They are the original dream boats. Each summer the most powerful and pristine wooden watercraft in the world turn up on Lake Tahoe's impossibly blue waters.
The beautifully and lovingly preserved antique and classic wooden boats will bring back a flood of memories for those attending the 45th Concours d'Elegance on August 11-12 in Homewood, Calif. on Tahoe's West Shore. Piloted by wealthy industrialists during the Roaring 20's, the “woodie” speedboats helped usher in a new era of boating on Lake Tahoe.
Each summer vintage wooden boats spill onto the lake filled with passengers donning large grins (often sipping chilled cocktails) and captained by proud owners in straw hats or yachting caps. Sponsored by the Tahoe Yacht Club, the Concours attracts more than 5,000 spectators who mingle with the owners of boats from a bygone era who share their unique experiences.
A boater’s paradise, Lake Tahoe is world renowned for its crystal-clear translucent water. Straddling the California-Nevada border in the pine-smothered Sierra Nevada range, Tahoe is one of America’s premier playgrounds. Snow can last until early May but once the melt begins, hiking, biking, horseback riding, boating and river rafting become a free-for-all.
Sculpted by a glacier, “Big Blue” lies at an elevation of 6,325 feet. North America’s highest alpine lake, it is 22 miles long, 12 miles wide and a drive takes several hours to complete its 72 mile shoreline circumference. The waters range in blues from aqua to sapphire, from cerulean to cobalt. The stunning colors occur because of the lake's remarkable depth which is as much as 1,645 feet with an average of roughly 1,000 feet.
Jagged granite mountains, some snowcapped even at summer’s height, soar all around. The surface shoreline temperatures can warm to the upper 60s by Labor Day. Its bone-chilling depths have been a rumored graveyard for everyone from Chinese railroad workers to Vegas mobsters.
In the quiet of early morning, it is possible to see the lake through the eyes of the Washoe Indians, who lived peacefully on its shores for centuries and considered it a sacred place. My wife Jane and I caught our first up-close view of Big Blue on a sun-splashed late June morning on a horseback ride where we soaked in its serenity and beauty.
Opened in the summer of 1934 by Allen Ross, today the Camp Richardson Corral is in the good hands of Ross’ grandson Quint. We climbed aboard Cloud and Blackie as Rebecca Givens led the way on her pretty mare Riley. Our route took us high through the National Forest up to and around Fallen Leaf Lake (6,400 feet) where the sun shines 75 percent of the year. We rode through some great old cedar trees, ponderosa pines and the cheerful rustlings of aspen groves. Along our journey chipmunks and marmots scurried across boulders with mule deer slipping between the trees.
At this time of year it's a wildflower-filled paradise with the meadows covered in brilliant blooms of reds, oranges, pinks, purples, yellows and every color in between. The air is perfumed with sage and evergreen. With the wind whipping off the water, our first glimpse of the shimmering, clear waters of Fallen Leaf Lake was overpowering.
After the morning ride we pulled into The Beacon Bar & Grille on the lake’s edge at Camp Richardson, a family camp ground/resort. The building was originally a dance hall dating back to the late 1930s. We started with a cup of their tasty homemade clam chowder followed by a Camp Rich cod sandwich. Located smack on the beach, its signature Rum Runner is poured generously all day long.
Driving back on Highway 50 we traveled past the hustle and bustle of the casino strip at the California/Nevada border. Harveys was the very first casino hotel built on the South Shore in 1944. For the past two decades it has presented an outstanding outdoor concert series. This season's highlights include Paul Simon, Sammy Hagar, Train, Third Eye Blind and Jack Johnson. We booked a cruise on the Mississippi paddlewheeler M.S. Dixie II, a two-and-a half hour trip with gorgeous views of the sprawling lake front. As we approached the lake's west side, the mountains seemed to rise straight up out of the water where the colors changed from deep forest green to sky blue.
Everything got bigger once the boat slowed inside Emerald Bay on the far western edge. At one end of the bay is Vikingsholm, the giant Scandinavian-style house built in 1928 owned by Lora Josephine Knight. We also traveled around Tahoe's only island, Fannette Island, on top of which Knight occasionally would entertain visitors in a now crumbling stone tea house.
Hiking is one of Tahoe’s glorious pursuits. So step aboard the Heavenly Mountain Resort's iconic high-speed gondola which offers eagle-eye views as it whisks you up to the aptly named Adventure Peak (elevation 9,156 feet). The lift stops on the way up at a 4,000-square-foot observation deck, which wraps around a granite outcrop to offer spectacular views of the lake. Up top, you can dine at Tamarack Lodge, test your skills at outdoor wall climbing, or try out a 500-foot-long tubing hill resurfaced for summer gliding. Hikers can purchase a summit ticket and ride the Tamarack Express chair lift to access ridge-top climbs on a variety of trails.
After our hike we stopped in for lunch at Base Camp Pizza in lower Heavenly Village where we savored small portions of the apple and walnut salad topped with gorgonzola cheese, four-cheese ravoli and a slice of the Thai chicken curry pizza. The breezy eatery delivers an adventurous culinary spirit that gives this restaurant a flavor all its own. Ice tea and libations such as the shaken rosemary vodka lemonade are served in their signature mason jars. There is live music every night of the year.
Each July more than 80 sports and entertainment celebrities turn up for the Celebrity Players at the American Century Championship at Edgewood. The Edgewood restaurant looks out onto emerald golf greens that border the translucent lake. Boasting a striking interior with gray rock walls, try its signature drink, a refreshing mojito while gazing upon the best show on the lake: the vibrant Sierra sunset.
Ridge Tahoe Resort put an exclamation point on our five-day stay. Nestled on a spectacular Sierra Nevada ridge some 7,400 feet high, the resort overlooks the striking Carson Valley. It's a 10-minute drive to the south shore casinos.
Just beyond the tennis courts you discover the Tahoe Rim Trail, a 165-mile trail which runs along the ridge’s top crossings to showcase panoramic views of the Lake Tahoe Basin and Carson Valley. This trail segment weaves between the huge trunks of ancient red firs and over sun-splashed granite outcrops to gently traverse rolling landscape into open meadows brimming with wildflowers.
On our final night we enjoyed a drink in the cozy Bear Trap lounge before heading into the casually gourmet Hungry Bear on the second floor of the clubhouse. Our server David drew the two masterful chalk portraits of a wolf and bear that hang on the wall behind the bar. Executive Chef Stephen Moise is a former corporate chef to Tommy Hilfigger. We started off with semolina crusted calamari with lemon caper remoulade, followed by grilled Idaho trout served with shrimp and sweet potato hash and the beef tenderloin medallions topped with bacon bleu cheese.
Sitting in a rocker on our balcony that final evening we marveled at a magnificent bank of clouds at dusk that reflected a full spectrum of colors across the shimmering water. Nothing else seemed to matter.