This was supposed to be a blog on Lake Tahoe. All of it. But it ended up being about just one small corner of Lake Tahoe.
You see, Cindy and I had been planning a trip to Lake Tahoe for many months. The goal was to first drive up the 395 highway, stopping along the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains for scenic breaks. This, we did (and you will see it on a future blog post). Then, we hoped to enjoy a couple of days around the lake, dipping into Nevada as we fancied, before finally returning home through the central valley. Planning for hipster on a dime, I booked a highly-rated "family run" motel for three nights in South Lake Tahoe. Now, I'm not generally one for motels (Pyscho turned me off to them) but this one was "newly refurbished" and had hot-tubs in many of the rooms. Why not?! It didn't feel like a roll-of-the-dice at the time and we left for Lake Tahoe with high-hopes.
When we finally wound our way down the side of the mountain and into Lake Tahoe, we were exhausted. We had been driving for 8 hours, hiked in humidity, had been rained on, and were both in desperate need for a shower. When we checked into our hotel, we were told that we would be taking "the very last room available"—an ADA-compliant room with a roll in shower. I was a bit disappointed to not have one of those hot-tubs I heard so much about, but I shrugged and took the key. We were just happy to get clean!
After a very short shower, Cindy tip-toed out of the bathroom and remarked that the whole bathroom floor was flooded. I poked my head in and sure enough, the entire room was covered in a quarter-inch layer of water! The "roll-in" shower had no lip to prevent water from escaping. Further more, after the room finally drained, I cycled the water a bit to discover that the real problem was with the drain—it was clogged, causing the flooding. What the hell!
I returned to the front desk and expressed my concern with the shower. Though sincerely apologetic, the staff member had no idea what to do. She picked up the phone and called the hotel manager who was away, on a vacation of his/her own it would seem. The response the staff member got was disappointing: "We're aware of the problem", "we're waiting for parts", "it doesn't flood that much", and "just give them some dirty towels to put on the ground."
I know about that last remark because the front desk staff member said, "They told me to give you dirty towels, but I don't feel good about that so here are some clean ones."
I went back to Cindy and told her the sorry excuse of a solution. She teetered between pissed and depressed—this was not turning out to be the vacation she had hoped for. Sensing it was time to move on, I returned to the front desk to discuss options for cancelling the room outright. She again got on the phone and spoke to the manager. The result? They would not refund this first evening but would allow us to walk away from our other days without penalty. I reluctantly agreed.
When I got back to the room, I looked at every hotel web site I knew of for alternate lodging. To my dismay, there was no reasonable accommodation anywhere in Lake Tahoe! It ends up that Elton John was playing at Lake Tahoe that weekend and everyone with tickets snatched up the available hotel rooms! Gosh...thanks Elton John!
I love to plan these trips to great detail. I look forward to mapping out each step with the same pleasure that I take sharing these trips on the blog. And yet suddenly, here I was without a room and without a plan, 8 hours from home. Do we pay out of our ears for another crappy accommodation elsewhere? No. How about we just give up and go home (we can be there by 3am!)? No. Finally, I let go of whatever I had intended this trip to be and said, "Screw it. Let's blow it up."
Not the hotel, I mean! The trip! We decided to blow up the trip and play it out on the fly. We had 3 more days to be back to Southern California and there was plenty of State to see. And so, we went to work. We booked a hotel in Sacramento for the following night, just two and a half hours from where we were. The next day would be our one day at Lake Tahoe and then we'd move on by the evening. With many planned days of Lake Tahoe now condensed into one, we had to make the difficult decision of choosing where and how to experience the sea-sized lake. After some contemplation, it was decided: Emerald Bay State Park.
Emerald Bay State Park is a natural bay on the south-west corner of Lake Tahoe. The bay has a small mouth at the entrance and is relatively shallow compared to the whole of Lake Tahoe, a depth that likely gives the water its emerald-shade. The park has the only island in Lake Tahoe, Fannette Island.
On the second day of our trip, we departed from our hotel with a hearty-good riddance. Stopping for some coffee and snacks, we made our way to Highway 89 and after a series of hair-raising curves (Cindy is not a fan of my driving on tight mountain roads), we arrived above the bay.
We found a couple of viewpoints along the road and stopped for photos. Though a bit hazy, I could make out the Viking tea house on Fannette Island. More on that in a bit.
From our vantage point, it was back to the car where we continued around the ridge that formed the bay. We had hoped to stop at the official parking area for Emerald Bay but it was at capacity. With no worries, we continued up the 89 towards DL Bliss State Park. We knew that both State Parks were connected by the Rubicon Trail.
The Rubicon Trail is a 8 mile trek connecting Rubicon Point, in DL Bliss State Park, to the Vikingsholm parking area, in Emerald Bay State Park. It hugs the coast of the lake, weaving in and out of the shore. At times it is perched upon the ridge and at other times, it lays down at the level of the lake.
We parked the car, taking up one of the last parking spots near the mid-way trail head. Packing our bags, we were soon off! The trail was a gradual decline, slowly making its way down to Emerald Point, the northern lip of Emerald Bay. The morning was mild and the trail was smooth—what a beautiful morning for a hike!
Once down at lake-level in Emerald Bay, we passed by some beaches and through a campground before arriving at our turnaround point, Vikingsholm. Vikingsholm is a Scandinavian-styled mansion at the far end of Emerald Bay, commissioned in the 1920s by Mrs. Lora J. Knight. The structure was built in the fashion it was because the bay reminded Mrs. Knight of a Scandinavian fjord. Some refer to the 38-room building as a "Californian Castle" (I too rank it up there with Hearst Castle as an example of early theming). The original estate included the entire bay as well as the island, which is why there is a "tea house" on Fannette Island.
Though available for tours for a small fee, Cindy and I were sweaty and hungry and passed on exploring Vikingsholm. We wanted to eat on the beach but the area in front of the "castle" was packed-silly as most people enter Emerald Bay on this, western side of the bay. We decided to not stay long, instead walking around the building and soon disembarking back on the Rubicon Trail. We had encountered many small, empty beaches along our path in and knew that 30 minutes of walking would get us away from the crowds.
Sure enough, we were right! We found our private beach and decided to lunch. We had walked nearly 4 miles and the air was now warm in the afternoon sun; it was time to relax!
We dipped our toes into the water, daring not to go too far for it was pretty frigid by our wimpy standards. We threw down a towel and cracked open our snacks. Eating, sunbathing, listening to music, and being alone—it was perfect.
After about an hour of rest, we noticed that a boat was coasting towards us, just off the shore. Cindy and I were annoyed—we had hiked from very far to arrive in this pristine area; boating there just felt like cheating to us. We were also not fond of sharing the space. We sharpened spears and prepared to defend ourselves!!!
Alas, the family had children and we decided to not fight back. They deserve to grow up with their parents, I suppose. In fact, it was time to go anyway. The return trek was all uphill and we had a two-hour drive to Sacramento ahead of us.
This final stretch of the hike was rather unpleasant. Our swollen feet barely fit back in their shoe-sized jail cells and incline and heat made things all the more difficult. On the final stretch, I analyzed where we were on my phone's GPS and made a decision that I rarely do: I decided to go off-trail as a "short cut". I don't recommend this and even generally frown upon those who do, but we were tired! My intuition payed off and we were soon back at my car.
Back at the car, we left for Sacramento. It was never the plan to go there but it ended up being a fantastic choice. Our new hotel was comfortable, fancy, and all for less money than the dump we left behind! After an amazing dinner (my first time eating Afgani-food), we began to plan for our remaining two days. Soon it was decided: we would complete the trek down the California Central Coast, a journey we were unable to complete the year prior (also due to a wrench being thrown into our vacation). It was an amazing vacation.
Despite this, I am still sad that I didn't get to experience more of Lake Tahoe. The circumstances of the trip just didn't allow for it. But I'm grateful for the experience and already looking at when we can go back and finish seeing the area!
For more photos of our time at Emerald Bay State Park, check out the gallery below!: