved, the first car to survive the pass was in 1905, some intrepid adventurers and a few rich folks began to wind their way into the basin.
Many incredible mansions and homes have been built along the lake's shores, such as our banker buddy's at Meeks Bay. Then there's Howard Hughes, Larry Ellison and a host of other celebs that own homes there. And then there's old money places such as Vikingsholm, Tahoe's hidden castle, which is located on the shores of Emerald Bay.
Whether you're going for Lake Tahoe history, and there is quite a bit, the excitement of losing money, beautiful scenery, fine dining, fantastic winter or summer outdoor recreation or a simple romantic getaway, Lake Tahoe fits all those bills. Folks like us that have been many times keep going back. Does that tell you anything?
Now granted, if we lived in Mississippi, we probably would not have gone to Lake Tahoe as many times as we have. But if you live in Mississippi, and you do get to Northern California, then you owe it to yourself to visit this incredibly scenic location. And if you live in Northern California and have never been you have no excuse. You simply must go. You will not be disappointed.