Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Irish Thunder in the Sierra Nevada’s: Lake Tahoe to the Tufa Towers

Luminous Mountains: The Sierra Nevada of CaliforniaI stood at a scenic overlook watching the sun set over Lake Tahoe that has seen millennia pass and watched the mist begin to rise from the still water.  Lake Tahoe at the north end of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is the highest alpine lake in the country and second only to Oregon’s Crater Lake as the deepest.  It is pristinely gorgeous reflecting rare hues of blue and conifer forested peaks, including Freel Peak standing at over 10,800 feet.  

Breathing in deeply the essence of the place, I once again felt as though I am where I ought to be, in the right place, at the right time.  I felt confirmed that following my heart is why I was born.  If there are indeed 30,000 neurons surrounding my heart creating an electrical field ten times stronger than that which is emitted from my brain, then it makes total sense that my heart would know what’s best for me. 

After all these years of living, I may harbor more questions than answers but I am cognitive of the fact that the one thing I can be assured of is that change will occur.  I have control over only myself, my choices—what I do and say as much as what I don’t do or say--and how I respond to situations.  I vowed as I gazed at the grandeur that I would consciously choose to love tomorrow and everyday beyond, to keep my heart open and to follow wherever it may lead.  I vowed to not succumb to those ever present dark imaginings or to be led by the nose by self projected “mental phantoms” while incubating.  I gave permission to myself to exist, to just be.  To have faith that it is in itself enough.  To continue loving with each pulsing beat of my heart as if it were my lifeline.  The power, the beauty, is in the becoming and so I poured all the love that is in me, as well as tons of gratitude, into the silent dusk, into the cold depths, up the highest tree and over the mountain crests. 


Desolation Wilderness, California, USA Photographic Poster Print, 24x32
I had come to Lake Tahoe to hike in the Desolation Wilderness, chosen of course just for the name. But after one night camping in 20 degree weather (and awakening to the ground trembling beneath my mat), I decided that the last place I ought to be is in a space of desolation, wild, quaking or otherwise. 

After waking to a cold, misty morning I packed up camp quickly and headed over to Coffee and Tea in Richardson Historic Village for breakfast where I purchased a blueberry and lemon drop scone and a cup of decaf.  I planned to take a guided tour of Vikingsholm Castle then head south. 

As it turned out, I arrived on the day before the guided tours would be closing down for the season, early due to the State’s deficit.  Grand homes have been a theme throughout my travels not only because I like to imagine them as my abodes, but because there is always a lengthy story that goes along with them. This one was no different.

The Spirit of St. LouisAfter hiking down the mile long but very steep switchback road that is the original driveway dropping 500 feet to the lake's shore amidst the sound of running water, I purchased a ticket to participate in a guided tour of the 48 room summer home of Lora Josephine Knight.  

LindberghThroughout my travels, I have come to learn about some fabulously interesting women.  Knight is yet another surprising gem.  Born into money, she was extremely generous, putting the children of most of her staff through college and daring to financially support the post graduate education of several young women of her acquaintance.  She also happened to fund Charles Lindbergh's 1927 non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic.  And, at sixty, and without a husband, she built a castle in the sky.  

This was a woman who obviously believed in dreams, in pursuing and expanding upon the inspirations of the heart in spite of skepticism.

Vikingsholm is modeled after Scandinavian castles, manors and churches because Emerald Bay, where Knight purchased 239 acres in 1928 including the island that sits in the middle of the bay, reminded her of the fjords she had seen while visiting Norway and Sweden.  Except for the imported stained glass windows, the Castle was designed to preserve the old growth trees on the site, some of which are over 1,000 years old.  It was also constructed within two years because she hired over 200 men to get the job done quickly.  

The Castle consists of the three story tower, two story turret and two side wings with sod roofs.  The hexagonal foot print encloses a courtyard with a reflecting pond.

A socialite and business woman owning portions of many large companies the least of which was the Union Pacific Railroad, Knight entertained a wide variety of guests at the Castle throughout the summer months.  Set on a private bay with a wide expanse of sandy beach just beneath Eagle Falls, a 140 foot double cascade waterfall in the Eldorado National Forest, there were ample outdoor activities to occupy her guests.  

On special occasions, she’d arrange for a tea party out on her island.  The granite tea house on Fannette Island was constructed at the same period as the Castle, although she used it only a few times a year given the production involved in getting everything and everyone over to the island just for tea.  

In the late eighteen hundreds prior housing Knight’s tea house, however, Fannette Island, a protected nesting ground for Canadian geese and the only island on the Lake, was home to an eclectic captain.  The eccentric Englishman apparently built a chapel there into which, as fate would have it, he would never be interred since he had the misfortune to perish at sea.  

The estate was the home of a very fortunate if not reclusive caretaker for the remainder of the year.  Interestingly, former guest Helen Smith, who had spent her childhood summers at Vikingsholm visiting with her parents, returned forty years later when it was purchased by the State to assume the position of caretaker and tour guide.

Murphy’s Irish Pub

Stopping at Murphy’s Irish Pub at the Rockwater Restaurant for a lunch of calamari strips served with Irish Thunder Sauce, I recharged my laptop’s battery and planned my drive south.  Proprietor Yvonne Simpson, Ireland born and bred, led me out to the garden patio where the outlets were newer as there were no three pronged outlets in the bar.  

Sitting in the mid day sun looking at the map software installed on my Mini, I decided to tackle the mountain passes and head over to Mammoth Lakes because I don’t like to return the way I arrived if I can at all help it. 

Seated at the table next to me were five young men or “dudes” as they repeatedly called one another.  The contents of their conversation was as vapid as one imagines a Valley Girl’s to be, ranging from hooking up with a Paris Hilton wannabe just because she looked like Paris, dumping a girlfriend for not drinking enough, and doing anything without druthers if there was money to be made.  I thought to myself that women and men aren’t so different after all.  Mindless is as mindless does. 

Two tables in front of me another group of guys tossed food across their table and laughed stupidly when something fell sending the bar dog scrounging beneath their feet.  Whether or not they were aware of it, they would break out singing the song playing over the sound system in unison as if they were the newest hot boy band, and then just as suddenly they’d go back to tossing food and guffawing at the hilarity of the dog diving for the scraps. 

An elderly couple sitting between me and the boy band were clearly appalled that the dog which they assumed belonged to the group of men feeding him had been allowed in the restaurant.  As the woman took her plate to the salad bar, the man peered warily at the dog that had come to try his luck at their table. 

Tufa Towers

Highway 89 south to Route 395 has got to be one of THE most pleasurable rides in a stick shift.  It is definitely a road reserved for the unfettered.  The steep switchbacks require the aggressive use the gears and the views if granted with clear skies extend onto and into forever.  

Coming down off the mountain pass into a Rock Monster-like canyon, the view opens up onto a wide open valley as far as the eye can see, the Great Basin, the largest watershed in North America. 

Tufa Towers at Mono Lake, CA
Stunning Mono Lake  surrounded by the remnants of an ancient lava flow lies south east of Yosemite National Park and of the Sierras.  Known for its Tufa Towers, mineral deposits that jut from the water’s surface due to there being less rain to replenish that which evaporates, Mono is the largest natural lake in California and is 2.5 times as salty and 80 times as alkaline as the ocean.   The still surface mirrored cool autumn pinks and blues.

Mount Whitney: The Complete Trailhead to Summit GuideThe evening shadows began to stretch long and low over the Mammoth Lakes and Inyo National Forest as Mount Whitney came into view.  Juxtaposed to Death Valley at 282 feet below sea level, Whitney peaks at 14, 505 feet earning it recognition as the highest summit in the States, excluding Alaska.  

A fault block geological formation, the contrast of the smooth, creased lowland hills of the valley to its jagged un-weathered eastern peaks called the Needles was pronounced as the sun began to set. 

I had originally planned to stop for a few days in this area to explore a few waterfalls I had learned about.  But, further research revealed that not all flowed beyond the spring months and as some took all day to hike into, I thought it best to hold off a few months to be assured water would actually be flowing over these elusive falls when I got to them.  There will always be a tomorrow, I thought to myself, and many more miles to travel. 

No comments:

Post a Comment