Sunday, August 1, 2010

Stories from the Road -- Lake Tahoe

There are certain words that, when spoken, elicit perfect happiness. These words are different for each person, but there are some unanimous favorites. For Americans, two of these are "Lake Tahoe". Everyone who has been here knows why. The lake is stunningly beautiful. Mountains surround the lake, often snow-capped. The lake itself is so clear, so shiny blue -- one almost involuntarily thinks of the Caribbean waters of the Grenadines.

My first view of the lake was just past Mount Rose on a highway traversing the mountains west of Reno. The lake shows itself as a large piece of blue glass. The mountains and trees are a perfect canvas for the first view. There is no mistaking that this is a mountain lake, but my previous experiences with mountain lakes led me to underestimate, substantially, the size of Tahoe. The lake is large and as beautiful as any I have ever seen.

On my trip to Lake Tahoe last year, I learned just how much my mother likes lakes. I knew she liked them, but I had no idea how much she could like them. As we approached the lakeshore, she quickly jumped out of the car and headed toward the rocky shoreline like a giddy child. And then she just stared. No wonder I like the water so much.

Mom had been to Tahoe before and couldn't wait to return. She had mentioned the blue color of the lake, but my imagination was no match for the actual confrontation. The water is absurdly blue and, did I mention clear? You could see the bottom of the lake well offshore, despite its quickly deepening trend. The oscillating light and dark of the waves reflected off the lake bottom's rocks was hypnotizing. We spent nearly an hour just looking out in total silence, completely in awe.

Tahoe is a recreational lake. Water skiing, boating, fishing, paragliding, kite-flying, sand volleyball, kayaking -- it's all here. The water was dotted with people of all kinds, soaking up the sun and sky. Normally, this would diminish my experience at a mountain lake, but at Tahoe, it only adds to it. It doesn't make sense to have such a beautiful lake unappreciated by the masses -- wouldn't be right.

Tahoe was packed on the Saturday we visited -- Memorial Weekend 2009. The weather was perfect -- sunny and warm but not hot. Only a small breeze. It was also one of the few places I have been in which everyone had a smile. The magic of Tahoe is unavoidable -- you can't fight it. The word paradise is overused, but in mainland America, there are not many competitors with this place. I can only imagine what this place is like in the winter. I suspect my imagination will be no match for the real thing again.

After all, this is Lake Tahoe. Imagination is not required.