Ta­hoe Heaven – Lake Ta­hoe USA

Out & About with Kids - - CONTENTS -

BARRY STONE shares a sum­mer hol­i­day with his fam­ily, de­light­ing in a whole range of mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences with the beau­ti­ful, nat­u­ral play­ground of North Lake Ta­hoe as their back­drop.

Lake Ta­hoe has long been at the top of the list of home­grown, year-round hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions for Amer­i­can fam­i­lies (and celebri­ties!), and its fa­mous ski fields, in­clud­ing Heav­enly and Squaw Val­ley, pos­i­tively pul­sate with happy snow-lovers in win­ter. In late spring and au­tumn, Ta­hoe turns on all of its nat­u­ral charm, of­fer­ing abun­dant wa­ter sports and soft ad­ven­tures for all ages, to the great de­light of BARRY STONE and his fam­ily.

High in the Sierra Ne­vada moun­tains on the Cal­i­for­nia/Ne­vada bor­der, the Stone fam­ily were in a re­flec­tive mood. Warmed by the com­mu­nal camp­fire that has long been a nightly event at Cedar Glen Lodge on the north­ern shore­line of Lake Ta­hoe, North Amer­ica’s largest alpine lake, we sank into our Adiron­dack chairs, sipped hot choco­lates and munched on our s’mores - fire-roasted marsh­mal­lows and Her­shey’s choco­late sand­wiched be­tween graham crackers (which tastes a whole lot bet­ter than it reads). And we were lick­ing our wounds. Our pur­suit of ‘soft ad­ven­ture’ had re­sulted in a cou­ple of, well, mishaps …

Ear­lier that day my 15 year-old son Jack­son and I were kayak­ing the frigid wa­ters off Vik­ing­sholm Beach in Emer­ald Bay, once a drowned glacial val­ley now a teardrop­shaped slice of typ­i­cal Ta­hoe heaven, on our way to Fan­nette Is­land, the lake’s only is­land and so tiny you could prob­a­bly cir­cum­nav­i­gate it in ten min­utes.

Like all who pad­dle out to, or oth­er­wise wash up on, this gran­ite speck, we clam­boured up its 10m ‘sum­mit’ and into the ru­ins of its stone “Tea House”. Built in the late 1920s by

Lora Knight, who owned the is­land and a con­sid­er­able por­tion of Emer­ald Bay’s fore­shore, this was where she de­lighted in bring­ing guests for af­ter­noon teas. Even in its hey­day the 4m x 4m Tea House only had four oak chairs, a ta­ble, and a fire­place. Now it’s just four crum­bling walls and a roof that’s long since col­lapsed. But it re­mains a gen­uine sanc­tu­ary, es­pe­cially in Ta­hoe’s crowded high sea­son. And ohhh, the views . . .

Af­ter an hour or more spent cast­ing our eyes over the ridge lines of the Ta­hoe Basin we scram­bled back down to our kayak, wedged be­tween two boul­ders on the is­land’s gran­ite-strewn shore­line, be­gan pad­dling back to­wards the beach . . . . and straight into the wake left be­hind by the MS Dixie II, a 500-pas­sen­ger screw­driven pad­dle wheeler that has been sail­ing these wa­ters since the mid-1990s. Fail­ing to get our bow around in time, its waves hit us side-on, and the lake’s 13 de­gree Cel­sius wa­ter spilled into our kayak, drench­ing us from our waists down.

Around the time we were cal­cu­lat­ing the on­set of hy­pother­mia, wife Yvonne and 11 year-old Tru­man were hik­ing the Cas­cade Falls Hik­ing Trail, an easy 1.5 hour round trip ideal for fam­i­lies, with 60m falls and views over nearby Cas­cade Lake a great reward for min­i­mal ef­fort. Head­ing back to the trail­head, how­ever, Tru­man slipped and fell against a rock, badly bruis­ing his arm. For­tu­nately, not his ping-pong arm . . .

We met up and shared sto­ries of our mu­tual mis­for­tunes be­fore head­ing back to our lodge, stop­ping only at the gated es­tate which in 1974 was used as the lo­ca­tion for the Cor­leone fam­ily com­pound in The God­fa­ther Part II. The house is now gone, but the

“… I saw my boys perched on a gran­ite out­crop, all played-out, star­ing west­wards across the lake to the set­ting sun …”

boathouse fea­tured in the movie is still there. Back at the lodge Jack­son hit the sauna, Tru­man played ping-pong with a Texas boy in a Don­ald Trump “Make Amer­ica Great Again” t-shirt (yep, they have kids sizes), while Yvonne and I looked to the next day, and the two trea­sures to come: Sand Har­bor, and the stun­ning Thun­der­bird Lodge.

I first vis­ited Thun­der­bird Lodge eight years ago while driv­ing south along the lake’s east­ern shore­line, af­ter pass­ing its drive­way and glimps­ing just enough to cause me to make a hasty U-turn which turned out to be one of the more mem­o­rable U-turns of my life. Never un­der­es­ti­mate the pos­si­bil­i­ties born of spon­tane­ity.

In the 1930s, not long af­ter Lora built her Tea House, Ge­orge Whit­tell, an ec­cen­tric and reclu­sive mil­lion­aire with a love for women (and gi­raffes, but that’s an­other story) built one of North Amer­ica’s most cov­eted res­i­dences on a gran­ite promon­tory south of Sand Har­bor. An Arts & Crafts-era mas­ter­piece the 16,000 sq ft main build­ing of lo­cally quar­ried stone is sur­rounded by a fairy­tale, Alice in Won­der­land world of wa­ter­falls, ponds, paths and dry­s­tone walls that de­light adult and child alike, a folly so per­fectly con­ceived and ex­e­cuted it al­most im­proves upon na­ture. You know the real es­tate mantra “lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion”? Thun­der­bird Lodge is that mantra’s purest ex­pres­sion. And if you think the lodge is fab, wait un­til you see the boat!

A 200m-long tun­nel blasted through solid gran­ite con­nects the house to the boathouse, home to the 16m-long Art Deco mas­ter­piece, the in­com­pa­ra­ble, un­for­get­table Thun­der­bird Yacht. With its triple­planked ma­hogony deck wrapped around a tapered stain­less-steel cabin shaped to mimic the fuse­lage of Whit­tell’s DC-2 air­craft, its two V-12 Al­li­son jet en­gines give it a top speed of 60 ex­hil­a­rat­ing knots. Cruises are rather ex­pen­sive, and in­fre­quent too, so check avail­abil­ity. An­noy­ingly af­ter two vis­its I’m still to get on­board be­cause of sched­uled main­te­nance works. But just to emerge from the tun­nel and see it be­fore you in all its con­sid­er­able glory, is gob-smack­ing enough.

We spent our fi­nal Ta­hoe hours at Sand Har­bor, a cres­cent-shaped yel­low sand beach with a back­drop of Jeffrey pines be­neath a sky as deep a blue as the wa­ter be­fore us. The Lake Ta­hoe Shake­speare Fes­ti­val is held here each sum­mer, and it’s here you’ll find the best ex­am­ple of the lake’s most recog­nis­able land­form - its mas­sive rounded gran­ite boul­ders - the prod­uct of what ge­ol­o­gists call Spheroidal weath­er­ing, and a nat­u­ral play­ground of in­fi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties.

But Sand Har­bor is more than that. Imag­ine the Ol­gas, or the Bun­gle Bun­gles made small, ac­ces­si­ble. Climbable! This beach, like Ta­hoe it­self, if you let it, can reach deep in­side you. I re­alised this when I saw my boys perched on a gran­ite out­crop, all played-out, star­ing west­wards across the lake to the set­ting sun as it dipped be­low the far-off peaks of the Des­o­la­tion Wilder­ness, sit­ting on ig­neous rocks that mil­lions of years ago were forced to the sur­face through up­lift and ero­sion, just so they could pro­vide a seat from which to view the end of an­other per­fect Ta­hoe day.

Fan­nette Is­land, Emer­ald Bay

Above: Jack­son kayaks on Emer­ald Bay

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