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Lake Tahoe: First Ever Visit, Could Be the Last...
When I planned this trip in early October, my first-ever visit to Lake Tahoe and northern Nevada (see above map), I was hoping I'd get a chance to see some nice fall colors that had eluded me in the overheated northeast this fall. As it turns out, I was too early back east, and too late in the Sierra Nevada's.
Well, some turning leaves are still here, like these south of Reno (left). Not many remain, though. In fact, not far from where that leftmost shot was taken, you could see some snow in the hills, even in mid-afternoon, before the storm moved in from the west. Of course, this was at an elevation of about 6,000 feet, which would put the hills at about 9,000 feet, I figure.
Carson City: A Delightful Surprise
Meanwhile, I never knew much about Nevada's evidently colorful history, except that it was a part of the gold rush in the second half of the 19th century, and the only place I know of where a real Eldorado exists (see the map).
I didn't even know that Carson City was its capital until I started to see the domed buildings as I drove through it, including the lovely State Capitol (above). So I parked my car and walked through the city trying to learn more about its history as I went through its back streets.
Look at this old bar that dates back to 1852 (left), or the red brick hotel from 1860s (middle), or Pop's diner from the same era (right). As I have been reading John Steinbeck's "East of Eden" these days, these real buildings helped transport me back 100+ years to imagine some old Salinas dwellings the famed writer describes in his epic masterpiece.
There is no shortage of historic buildings in the back streets of Carson City. Not all of them are as grand as that one on the left. But even the small cottages are cute and well preserved. They all date back to about the 1870s, which is evidently when this town really blossomed and prospered.
And then, as with so many American cities, there is a mixture of class and crass, with additional gambling (casino) twist in the state of Nevada. "Class and crass" would be my caption for the left shot. And on the main drag, they were getting ready for an old fashioned western "boot scootin' barbecue" later today, as the banner shows.
Just to show you how ignorant I have been about Lake Tahoe, I've just discovered (looking at the map) I am not even in the state of Nevada! South Lake Tahoe, where my hotel is, is a tad over the border in California. So the "Governator" is in charge here, not some "no name, bland" run-of-the-mill governor (I thought).
Well, was I wrong about that, too! I've just learned that Jim Gibbons, pictured left with his wife Dawn, is anything but bland or run-of-the-mill. A former Nevada congressman, he is reportedly being investigated for taking bribes and unlawful gifts.
What else is new, right? So no sooner did he take office this past January, a recall petition got under way. Now that's not something you see very often.
Some Nevadans didn't mix words in describing how they felt about him at the recall web site: "The man is a liar and a crook. He is not fit to serve the citizens of Nevada. It is time for him to go and to (go) quickly."
Well, maybe Nevada's beautiful first lady can take over if Gibbons is impeached? Would you ever have guessed that she is a grandmother? (and a mother of three grown children). Not that good looks are a requirement for being a First Lady, much less the governor or senator. Just look at Hillary. But having both would set Nevada apart.
The left photo shows the first glimpse of Lake Tahoe a driver gets upon descending from the 7,100-foot Sierra Nevada mountain pass toward the lake (left). The weather looked ominous, as you can see, even before the storm really moved in (middle left).
This is also the first time in my life that I have ever seen a bear crossing road sign (middle right). No kidding! It wasn't some sort of a theme park sign. I snapped the picture through the windshield of my car.
When I finally got to South Lake Tahoe, I realized why I was smelling smoke along the drive. At the northern end of the lake, there is a forest fire burning, as you can see in the rightmost shot taken from my hotel this afternoon (right). Hopefully that will be extinguished tonight with all this rain and snow.
Well, at least somebody was enjoying the frigid beach: Canada geese! Compared to Canadian winters, even the 6,300-foot Lake Tahoe cold probably feels balmy to them.
"Comedy Central" at Harvey's Casino
Well, since there was not much one could do outdoors in this kind of weather, I went to a casino to take in a stand-up comedy show (guess I must have crossed the line back into Nevada during my one-mile drive).
There were three comedians, but it was the third one, by Heath Hyche (right), that stole the show. The man was a ball of energy constantly changing characters, costumes, and sometimes taking on multiple personalities, such as in the middle-right photo in which he is impersonating a southern evangelical preacher. His props were amazing, such as that choir he wore on his back.
Outside the cabaret, a World Series of Poker was roaring on in dead silence, with clicking of the chips being the only noise (the left three photos). I walked by the same table after the comedy show was over, about 1.5 hours later, and the same players were sitting in the same chairs wearing the same enigmatic expressions. The only thing that had changed was the dealer. Guess they get worn out if these diehard poker players don't. The scene reminded me of the movie "Maverick," staring Mel Gibson, Jodi Foster and James Garner, about a similar even on a floating boat in St. Louis.
Elsewhere the casino looked like any other one in Las Vegas, lots of glitz and glitter and thousands of zombies playing the slot machines until they drop or run out of money. When the hotel clerk asked me to prepay my stay earlier in the day, I was surprised and questioned the reason for such an unusual policy.
"It's the casinos," the manager explained.
"And do some people really lose all their money so they cannot even pay for the hotel room?" I asked.
"Oh, yes," the manager replied. "I have worked here in South Lake Tahoe for 18 years and have seen that happen a number of times before the hotels changed their check in policy."
I believed her, after having seen tonight the kinds of people that are hooked on casinos and gambling. I spent about 15 minutes just walking up and down the casino lanes, looking at people; what they did, how they did it, wondering why their gambling obsession consumed them so, trying to imagine what their lives are like outside the casino. One of these days, some of them may be reincarnated as characters in a book. Or not... After all, they are already the actors in videos recorded by hundreds of cameras mounted on casino ceilings.
It's an alien environment in which I was, once again, just like in Las Vegas, feeling totally like a babe in the woods; an Alice in Obsessionland. I hate gambling and games of chance; always have. So, call me stupid, but I didn't even know there were casinos around here when I booked the trip. I envisaged a beautiful, romantic, serene lake - wedged between the Sierra Nevada cliffs like a teardrop in a blue mountain eye - shimmering in bright sunlight high up in the sky. Well, now I know better. So chances are, this will have been my first and the last trip here. And not because of the weather, either. Sometimes, spontaneity in trip planning can backfire. Oh well, live and learn...
A friend of mine from Canada must have felt sorry for me, so he sent me some pictures of the Canadian fall colors taken last month.
These shots were taken in the Muskokas, a lake district north of Toronto, Ontario, which my friend suggested I should visit if I wanted to see some fall colors for sure.
Click on The Morning After to see the Day 2 travelogue from my visit to Lake Tahoe. It was like a night and day difference from Day 1.