Breaking camp is even harder than setting up. Each of the three sleeping bags has to be shaken out and rolled tightly. The tent floor has to be swept clean.
The tent is large, and while doing the initial folding, on the ground, we try not to step on it and track dirt onto it. We’re not entirely successful. The large wooden camp table turns out to be an ideal surface for the final folds, and though we’re not Chinese factory workers we manage to squeeze the tent and all its parts back into the flexible carry bag. But try as we might, we can’t fit the new air mattress back in the box it came in, even though we’ve deflated it completely and folded it carefully.
Two hours later, our camping equipment is ready to be packed away until next year’s trip, the campsite is cleaned for its next visitor, and we’ve warmed up and are ready for our next adventure. Now we head for Lake Tahoe, which we’ve passed before but have never visited.
Many campgrounds shaded by towering pine and fir trees surround the lake, but we’re ready for some creature comforts, especially a shower. The only problem is that even the cheaper motels are beyond our budget. Then, at a visitor information center, we stumble on an affordable option. The fancy Tahoe Biltmore Lodge and Casino in Crystal Bay, at the northern end of the lake, has bought an old motel across the street, now used mainly by construction workers.
There is no lake view from the room (what can you expect for $44 a night), but when we go out for a walk, we meet a woman who leads us to the secluded Buck Beach. So much snow fell last winter that the lake is higher than usual, reducing the beach to a tiny crescent with a few rounded boulders shoved there by ancient glaciers. At sunset, the boulders in the water make a dramatic tableau, past which young people glide by on surfboards, paddling gently.
In the evening, the Biltmore casino’s café turns out to have very affordable and tasty meals. Of course, we have to pass all the slots and the roulette tables, but we keep our hands in our pockets to avoid temptation.
The following day we drive around the lake – the second deepest in the United States (after Crater Lake) – discovering both its most beautiful parts (especially Emerald Bay) and its less beautiful ones (the large town at the southern tip).
A mile-long hike on the lake’s northeastern side brings us to a secluded beach where we find a deserted makeshift hut with a sign announcing that it was once the Freedom Bar. Two men in kayaks paddle by, stopping to chat a bit. The world seems very far away, though the road is just a hundred feet above us.
At a state park on the western side, we stop for a picnic lunch and encounter two colorfully dressed women engaged in some kind of worship. A sign at the rest rooms provides a clue: Part of the lake is closed to the public for an annual meeting of the Washoe Indian tribe, to whom the lake is sacred.
We feel that we could spend more time in this exquisite place, but we must return to civilization, and the following morning we leave for San Francisco.
Text and photographs copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No portion of this text or photographs may be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Esther Hecht.