Saturday, July 3, 2010

South Lake Tahoe, California: Heavenly Ski Resort

The Heavenly Ski Resort features a most unusual gondola. The bottom is located right in the middle of a shopping district, only a couple of blocks from Lake Tahoe and just off the main road. When you board the gondola, you seem to go straight up, and up, at times, until you reach the first stop.

That's the observation desk, and the view of the lake and surrounding mountains is breathtaking. You can take all the time you want to look around, take pictures, visit the usual gift shop, etc.

Then it is on to the base camp of the ski resort. There's a big sign that says California to the right, Nevada to the left, as the resort crosses the state line. A restaurant is located up there as well, but frankly it seems like it would be a better place for lunch in the winter, when there's a ton of activity, than in June.

It's hard to imagine a better place to ski, although Squaw Valley is just as nice, and those of us with weak ankles can enjoy the sites as well.

Carson City, Nevada: Nevada State Museum

The State of Nevada is a couple of hundred years behind the East Coast when it comes to history in one sense, forgetting the Native stories for a moment. So you'd expect that a state history museum would be smaller for that reason.

Still, Nevada has done a nice job with its facility, which has seen a couple of additions over the years. The big attraction is that it is the former home of a U.S. Mint. There are tributes to wildlife, mining, Native life, and gambling.

The museum is looked a few blocks from the State Capitol. It may be small, but it's well put together.

Carson City, Nevada: The State Capitol

The State Capitol of Nevada dates back to 1871. It's been fixed up a few times since then, including a $6 million remodeling in 1981, and it's still pretty nice.

The building used to house all three branches of state government, but the legislature and judiciary now have their own buildings within the campus of downtown Carson City. (It's a nice layout, by the way. Someone did a good job of planning.) The Capitol mostly houses the executive branch, as the Governor has an office there. You can even stop in and pick up the Gov's business card if you are so inclined.

Portraits of former Governors are hung on the walls of the building, and visitors can see the old legislative and judical chambers.

By the way, the Nevada legislature by law can only meet every other year for a maximum of 120 days. Sounds like a good way to keep them from doing much mischief ... particularly if you live in the state of New York.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Kirkwood, California: Caples Lake

For those visiting Carson Pass for that "top of the world" feeling, a few more miles of travel down Route 88 to the West offers a reward. It's a view of Caples Lake, another body of water filled with the deep blue color of snowmelt.

If you want to do some cross-country skiing or hiking, this should keep you occupied. There is a resort along the shore of the lake called, cleverly, "Caples Lake Resort."

Alpine County, California: Carson Pass

Head south out of Lake Tahoe, and you'll find all the open space and scenery you could ever want. There are only a couple of people per square mile in this area, according to the tour book, and that's easy to believe.

Carson Pass is the way through the mountains toward the coast on Route 88. It's 8,673 feet above sea level. The area has a visitors' center, open in the summer (meaning we missed it), and a small momument to Kit Carson.

As the picture shows, there's a lot of snow up there ... even in June. Looks like you can only hike up there for only a few months a year.

Lake Tahoe, California: Emerald Bay

The drive to this spot on the southwest corner of Lake Tahoe is a little scary. It's a two-lane road, with no guardrails and big drop-offs on either side. But, it's really worth it.

Emerald Bay is one of the few inlets in Lake Tahoe, carved out by glaciers so that it just missed being a separate lake of its own. Inspiration Point overlooks the bay from the south side. As you can guess by the photo, it's one of the most popular places in the area.

Here's a friendly tip -- go here either early in the day or late in the day. There isn't much parking in the vicinity, and the lots can fill up quickly. You'll want to take your time enjoying the scenery.

Lake Tahoe, California: Taylor Creek

Care to learn about the Lake Tahoe environment? This is the place to stop. The United States Forest Service has a visitor center right off the main road, complete with information about the area.

Then, people are invited to take a walk on a short, gentle hiking trail nearby. By the way, it can get a little soggy along the way, so dress appropriately. But you get to see sights like the ones pictured here.

The Stream Profile Chamber allows visitors to look at Taylor Creek from something like a cross-section; you can see the fish in the water, etc. Check out the hours of operation before you go, though; we just missed it.

Lake Tahoe, California: Tallac Historic Site

Ah, the Roaring Twenties -- when the wealthy knew how to spend their money.

At least that was the case at the Tallac Historic Site, located on the south side of Lake Tahoe. It's actually a collection of 28 buildings spread out over 150 acres. Visitors can take tours of the larger houses for a small fee. But if you show up after hours, you still can peek inside the windows and strong the grounds.

The highlight, as you might expect, comes near the water's edge. The view of Lake Tahoe is terrific. And you don't have to be a member of the Jet Set to enjoy it.

Squaw Valley, California

Squaw Valley is best known as the host of the 1960 Winter Olympics. Fifty years later, it's a huge ski complex. Emphasis on huge. How about 4,000 acres of skiing area? No wonder there's a guarantee that you won't have to wait more than 10 minutes to get on your slope.

The valley itself is filled with housing of all sorts and stores. It's become something of a year-round destination, although when we were there in June it seemed a little sleepy. (The golf course looked pretty empty.) Can't imagine what it would be like in January, though. It has to be one of the great places around for skiing, if only to look out on Lake Tahoe from the top of the hill.

There's not too much left of the Olympic facilities. The Olympic Village is now the main administrative center. A small museum to honor the Games is located on top of the mountain (it's in the building where the gondola stops).

If you do visit in the summer, be sure to check the Web site to see what's open. The gondola ride is worthwhile for the fine views, but the dates of operation vary.

This is expensive territory, but definitely worth at least a short visit.

Lake Tahoe, Nevada: Memorial Point

Lake Tahoe is famous for its big rocks. Pick up a travel book or tourist literature, and you'll see some. The casual photographer wonders, "How do I get a shot of them?"

This is the place. Memorial Point is located on the northeast side of the lake, not too far from Incline Village. There's a little visitors area just off the road, with trails going around the area from there.

Supposedly little snow accumulates here, so it is open year-round. It's free. And you can take pictures like this. Obviously, worth a stop.

Lake Tahoe, Nevada: Logan Shoals Vista

This spot is located right off U.S. 50, before the roadIt heads east to go to Carson City. The vista is easy to explore and offers some good views of the area, so it's worth a stop.

Besides, almost anyone can take a great picture of the region from here. As you can see.

Lake Tahoe, Nevada: Cave Rock

Cave Rock is something of a landmark in Lake Tahoe. It's located on the east shore, a few miles north of South Lake Tahoe/Stateline. The rock is visible from the lake, as we discovered on a cruise.

What's more, you can drive through it. There are a couple of tunnels for traffic on U.S. Route 50, and the view is always impressive when you come out. It's a little tough to get close to it, but perhaps you can see it better if you click on the picture to blow it up.

South Lake Tahoe, California: Tahoe Queen

When they are visiting Lake Tahoe, most people like the idea of getting some perspective on where exactly they are. It's tough to do that from the road that rings the lake.

Therefore, cruises are a popular attraction there. The Tahoe Queen is a big paddleboat that runs out of South Lake Tahoe. There are a few different offerings. We took the 2.5-hour trip (that lasted three hours when we had trouble docking) to Emerald Bay, and there are dinner cruises as well. (Check out the tourist literature to see other cruises in the area; you might want something smaller.)

This is a big boat with three levels for passengers. That gives kids some space to run around. What's more, you get a different perspective from the top as opposed to being right at water level on the bottom. There is some overpriced food and drink available for purchase. Some cruises can be a little dull, but this was one of the good ones and is worth your time.

Lake Tahoe, California: Vikingsholm Castle

There's nothing like waterfront property.

This nice little summer home is located in Emerald Bay State Park, on the west shore (near the south end) of Lake Tahoe. It was built in 1929, and used materials that were mostly from the region. The house isn't far from Lake Tahoe's only island; the owner used to run shuttle boats for guests over to it. Then everyone would sit in a teahouse, built on the highest point of the island, and talk about, um, the weather.

You have to be in pretty good shape to get here. Visitors park above the house off the main looping road and walk down to the house. Then when they are done, they have to go back up ... and it's pretty steep. The picture above was taken from a boat in the bay.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Truckee, California: Donner Lake

Sometimes, it's easy to stumble on a not-so-well-known scenic moment.

Such was the case here. We visited Donner Memorial State Park to learn about the Donner Party, and went down the road to look at the lake that was on a map. There Donner Lake appear. It resembled a mini-Lake Tahoe, with a deep blue color due to the snowmelt that feeds it.

The lake is located only a few miles from Donner Pass -- you can coast to Sacramento from there, we're told -- and has all sorts of beautiful houses on the shore and in the hills looking down upon it. We talked to a resident who retired there, and he couldn't be happier -- says he plows his driveway after the six snowstorms a year, and otherwise enjoys the view year-round.

Truckee, California: Pioneer Monument

Back in the winter of 1846-47, the Donner Party was attempting to finish a crossing of the North American continent. The problem is that they made a lot of mistakes along the way, mostly in the form of delays.

Therefore, when winter's full fury arrived, the Party was in the Sierra Nevada mountains and not in, say, downtown San Francisco. The group built cabins and did the best they could, but it was a bad time to be in that part of the world. The snow piled up and piled up. When one member of the group died, the others had to practice cannibalism in order to survive -- which is what most people remember about the story.

Help arrived in February or so, as 48 of 87 made it to safety in California. The Donner Party probably would be surprised to see a state park named after it (particularly since state parks really didn't exist then). The monument is designed to be a tribute to all those who crossed the mountains in those pioneer times.

The area has a visitors' center, which has an old but useful film about the Donner Party. And it's a short walk on a trail to see where a couple of the cabins weren.

Truckee, California

Truckee is located just west of the California/Nevada boundary, and just off Interstate 80. It's probably the biggest commercial area in that part of the country, but it has a little twist.

Part of the old downtown has been preserved and turned into an historic district. You can walk along the main street and feel a little like you are back in the 1800's. That's fitting for a town that started as a railroad stop once the Transcontinental Railroad was built

The town has done a good job of fixing up the area, making it a good place to stop for lunch and look around for an hour or two. Pictured above it the Truckee Hotel. I'm told that the jail (technically, the Old Truckee Jail Museum) located in the district is worth a visit.

Reno, Nevada: Aces Ballpark

Reno may not be a big-league city, but it's a Triple-A city ... if we're talking baseball. And the new stadium reflects that.

Reno has a great ballpark in the middle of downtown, a mere two blocks from the National Bowling Stadium and some major casinos. It opened in 2009, and hosts the Aces -- an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. We particularly liked the garbage cans that had team batting helmets on top of them.

Attached to the stadium is a nice restaurant that overlooks the playing field. It looks like a great place to sip a drink and watch the action. One tip -- if you are visiting the restaurant for lunch when the team isn't playing, save yourself a few dollars and park a few blocks away. There's a bit of a tariff to park across the street from the place.

Reno, Nevada: National Bowling Stadium

I have been to bowling heaven. You don't have to die to get there, just visit Reno.

The National Bowling Stadium is located in downtown Reno, only a couple of blocks from the famous sign pictured elsewhere on this site.

It's huge. No, really. It takes up a full city block. There are dozens and dozens of lanes (78, all told), and enough seats to hold a few thousand spectators. And the pro shop! It's bigger than some high school gymnasiums. You can buy all sorts of gifts in the place; we stocked up on key chains for friends.

The Reno Web site says there's nothing like it in the world. No reason to doubt that claim.

The picture shown here is that of a sculpture of a family getting ready to bowl. I believe there was a note on tourist literature that it was the most photographed sculpture in Reno; not sure what is second. It was donated by the Brunswick Corp.

Reno frequently hosts bowling tournaments. When we landed at the airport, we were stunned by the number of bowling balls that came out at the baggage claim area.

You'll never look at your local lanes the same way after seeing this place.

Reno, Nevada: Welcome Sign

Reno's most famous attraction is a sign.

That may sound a little odd, but it's true. The Reno Arch over Virginia Street downtown in practically an icon -- particularly when it's lit up at night. This was taken during the day, of course, but it's still impressive. At least I remembered to take a picture of this one, as opposed to my visit to Las Vegas.

Downtown Reno is something of a mixed bag. It has a few huge casino complexes; you can see The Virginian in the background here. There are a few pawn shops and businesses along the lines in the neighborhood as well. It reminded me a bit of "old Las Vegas," meaning the part that doesn't have the Strip. The city fathers of Reno are obviously trying hard to make it all work.

Pyramid Lake, Nevada

You've heard of Lake Tahoe, of course. But where does Lake Tahoe drain?

Why, Pyramid Lake, of course. It's about 30 miles northeast of Reno. The Truckee River comes out of Lake Tahoe and heads for Pyramid Lake. There, the water stops flowing. The water is a stark contrast to the rest of the area, which is quite brown and stark -- beautiful, in its own way.

The lake gets its name from a pyramid-shaped rock on the east side of the lake. There's no easy way to get up to it, unless you like to do some hiking, but it's easy to see when you are on the west side. The picture above was taken in Sutcliffe, a village that looks like the center of activity in the area. In the foreground is an interesting rock formation; check with your local geologist for information on that one -- fun to look at, though.

The lake is surrounded by the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, and it looks like outdoor activites (boating, fishing, etc.) are the major attraction. It makes for an interesting morning side-trip if you want to get away from the green of Lake Tahoe or the casinos of Reno.