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Travelogue – Lake Tahoe, California

Lake Tahoe is an unfair representation of my experience last week in that I only witnessed the massive freshwater lake from afar halfway up a mountain and then close up at it’s edge, but in the absolute dead of night.

We actually stayed about about 40 minutes from the lake near a historic railroad town called Truckee, about 1,000 feet further up the mountain at the quite recently opened Ritz Carlton Highlands resort.

The Ritz Carlton sits at the base of a mountain ski village called Northstar, at an elevation of 6,900 feet and is an imposing castle-like property that has its very own gondola ride that navigates 1,000 feet down the mountain to the Northstar village, a relatively new pedestrian complex that is dominated by an ice skating rink and has plenty of winter sport shops to wander plus the obligatory Starbucks.
It was dead when I was there, probably because of the lack of snow, but it lacked the buzz that is so often associated with ski villages and quite honestly it was a little bit depressing. I did however luck upon a very good sushi restaurant called Mikuni. The place was a bit drab, but the food which was Japanese with a Californian twist was excellent.

IMG_1701[1]The roaring fireplaces everywhere you looked in the Ritz Carlton were welcoming but a little unnecessary bearing in mind one day it was warmer there than in Bermuda.

Snow has been a real problem in the region, in fact the lack of water generally and driving back through the barren and often brown mountain passes to Reno airport was quite disturbing. It did snow lightly one day this week, but the last proper dump was on Christmas Day and although I was told it can snow until late April, to me it looked like the summer had already taken hold.

They were packing and blowing the snow onto the runs to their best ability and the hotel was sat right next to nicely groomed bright white bunny slopes 200 yards from the main lift. However beyond that almost every other precipice was snowless. The resort cancelled my snowmobiling excursion as there wasn’t enough fluffy stuff on the trails.

The mostly eastern-facing terrain looked very inviting to the ski novices amongst us, but many of our crowd were accomplished skiers and I have to say most said they wouldn’t come back.

One evening we were bussed to a dinner at the West Shore Cafe, which was south of Tahoe City and sat right on the lake. The food was average, but the location is known for it’s scintillating view of Lake Tahoe, but sadly out on the deck all I got to see was one large dark cavern.

Lake Tahoe is a vast blue bowl of freshwater ringed by the Sierra Nevada mountains and is the largest alpine lake in North America with a depth of 1,645 ft and the 2nd deepest in the United States after Crater Lake in Oregon.

IMG_1672[1]The lake and surrounding Washoe Indian territory were first seen by the explorer John C. Fremont in 1844, and was soon swarming with silver prospectors just a few decades later. Affluent San Francisco families soon built summer lodges, and the postwar boom brought highways, hotels, and casinos on the Nevada side. The 1960 Winter Olympics were hosted there at Squaw Valley.

Truckee was a short drive away from the hotel and has a historic background as a stopping point for Americans travelling east to west in the mid 1800’s.

One such group were the Donner Party, 87 pioneer American migrants from Illinois seeking a new life in the west. Their journey had already been long and eventful after a catalogue of errors, misjudgments and infighting.

The group centered around three families from Springfield, Illinois. George Donner, his brother Jacob, and Irishman James F. Reed each had three wagons and were accompanied by their wives, children, and employees.

A large unexpected blizzard brought the settlers to a halt at the edge of Truckee near what is now known as Donner Lake, about 1,200 feet below the steep granite summit of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The group were split up and in the tough weather conditions the travellers endured starvation and were later found to have practiced cannibalism. Only 7 survived, 2 were lost and 6 died. Those who died were used as food by those who remained! True story.

IMG_1674[1]Of the original 87 settlers, 48 made it and The Donner Memorial State Park is dedicated to the settlers and is located at the East End of Donner Lake.

Truckee itself didn’t have a lot to offer, although I wasn’t eaten so that was a plus. The Truckee Hotel (right) stands at one end looking as if it holds all of the town’s secrets. It has been there since 1873 and is said to be haunted.

The Old Jail was built in 1875 and was still in use up until the mid 1960’s, and the Railway Depot celebrates the first transcontinental railway that reached Truckee in 1868 and today trains still rumble past it.

The Truckee River which runs between Nevada and California was pretty (photo), but otherwise the streets were just lined with nondescript shops selling nondescript stuff, but I have to give a mention to two very good restaurant finds.

The day I was in Truckee I had lunch in Marty’s Cafe, which I walked by and put my head in. It was packed, and on the basis I had seen hardly anyone walking around Truckee’s streets, I had to wait to see what the fuss was about. I watched intently as dishes left the open kitchen and each looked amazing, as was my lunch.

IMG_1681[1]Then one night our group had dinner at Trokay, which took me by complete surprise as we were served up some real culinary creativity. Trokay is owned by husband and wife chefs and the food and wine was exceptional.

Reno is across the border in Nevada about 45 minutes away and also the nearest airport to the ski resorts of Lake Tahoe. The state line is marked by tolls, but it is the towering casinos that sit at the gateway of Nevada’s entertainment and outdoor adventure.

From the brief look I got of it Reno looks as if it was coming out of both it’s cheap and nasty shadow and post economic slump, although it is no Vegas.

I’m glad I got the opportunity to visit the Lake Tahoe area, and although the lack of snow and rainwater is a real problem for the area, this is truly the great outdoors whatever the season.

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