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USA road trip a week in the Sierra Nevadas

Updated on May 13, 2012

After our shopping trip to Best Buy in Reno to ‘finally’ sort out the computer problems (Best Buy were very obliging at every visit even if their assistants were not always fully informed on how to deal with a couple who wanted a computer and internet service that would work just about anywhere in the USA – a rather unique problem in their experience) we continued West towards California and the Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe. Again this proved to be spectacular mountain country and our first stop was at Truckee where a visit to the information centre supplied us with a host of travel information on the new state (California) that we had just entered. There were also lots of fishermen on the Truckee River on a Sunday afternoon and this seemed to indicate that this might be a good place to do some fishing!

After filling up with supplies for the next few days we set of to find Jessie’s friends (Jessie is Audrey’s sister and now lives in Florida) in the mountains, 17 miles from Truckee. Directions from Pam via Jessie were perfect and we soon arrived at the 85 acre smallholding where the Mitchell’s stay, planning to camp on their property for a few days to get ourselves sorted out after being on the road for these first weeks. It has been all go, go, go - not too certain why? What we really needed was just some space and time to get back on to even keel. Living in a van can be quite challenging and we both seemed to feel the same need for a “time out” and the Mitchell’s provided that.

Fred and Pam would not let us set up camp but insisted that we use the loft in their beautiful log ‘cabin’! She is a South African from Durban and he grew up in Indiana. Both are passionate about wild life and the environment and spent time in Botswana as tour guides. They met Jessie and Errol while living in Hillcrest in Kwa-Zulu Natal and you could not find better hosts.

Fred is busy producing timber from trees that they have harvested on their property to build a new barn and Pam works three days a week at a frail care centre in Truckee. Fred is using a potable wood saw imported from Australia that cuts beautiful planks from the huge logs that they harvest on their property. I helped carry the freshly cut planks to the stack were they are left to dry.

They are the proud owners of three goats, Casper, Blue and Harvey and a beautiful Labrador named Savannah. Fred is training the goats to be pack goats to assist them on hikes on the many great hiking trails in the Sierra’s and possibly to be hired out to other hikers.

It’s been a great week with morning walks with the goats and Savanna. On Tuesday we enjoyed a hike to Baltimore Lake and in spite of taking a wrong turn and never getting to the lake we had a good time in these beautiful mountains and picture perfect blue lakes in the area. We have also been able to do some good birding mainly from the verandah of the house were a progression of birds make their way to the bird bath. Audrey, I think, has enjoyed having someone else to talk to apart from me and the various assistants at Best Buy!

On Wednesday it was an afternoon of gold panning in the nearby stream after a picnic lunch with the Mitchell’s and their extended family, Savannah, Blue, Casper the friendly goat and Harvey , head banger. Only found a few small gold flakes but enjoyed the experience and a swim in the river.

For about six months of the year the Mitchell’s cannot get to their house by car because of the snow and have to leave their vehicle in a car park next to the highway and then travel the last few miles by snowmobile, skis, or in the all terrain 6 wheel drive vehicle (road, veldt, snow, ice and water) that we used to take the picnic things to the river today. Certainly is a different life! Pam has a beautiful garden and the surroundings are magnificent. Bears are common place but we have not been lucky enough to see one yet, and if we do, hope it will be at a safe distance.

Thursday we needed to go back to Reno (about 40 miles) to see if we could get our brakes sorted out as they were making a loud clonking noise every time we used them.

Two days in Reno to get the brakes sorted out and now they should be good for the rest of the trip. John at New Valley Transmissions was very helpful after the first brake specialists had diagnosed the problem as a Rear Differential one! An electrical fault somehow connected to the foot brake caused us to lose our headlights and hooter etc. and this caused a further delay, but it did give us a chance to explore the shops in Reno including Sam’s Club and the local Savers Store where you can buy used goods at really good prices. I bought a warm jacket that should see me into winter and Audrey got a snazzy floppy hat to match the one I had bought at a Wall-mart along the way. A night in the car at Atlantis Casino car park went without any problems and we actually slept pretty well. The van is proving to be a good sleeping option when needed and saves a lot of money.

Back to the mountains and the Mitchell’s Ranch on Friday where we again panned for gold until we ran out of light at about 8 o’clock. On Saturday we were invited to join Fred and Pam at a pot luck lunch at Webber Lake that was also the memorial service for one of the colorful locals who ran a fishing camp at the lake and was also at times the local fire chief and sheriff and who had passed away recently.

This was a very interesting experience of local community life with an excellent barbeque put on by the local fire department and some good country and western music. On the way back we visited two ranches owned by friends of Fred and Pam and a beautiful waterfall. A few more hours of gold panning produced only a few small gold flakes, but as the sun set in the Sierra Nevada we enjoyed soup and salad on the veranda overlooking the valley below with a deep appreciation of life and the beauty of our world. The gold in our lives does not have to be panned out of the nearest mountain stream but can often be found right next to us.

This area is famous for the Donner Family who got caught in the mountains in the winter of 1846 as they attempted to cross the Sierra Nevada before the snow came on their journey from Utah to California. Most of the party died and two of the women eventually gave their lives in an attempt to save some of their children. They are honored in a statue in Truckee State Park and we walked an interesting self guided trail at the spot where the party faced the terrible winter of 1846.


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    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      6 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Thankd Gill, you are a star.

    • Gill Harris profile image

      Gill Harris 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      Lovely read. Looking forward to the next leg.


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