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Road Trip USA-Lake Tahoe and California Mountains

Updated on May 14, 2012

Monday was set aside for a visit to Lake Tahoe about 40 miles south of the Mitchell's place and although I was dragged shouting and screaming by Audrey(the previous day at Donner Lake had been crazy with traffic bumper to bumper) it proved to be well worth the effort.

This is a hugely popular holiday destination for people from as far as San Francisco (or’ the Bay’ as it is referred to locally), Sacramento and Reno. It really is one of the most beautiful places on this planet. A huge lake surrounded by towering mountains and green forests its clear water reflects the most wonderful colors of turquoise and blue! White beaches with families who have travelled from the California coast relaxing on the sand and sometimes venturing into the water for a wade or even a swim in the roped of swimming areas.

The lovely homes surround the lake and perched on the mountain edges, reminding us of Clifton in Cape Town, South Africa, one of the really up market areas in that country looking over the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean rather than the equally beautiful clear waters of this inland lake.. The small holiday towns surrounding the lake are full of delightful shops, motels and restaurants with the occasional mansion that could only be afforded by old or new money from Reno or the Bay areas.

Back for our last night at the Mitchell’s and after another delightful meal of Buffalo Cottage Pie and strawberries and ice-cream on the deck we dreamt of discovering gold in the rivers or relaxing on the white beaches in the mountains of California, Tuesday morning started with a hike to see the Basque Shepherd’s carvings on the Aspen trees in the meadows next to the Little Truckee River accompanied by Fred, Pam, Savanna (their dog) and the three goats. Early farmers in this area had imported Basque Sheppard’s from Spain to look after the sheep that they kept in this area and these lonely Sheppard’s were visited by entrepreneurial ladies from Truckee during the long nights in the winter and the Sheppard’s carved graphic pictures of these visitors on the Aspen trees that can still be seen more than a hundred years later.

It was sad to say good bye to Fred and Pam and the rest of the ‘family’ but the North West States and coast was calling and so we set of on the 89 north to Sierraville and the Lassen Volcanic National Park through the largest Pine forest in the world.

The trip has been full of surprises and this National Park was no exception. A walk on the Bumpass Hell hike to the hottest hydrothermal springs in the world was really interesting and the sunset, as we hurried back to the car park to avoid being caught in the mountains in the dark, was one of the most amazing we had ever seen. It kept our cameras clicking but somehow we knew the sights we were seeing as the sky changed to a Flamingo Pink over Lassen Peak could not be really recorded on camera. We also had the opportunity to feel and taste the snow that still covered parts of the mountain side. We had often seen this in the distance but now at 8500 feet could actually touch it.

Trying to find camping after dark in a National Park proved as difficult as the guide books had predicted and it was only in the third campsite at The Crags that we found a place. After paying the $12 we rearranged Matilda, did a quick bucket bath, and finished off the sandwiches that Pam had so kindly packed for us and collapsed into our bed, glad we did not have to pitch a tent. All food, except some that we forgot, had been dutifully stored in the Bear proof steel boxes. I managed to drop a bottle of instant coffee powder on the ground behind Matilda and we wondered if the smell of fresh coffee powder would attract a Bear out of the woods!

We woke on Wednesday morning to find ourselves in this beautiful area under huge Redwood trees where Audrey spent some time again repacking Matilda(a pretty regular routine on the trip) while I worked on this update. A cheeky chipmunk kept dashing onto the table in our campsite to see what it could steal. When Audrey or I chased him he would hide behind the barbeque place and peep over to see if we were serious!

On to Redding, a large town in northern California where Audrey visited some of the large shops like Target, Wall-Mart and Home Zone while I slept in the car in a nice shady spot we found in a car park .We decided to treat ourselves to a buffet at Country Home and it was really good value with a starter of a variety of salads, several fish and meat dishes and a delicious pudding selection. As it was an early afternoon meal it meant we qualified for the pensioners’ discount price of about $7, which with cool drinks and coffee thrown in seems like a good value for money. As we were leaving Redding, our hooter (horn in American) decided to go off as I entered the highway. Thought I was going up the wrong way and nearly caused an accident until I realized it was my hooter and not someone else’s!

This meant I had to beat a hasty retreat off the highway and take the hooter fuse out in the parking area of a local restaurant that fortunately was closed. Your horn/hooter going off continuously must be one of the most embarrassing things that can happen to you! Again a change in plans and another night in the area to get it fixed. This now seemed to be a kind of Thursday ritual.

We found a place to camp at nearby Whiskeytown Lake, State Recreation Area where we both swam in the lake at the “beach”. The camp site was in what looked like a large parking area and our neighbors were a large family from the California coast with a campervan for the grandparents while the young folk kids were spread out on blow up mattresses and duvets in the surrounding areas. Wondered what would happen if it rained. Found out that they had come inland to Whiskeytown to escape from the cold California Coast where we were heading.

Back to Redding in the morning to find an auto electrician who sorted out our problem and then on along the 44/299 highway going N/W towards the Californian coast and Eureka. Four nights at an idyllic camp spot at Williston on the Trinity River saw me take out a two day Californian Fishing license as well as a salmon return form.

As I bravely waded into the ice cold river near our camp site on Friday morning early I slipped on the rocky bottom and landed in a heap in the river. After I managed to scramble to my feet and regain my fishing pole (as it is referred to locally-(‘if you hook a Salmon without a return form they may catch you and confiscate your pole’), the young assistant at the local grocery store had told me. I then looked for my composure and after regaining some of it, glanced around to see who had spotted my rather undignified entry into the fishing waters. It was gratifying to see that our neighbors were still recovering from the previous nights partying and Audrey was repacking Matilda and so my reputation as a fly fisherman of repute was not yet dented - that only came much later when everyone asked the dreaded question ,’what did you catch?’

The locals where catching 10-15 lb Salmon which were returning from the Pacific to breed in these west flowing rivers. This happens during the summer months in waves of a couple of weeks at a time and this happened to be one. ’The Salmon are in the river’, the cry goes out and so do the fishermen and women in their pickup trucks and river boats specially designed for these fast flowing shallow rivers!

While we saw several caught I did not manage to hook one on my float and worm, nor any of the Rainbow and Brown Trout on my fly rod. This No 3 rated Trout River in the U.S.A. harbors some huge fish indeed. Perhaps it was fortunate as my very light tackle would have been totally inadequate to land a fish of any large size if I hooked one.

This morning (Sunday) as we were having our breakfast (mixed flakes, fresh fruit and coffee) Audrey spotted our second Bald Eagle landing in a tree next to the river near our camp sight and much to the amusement of our neighbors had us grabbing binoculars and cameras! In the 70’s the Bald Eagle was a rare sight in the U.S.A. but since the banning of DDT it has now become common almost any where water is found. Looks and sounds a little like our Fish Eagle. Later we again saw it circling above the river, indeed a magnificent sight. It obviously is not as common as the bird book says, as this was only our second one on the trip!

Every little town has interesting “historical” facts that set it apart from its neighbors. For example this town was started by two enterprising miners who decided to build a bridge across the river and charge travelers a toll to avoid the 28 mile detour they would have to travel (usually on horseback) otherwise. This netted them a lot more that there previous activity of gold panning had. When they had made enough cash for the day, they simply closed the bridge till the next morning!

The narrow bridge still allows only a single file of motor cars and vans to pass by, but without the toll! In times past it also boasted a whore house (today the local general dealer) that the miners visited after their takings for the day could cover the costs of a couple of drinks and entertainment at the local house of ill repute.

Tomorrow we plan to leave early for nearby Weaverville to have our rear left stoplight and indicator seen to before heading to the coast at Eureka (I bought and replaced the bulb but this did not help). We will pan again for that elusive gold nugget this evening when it gets cooler. Someone told us the story of one such find where the lucky prospector recently sold a rather large nugget for $750 000 to a collector. Perhaps we will be able to shout “Eureka”, sooner rather than later-who knows?


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    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      6 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Thank you, we loved the 6 month trip in the USA and I enjoy writing about it Thanks for your comment!

    • livingpah2004 profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      Great article with nice pictures. Useful and voted up!


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