Lake legends and Tahoe treasures
by Jessica Pook | 25 July 2019
“Cold water shock is one of the most common causes of death on the lake, so try not to fall in,” relays the safety instructor. I’m slightly disappointed. I’d been watching impatiently from the shoreline of Lake Tahoe, its glassy water and turquoise glow seemed too tempting not to fully immerse myself in it. But one dip of the toe is all it takes to convince me otherwise.
South Lake Tahoe, where I'm stopping for two nights as part of a wider roadtrip, teeters on the state line between California and Nevada and as a result has two personalities: the laid-back dreamer and the electric wild child. The California side is the quieter, more reserved of the two, while just 10 minutes down the road on the Nevada side you'll find Heavenly Valley, which embodies the state known for blackjack and roulette. But they do share one thing in common - North America’s largest alpine lake, and at 75 miles in length there's enough to go around.
Back on the water it doesn’t take long before I lose sight of the sandy floor and an eerie darkness takes hold. In fact, the depth of the lake has encouraged scuba divers to go below the surface as part of the new Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail, which allows them to explore sunken boats and barges up to 60 feet under.
Legend has it that you may even come across Tahoe Tessie, a prehistoric fish that is said to live at the bottom of the lake. I'm also told a more gruesome tale that involve bodies, fully preserved due to the temperature of the water. Suddenly Tessie doesn't sound so bad!
Back on shore we’re met by Mike Frye from the South Lake Tahoe Tourist Board and taken on a gentle hike through a forest floor scattered with wild flowers and pinecones the size of a rugby ball!
The conversation turns to bears and Mike's keen to tell us about these furry residents and how they frequently break into homes and cars. "We find they're attracted to sun cream and cigarettes, so a car is essentially just a mobile lunch box for them."
While we’re rambling I’m so busy intently listening that I nearly miss a break in the trees offering the most breathtaking view of the smaller Fallen Leaf Lake, the reflection of snow-covered mountains rippling on its surface.
The bear stories continue and I learn that this area is a hive of wildlife activity in the spring, thanks to the salmon that get caught in the weir. As if on cue, an eagle skims the water’s edge, before taking flight right in front of me. It might not be a bear, but I’m ok about that considering my current, vulnerable situation.
Back in the safety of the Azure Hotel, located just on the waters edge, I enjoy the pool and hot tub before leaving for the culinary delights of the Blue Angel Cafe and another American-sized portion - never mind Tahoe Tessie, I'm going to be ten ton Tessie by the time I return home!
As picturesque as Lake Tahoe is during the day, as the sun sets it's the sky that takes centre stage. The Tiki Beach Bar provides the perfect sunset viewing point and calm settles as the whisps of red and orange reflect on the water, separated only by the silhouette of the mountain and the few retired boats that dot the water. It's the perfect way to end my Tahoe stay.
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