With a picture-perfect sunrise, cruise around the lake and evening photo walk under our belts, our South Lake Bucket List was practically complete. The remaining task had been taunting me through the bedroom window for the first half of our stay. Considering I have a healthy fear of heights and plummeting to my death, enclosed in an extremely tight place, hanging over a rocky snow covered mountain side, Heavenly Ski Resort’s gondola ride to the top of 10,000 ft. elevation made me nervous in a “throw up my breakfast, who am I kidding, I can’t eat breakfast” sort of way. Our Saturday afternoon fate was inevitable but, until then, the days activities were calling. After reaping the benefits of our free breakfast coupons, hotel lobby coffee fueled and optimistic to catch some native wildlife in its natural habitat, we headed back to the sunrise location from the day before.
Capturing a bald eagle in the wild is my husband’s photographic unicorn. Tahoe, perched high in the Seirra Nevada Mountains, is a prime location to search for our nation’s bird. Setting a goal to find an eagle, we headed back to our pervious mornings location where we had seen multiple signs listing the bald eagle as one of the many birds inhabiting the area. With cameras in hand, tripod on back and enough faux fur accents to make a blanket, we trekked out to the lakeshore through the Tahoe Keys Marina. The popularity of the trail, that runs along where we had cut through the brush to set up our sunrise shot, led us quick to conclude that the likelihood of seeing an eagle was slim to none but, the grand sweeping landscape kept us intrigued to move forward. Eventually, the trail faded into an opening and we were out of the trees. The lake was close ahead and the mountain-lined horizon was far behind. The landscape was almost desert-like, no vegetation, no wildlife and minimal streams, all somewhat frozen over. Was the view we stumbled into worth not capturing an eagle? Probably, not. Did it produce some of my top favorite shots I got the entire weekend? Absolutely.
As early afternoon crept up, the gondola became more tangible, more real. Knowing that at some point the ride would stop running, we bucked up and headed over to check off our last “to do”. Boarding the plexi-glass pod, I knew we were up for some sort of adventure. Being one of the only humans to ever visit Tahoe that does not ski, snowboard or do any sort of extreme winter sport, I had no idea what I was really in for. Ryan, being someone who had never been up the mountain, expected just about the same level of amazement as I did, less the blatant fear of heights. We both anticipated a great view and maybe some free hot chocolate with proof of purchase.
The words to explain the feeling of my first gondola ride are difficult to find. Suspended above the side of a snow-capped mountain, with the hotel you were moments ago safely seated inside shrinking out of sight, as the view of the lake becomes bigger until you can see more water than civilization, all combined with the realization that you are a mere windowed bucket hanging by a bracket on the largest pulley system imaginable, removes any security you once had in life. Looking head-turned mountain side felt like drifting uphill within an arms reach from bear-tracked snow. Looking head-turned South Lake side, made you overtly aware of how far in the sky you were traveling, blindly, backwards, uphill. Granted, thousands of people travel by way of gondola to the top of the ski resort yearly, including employees twice a day, with minimal hesitation. I know many snow sport enthusiasts would go as far as rolling their eyes at my dramatic rendition of personal experience. However, for someone who rarely climbs much past the third rung on a ladder and panicked on the people-mover at the Santa Cruz boardwalk, which hangs at a fraction of the elevation, mastering the courage and following through in this case was a personal accomplishment on a very huge scale of personal accomplishments.
After circling the vista point at stop one, we were confused by the fact that there was no “down the mountain” loading zone. I didn’t see anyway that there was more “up” to go, feeling that we had already reached the top of the world. When the attendant managing the on/off deck informed us we were going to be just in time for happy hour we thought for sure he was joking. He put us back in a basket and moments later we had come to the end of the 2.4 mile ride. Pulling into a platform and walking out onto snow, 10,067 ft. above sea level, an entire hidden village built to party and ski laid before us. I quickly discovered what all the hype about a ski lodge is. Working my way through the crowd, I passed the go-go dancers and walked up to the bar, sure enough, in time for happy hour. Other than being snubbed by multiple bartenders, clearly not knowing the secret “I need a beer” code and waiting fifteen minutes to be helped, the bar was delightful. Beers in hand, we exited the warmth of the lodge and hit the outside party. We sat in the middle of freezing cold strangers, everyone from obvious athletes, clad in their down stuffed jackets, walking with a sort of swagger that only a regular can adopt, to people who were even less prepared to be walking on tightly packed snow than we were. That includes a woman in wedged boots that looked like she was about to break her knee caps in an effort to stand upright. Some of the most unique people watching I have ever done.
Feeling triumph in our feat, by the time we made it back to earth we had worked up an appetite for hot food and taste for beer. Stateline Brewery and Restaurant, located underground beneath The Shops at Heavenly Village, offered everything we were looking for. In an atmosphere reminiscent of a huge basement party, we were seated at a corner table in the middle of the room (figure that one out) and immediately ordered beer and artichoke dip before even seeing the menu. Breweries almost always have artichoke dip so it felt like a safe bet. When the waiter brought out a loaf of bread, sliced and hollowed on one side, with artichoke dip served somewhat bread bowl style, we didn’t know what to do. The presentation was a first for us but it didn’t take long for Babe to take the initiative, slice, dice and dip. I never want to eat artichoke dip any other way for as long as I live.
Indulging in the local brewed beer selection, as usual, I went for the lighter option, White-Out Wit and Ryan went for the Acclimator IPA. Ryan absolutely loved his choice and I didn’t hate mine. Before I get to the entrees, I have to add a quick Noodle Note: Due to the back up in the kitchen and our wait for our main entrees exceeding a half hour, we received a complimentary order of potato chips. Something I would normally overlook on a menu, their potato chips were handmade, fresh cut, drizzled in some sort of sweet yet hearty sauce and served warm. They were literally the best thing we had tasted the entire trip. I have no picture to share because, we killed them.
For anyone that knows me, or has ever read any of my previous reviews, they know that when I go to a brewery for the first time I have to try one thing first, Fish n Chips. Stateline’s fish and chips were classic beer-battered Atlantic cod and perfectly crisped fries. Babe had the nachos, his own brewery classic, which were smothered in queso (his favorite word) and good enough to keep picking at even after we were knowingly full. Thanks to our sufficient brewery fix and the past days festivities, we walked out of Stateline content and ready to call our last night good.
No matter how long we stay somewhere, or how ready we are to get home, saying good-bye is always the worst part. This trip was no different. The amount of memories we managed to create in just three days was unreal. With life being so busy and so focused on work and Ryan’s schooling, the time spent reconnecting and having absolutely no one but each other to focus on was long overdue. Tahoe, will now, officially forever hold a piece of me and will be somewhere to visit regularly for the length of our existence. We have already planned our next trip back and I have threatened a total of 24 times to get in the car right now just to go have Azul’s nachos and head back home. Don’t tempt me. I’ll do it.