Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lake Tahoe Part 2--Here Comes the Sun: June 26-28, 2013

When we woke the morning of Wednesday the 26th, the rain was gone and the sky was blue.  Our task was set before us--cram four days worth of Lake Tahoe fun into two.

Hike from the Eagle Falls Trailhead to Middle Velma Lakes

We always try to take a hike while in Lake Tahoe.  A hike is a great way to burn some calories during a vacation during which you are eating chips and drinking margaritas every night, but more importantly, it is a great way to see areas of the wilderness that the average Lake Tahoe going couch potato doesn't get to see.
Simply Gorgeous Middle Velma Lake
There are a wide variety of hiking opportunities around the immediate South Lake Tahoe area, but I knew the one we took on this particular morning was not ranked among the easier on the hiking difficulty spectrum.  The trail to Velma Lakes is ranked as a 3 out of 5 in my book, "California Hiking" and a 9 out of 10 in terms of scenery.  Most other sources consider this trail to be intermediate to advanced and "not for novice hikers."  Though this trail actually branches to Upper, Middle and Lower Velma Lakes, the most popular and easiest of the three is the trail to Middle Velma, which will be reached 3.8 miles and 1300 feet in elevation from the Eagle Falls Trailhead, located 8.5 miles north on Highway 89 at the apex of scenic Emerald Bay.  We left our house in South Tahoe at 8:30 and were able to get one of the coveted parking spaces on the highway, close to the trailhead but not in the $5 Day Use parking fee area.
The trail follows along the very popular Eagle Lake Trail for the first mile, and then branches off on its own toward your Velma Lakes destination.  The entire trail offers spectacular views and some very rugged hiking.  We had Middle Velma Lake all to ourselves.  The water is too cold for swimming (and that's saying something because we swim in Lake Tahoe) but it was sure nice to dip those hot "new hiking boots" feet into the icy water and sit a little.  Unfortunately, we did this trail in a bit of a time crunch, so we really pushed ourselves.  Some pretty wicked foot pain ensued on the way down and some pretty serious muscle aching followed us around for a few days.
I do recommend this hike but it is not for the faint of heart. Ninety percent just ain't gonna make it.

Round Hill Pines Beach and Marina

Well, when you go to Lake Tahoe, you simply have to patronize a marina.  This is the place you go to rent your kayaks, canoes, motorboats, jet skis, and board your paddlewheel boats for scenic historic tours of Emerald Bay on the Tahoe Queen or the MS Dixie II.  There are marinas all over the South Tahoe area:  Ski Run, El Dorado, Camp Richardson, just to name a few.  We used to be a Zephyr Cove family, but for the last several years we have been going to Round Hill Pines.
Round Hill Pines is closer to South Lake Tahoe and is not nearly as crowded. One year we went to Zephyr Cove and they told us we couldn't rent more than one jet ski at a time.  What???  Well, that solved that.  We found another marina.  Zephyr Cove probably has more boats and selection, but their silly one time rule pushed us elsewhere.  The lake is the lake and a jet ski is a jet ski, and jet skiing on Lake Tahoe is an absolute hoot.  You can rent for half an hour or one hour at a time.  When you do it like we do half an hour is plenty. I also recommend that the driver have plenty of upper body strength in order to handle the jet ski, otherwise your arms could rip right out of the sockets.  I am always good and sore after a morning on a jet ski.
Round Hill Pines Marina is located at 325 Highway 50, 89448, 5 minutes east of the Nevada state line.

Sand Harbor State Beach

Truly this could be a posting all by itself.  Sand Harbor State Beach holds a place on my list of the 10 best places in the world, and truly may be in the top three if I ever really took the time to make such a list.
My husband and I discovered Sand Harbor while on a little weekend getaway to Reno almost ten years ago.  We loved it so much on Saturday that we returned on Sunday, and since then it has been a "must do" on all our trips to Lake Tahoe.
Sand Harbor is located about 40 minutes from South Lake Tahoe on Nevada State route 28 just south of Incline Village and about 8 miles north of Spooner Lake and the Highways 50 and 28 junction.
It costs 12$ to park at Sand Harbor and there's not an easy way to avoid this fee.  When we come we prefer to park a little farther south from the entrance, which seems to be less crowded but still close to restrooms and walking distance from anything you would need to get to.
The water at Sand Harbor is perfectly clear and still.  From our little yellow inflatable raft floating on the cold waters you can turn to face the granite and green cliffs that encase the swimming area.  For those who dare (and we dare) the swimming area is large and safe.  There are restrooms with showers nearby, a small restaurant/grill, picnic areas with barbeque pits, and lifeguards.  To the north portion of the beach there is a Trex decking pathway that leads along an interpretive trail and to a lot of boulders for rock hopping.  Sand Harbor is also home to the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare ( festival that runs every summer.

Over the rocks....

One thing we have started doing at Sand Harbor is catching crawdads (or crayfish, whichever you prefer).  All you need is some sticks, a weight, long string, bait and a large bucket to collect whatever you catch.
Dang!  I fell for the hot dog trick again!
Crawdads are small lobster like creatures that tend to live in dark crevices and under rocks submerged in water.  They are super stupid and can't resist that bit of salami or hot dog when dangled right in front of them.  They come out from under the rocks and slowly approach their new found meal. Greedily they cling, failing to realize they are being drawn out of the water.  The transfer to the bucket is the hard part, as this seems to be the moment of realization of impending capture, causing many to release the bait for a shot at a longer life.
Anyway, over the years we have gotten quite sophisticated.  We used to tie the bait up with rocks but rocks get loose easily so now we have graduated to nuts or washers, which work far better.  We have tried all kinds of bait, ranging from chicken gizzards to ribs to salami.  Craig says salami works best.  One bit of trouble is fighting off the little fish that also like the bait.  They can be quite a nuisance, as they block the path to the bait.  We also have a huge "True Value" paint bucket now, no more sand toys.
Anyway, sometimes they are biting, sometimes not.  We see how many we can catch and then we let them go.  Most are really small and wouldn't make much of a snack anyway.
At Sand Harbor you can catch crawdads anywhere there are rocks in the water.  We always go to the end of the interpretive trail and jump over some boulders and down to a little enclosed space just sheltered from the open lake.  Flip flops are ill advised.  Whenever doing any kind of boulder hopping I recommend a good pair of water sneakers everyday of the week and twice on Sunday.

Anyway!  Once you've dumped your crayfish, Sand Harbor is a great place to brave jumping off
boulders into the icy Lake Tahoe waters!  Once we get started it's hard to stop--it's fun and a little scary and downright cold all at once!  Simply crawl out through the boulders to the open lake, find a deep enough spot (which is easy to determine because the water is so clear) and JUMP!!

Magic Carpet Golf

Well, remember our mode where we had to cram four days of Tahoe into two?  Well, after leaving Sand Harbor Beach at 5 my kids insisted that we go to Magic Carpet Golf because ....we always do!!!
Magic Carpet Golf is located at 2455 Lake Tahoe Blvd in South Lake Tahoe and weather permitting is open daily from 10 am to 10 pm.  There are three available courses, Dinosaur and Storybook, which are the usual 18 holes and cost $8.50 and Castle, which is 28 holes, newer, and costs $12.
Since we had no time constraints today, we chose at long last, Castle.
The place is pure camp.  The astroturf is a little warped and the paint is chipping on most of the features, which has been hastily painted over with more paint which is also chipping.  Last I checked though mini golf is not

Truly one of the scariest things
I've ever seen.
highly stressful serious type of pastime, so these things are easily overlooked.  You have your usual pirate ship, your pterodactyl, your windmill, your waterwheel, and very special and unique to this place on the dinosaur course is the "evil monkey" with its beady red eyes and its very very very scary tail.  See for yourself. We only had one freakish experience here this time when an employee took it upon herself to come over and explain the rules of miniature golf (something about everyone hitting once and then they person closest to the hole going next) and then asked if we were playing that way??!!  We weren't, but there was no crowd or back up behind us.  I did notice it was past eight so I asked if she needed us to hurry because they were closing. "No, I'm just telling you the right way to play."  Whatevs!!!  I didn't know I was going to run into the mini-golf police??  She wasn't unpleasant--it was just totally weird....

Thank you for reading this post!  We are off to Pennsylvania for three weeks!  Look for upcoming posts about "the Keystone state!"

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Lake Tahoe Part 1--Rainy Days--June 23-June 25, 2013

Ah, lovely Lake Tahoe.  So much beauty so close to home.  Craig and I have been coming here every year during the summer since the mid 1990's.  We started out camping but when my then 18 month old dumped a bucket of ash from the extinguished fire down the front of her shirt, we decided to start staying in a house with running water and a bathtub.  Since the summer of 2002, we have stayed in the gorgeous home of our friends David and Laura, who have generously allowed us to create family memories here year after year for a very very small fraction of what this luxury accommodation would cost the average family.
The last few years schedules have dictated that we come in late June instead of mid-July, and both times we had to do this, we struggled with the weather. Last year for one day we sat huddled on the beach in long pants and sweatshirts, and not once during the entire week did we feel like getting into the chilly Tahoe waters.  This year as we arrived there was no beachgoing, just rain and 59 degrees. 
Anyway, my mom is convinced that June is too early to come to Tahoe.  Craig and I are not convinced.  Both years the sun made its appearance later in the week and as part 2 of this posting will reveal, the weather this year ceased to be an issue, and full summer fun was had by this GoFamily in June of 2013.

Lake Tahoe Accomodations--Property ID hch 1649

What a weird heading, but I just have to throw a huge shout out to promote this incredible place where we have stayed for 11 summers.  The best way to see it is to just go online to Lake Tahoe Accomodations and just see the pictures and take the virtual tour.
This "big red" property is located in South Lake Tahoe off of Pioneer Trail near Ski Run Blvd., just a minute or two by car to Heavenly Valley, and a few more minutes to Ski Run Marina and Stateline.  (In order to protect my friends' privacy, I won't give the exact address.)
This house is 5 bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms on three levels and is 2792 square feet.  The master suite is on the top floor with the main living and dining area.  The entry floor has three bedrooms and a bathroom as well as another living space with another flat screen TV.  The bottom, or street level floor has bunk bed space for seven and another full bathroom.  All linens are provided.  All the bedrooms have ample closet and drawer space.  All bedrooms but one have king size beds.
Master Bedroom
There are 5 flat screen TV's throughout the house, including two with DVR type recording options.  There is also free Wi-Fi.
There are two wrap around decks, a gas grill, and a hot tub.
The kitchen is by far the best equipped I have even encountered in a rental.
You can park 5 cars at this rental.
This property is listed as "luxury" through Lake Tahoe Accomodations, and this label is accurate. Every year we sit back and wait to see what Dave and Laura have done with the property since the last time we stayed.  Since we have been going there all the bathrooms and the kitchen have been remodeled, the hot tub
Remodeled kitchen and dining space
has been replaced, new televisions, new bedspreads, new sofas--the list continues.  The latest renovation was a completely new paver driveway and new front landscaping.  My hubby was particularly impressed by the brand new concrete footings supporting the deck!
The only caveat is that luxury like this comes at a price.  Keeping in mind that we do not pay the full price, I checked out some availability and some prices through the listing. I checked out some weekday nights throughout the summer and it looks like this rental will cost you about $750-$850 a night.  That's a lot of dough!  However, do keep in mind that truly three families can accommodate this house at one time, so splitting evenly, the price does become more manageable.
There are many rental agencies that can help you to find your dream vacation rental, but this property is listed through Lake Tahoe Accomodations, property ID 1649 (the above heading is a link!)  LTA is open for reservations 24 hours a day at 1-800-250-8033.

Let's Eat Breakfast!!

Well, no matter the weather, you've gotta eat, right? 
We are very meticulous about saving money when we come to Lake Tahoe by preparing our own food at our house, but when in South Lake Tahoe, we never fail to stop at the Red Hut Café (, located at 2497 Lake Tahoe Blvd.
The Red Hut Café, less formally known as the Red Hut, is a small, "family-run," diner type restaurant that likely seats no more than 30 in the diner and another 12 at the counter.  Hours at this location are from 6am to 2 pm daily.  Both the breakfast and the lunch menus are served from opening to close.  The menu boasts a wide variety of the usual breakfast items, omelettes, eggs, hash browns, and pancakes and waffles often covered with fresh fruit in season and whipped cream. When eating at the Red Hut, it is hard to resist "The Usual," two eggs, hash browns, and a biscuit drowning in decadent gravy, all for about $5.99.  Most breakfast items are between six and ten dollars.
Nothing quite like "The Usual!"
The Red Hut has been in operation since 1959, when the Old Donut Shop building at Stateline was moved 2.3 miles down the road to it's current location and was marked with the same sign that stands today.  Two more locations have since opened in the South Lake Tahoe Area, one on Kingsbury Grade and the other at Ski Run Blvd. More recently, Carson City and Reno Locations have opened.  Check out the website for exact addresses and hours.
Hate to give away this secret but if you don't get there early, expect LONG waits, especially on the weekends.  This is a popular place!  We make it our rule to never be there later than 8:30am, and that's on a weekday!
No one in this family needs to be persuaded to come here!
Just to prove we've been coming here forever, compare this picture
with the one below.  My son must be like three.
Not so little, but still coloring menus at the counter
One of my favorite Red Hut pictures!
Share the Red Hut with your friends!
Just get there early!
Rainy Days in Lake Tahoe....

So what do you do in Lake Tahoe when it rains?? Well, when you have had enough of your novel, board games, and puzzles, you do have a few options that can get you out of the house and still enjoying your surroundings....
    The weather isn't going to stop this active GoFamily!!
  1. Get your rain jacket, some decent shoes, and an umbrella and go for a walk anyway!  We took a short drive to the Taylor Creek Visitor Center where we enjoyed the half-mile long Rainbow Trail...3 times.  The trail is flat and paved and features interpretive information along the path about the lake and its surrounding ecosystem.  There is also an underground creek exhibit which is rather uninteresting but worth a quick look.  Anyway, we were out for the exercise, so we just really hoofed it, so doing it three times took us about 20 minutes.
Umbrellas and raingear and you are good to go!!
Natalya checks out the scene at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center
          2.  Visit an arcade.  Really the only arcade we found in the Tahoe area was an arcade at the Horizon hotel at Stateline ( .  Now I would normally advise that arcades are not an effective use of money, but a game of air hockey costs 50 cents and can last a good while.  If you stay away from the Skeeball, and the Chuck E. Cheese mentality of trying to accumulate tickets so you can trade them in for garbage (for want of a much more descriptive word), you can enjoy some fun for an hour or so and not go broke or go home with plastic spider rings or sticky hands.

            3. Go see a movie.  We never go to the movies--what a rip off--but heck, you're on vacation and it's raining, so whaddayagonnado?  The Heavenly Village Cinemas ( are located at 1021 Heavenly Village Way, phone (530)544-1110.  There are 8 cinemas, with matinee prices until six pm on all shows, which still left us paying for $8 tickets.  Hmm...wonder how much five tickets cost after six?  Add the popcorn and you should have just sprung for a new flat screen TV.
Well, thank Heaven!  We woke up on the morning of Wednesday, June 26th and the weather was amazing.  Stay tuned for another post describing how to cram four days of a Tahoe vacation into two!

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