Every good story starts with a hook!

As is our tendency, we took off in the van with only a vague idea of where we were going and what we were doing. I had seen some ridiculous pictures of Lake Tahoe and wanted to see how they compared to reality. (Not as good, as it turned out...)

Traveling all footloose and fancy-free like this, however, meant that we were too late to make campground reservations. We had to wing it, which is not the best idea when you’re going to Lake Tahoe in the summer!

Fortunately we found the nice little Alpine Meadow Campground just past the Truckee airport. (Not the noisiest airport, but noisy enough!)

Every site had a picnic table and a big hook on a pole like this one. Bear confounder? Piñata holder? Vaudevillian gag prop? Abstract pirate sculpture?

I hadn’t ever really thought about it before, but now I’ve got a pretty good idea of where the phrase “hightailin’ it” comes from.

(It comes from chipmunks.)

Sarah and Anicia were busy (sleeping) when I woke up, so I figured I’d go for a walk over to the Martis Reservoir to get the lay of the land(/water).

There were neat shadows in all directions!

(These little shadows were particularly cool to look at while you were walking past them. Unfortunately, you, dear viewer, will have to imagine them in motion.)

As I was walking, I could see a huge dam in the distance but not a lake. (According to a nearby placard, the Army Corp of Engineers built the dam in 1971 to prevent downtown Reno from becoming flooded by springtime thaws.)

Understandably, I figured the lake was on the other side. So I climbed up on the sucker in anticipation of my first breathtaking view and... This is what I saw. Turns out I already on the lake side of the dam.


The damn seemed a little excessive for such an innocuous looking lake. I mean, this glorified puddle couldn’t have been more than ten feet deep in the middle. Compare that to the 113' height of the dam!

(Part of why I had such big expectations was due to all the drowning warnings in the campground. The camp host had life jackets available to rent for Cripe’s sake!)

As I was heading back to the camp, however, I noticed a bunch of water-depth measuring poles on the lake’s edge. In this photo, you can see how they were anticipating potential water levels up above the surrounding plains.

Alright. I guess that’s a lot of water. (Pretty ominous when you look at it, actually.)

Anyway, the lake did present a nice opportunity to take a patented-by-Andre-upside-down-reflection shot.

And speaking of ominous... There was a weird alien egg in the middle of this patch of rocks.

Being the bleeding-heart environmentalist that I am, I like to pick up garbage when I’m out walking about. On this particular outing, I found several particularly sinister looking bits of rubbish.

Meanwhile, back at the van...

Sarah and Anicia had just awoken from a particularly (especially, apparently, in Anicia’s case) heavy sleep.

Sarah may appear to be looking at her troll-haired friend upstairs, but in all likelihood she’s thinking about how we really need to replace the contact paper on the bottom of the ceiling platform.

Holy freaking moly.

Andre had never been to Lake Tahoe before, but he’d seen some photos. Judging from how idyllic they made the place look, he’d always figured the real thing wouldn’t live up to its pictorial reputation. Turns out, dear friends, he was wrong.

Our first stop: Secret Cove on the west (Nevada) side of The Lake. Sandy beaches; crystal clear, tropical turquoise water (it’s about eight feet deep out in the middle of the cove there); smooth granite rocks (eat your heart out Virgin Gorda!); and plenty of sun.

The sign on the way down to the beach informed us that “You may encounter nudes here.” To protect the innocent, pictures of the place will be limited to landscapes.

(Although, if you look real hard, you can see a naked dude sitting on top of the rocks at the northern edge of the cove.)

Anicia had just returned from a summer in Berlin where much of her time was spent floating around in a cheap inflatable boat, drinking beer, and cruising the canals. As a result, she couldn’t resist buying one of the $5.00 “Econo Rafts” they were selling in the gas station.

Turns out it was very “econo.” Tough to inflate, not very wide, and difficult to board.

Noting our plight, a dude offered to let us use his. (Pictured, lower left.) This thing was deluxe! A cadillac among rafts. It even had built in bev-y holders!

On the way back to the van after a long day of hard work at the beach, Andre and Sarah happened upon another ridiculous Tahoe scene. Just look at these beautiful granite boulders, bathed in golden sunset!

Looking at the boulders up closer, you can see horizontal lines that (presumably) indicate former water levels. The uppermost of these lines was about four or five feet higher than the current level!

Considering the area of the lake surface, that’s a lot of extra water! According to the historical lake level graphs on The Complete Guide to Boating Lake Tahoe , the last time the water level was that high was back in the summer of 2006.

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but the cones on this sugar pine were particularly sparkly. Must’ve been the sweet, sweet sugar sap dripping out of them...

And a giant sequoia!

Most of the sequoias that I’ve seen have been in special, roped-off, giant sequoia groves. (Or, at least, that’s where I’m most likely to take notice.) It’s a little weird just stumbling onto them in the wild.

This was irresistible.

Andre, wispy moustache curling around his upper lip, poses for his new Facebook profile pic.


Actually, this one would probably be a little more appropriate. (Except for the fact that you can see my chin perfectly through the thin veil of my beard.)

After Lake Tahoe, we thought it would be in our best interests to revisit a previous haunt: the swimming hole in Oregon Creek. (Previously: click !) When last we visited it, we were delighted to have found THE PERFECT SWIMMING HOLE...

...except for one small detail: the water was a little too cold in May for prolonged dips. Seeing as how it was now August, we figured we’d try our luck again. Booking it out of Tahoe, we stopped for the night at the Lake Spaulding Campground off of Route 20.

(Don’t tell anyone, but... we didn’t pay. The place was empty all night and it was run by PG & E so we didn’t feel too bad about it.)


Anicia took pictures from the back seat. Andre was not amused.


But Anicia certainly was.

(Anicia... obviously.)

And then... as if it couldn’t get any better...

Oregon Creek!

There were already a couple of dudes on the scene when we arrived at the swimming hole. (A couple of meat heads, by the looks of it!) We scared ’em off when we changed into our swimming “outfits.” Various people showed up over the course of the day. (Including the unidentified swimmer pictured above.) Still, it was a pretty mellow scene.

This time the place was perfect. The water temperature was much warmer allowing us to explore the swimming hole’s secret charms:

1. There were a number of great jumping rocks. At one point, a dude and his girlfriend and dog showed up. This guy climbed way up the side of the cliff and dove into the lower pool headfirst. (It was pretty b’dass.)

2. There was a big waterfall in the lower pool that you could stand behind and watch the sheet of water pouring over you.

3. There was also an underwater tunnel that connected two large pots carved into the granite. I discovered it as I was feeling around the bottom of the one pot with my foot. (A little waterfall feeding into it made it impossible to see through the water even though it was very clear.) I could tell that the opening was big enough to swim through so I took a deep breath and went on through. (Anicia did too later on, but only after a fair amount of gratuitous peer pressuring. Sarah, wise old bird that she is, opted out of these sub-aqueous antics.)


I have always felt that Rolling Rock lager is a particularly refreshing beer. On a hot day—especially on a hot day at a glorious swimming hole—there is nothing quite like it.


Sarah (pictured and pouring) and Anicia agreed.

After a full day of exacerbating our sunburns form Lake Tahoe, we figured it was time to make like this butterfly and move on. (He/She took off right after Anicia took the picture.)

We forged onward to the Mineral Bar Campground!


Eagle-eyed followers of these photographic trip logs will remember this pile of rocks from our previous vanstravaganza. The big difference was that this time Sarah and Anicia didn’t have a big stack of papers to grade!

No sir! This time we headed straight down to the river (The American River) for beer-drinking and some hardcore...



Andre and Sarah, on the other hand, busied themselves with some equally x-treme feet dipping in the cool river water.


Everything was going peacefully until Sarah freaked out and tried to murder this innocent ladybug.

I hadn’t anticipated how much water the three of us were going to use. We went through an entire five-gallon jug in just three days! Unfortunately, cool as it is, the Mineral Bar Campground doesn’t have running water. To save what little we had left, we boiled river water to cook our pasta.

I filled the pot up directly and used the lid to keep the water from splashing out. The treacherous trip over the bouldery mound made keeping said water in said pot a difficult chore. By the time I got the pot to the van, however, the water level was perfect for cooking pasta!

...hence my look of smug satisfaction.

The next morning, as usual, I woke up first and went for a walk. Lo and behold! The place was overrun with blackberries. Some of them, as you can see in this picture, weren’t ripe enough for eatin’. Others (also visible) were way too ripe.

But some of them, were juuuuuuust right! (I filled up a whole bowl at the expense of dying my fingers blood red and stabbing myself repeatedly with thorns.)

The Bridge over the River American.

I guess they have a pretty bad erosion problem around the day-use area. Luckily for me, I brought a camera to document the nifty, knobby exposed roots.

Before we went to bed on our last night, a dude came over and started telling us about gold prospecting. He was really friendly, but I kept thinking, “What’s this guy’s angle?” As best I can tell, however, he was just being friendly! He was concerned that there weren’t enough young people getting into prospecting and that art was in danger of dying out.

He and his twin brother (along with most of the rest of the people camping out) were there looking for dust and nuggets in the creek just north of the campground. He told us all about where to go, where to buy equipment, where to unload the gold, and how to do the actual sifting/sluicing. He also told us that it wasn’t rare to pull $800 dollars out of the river in a full day’s work! (“Not a bad deal,” I thought, thinking of the currently-horrific academic job market.) He told us to come on up the river before we left and he’d show us how to use a sluice.

After breakfast we set out on the trail to find the gold-laden sandbar he had been raving about. (“There’s literally money in the river,” he said, “and all you need to do is go and pick it up!”)

I got distracted along the way by this little cave with its (no doubt) ancient pictographs.

The trail turned into a poison oakfest, so we decided we’d wade up the river instead.

Big mistake.

Once we got a load of how warm and beautifully clear the water was, we lost all hope of ever making it up to the goldbar. Swimming through pools, climbing over rocks, and putzing up waterfalls turned out the be (are you ready for this?) the real treasure of the American River!

There was a big aluminum pipe wedged between these rocks. (Presumably some sort of mining equipment.) But that didn’t stop Anicia and Sarah from mermaiding it up!

(Rollover the image to see Sarah sprawl!)

And then... Terror strikes!

Anicia saw a foot long water snake wriggling it’s way up the river! Then, Andre overheard a guy almost fall into the water with his clothes on when he saw “a three foot water snake! And it had a fish in its mouth!”

Now, I’ve heard of water snakes before, but I thought they only lived around certain South Pacific islands. (Anyone who’s seen Endless Summer II as many times as I have knows what I’m talking about.) I had no idea that there were water snakes in California!

(Apparently there are.)

Fortunately, none of us got bit!

A dude fishing, however, told us that he’d just seen a rattlesnake along the trail back to camp! Where to go?! No safety in the water and no safety on land!

We didn’t see the snake, but we did see some more ridiculously beautiful water. The color in this picture (depending on your monitor, I suppose) only begins to do it justice!

Sarah digs in her left ear (for snakes?) as Anicia pouts about a ludicrously inappropriate use of an apostrophe.

Heading home, Anicia commanded the driver (me) to stop the van on the bridge so she could take pictures of the kids in the river. You’ll probably have to look at the full-res version to see them, but industrious children have built small pools out of rocks in the middle of the river.


And an inadvertent shot of the whole group to round things off (from L to R):

Sarah with an abnormally large pair of borrowed sunglasses, Anicia reflecting on letting Sarah borrow her sunglasses, and Andre’s right ear.

The big question now is: How the hell are we going to top this trip on our next vanstravaganza?