|Wednesday 1st October
A cool but bright morning in South Lake Tahoe, I was awoken at 7am by the explosions being set off by the road crew about 50 feet away. Lovely. Breakfast was courtesy of Starbucks, with a nice outdoor terrace view of . . . the roadworks on the highway. Lovely.
Time to leave South Lake Tahoe behind. With the Nevada/California state line running through the town, it's a little schizophrenic - one half all casinos and clubs, the other all little hotels and chain food outlets. I had hoped to go to the quaintly-named ski-ing area of Heavenly, to ride the gondola up to the 8,000 ft peak. Sadly, it appears that even God can't get full-time work out here - Heavenly is only open Thursday to Saturday!
Having worked out that the eastern shore of the lake is mostly the big towns, it was time to explore the western shoreline. First stop was the Taylor Creek Visitor Centre - part trail to the lakeside, part vistas of the surrounding mountains including Tallac Peak (highest around Tahoe) and the bird sanctuary where the increasingly-rare Bald Eagles nest.
No sign of the Baldies, sadly, but it was nice to stroll down to the water and really breath out - where I got chatting to a nice couple from Texas who were at pains to stress that not all Texans like - or are like - George W Bush! They asked me the best time to visit the UK and all I could answer was "errrrr, anytime, just bring a coat . . ." Sad, really.
Walking back along the trail, under clear blue skies, the lake behind me, the sunlight dappling the trees while a light breeze maintained the 70 degree temperatures and the sounds of nature all around, something suddenly occurred to me - this sure beats working for a living!
Back in the car and off to Inspiration Point (honestly!), for terrific views of Emerald Bay - a three mile inlet created at the confluence of two ice-age glaciers and One of the most photogenic spots on the lake. With amazing views of the mountains, the lake, and Tahoe's only island, Fannette Island, the bay got its name from the ice-blue waters it contains. Recent increases in human habitation have started to turn it more of a dull blue, but early colour photos taken as recently as the 1970s show water so clear that the lake-bed can be seen - at a depth of 56ft!
Certainly Emerald Bay and Inspiration Point are aptly named.
Time to head south and leave Lake Tahoe behind - for the first time the 'whistle-stop' nature of this tour became clear. I could easily spend a few days at Tahoe.
Driving south on the I50 I went over Echo Summit - at 7,382 ft the highest I'd been so far, but nothing to see as the highway was buried in a culvert - bah!
I then missed the turning for Placerville and Highway 49 south, with the result that I ended up stopping for lunch at Folsom. According to his song "Folsom Prison Blues" Johnny Cash "shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die."
He needn't have bothered - as I stopped to 'gas up' and buy a sandwich, the 96 degree heat hit me like a punch in the gut. If I'd wanted to watch a man die, I'd have just locked him in his cell in Folsom Prison and turned off the air-con!
Just a measure of the effect height has on temperature. At Tahoe - elevation 6,000 ft - it was in the low 70s. Here, not 40 miles away, but only 600 ft above sea level, it was nearly 30 degrees hotter.
Turning round at Folsom I headed the 17 wasted miles back to Placerville and drove through the beautiful farmlands and wineries of the Shenandoah Valley - they were making wine here 100 years before those amateurs up at Napa.
It was evident that there's lots of money at work in Shenandoah - and after the staunchly democratic San Francisco, every sign here was for McCain/Palin - giving a lie to the myth that all Californians are tree-hugging liberals.
Stopped for a leg-stretch in the quaint old mining town of Sutter Creek - where just about every shop (all 20 of them) was selling either antiques, curios of seasonal nik-naks (currently Halloween). How on earth they stay in business is a complete mystery.
Pressed on another 10 miles to Jackson, for another night courtesy of the Holiday Inn chain. Must break that habit! It's 8.45pm, and it's 85 degrees outside. Fortunately my cell does have air-con!
Tomorrow a bit of exploring of this area, the surrounding gold mining country and then on to one of the early highlights - Ebbetts Pass. See you (quite literally) on the other side.