Long and Winding Road travel blog

One last entry from this (Jordan Fire) deployment:

I mentioned revisiting Lake Tahoe, to see whether in fact it was as fabulous as I remembered. I had heard mention of all the development there over the years, so I didn’t expect it to be the same as when I first saw it in 1975. Still, I was not prepared for what I found. I approached the lake from the south and I hope perhaps other approaches are more enchanting. South Lake Tahoe reminded me of a miniature Las Vegas. That probably shouldn’t be as surprising as it was, considering that both are Nevada towns dependent upon tourism. It wasn’t tacky but I hated seeing large casino/hotels and block after block of shops and restaurants. What I remembered from the 70’s was a very natural setting, with probably a lodge and some cabins. I don’t remember where I was in relation to the lake but I expect at the northern edge since we were traveling from Salt Lake City to Yosemite. In retrospect, I should have probably tried to approach the lake that way again, because there is a state park there that might have been an improvement over what I saw - but I didn’t plan carefully. I’m not certain it would have mattered, anyway, because the circumstances have changed a lot in the past 45 years.

In 1975, my friend drove through the night while I mostly slept. We had breakfast in Reno which I remember as a pretty small place – probably my first experience with a western town that sounded larger than it turned out to be. There were slot machines in the diner, quite a novelty for me. It was an August morning and I am certain it was chilly at the edge of Lake Tahoe. I remember being in love with not only the lake but the towering trees that surrounded it. It seemed as magical a place as I thought there could possibly be in the world, and to me at the time it seemed very secluded. How does such a place become transformed into a miniature Las Vegas that happens to be situated beside a huge lake?

As it turns out, there was a historical marker that helped explain the mystery. It seems that Lake Tahoe really was a magically isolated place until 1960. A few years earlier, a wealthy investor put in a single ski lift and a 50-room lodge, with the hope of attracting tourists to his property in Squaw Valley (which overlooks the lake). Then he heard of a competition for the site of the 1960 Olympics and waged a successful campaign to have Squaw Valley selected. This beautiful remote valley had no community close enough to feasibly house the athletes, much less visitors, so the first Olympic Village was constructed. And the secret was out.

I wondered about Alexander Cushing and whether he could possibly have envisioned that his dream of transforming the uninhabited valley into a winter sports haven would lead to where it has. I would have liked to think that no one, even for the love of money, would want to see such an incredible place become somewhat commonplace. But from what I read, Mr. Cushing was often sued over safety and environmental regulations so I suspect he would be quite proud of what has transpired. And as for me? A part of me wishes I could still imagine the serenity of Lake Tahoe when I saw it first, only 15 years after daily television coverage opened up the secret of such a magical spot. Mostly I am glad for my ability to spend two entire summers beside an even more magical lake, with even more towering trees, protected from development by the National Park Service. And finally I am glad to know of remaining hidden valleys in the Sierras protected as wilderness areas. May these federally protected wilderness areas remain protected, so that my “someday” return to them might be as magical as I find them now.

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