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August 26, 2009

Changes to the site

Hey all, my one or two readers may notice that I'm doing some changes to the site. I noticed with my trip to Lake Tahoe that I developed a serious case of verbal diarrhea which made some of the entries really long. Well, the blog has the ability to shorten the entries so that a smaller summary is at the top and the longer entry is available to those who need a nap and want more bedtime reading. So, I'm going back and re-editing some old entries, as well as making use of the categorizing function to sort the entries into other more locatable categories. Nothing else will change content wise, it'll just be a little more compact on first inspection. It will take a little time to get everything edited, but eventually it'll be done.

I'm also fiddling with the size of the pages. Originally it was set up with a rather small page size, I'm presuming for 800x600 type screens. But, I'm guessing most people are running 1280x1024 or higher these days so I expanded the page size to help fill in a bit.

As I take more photos I'll start using larger thumbnails. It's kind of a pain to go back and redo the thumbnails for all of the previous shots, so those will remain small, but from here on out I'll use a larger thumbnail for the pics.

August 25, 2009

Lake Tahoe 2009 - Day 5

August 2

Today is the trip back home. It was a really awesome trip. Like most vacations unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Our flight out isn’t until the afternoon, so we decided to go take a run out to Virginia City. Anyone who’s a fan of old westerns, particularly Bonanza, will recognize the name of Virginia City. In the show, the Ponderosa Ranch was supposedly near the shore of Lake Tahoe, and Virginia City was the nearest town. It is also supposedly the “birthplace” of Mark Twain, the penname of one Samuel Clemens. Not that Clemens was born there, but where he first used the pseudonym.

With this history, I was anticipating a nice old town, with the traditional storefronts, some period costumes, and the general theme of the old west running through the town.

What I got was a tad different. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the reasons I didn’t take my camera along with me, so there’s no pics for this entry. The current Virginia City, does in fact have the old style façade and wooden sidewalk. They do have an “old west shootout” type of show, and there is a horse-drawn carriage that runs through the main strip. Unfortunately that’s about it. While there’s no McDonalds or other fast food or big commercial businesses, some of the stores…well…in my opinion, they didn’t really fit the desired ambience. There were a few bars, and restaurants including a decent one where we had brunch. Unfortunately I don’t remember which one it was. The restaurant was nicely themed down to the waitresses who were dressed in period style. And of course being Nevada, a few casinos.

However, the “leather goods” store where “everything was $20 or under” was a tad odd (all made in china, cheap leather, questionable build quality). The “military surplus” store, and a few others didn’t quite fit the “old west theme” either. Add in the fact that the main street is a regular blacktop street with streetside parking etc, and the theme kept getting fainter and fainter the more we looked about.

Since we got there “early” (10:30am), a lot of the stores were still closed, and there weren’t too many cars. As we walked about and took in the “sights” the town slowly woke up, and some of the stores began to open. One of the locals called it “Comstock time.” Which I guess means: “open your doors whenever you roll in and decide to open.”

By the time we were ready to leave, the tourists were pouring in (and filling up the street with cars, subtracting the theme even more), and the biker trains were rumbling through as well.

Ah well, a slightly disappointing end, but by no means did it ruin the overall trip.

Maybe I’ll toss in an old western on the DVD, or see if there’s a rerun of Bonanza on…

August 17, 2009

Lake Tahoe 2009 - Day 4

August 1

Today we went to the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival where we saw Measure for Measure. What a great idea. Have a small amphitheater with Lake Tahoe as the backdrop behind the stage. Allow the patrons to bring in their own picnic baskets, and stage music or plays as the sun sets.

But, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Since we knew we had to be at the show by around 5:30 or so, we tried to plan our day out a bit earlier. The night before, we spent some time online trying to find a restaurant in Lake Tahoe that served trout. After a lot of searching, we found one place that *might* serve trout: Jakes. Figuring we’d go there for dinner just before the show, we thought we might head down to the South Tahoe area to take a closer look, and perhaps see what Echo Lake was about.

Well, part way down the 28, heading down the eastern side of the Lake, there had apparently been a sewage break that morning that had washed out the road. Luckily the break was further south than the location for the Festival, or we would have had a LONG drive to get around the break.

Tossing those plans out the window, we decided to hit Jakes for an early brunch, and then find something else in the North Tahoe area for dinner. We got there about 10 minutes before they opened, and spent a little time walking through the shops in the area. Once they doors opened, we were seated out on the patio with yet another gorgeous view of one of the boat docks, and the Lake in the background.

So as we sit down and begin scanning the menu, we noticed that there’s a lot of “fresh fish” specialties on the menu, so our hopes were a little brighter but, alas, as the waiter gave us the list of fresh fish there was no trout. We eased our disappointment by setting for an herb-crusted Ono dish that was just fabulous.

Quickly revamping our plans, we decided to head up to Tahoe Meadows, along the 431. We had repeatedly passed the meadows in our trips back and forth from Reno, and saw there were some nice trails. Also, Pam really likes the alpine meadows areas, so we decided to head up there and work off some of the lunch.

Tahoe Meadows:
Tahoe Meadows

It really is a beautiful area, and we were very lucky that it was still green. A lot of late rains have left the area lush, and even kept some of the creeks flowing through the area. Normally this time of year the meadow would have been dry and brown.

That’s a good dog! (Sign at the entrance to the Tahoe Meadows Trails)
That's a good dog

On the path around Tahoe Meadows. Just for Pam’s and my sake, the large leafed plants along the trail, which were very abundant all over, are California Corn Lilies aka California false hellebore (Veratrum californicum). (we couldn’t figure out what the plant was, and there were a LOT of them, so I had to look it up when I got the chance…)

I liked the texture of the tree against the cloudy sky.

More shots of the meadows.

Once we were done hiking about the area, we still had time to kill, so we went further on heading towards a vista point on the map near the Mt. Rose ski resort.

From there we could look out over Washoe Lake and Lesser Washoe Lake, with some storm clouds and rain crossing the plains below.
Lesser Washoe LakeWashoe Lake

From there we started heading back towards Lake Tahoe, but we made another stop at the top of the Mt. Rose Pass, where Pam headed off to explore one of the paths in the area. I was feeling a little off, probably because of the altitude (it’s about 8900’ at the pass) so I hung around the trailhead, reading the signs, and trying to keep my head from throbbing.

Once she got back, we headed back down the hill towards Lake Tahoe, in search of dinner before the show. As we were driving around North Lake Tahoe, we decided to try the “Blue Onion.” Unfortunately they were closed for a Wedding…so strike 1. A little further down, there was a small Italian restaurant, but they weren’t serving Dinner for another 30 minutes (it was about 4:30pm). Strike 2.

Looking across the street we spotted Jason’s restaurant and bar. Zipping over, the entrance was actually around the back, so we headed around, and were seated out on the patio, once again overlooking the lake. So far so good! I settled in for a delicious blue cheese burger, and Pam had a tasty looking grilled chicken sandwich. Score!

So, as I started this entry, we were off to the Shakespeare festival. It looked like quite the local hit, as there were a lot of people there who came with fully loaded coolers and picnic baskets full of wine, cheese, sausages, cheesecake, and more. Groups of friends would stake out some of the seats together, and all would share the goodies.

The amphitheater had a small concrete area near the front filled with Adirondack wooden recliners which was essentially the prime reserved seating area that season ticket holders and such would use. A little further back where we were seated were hand dug tiers in the sand with fabric beach chairs along the tiers. Even further back was the general seating area where people could bring their own chairs and beach blankets.

We had an amusing group of slightly tipsy (and bawdy) biker gals behind us, which made for an entertaining sideline to the actual play itself, which was very well done. The stage was nicely set up, with the gorgeous backdrop of the lake at sunset, gradually fading away as the play progressed.

I would highly recommend that if you are in the Tahoe area in the summer when the festival is going on that you make an effort to catch one of the plays. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

August 11, 2009

Lake Tahoe - Day 3

July 31

Today we decided to go rafting down the Truckee River. We chose the Truckee River Raft Co. There’s a number of companies that offer rafting trips down the Truckee, and it seems to be a very popular event. So much so that we had to make reservations for a specific time-slot. Ours was early afternoon, about 2:00pm, so we decided to grab lunch nearby in the Tahoe City area.

After looking around, trying to find a spot to eat, we randomly chose the Fat Cat Café. That turned out to be an excellent choice. The café had a kind of laid-back reggae atmosphere. Looking at the menu, Pam and I both chose the Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps, which I have to say were extremely yummy. A little spicy, they were filling and delicious. It would be the first of several lucky choices by us for meals. Perhaps Fate was making up for Reno’s restaurants all closing at odd hours.

Back to the rafting: Now this is not whitewater rafting…this is a lazy float down the Truckee River. There are some rough-water areas, but not much. They use about a 5 mile stretch of the river, and it takes about 2-3 hours to lazily float down that distance. You could certainly do it in a much shorter amount of time, but that would kind of spoil the whole point.

The raft was a fairly large, and sturdy rubber raft, probably big enough to hold 4 or more easily, but it just had the two of us. It was the kind of raft that I think you’d have to work pretty hard to overturn or sink. It also seemed pretty durable, as there were some spots where rocks or underwater logs come close enough to the surface to where you could hang up on them, and in other areas you could find yourself scrubbing up against the brush along the bank, and I imagine the rafts have seen many a grind over these obstacles over the years.

I didn’t take my camera, since I wasn’t sure just how rough the water would be, and I certainly didn’t want to chance getting my gear wet. In retrospect it was both a bad and a good decision.

It was a bad decision, in that there were plenty of opportunities to take pictures with very little chance of the gear getting wet unless I dropped the camera overboard. On the good side, it did allow us to splash the water about, and be splashed and squirted by the kids armed with super-soakers (who much to their credit did ask if we wanted to be splashed before blasting), which was a lot of fun and a nice way to periodically cool off.

Many of the people doing the float down the river came armed with coolers and picnic baskets and such. Much to my surprise the river was surprisingly clear of the trash and crap you might expect from having a bunch of party floats all summer long. Sure there was the occasional bit of trash, but on the whole it was remarkably trash free.

A number of them also took their own inner tubes and floats and did their own float down the river, which also looked to be fun. Some tied up to each other forming much larger flotillas. All in all, most seemed to be very friendly and polite and everyone was just enjoying and sharing the river.

I found it to be a very relaxing time and I’m really glad we did it.

After we got off the water, it was still late afternoon, so we decided to head back towards the viewpoint to hopefully catch the sunset. Being as it was still a little early, and we were a little hungry, we stopped off at the Log Cabin Ice Cream shop which supposedly was voted “Best Ice Cream” I’m assuming for the Tahoe area. And it was quite yummy. Again, another random choice that paid off in great food.

By the time we got done with the delicious ice cream, it was starting to cloud over a bit and get a little blustery. And as we headed down to the viewpoint, we could see the wind was really picking up. It still wasn’t cold, but it was definitely windy.

Looking out over the lake, the whole feel of the lake had changed. The gray clouds and the blustery wind made the whole scene feel very moody, and the lake had changed color from the crystalline blue, to a dark steel gray.

This is the same basic shot as I got the first day I was there, however, my eye was drawn to the watermarks on the rocks, which I had overlooked on the previous stop here.

Here is another shot across the lake, emphasizing the gray mood.

Pam posing against the sunset and the lake.

So after chilling and enjoying the view, we decided that we should try to get some dinner. After having floated down the Truckee earlier, and seeing lots of trout either jumping for bugs, or just swimming about in the river, we strangely enough had a craving for trout. So we hopped in the car, and started flipping through the GPS trying to find a place that served trout. Of course, there’s no “trout” grouping like there is Mexican, or Italian, etc. So we tried the “seafood” section, and started flipping through the nearest ones hoping to find something that sounded like they might serve trout. The first up on the list was the Lone Eagle Grill. Sounded promising. After finding it across the street from where the GPS actually indicated, we walked up and checked the menu. After seeing, “Course 1, Course 2, and Course 3” on the menu, and no prices indicated, we decided that was probably going to be a bit out of our league even if they did serve trout (which they didn’t.)

Hopping back in the car we decided to try the GPS again…skimming through we couldn’t find another restaurant nearby that would seem to serve trout. We skipped places like the “Blue Oyster Grill” etc, based on the name. Perhaps a bad choice, perhaps not. What we did find was a restaurant out in Reno that looked promising.

So we cruised back to Reno, following the GPS, until we got to the restaurant. So far so good, it was even in the right spot. Except...it had a big “Space for Lease” sign on the front of it. *Sigh*

A bit disappointed and more than a little frustrated, we decided to try one of the Thai places we saw along the way. As we were moving through the parking lot, Pam spotted a very ornately painted façade for a Japanese restaurant named Kyoto and suggested “Let’s try there.”

So we pulled in, and were trying to spot the doorway (remember the whole storefront was painted rather ornately). Spotting a door with no handle, we were prepared for disappointment, until we spotted a door that we thought was associated with an amazingly small Italian restaurant next door (which in typical Reno fashion was already closed even though it was only 8:00pm). Turns out that was the entrance to the restaurant, so we happily (and hungrily) headed in once we had verified they were open.

Turns out we were the only customers in the restaurant, so we got quite excellent service. The best thing we ordered was the gyoza appetizer. Apparently they hand make everything about the gyoza there, and I must say, they were absolutely delicious. Large, plump, and nicely crisped on the bottom, they were awesome. Yet another random food choice that paid off in great food.

We headed back to the hotel to relax and see if we could find a Tahoe area restaurant that served trout by checking online. While we were there we were treated to a fireworks show down the road a bit. I have no idea what the fireworks were for, but it was a nice show.

Here’s a shot from the window. I was trying to handhold the camera for the 5 seconds or so the shutter was open, which is why it’s a little blurry. That's the Reno Strip in the background.

August 08, 2009

Lake Tahoe 2009 - Day 2

July 30

We decided to take a nice easy drive around the lake, and see what was there. The route around the lake is about 70 miles or so. The reason to do the leisurely drive was twofold: 1) It lets us see if there were any spots we wanted to come back to later, and 2) it gave us another day to acclimate to the altitude (Lake Tahoe is at 6000 feet or so).

One of our first stops was the Visitor Center. Actually it was a pretty lucky stop, as we more or less randomly chose to head down the east side of the lake first, and that happened to be where the Visitor Center was.

A little further down the east side is a view point, where I got this shot:

The water really is that clear. According to some stuff I read at the vista point is that back in the time of Mark Twain, the water clarity of the lake was over 100 feet. They test that by lowering a white plate into the water, and recording how far down it goes before they can’t see it anymore. So back then, you could see over 100 feet straight down into the water! These days, primarily due to human contamination with pesticides, fertilizers, etc, the water clarity is down to around 70 feet, though with increased awareness, and more careful monitoring, they’re hoping to reverse that trend.

A little further down the road, and a short hop up a side road was Spooner Lake:


Spooner Lake itself is a small lake, beautiful for it’s location but otherwise unremarkable. But according to a helpful volunteer at the Visitor Center, there were supposed to be carvings from Basque Shepherds on the aspen trees in the area. These carvings were called arborglyphs. Apparently these arborglyphs conveyed everything from whom and where the shepherd was grazing the sheep, to erotic messages and pictures, to Basque mythology. Unfortunately, aspen trees at best live to be about 100 years old, so a lot of these arborglyphs have been lost. Also unfortunately, we did not find any of the actual Basque arborglyphs. There were however, modern interpretations.

Continuing on around the lake, we passed through the South Lake Tahoe area. Nothing too remarkable seemed to pop out while we were passing through. It seemed very commercial, more like a beach resort area.

Continuing on around, we got to Emerald Bay.

Emerald Bay is an interesting little spot, it’s an odd protrusion from the main lake itself, and contains Lake Tahoe’s only island, Fannette Island.

Apparently Fannette Island was, for a time, home to a hermit. Here is one version of the story. The only reason I bring this up is because while we were walking around the vista point, a young boy (I’m guessing maybe 8-9 years old), walked up to me while I was looking about and asked me if I was the hermit that lived on the island. He said that he thought I kinda looked like I might be the hermit. I’m not sure what prompted that, or if I should have been offended or not. I did tell him that, sorry no, I was not the hermit, and he seemed a bit disappointed at that.

Continuing around the lake, there were few other vista areas until we got back through the North Tahoe area and we were back where we had started.

From here we went up to Donner Pass. The whole story behind Donner Pass tends to get lost behind the whole cannibalism thing, which was really such a minor aspect of the whole episode. The whole Donner expedition really suffered from just the “perfect storm” (pun intended) of issues that resulted in the expedition being stranded at the pass.

There was the decision to essentially try a new route that was supposed to shave a couple of hundred miles off the trip but instead added 3 weeks to their travel time and used up all of their supplies. They had sent someone ahead to Sutter Fort near Sacramento for supplies, and when that person returned, they told them the road ahead was very rough and difficult. So they decided to stop and rest for a week, which was the next mistake. Winter came very early and hard to the area with one of the worst storms ever recorded for the Sierras, blanketing the area in snow, and forcing the group to stop near what is now Donner Lake. The rest of the story is really about their struggle for survival in snows that eventually were 22 feet deep! Out of food, and dying from starvation, some of the people involved eventually resorted to cannibalizing some of the corpses to survive. Of the 91 members who set out, in the end only 49 survived.

To give you an idea of how deep the snow was, this picture by Pam shows the memorial to the Donner party. From the ground to the top of the pillar is 22’ (note that’s not to the top of the statues, just to top of the main pillar)
(I’ll add the pic when I get it from Pam…in the mean time here’s a link to a picture of the statue.)
Donner Memorial State Park

August 03, 2009

Lake Tahoe 2009 - Arrival day 1

July 29th

We flew in on the 29th in the evening. A delayed flight from SD to San Jose, made it a little tense in catching our connecting flight to Reno, but, we did manage to get in just in the nick of time.

The rental car from Hertz was a Nissan Altima Hybrid. While I’m typically not terribly enamored of many of the Nissan cars (with a few exceptions), I did find it to be a decent car, and it kinda grew on me towards the end. Having never driven a hybrid, some of the car’s idiosyncrasies were…interesting.

Having had an Altima before (see Colorado 2008), I didn’t think it would be too different, but either they made some changes for 2009, or the Hybrid trim level is different.

The good: The mileage on the Hybrid was pretty amazing. We did over 500 miles on the initial tank, averaging about 32.5 MPG or so even in the mountains. Acceleration was very good, and handling was decent. The seats were more comfortable than I recall from 2008, and I had no problems with the seats even while going around the twisties in the mountains. I learned also that the key fob doesn’t need to be in the slot in order to use the car. Just needs to be nearby for you to use the push-button start.

The odd: When you first push the start button, nothing really seems to happen. The dash turns on, and the AC comes on, but there’s no engine noise or vibration. It just…turns on. At slow parking lot speeds, the engine still typically didn’t come on, which was a little disconcerting. As you accelerate to normal street speeds, there’s a slight stumbling sensation, and the gas motor kicks in. Shortly after you stop, there is again that slight sensation, almost like the engine has stalled. In fact, the engine does shut down, but you’re running in EV mode, so the main engine isn’t needed. On long enough downhills, the system goes into regenerative braking mode, so the engine is used to recharge the batteries. So from a reasonably quiet car, all of a sudden it sounds like you’ve downshifted, but you really don’t slow down all that much. The Hybrid also had a CVT, which, as in my previous post can be a little odd. The revs climb while accelerating, but never “shift”.

The bad: The brakes. Still very, very, touchy. Also, under moderate to firm acceleration from a standing start, there is a momentary hesitation while the engine kicks in. It’s not much, but it is noticeable, especially if you are used to the more or less instantaneous acceleration of a regular gas engine. The big problem is it occurs AFTER you've already started to roll forward into traffic...

We stayed at the Ramada in Reno. A nice enough hotel, nothing fancy. It did have one oddity in the gift shop. We never could quite figure out when the shop was supposed to be open. It never seemed to be open in the morning (no matter how late in the morning we left), and was sometimes open very late (i.e. after 10:00pm), but other times it wasn't open when we returned. It became a sort of game to try to guess if it was going to be open when we got back to the hotel. Anyway, the Ramada was only about two blocks from the Reno “strip”.

Ah, Reno…the town gave me the creeps, actually. More or less deserted whenever we were driving through it, the town seemed to shut down after about 8:00pm. I guess I was anticipating something more along the lines of Las Vegas, only smaller. What it turned out to be was something like an old and dingy Las Vegas, bereft of shows, glamour, or glitz. All you have left is the casinos, the lights, and the cigarette smoke. Maybe it’s the economy or something, but there were an awful lot of closed businesses, casinos, and a general lack of people about.

During the trip, we traversed through Reno a few times looking for a place to grab dinner (aside from the Denny’s and Carrows near the hotel…nice enough establishments, but we wanted something different…). Unlike Vegas, there was a decided lack of restaurants anywhere along or near the strip (aside from those inside the very smoky casinos.) So we ended up roaming through Reno looking for restaurants that were open later than 8:00pm. Yes, I said 8:00pm.

We finally found some restaurants about 3-4 miles away from the strip area itself, and even found a few that were open.

Anyway, I’ll have pictures and more with the next post.