We stopped by Mono Lake on the way to Lake Tahoe. It’s naturally toxic because so many minerals come out of the stones, making the lake like saline solution, completely alkaline. Strangely, the lake is filled with brine shrimp, which are tiny and eaten by birds. Over two million stop there yearly during their seasonal migrations.
We drove higher and higher and arrived in a snowy Lake Tahoe. As we ascended the Sierra Nevada Mountains we could feel the heat of the desert seeping out of our bodies. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. Although we didn’t have a chance to experience the waters personally due to the frigid temperatures, the lake is crystal clear with almost Mediterranean hues of aquamarine. Over two million years old, it’s no wonder that for centuries legends have persisted on the existence of “Tahoe Tessie,” the long eel-like monster. She apparently pops to the surface, according to dubious tales recounted online, with surprising frequency. The shores are surrounded by piney summits, a paradise for nature lovers. One of the most curious things about Lake Tahoe is the divide: the south, west, and the majority of the north shores are in California and the rest is over the state line in Nevada. The border change is tangible – suddenly, in Nevada, casinos and slot machines are around every corner and the bars are open 24 hours. On both sides there are plenty of places where you can rent almost everything you need to ski. In fact, all we brought with us were our parkas, hats, gloves, and glasses.
There was a ski school for the kids, which was easier than anything we’ve experienced before. After we dropped the kids off for ski school, it was off to the lifts. As we were marveling at the scenery, we noticed tree branches bedecked in dangling pairs of colorful underwear. Mike explained heartily, “It’s a tradition on New Year’s Eve for women to toss them into the trees.” After a warm up run he asked us if we go off the trail, which surprised us more than a tree full of underwear. You’d have to be crazy to do this in Europe, because no one would risk his or her own safety to rescue you if you got in trouble. Americans, on the other hand, seem to see it as an expression of personal freedom. They even started cutting down trees in Lake Tahoe because too many people were getting lost when they went off trail.
The snow is spectacular; every run has this really powdery cover all the time. Sure, the runs are shorter, but just the fact that you can go from the desert to the summit in less than a day is something I couldn’t stop thinking about. Everyone greeted us with these big cheery smiles, telling us to “have a nice day.” You can’t help but enjoy yourself. While the skiing and the people were great, the food was really starting to get to us. In the beginning the kids just wanted fried food, but after a week Big A was really sick of it. He watched a bunch of Japanese anime movies and suddenly decided he only wanted miso soup. He wanted to find it anywhere and everywhere. Why is everything fried? Especially the food for kids?
We’re leaving Lake Tahoe today and we’re not sure if we’ll be able to get out because of the snow. It’s snowing as I write, and supposed to continue all night. By this time tomorrow we should be back in the warmth of lower elevations.
“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the sun, a part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal.”
– John Muir, ʿMy First Summer in the Sierraʾ (1911)
At Yosemite, you almost feel like Europe is only a model of what the beauty of America actually achieves.
A few facts: Yosemite is the most frequented of all the national parks in the U.S., and 95 percent of it is wilderness. Most visitors only go to a tiny portion of the actual park. It was explored as early as the 1850’s, when the first simple houses were built. Over the next decade the area became more and more commercial until a bill was proposed, and signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864, for the preservation of the area; it was the first time such a bill was proposed and passed in the U.S. It’s actually what lead to the development of the national parks system.
There’s a bus system in the national parks, and at one point we were riding on the bus and the bus driver got a call from another bus driver who had just spotted a red bear. We hike a bit to try to see the bear, but the kids weren’t too into it and Little Z was wearing really bad shoes. It was too muddy, cold and wet so we had to wrap her feet in plastic bags before finally carrying her back.
This is such an impressive area. After driving through a few ghost towns, the snow and this Star Wars-like landscape, you emerge into Yosemite. It looks like someone painted it. It’s crazy how beautiful it is. It’s huge and perfect. There’s not a house in sight. It’s ENDLESS.