The last time I visited Tahoe I still wore puff paint, I had the fading hint of a perm and my stay was spent on a ridiculously too big to be called a boat, boat with grown ups and my very best good childhood friend. My strongest memories from that trip were how insanely pure the lake was, even at it’s deepest, and traveling to the shore of Emerald Bay on a slowly leaking dingy, half way sunk by the time our feet met the ground. It’s ranked in the top three best trips of my adolescent career. Prior to that, I have a handful of recollections from snow centered trips where everything was white and the houses all seemed to be carved from the same tree.
For a very delayed celebration of our third wedding anniversary, we decided to vacation in the place we both have made multiple broken promises to visit since we’ve been married and neither of us have been to in at least a decade. Now, I can honestly attest that South Lake Tahoe is a completely different experience as an adult than it is as a pre-teen.
We arrived at our new temporary residence, Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel, placed a tip toe away from the California/Nevada state line. The novelty of being able to literally jump from state to state throughout the following four days never lost it’s comicality. The hotel was, almost obviously, a freshly repurchased and rejuvenated, former Embassy Suites, complete with koi pond and glass elevators. With warm happy faces (mountain people are always so friendly) we were greeted and sent up to our roomy suite with a bedroom view of the gondola ride at Heavenly ski resort. Ryan mentioned something about the undeniable feeling of excitement that ensues after checking into a new hotel, but I was too busy pointing out how many sinks we had and lining my shoes up by height to hear him. Five minutes after check-in and we were in search of dinner, that’s when things got really, real.
Azul Latin Kitchen is a relatively new restaurant located at the opposite end of Heavenly Village than our hotel was. As self described, from their website, Azul offers a “lighter, fresher and healthier take on Mexican and South and Central American cuisine”. The menu is full of braised, roasted and slow cooked meats, garnished with tropical fruit and paired with margaritas sized for giants. I fell into a frenzy as soon as I saw the bar, created out of stacked nightstands and colored lightening. Brilliant. In classic Ryan fashion, my noodle had a burrito, full of Achiote Coconut Pork and queso, while I went for the three taco combo and selected what I hoped to be a well rounded presentation of all the flavors the Latin kitchen produced. Coconut Pork, Ancho Mole Chicken and Crispy Fish tacos, did exactly that. Although there was not a bad taco on the plate, the coconut pork was so good I have been talking about it ever since we got home, six days ago. Served the pitcher size Hibiscus Margarita from the two Stephanie’s, waitress and waitress in training, true love was in the air as we both fell madly head over heels with Azul, Heavenly and Tahoe all at once.
5:45 in the morning came quick. We both flew out of bed at the first sound of the alarm clock, running on pure adrenaline, to catch a Tahoe sunrise. Heading out blindly, in search of somewhere reachable before sun break and close to the water, we Google mapped our way to the Tahoe Keys Marina. On the map, it appeared to dead end exactly where we wanted to be. However, after parking, the reality of how long of a walk out to the lake it was from our current location surfaced. So, we opted on fence hopping and settling on a closer view of the mountains, substituting a creek for the lake. Enduring freezing cold temperatures, layered in half the winter clothes we own, with dualing cameras aimed and ready we watched the sun climb up over the mountains and turn the entire sky into every shade of pink you can imagine. It felt like we were the only people for miles witnessing the birth of a new day. The drama was surreal.
Once the sunrise settled we were on a mission of no turning back. Packing up and continuing out around the lake, our next stop was Emerald Bay for a brief scenic pull over. No matter the sun position, weather or angle, Emerald Bay sustains it’s reputation as one of nature’s most impressive gifts.
Back on our way, our next destination was the state line lookout in Incline Village. The hike is short but with the elevation and incline, I turned my speed down to a mosey about half way up and used the ole “photo op” line to catch my breath. At just under 7000 ft. elevation, my wine country, practically sea level, lungs could not get acclimated fast enough to catch up to my feet. After a long twenty minutes, finally reaching our goal point, feeling as clever as ever, we each took a state and stole a kiss over the line. I stood California, he stood Nevada.
Playing in the minimal patches of snow, still left from the heavy weather that had just passed, we ran around like kids who had never experienced frozen water and absorbed the landscape. At that point in my life, it was the closest I had been to standing on top of the world. That changed by Saturday, but for the time being, I was captivated. The lake looked like it had a thin layer of glitter floating on top and, despite a haze creeping in, the sky felt crisp and clear.
The moment was so encapsulating, it almost overshadowed my first time wearing snow boots. Almost.
Although the saturated colors and clusters of sunlight were present that morning, Babe’s artistic rendering of what we witnessed from the top of the rock, with almost an Ansel Adams gothic undertone, is too emotionally invoking not to share.
Upon completion of our self guided tour, ending exactly where we began, we found ourselves sitting in an empty restaurant in our hotel lobby drinking beer and eating pizza before noon. Being up before the sun gave us ample time to accomplish a great deal by the time most of our fellow patrons where digesting breakfast. The birth of “I don’t always drink beer for brunch, but when I do, I do it in an empty restaurant” was born.
Due to our first dinner in South Lake being so successfully delightful and in the need of an energizer pick-up from our ongoing day, we photo walked our way down South Lake Tahoe Blvd., catching as much of the dusk settling in as we could. After contemplating our options, we eventually planted ourselves right back down at our exact same table at Azul for dinner number two. This time, to fulfill my already developed craving for coconut milk braised pork, Noodle and I shared nachos and split an order of the Chorizo Empenadas. I can’t even look at the picture of the nachos, it makes me so sad that I don’t have them at my everyday disposal. Naturally, we went for another margarita pitcher.
The walk to dinner was the experience of the day. The short skyline of South Lake Tahoe, with it’s white capped mountain backdrop, Heavenly’s gondola running up the middle, makes a person feel like they have found some pocketed town in the middle of the Sierra Nevada’s that no one knows about. Regardless of the boulevard being full of snowboarders, skiers, neon lit, jam-packed casinos and herds of tourist, in an odd unexplainable way it still feels very remote and hidden. While one side of the street has a constant rush of snow goers coming and going from the mouth of the gondola, the only way up and down the mountain during this time of year, the other side feels almost like a sunken observation deck, allowing passerby’s to stand street level, looking up at the rush of stop light controled traffic. It’s hard to say which side would be my preference. The energy of the bustle is magnetic but the disconnect and slower pace on the other side is much more relaxing. They both gave great face, so to speak.
As always, Ryan got some shots that have left me envious. We have two completely different eyes and methods of editing and I am often replying to his work with “why didn’t I think of that.” These 2 from our evening on the strip left me envious of 2 elements; 1.) the color he was able to pull out of his sky and 2.) the idea to play on natural contrast with intentional gradient, giving a modern black and white a little age to it. I am forever a sucker for a strong black and white.
We had every intention of hitting sunrise again the next morning. We displayed those good intentions on Friday evening with in room cocktails and a jump on our photo editing, our version of an early night. We pushed that intention by making a point to be in bed before eleven. Come Saturday morning, we kissed that intention good-bye and told it to have a lovely day without us as we opted for extra sleep instead. Better luck next time. Day two in the books. Up next, braving the gondola.