Date of Trip: April 2009
Lake Tahoe and Surrounds April 2009
Friday, April 24
My husband (Lynn) and I had garnered a time-share swap for Marriott’s Heavenly Resort in Lake Tahoe and although neither of us are gamblers, we do enjoy scenic beauty and hiking. Plus, we could invite Lynn’s sister and husband (Pam and Vince)to join us. Rain ushered us out of Pittsburgh for our 8 a.m. flight to Reno, via a connection in Denver. Anticipating snow in higher elevations, I had reserved a 4-wheel-drive SUV in Reno but Alamo’s only available one was a huge Ford Expedition. The vehicle was so high off the ground that to get into it, I needed to grab onto the safety bar and hoist myself up. Fortunately, the Expedition did have some merits: no visual obstructions while driving and surprising fuel efficiency. After a stop for groceries in Carson City, it was off to our time-share in South Lake Tahoe, California. There was still plenty of snow in the mountain passes, but roads were clear and the scenery, beautiful! An hour later, the road descended to Lake Tahoe where we checked into the Marriott Timber Lodge. When the desk clerk extolled our rooms as the best in the complex, I realized my earlier phone call to the resort about Lynn’s upcoming 65th birthday had borne fruit. Our unit boasted a full kitchen, two spacious bedrooms with private baths and a living/dining area enhanced by a gas fireplace. An outdoor deck overlooked the gondola of Heavenly Ski Resort, recently closed for the season. Pam and Vince weren’t due to arrive until 10:30 that evening and although we tried, it was impossible to stay awake. Our reunion would have to wait till morning.
Saturday, April 25
A dusting of fresh snow covered the ground and although temperatures outside were frigid, the sun was shining. Having never heard Pam and Vince come in, we were relieved to discover they had arrived safely. During a reunion breakfast the four of us planned our itinerary…deciding to pack a lunch and explore the 72 mile perimeter of Lake Tahoe. Fortunately, Vince was driving when everyone impulsively opted for a side-trip to Fallen Leaf Lake. The narrow one-lane road hemmed between trees and shoreline left little room for error and only through great good luck were no cars coming in the opposite direction. We finally found a place with enough room to pull over for a picnic. The clear waters of Fallen Leaf Lake and snow-encrusted fir trees provided a great backdrop. Continuing our excursion around Lake Tahoe, the next stop was Inspiration Point, a famous overlook. A number of other tourists were already congregated there but parking spots were still available. Below us were the iridescent waters of Emerald Bay and the lake’s sole island, Fannette. Highlighted against a brilliant blue sky, snow-topped mountains rising from the shoreline glistened in the sunlight. Back in the car, we passed the lake’s north shore with its mansions and gated estates while in South Tahoe, glitzy casinos competed with restaurants and shops for the tourist business. That evening Pam and Vince treated us to a birthday dinner at a nearby restaurant before presenting Lynn with a cake and gifts. Their kind efforts helped alleviate his dismay in reaching this Medicare milestone.
Sunday May 26
With Vince off for a day of skiing at Kirkwood Mountain, the rest of us planned to get in some hiking. Wary of Pam’s breathing problems in high altitudes, our first attempt would be Kale Meadows, a level path leading to the lake. Before culminating at the sandy beach, the trail meandered through forests of pine and fir as well as wetland areas golden with pussy-willows in bloom. Pam tolerated this well and after lunch agreed to join us in the more challenging Eagle Lake/vista trail. Thwarted by deep snow in our attempt to hike to Eagle Lake, we defaulted to the Vista trail. Once at the overlook, I happened to notice some rock-climbers mounting an assault on a nearby bluff. “Is there another way to the top?” I asked. Sure enough, a barely discernable earthen path slithered between the boulders. Our scramble up was challenging, but we were rewarded by an amazing vista of the surrounding mountains and Lake Tahoe. Best of all, nobody else was there. What a great hike! When Vince returned that evening he described an ‘awesome’ day of skiing & hit the hot tub. Everyone was tired, culminating in an early bedtime.
Monday April 27
Today was predicted to be really windy with freezing temperatures. Lynn was in the throes of a bad head-cold and Vince, displeased with our 8:30 appointment for a time-share presentation. (Pam and I had signed the four of us up to garner free tickets for a boat ride on Lake Tahoe). Fortunately, the era of ‘high-pressure’ sales pitches seems to have passed and a relatively painless 2 hours later we emerged with lake-tour tickets firmly in hand. We selected the Blue Wave Excursion which utilized a vessel that originally serviced casino high-rollers. With a capacity of only 48 passengers, it seemed a less crowded alternative to the larger paddleboat tours. The boat departed at noon and was a warm refuge after the icy winds onshore. I recalled our hotel concierge mentioning a seating section onboard which appeared to be a part of the captain’s bridge but was actually available for passenger use. Nobody else seemed to be aware of such an opportunity and we pounced! This tiny area provided us with private, ample seating for four, as well as great visibility. There was even a pair of binoculars on our table. A buffet lunch and two drinks per passenger completed the excursion package. Even with whitecaps on the lake, the pilot managed to keep the vessel fairly steady and once in Emerald Bay, we were protected from the wind. Our binoculars afforded a close-up view of an eagle nest with a fledgling perched nearby. The boat leisurely circled Fannette Island and edged up near shore for a closer look at the Vikingsholm castle. Braver passengers than I ventured out onto the chilly deck. Three hours later we were back in our condo. While Pam and Vince went shopping and Lynn napped, I headed for the exercise room. That evening Lynn and Vince, triumphing over the strong wind, managed to grill steaks at a nearby park and bring them home for dinner. A rented video entertained us till bedtime.
Tuesday, April 28
The plan for today entailed a several hour drive south to visit Black Chasm Cave (near the village of Volcano) and the Amador Wine Country. En route, we passed Kirkwood Ski Resort and Vince, who had skied there without a camera on Sunday, really wanted to stop for photos. Since cave tours were only given on the hour and we hoped to take the 11:00 one, such action impacted our arrival time. Fortunately, Vince, a speedy driver anyway, had brought along his GPS for directions and we made it with two minutes to spare. Black Chasm Cave is famed for its rare helictite crystals (a kind of stalactite resembling large strangely shaped confetti that seems to grow in defiance of gravity). To our surprise, a group of 20 school kids/chaperones would be joining us. Although secretly not too happy about this development, I cheered up after learning we could accompany the kids (post cave-tour) in an exploration of the adjacent Garden-of-Rocks, typically not open to the general public. The entire tour took less than 40 minutes but the school children were well behaved, our guide informative and the cave featured some fascinating formations.. Emerging into the sunlight, we were taken to the Garden-of-Rocks, a former mining site where high-pressure streams of water had been utilized in the search for gold. Such treatment stripped away all loose sediment to a depth of 8 to 10 feet leaving only tall columns of rock that, over time, became encased in moss. This terrible assault to the environment had evolved into a thing of beauty. Only a ten minute drive away was Indian Grinding Rock State Park with its great outcroppings of marbleized limestone preserving 1185 mortar holes, the largest number in North America. Indians used this site to pound acorns into meal and decorated the mortar holes with petroglyphs, including ones reputed to be thousands of years old. We had never seen anything like that! Some of the park’s ancient oak trees were absolutely huge and with fields of baby-blue-eye wildflowers as well as redbud trees in bloom, it was a good spot for our picnic lunch. We still intended to visit the Amador Wine Country but were running late. Vince programmed his GPS and we were off. However, this time the system led us onto tiny back-roads that ended at mountain cabins with barking dogs. Not good. Eventually I insisted on asking for directions and by 3:00 the first vineyard came into sight. Of course, most of the tasting bars closed to the public by 5:00 but we can be fast drinkers and these were good wines! Even better, the weather had finally warmed up. In two hours we sampled wine at 4 different establishments and I acquired quite a buzz. Fortunately, Vince seemed unaffected and our return route to Tahoe was very scenic, following the banks of a frothing river. Back at the condo by 6:30, left-overs served as dinner. Pam and Vince went to try their luck at the casino, but Lynn and I (the party poopers) headed for bed.
Wednesday April 29
Alas, no fortuitous sequelae from the casino visit so Pam and Vince would have to keep their ‘day jobs’. Never mind, the four of us were off for a day of hiking. Our first attempt was the Tahoe Ridge Trail, but most of it was still covered in snow and the view of Lake Tahoe often obscured by trees. Not our favorite hike. For lunch we drove to Tahoe Keys, a waterfront community that Vince wanted to visit. After a tasty lunch at its marina, we checked out one of the homes for sale. Good grief! $1,700,000 and the house wasn’t any nicer than ours! Our afternoon hikes included a quick trip to show Vince the Eagle Falls area, followed by tackling Granite Lake Trail. (At least that’s what we intended, but instead accidentally ended up at Cascade Falls). Oh well, this was a really nice trail. Relatively free of snow, it skirted mountain ledges and provided great vistas, not only of Lake Tahoe but also Cascade Lake. The falls, which plummeted over a rocky escarpment, were an unexpected bonus. It had been a fun day!
Thursday April 30
With nobody up for more hiking, we trooped over to the nearby Visitor Center for alternative suggestions. Ultimately, everyone agreed to spend the day in Nevada and visit Carson City before heading on to Virginia City. Carson City is Nevada’s capital and our first stop there was the Nevada State Train Museum. Their piece-de-resistance: a rare 1985 Baldwin Steam engine in mint condition. Lynn loved it but, while impressive, my favorite was a hand-cart ride at the museum’s restoration yard. Our visit to the state capital, a historical building, was notable for total lack of any security precautions. With nobody hindering my access, I accidentally wandered right into the governor’s office. (His secretary was quite pleasant). Virginia City, site of the famous Comstock Lode, was once a prosperous gold mining town. Now it has morphed into a big tourist attraction. Restored salons and shops along Main Street sold everything from beef jerky to western jewelry. The Visitor-Center attendant urged us to pay particular attention to detail in the old salons where bullet holes in the ceilings bore testimony to the town’s rugged past. One gambling table on display was reputed to be the site where three different men committed suicide after sustaining big losses. An interesting town, but since none of us are shoppers, we were ready to leave after a few hours. Back in Carson City we had dinner at a nice Italian restaurant before returning to our condo. Pam and Vince were leaving in the morning and had to pack while Lynn and I intended to take off for some of California’s National and State Parks. Unfortunately, after a sunny week, dark clouds now preceded a front that would bring in rain for the next three days.
Friday May 1
By 8:30 a.m. Pam and Vince left for the airport. As always, it had been great to spend time with them. An hour later, Lynn and I had checked out and were on the road. The countryside was quite scenic, with stark mountains and snowy passes transmuting into the rolling hills and vineyards of wine country. Driving conditions were fine as even deteriorating weather with intermittent rain was no match for our Ford Expedition. Arriving at Calaveras Big Tree State Park, a heavy downpour forced us to consume our picnic lunch inside the vehicle. However, this was our first opportunity to see giant sequoia trees, and we were not about to be thwarted by nature. We donned all our wet-weather gear, including the umbrellas and, with a pamphlet from the Visitor Center, headed for the trail. Immense trees loomed out of the mist and it was as if we were transported to some primeval forest. (Prehistoric sequoias did exist during the age of dinosaurs and with the absence of all but a few intrepid other tourists, this illusion was not too big a stretch of imagination). As the 1½ mile trail meandered through a large grove of the giants, our map offered tidbits of information describing the various attractions. We were totally entranced but eventually needed to move on and find overnight accommodations. Tomorrow our three day visit to Yosemite would begin!