In January of this year I embarked on a cross-country road trip, one that took me from San Francisco to New York City. I loved every moment of the drive and of encountering our beautiful country from behind the wheel of my little Honda HRV. I decided to go a bit out of my way to stop in one of my favorite places on earth, South Lake Tahoe.
I began my drive early in the morning from San Francisco listening to podcasts and enjoying the fact that I’d beat the
traffic out of the city. I always find the drive fairly boring and slow until I pass Placerville. That’s when the scenery begins to shift from flat farmland and city air to snowy peaks and crisp mountain air. City buildings melt away and in their place sprout majestic pine trees and redwoods.
Though my eyes feasted on the glittering snow-dusted pines and sapphire-blue sky, my stomach began to rumble and hunger set in as I drove through Riverton. I stopped at the first cute log-cabin restaurant bar I saw, which happened to be Brigance Roadhouse & Social Club. The moment I walked in the door I knew this place would become a staple in my drives to Tahoe and I’ve visited several times since. The owner greeted me from behind the bar and invited me to have a seat in the dining room to the right of the main entrance. I took a seat at one of the semi-circle burgundy booths by the window. Directly across from my booth at the back of the room a small stage with instruments hinted of nights when local gather for live music and parties. I gazed out of the window, across the rushing river, at houses, sparsely spaced, hanging off the steep snow-covered river bank. I imagined the people that lived inside the tall wood house across from my window spending time on their deck, enjoying the sound of the river and little else, walking across the bridge upriver and down the winding road to this restaurant. I pictured them enjoying an evening of good music, raising toasts with local friends and visitors that stopped by on a journey like mine, sharing in warm merriment until time to bundle up and walk back across the bridge in the dark and snuggle up in their bed beside a wood burning stove. I was awakened from my reverie as a young, slightly awkward teen dressed all in black asked for my order. I ordered a bison cheese burger and a warm apple brandy-based drink and settled in to read my book. I was amused when my order arrived and the owner had to personally deliver my drink as the girl in black was not old enough to serve alcohol. The delicious bison burger filled my belly and the drink warmed my body and soul. The river and the dark, warm, charming atmosphere provided the perfect background to my Flannery O’Connor short stories. I ordered one more apple brandy drink and read one more story before hitting the road again.
I always love snaking along the river along Highway 50 before ascending and descending approaching South Lake Tahoe. I stopped at local coffee shop Freel Perk just off 50 on the way in for a hot Chai tea. I love the decor, the outdoor seating and the display of local pottery for sale. The adjascent Mexican restaurant is also quite good.
I arrived in SLT early afternoon and met with friends for a hike. Exhausted and cold, we bustled in to the ever-lively MacDuff’s pub, where we warmed our bodies with Shepherd’s Pie, Guiness Stew and hot toddies.
After dinner we retired to the cabin and built a fire. Though it was dark and quite cold, we wrapped ourselves in blankets and endured the weather to spend time reminiscing by the fire. We sipped red wine and laughed until we couldn’t breath, our faces lit only by the flickering flame. Finally it was time to retire to our respective rooms so we doused the fire and bid each other sweet dreams. We wrapped ourselves tight with wool blankets and fell asleep with smiles still playing on our faces.
The next morning we rose with the sun and set about cleaning the cabin. Ordinarily we’d make breakfast together and enjoy it at the picnic table outside the cabin, but this morning I wanted to patron a Tahoe favorite, Red Hut Cafe. After washing glasses from the night before and starting a load of sheets, we made out way to one of Tahoe’s oldest local spots. Red Hut Cafe, originally a waffle shop, dates back to 1959. It has since expanded it’s menu and opened two additional locations for three total in the Tahoe area. The decor reflects the outdoor spirit of Tahoe and the friendly staff make one feel at home.
With a full stomach I bid farewell to my friends and hit the road once again. I decided to take my time and explore the area so I followed 89 up the West side of Lake Tahoe toward Truckee. I stopped frequently to take pictures or walk the streets of quaint little neighborhoods on the water. I could definitely picture myself living in one of these quite alcoves one day. At Truckee I actually turned West and headed to Donner Lake. I drove along Donner Pass Road and thought about the struggles of the Donner party and felt grateful for my warm car, roads, readily available lodging and food.
I stopped at Donner Lake Village and rented a room overlooking the beautiful lake. I started a fire in one of the lounge rooms and opened my book. The mirror still lake surrounded by feathery snow covered pines gave my mind a sense ofpeacefulness and focus as I read and wrote.
Later that evening I retired to my room and watched a child’s first encounter with snow. I listened to her delighted screams as she formed her first snow ball and slid down her first snow bank. Her parents beamed as she giggled and threw fist fulls of show into the air.
The rooms at Donner Lake Village are meant for seasonal use and many of them are condos owned by skiers. I was
able to make dinner on the small stove. I sat at the kitchen table and watched the sun set, painting the sky in brilliant oranges, yellows and dark pinks. The midnight blue of the like reflected back the colors of the sky, giving them a beautiful richness and depth. Finally I snuggled up for a final night in the mountains before I would head East across country the following day.