It had been eight years since the family gathered for a true vacation, one purely to reunite, relax and recreate. I picked Lake Tahoe in northern California because it was far from San Diego and because it was within an easy drive for our grown daughters. Adding to the fun, I invited my parents and nephew from central Oregon.
We opted for inexpensive accommodations within a neighborhood of motels nestled under tufts of big pines and bordered by casinos, lakefront beach and a modern resort village. The “mountain house” was much nicer than I expected, and everything we did was within easy walking distance.
Among our motel perks was a pass to access the nearby state beach, which otherwise costs $20 daily per family. On a cloudless day we set up our towels, slathered on sunscreen and went exploring. My 3-year-old nephew seemed especially pleased with the nearby playground, though he spent most of his time throwing sand, swiping sticks and stalking geese.
You can also rent kayaks, rafts, paddle boats and other water gear, but beware of the constant breeze slowing down your efforts. Additionally, there’s a nice little café and, as with all California state beaches, there’s no alcohol and no smoking.
I’m not big on gambling, but my parents are and had four places (Harrah’s, Harveys, Montbleu and Horizons) to choose from. My dad announced beforehand he’d treat us to a casino’s all-you-can-eat buffet dinner. He didn’t win big at the tables but we ate big anyway.
Heavenly Village has pretty much anything a visitor needs, from shops and restaurants to a movie theater, grocery store, ATMs, art galleries, mini golf, adventure tours, photo opportunities and the Heavenly Gondola. The plan on our final day was to take the lift, which transports skiers in other seasons, to mountain trails. Hiking’s my thing, even more than running, and it’s all I talked about for weeks. So when we learned the trails were still closed due to snow (in July!), I was more than mildly disappointed.
Still, we decided despite the setback to spring for the pricey ($32 per person) tickets and see what was up there.
Here’s where I’ll stop and point you to the video in this post, hastily produced with my poor-pixel camera and limited-feature freeware. Those unpolished images, though, are for me pure gold in the memory bank.
That crappy camera captured – for you and for me too – a little of what it’s like to watch the lake grow and the town shrink as tubes of tourists advance 2.4 miles up a mountain that refused to leave the last of winter.
And it also captured – for me and for you too – a little of what it’s like to be in Heavenly on a special day that you always dreamed of yet never quite imagined.
The thinner alpine air was warm yet chilled. A long row of Adirondack chairs sat void of visitors. The near-empty lodge also looked lonely as it broadcast 80s music to the dormant ski chair machines, the undisturbed forest, a dozen dazed families in search of fun and one woman with her overwhelmed Nikon who found everything about the place perfect.