Monday, July 9, 2007

Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe

Boy, are these ever contrasting environments!! Lake Tahoe won hands down.

We spent two days before the rafting trip and one day after visiting Las Vegas. Betsy and David Mullins were with us as well as Scott and Libby.

Our first impression was that it was gaudy and just plain over the top - all neon and extra large. We were not intent on losing money gambling so we sought out other diversions.

There were some interesting things that we visited. The Mandalay Bay Resort and Convention Center was gorgeous - marble floors, small aquariums, a huge pool area with wave pool, regular pool, and even a sandy beach! The Bellagio Resort had a room with a beautiful ceiling of glass flowers created by Dale Chihuly, a botanic garden, indoor fountains, and a huge outdoor musical fountain. Both resorts were like small cities. They seemed to go on for miles and had stores, albeit upscale, and all sorts of restaurants. And, there was only one way to get in and out. You had to pass by the all important casino and sometimes horse betting track.

It was very hot, probably 105 or more so walking outside was not fun.

One highlight: Becky had a childhood friend, Joan Livak Dunn, who lived in Las Vegas and a friend of Libby's had just moved there to start a Teach for America job with his girlfriend. We all had dinner one night at a Thai restaurant. It was a fun evening getting to know each other and questioning Joan regarding life and child rearing in "Sin City." She really likes it. She says it's got lots of things to do like any big city and you just have to give your children appropriate training in morals, like we all do anyway.

There may be some interesting things to see and do outside Las Vegas but we all agreed that we don't need to go there again unless we're passing through. We'd had our fill!

After the rafting trip, Libby and Scott headed home and we flew to Reno with the Mullins. Lake Tahoe borders both California and Nevada. We were in northern Lake Tahoe, in Kings Beach, CA, very close to the Nevada border.

The lake was literally a breath of fresh air! It was absolutely gorgeous blue water against green mountains. It was also much cooler, only about 80. We had rented a cabin on the lake through The downside was the unorganized kitchen and the dim lighting. But it was a great setting, with a hot tub and a big porch facing the lake.

Day 1 (4th of July): After we checked in to the cabin, unpacked, and got groceries, we met a friend from college, Jim Rubins, and his wife, Dianne, at a beach in Tahoe City. They were all set up for us with a table with a wonderful picnic dinner, and lounge chairs to watch the fireworks. We had a great dinner and visit. The fireworks were super and because they were way out on the lake there wasn't the tremendous boom with each one. They were just pretty. David decided to take pictures of almost all of them. (He really just watched them through the camera.)

Day 2: We drove up to Donner State Park, northwest of Kings Beach . It was a nice park which bordered a lake. Our first stop was the Visitor Center where we learned about the Donner Party who, on their way west, met up with a harsh winter, which prompted some cannibalism. We took a self-guided walk where we learned about a lot of flowers and trees which we would continue to see around the lake. A very distinctive tree was the Jeffrey Pine, a very tall tree with a reddish-brown and deeply furrowed bark and a pineapple or vanilla odor.

blue & purple: lupine, meadow penstemon
pink & red: bolumbine, Indian paintbrush
white: California corn lily, yarrow, ranger buttons
yellow: buttercup, mountain mule ears

We also learned about the prevalence of the Steller's Jay, near our picnic table, and everywhere else there were people. It's really a beautiful blue bird, not found in the east.

We ended a lovely day reading at the beach in Kings Beach. We quickly learned that Lake Tahoe, being high in elevation (6225') and a very deep lake (1645' at its deepest point), has pretty cold water (about 68 degrees). Granted, it was warmer than the Colorado River but still cold to swim in.

Day 3: At Jim's suggestion we hiked to Eagle Lake, passing Eagle Falls along the way. There were a lot of steps at first but then it became easier to climb. It was a beautiful view with lots of granite peaks on either side. On the way down there was a great view of picturesque Emerald Bay where we saw a lot of boats come in to.

After lunch we toured a beautiful "castle" built in 1929. We hiked down a steep road with many switchbacks to a Scandanavian style home built on Emerald Bay called Vikingsholm Castle. It was built by Lora Moore Knight born in Galena, IL to a wealthy corporate lawyer. She had been married twice but at this point she was not married. She bought the property, including an island, Fannette Island nearby, in 1928 for $250,000 - a small fortune back then. And no, her fortune was not affected by the stock market crash. It had 48 rooms! It was like 4 connected houses built in a square with a courtyard where cars would let off and pick up passengers. There were two different roofs: two sod planted with wildflowers and two split log. Mrs. Knight had a huge staff for the summer and entertained many friends and associates. She had a tea house on Fannette Island specifically for afternoon tea. Her guests would take boats across just for tea! She had no children but was very generous with her staff and their families and donated generously to local children's charities. As beautiful as the castle was it was about 90 degrees and the steep switchback road seemed very long!

The day ended with a barbequed steak dinner with Jim and Dianne at our cabin. Good food and good company! We walked down to the lake and passed through an upscale development of homes selling for $5 million and up. Beautiful but not our style.

Here's a sign we saw numerous places around the lake.

Day 4: Betsy was feeling a little under the weather so the rest of us headed out and let her rest. We went to hike along the lake at Sugar Pine Point State Park on the southwest side. It was a beautiful, peaceful hike with lots of wildflowers, burned out trees, and an interesting hard coral-like, yellow-green moss that we hadn't yet seen, growing on the trees. Much to Sandy's chagrin, David and I took copious numbers of pictures. Sorry, Sandy, there were just so many interesting things- ah, the beauty of a digital camera . We had a really relaxing end of our hike when we stopped for a bit to sit on a log facing the lake and read.

We spent a couple of hours at the cabin reading, relaxing and catching up with the Red Sox before heading up for a Sunset Hike at Squaw Valley.

Squaw Valley, in northwest Tahoe, south of Donner Pass, was the site of the 1960's Winter Olympics. The base is at 6200' with the summit 2500 ' higher. We bought tickets for a guided nature hike and then got some dinner in the village. It was a cute village with an Alps type architecture, miniature golf, a trapeze, and lots of stores and restaurants.

We boarded the huge tram which took us to High Camp at 8200'. There was an Olympic size swimming pool, skating rink, restaurant, and huge open area for gatherings. What a view from up there! We hiked past beautiful fields of lupine and mule's ears. The guide said they were especially abundant this year. He pointed out the snow fields (remember, it's July 7) and different peaks. We hiked up to Emigrant Peak at 8700'. He also showed us some double diamond ski runs (not for us - we wouldn't even have walked down them!!). By the time we were hiking up to the top and the sun was starting to set it suddenly became quite windy and chilly. We were happy to have our fleece jackets. The sunset was gorgeous! We took numerous pictures. As if that wasn't a great end to a great day, we topped it off by getting in the hot tub at the cabin. That really helped our muscles, slightly worn out from the big hike.

Day 5: We drove back over the border through Incline Village, NV and stopped at Sand Harbor Visitor Area. It was nicely landscaped and had interesting info on the history of the lake and flora and fauna. We learned there was another pine, the Ponderosa Pine, almost identical to the Jeffrey Pine but its bark doesn't have an odor.

On the drive we noticed a haze over the lake and didn't find out until later that it was smoke from forest fires up to 3 hours away! We were glad we had arrived earlier in the week to see the lake with clear, clean air.

On Rt. 28, about 2 miles north of Rt. 50 there was a trailhead at an iron gate. We walked down a switchback. Shortly after we started we met a couple in their late 70's, Mary and Al, who walked this trail often and lived in nearby Carson City. Al was a former civil engineer and was hired in the early 60's to do road work near here. They were interesting to talk with. Mary identified our unidentified moss as segrum moss although I can find no info to confirm that. It was also growing on granite.

The path meandered down, down, down past a meadow on the left and Skunk Harbor straight down. It was a beautiful cove where there were a number of boats docked. On one side there was a house now owned by the US Park Service. It needed to be renovated but we could peek through the windows. The plaque read that it was built in the 1920's with family money from gold. No surprise there.

We ate lunch on rocks in the the shade at Skunk Harbor and read a bit. It was very relaxing and a beautiful setting.

It was hot and tiring walking up as it was in the 80's and quite a steep climb. We enjoyed the AC in the car as we drove back through Incline Village on a road bordering the lake. Here there were many big, beautiful homes costing many millions, so said the owner of the cabin, Jan Steinmann. She said that if you wanted to build on the lake, the tendency was to build in Nevada because the taxes were a lot less. She said many owners were from the Bay Area.

We needed to print boarding passes so Jan let us use her computer and printer. She and her husband were playing croquet across the street so we were alone in her house. It was quite a house! From the manuals in the study it looked like he worked for an architectural firm. They had cherry cabinets and trim everywhere and an interesting granite countertop with a rough edge. On the ground floor they even built around boulders in the landscape! That was unique.

We had a wonderful time in Lake Tahoe and with the Mullins. We ate breakfast and dinners in the cabin and packed lunches and snacks. It worked out great and we'd do it again!

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