Travel Trails By Martin B. Deutsch



November 1, 1965 -- Everyone has heard of Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, that famous Los Angeles suburb, Disneyland, San Francisco, with its hills and cable cars, and the famous Las Vegas Strip. But only a Westerner knows–really knows–Reno-Tahoe. To many people, at least within my circle of acquaintances, the mention of Reno conjures up a vision of a divorce mill, with a few casinos and night clubs to help the ladies while away their six-week waiting period. Lake Tahoe, on the other hand, is regarded as a winter ski-center, a sort of a gateway to such places as the nearby Squaw Valley.

Our aim this month is to give our readers a more objective and accurate picture of the Lake Tahoe-Reno region. We know that you and the family would greatly enjoy a two- or three-week stay in Reno-Tahoe, or find it a wonderful place to take a breather on a tour to the West.

Billed as "America's All Year Playground," Tahoe has an elevation of 6,225 feet, which makes it one of the highest resort lakes in the world and contributes to the crisp, crystal-clear quality of the water. The lake has a seventy-one-mile shoreline, with a length of a twenty-three miles (north to south), and a width of thirteen miles. About two-thirds of the lake is in California; the other third is in Nevada. The hotels and clubs on the lake that feature gambling lie on the Nevada side, naturally. In all other respects, there are no differences. For example, your fishing license for Tahoe will allow you to work on the lake's waters on both the California and Nevada sides. More on fishing (and hunting) later.

What's there to do at Tahoe in the summer or in the winter? Where do you stay? What are the prices like? In the warm-weather months, you can enjoy the many fine public beaches on the lake, take out a canoe or a cabin cruiser, try your hand at water skiing, play golf on one of the many excellent courses, go horseback riding or hiking along the well-marked U.S. Forest Service Trails, take one of the many superb drives through the magnificent Alpine Country, take an organized sight-seeing tour, enjoy the big-name entertainment in the evening at one of the clubs, or play with Lady Luck at one of the casinos if you're so inclined. There are also some worthwhile old Western communities and ghost towns in the area, as well as many isolated lakes, streams, brooks and picnic sites. You can also try a tramway lift to one of the peaks at 10,000 feet for a sweeping view of the Tahoe-Reno area.

In the winter, this remote corner of California-Nevada retains its visual charms, only the green changing to white. The entertainment and the gambling are year-round features, and the local beauty will keep your camera busy, no matter when you come. Skiing is the biggest outdoor attraction from November though May, and it's considered among the fines in the U.S.A. Squaw Valley, just a short drive by car from Tahoe, is the best known of the ski resorts and the site of the recent winter Olympic games. Other nearby ski areas include Sugar Bowl, Alpine Meadows, Granlibakken, Chamberlands, Sierra Ski Ranch, Strawberry Ski Area and Echo Summit. Another ski center, Heavenly Valley also features three chair lifts, two rope tows and two ski jumps. (If you take the tramway in the summer, just for the spectacular view, the charge is $2 for adults, $1 for youngsters under sixteen.) There's expert, moderately priced instruction at ski resorts in the area and excellent accommodations.

Speaking of places to stay, there are 300 of them, in all sizes, shapes and price ranges, off the south shore of Lake Tahoe alone. The motels are so numerous, for example, that the American Automobile Association breaks down its listings for Tahoe into East, West, North and South. By far, the bulk of the accommodations are on the North and South shores. Rates for two per night run as low as $7, but the average seems to be about $12. In the winter, the popular Squaw valley Inn gets about $18 for a double. Motel rates are substantially lower, and there are also cottages and cabins in the area.

During the summer, for those of you who like to camp or travel in trailers, you'll find dozens of likely sites. There are some thirty campgrounds in the area, half of them free, the others charging from 50 cents to $1.50 a night. They are generally open from May to October. Several of them limit the stay to either one day or ten days. Virtually all of them have the conventional facilities, as well as access to boating, fishing and swimming. There are approximately fifteen trailer parks. Typical campgrounds on the shores of the lake include William Kent Camp, just south of Tahoe City; Eagle Falls Camp at Emerald Bay; and El Dorado County Campground at the southeast corner of the lake. You can also pitch a tent in the local state parks, such as D.L. Bliss, Emerald Bay and Tahoe.

The lake, incidentally, is virtually surrounded by three National Forests: Tahoe, Toiyabe and Eldorado. These forests are filled with hiking trails which lead to many small lakes and streams. Snow-capped peaks towering more than 4,000 feet over the lake, enhance the area's beauty.

We've been talking about nature and outdoor facilities for a while, so let's move over to the Nevada side, where you can visit some of the fanciest clubs and casinos outside of Reno or Las Vegas.

New this year, at the southeast corner of Lake Tahoe, sits the 350-room Sahara-Tahoe Resort Hotel, built by Del Webb, who also has properties in Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Francisco, San Diego and Fresno. Aside from a plush casino, this $25,000,000 resort complex features the 450-seat Aspen Grove Theatre-Lounge, which offers lavish revues in the evening from eight-thirty to midnight. Opening before the end of the year will be the 900-seat High Sierra Showroom, designed to provide big-name entertainment, Broadway shows, concerts, and even basketball games. Some of the "names" already cooked: Robert Goulet, Nancy Wilson, Jack Carter, Donald O'Conner and Milton Berle. On top of all this, there's a lounge with continuous entertainment, sumptuous dining, elegant décor, access for guests to four nearby golf courses, and air-conditioning or heating, depending on the time of year. Arrangements will also be made for water sports, skiing, mountain climbing, fishing and hiking.

Long famous on the Tahoe scene is Harrah's (also with a club in Reno), which has drawn top names to its stage for years, and has developed an enviable reputation as a place for gourmet dining. Among the top entertainers who have appeared here (and in Reno) are Jack Benny, Sammy Davis, Jr., Harry Belafonte, Danny Thomas, Red Skeleton, Danny Kaye, Mitzi Gaynor, Liberace and Marlene Dietrich, all in the South Shore Room, which seats 750. The theater-lounge presents such entertainers as the Mary Kaye Trio, the Lancers, the Kirby Stone Four, and Louis Prima. There is also a large casino area, a bingo room (open daily), the Stateline Restaurant, a snack bar, and the Stateline Race Book, with direct lines to five major race tracks, just adjacent to the main building.

Also in the Tahoe are is Harvey's Wagon Wheel Resort Hotel and Casino, which rises eleven stories high, offers around-the-clock dining, eight bars and cocktail lounges, an Entertainment Pavilion, and a sweeping view of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra-Nevada Mountains from the "Top of the Wheel" dining room, serving Polynesian specialties. Room rates for a double start at $18. Barney's Casino, also on the South Shore, has a card room and various other games of chance, all just one black from the California border.

One this note, it's time we moved over for a visit to Reno. There are three routes linking Lake Tahoe with Reno, which bills itself as "the biggest little city in the world." If you travel via Route 40, the distance is forty-nine miles; four miles; and by way of Highways 395 and 50, about forty-six miles. The Mt. Rose route is considered especially dramatic, with memorable views of Lake Tahoe, Reno and the Washoe Valley.

Apart from its famous main street, sort of a miniature Las Vegas "strip," with places like Harrah's Reno and Harold's Club, Reno also plays an important role in mining, livestock, lumber and agriculture. It is the headquarters for Toiyabe National Forest, and the site of the University of Nevada, with its handsome sixty-acre campus. And, while the divorce courts are the busiest in the nation, six times as many couples marry in Reno.

Furthermore, an operation like Harrah's with big-name entertainment, casino, bingo parlor and café, wears another hat. Just three miles from the heart of town, you can drive, or take a free bus, to Harrah's Automobile Collection, described as the "world's largest museum of antique, vintage and classic automobiles." There are more than 325 on display, including a 1929 Duesenberg Dual Cowl Phaeton ($8,500 when new); a 1931 Ford Deluxe Phaeton ($850), and a 1909 Thomas Flyer ($6,000). Most of the cars are in top condition, and you can visit the shops where the mechanical and body work are done. The museum also has an old steam engine, several antique boats and motorcycles, and a Pony Express exhibit. Open daily from ten to four, admission is $1 for adults, 50 cents for the youngsters.

Quite possibly, the most publicized of Reno's clubs is Harolds. (I'm sure you've seen one of those huge roadside billboards which tell you it's only so many miles to Harolds in Reno, even if you're hundreds of miles away.) Featuring seven stories of casinos, dining and entertainment, Harolds is elegant without being self-conscious, plush without being unduly formal. In the seventh floor "Fun Room," you can catch the shows which feature top artists, such as the New Christy Minstrels, Frankie Lane, Diahann Carroll, Rusty Draper, Trini Lopez, Nancy Wilson or Bob Crosby. The gals in the show are always lovely and never overdressed. There's no minimum, no cover. Harolds' seven bars, restaurant, coffee shop and snack bar are open around the clock, as are the gaming tables. There are two shoes nightly (Saturday three), except Monday. On the second floor, there's an unusual treat–Harolds museum of Western Americana–with a fine collection of guns and other frontier mementos. You don't have to worry about parking either –Harolds can handle 1,000 cars. You might also ask your travel agent about Harolds' package vacation which, for approximately $25, gives you three days and nights at a nearby motor lodge, brunch and dinner on the third-floor restaurant, a courtesy cocktail daily, and reservations for one show. Longer-stay packages are also available. Rates are per person for at least two traveling together.

Also in Reno, you may want to visit the Mining Museum at the University's Mackay School of Mines, considered to be outstanding. Open Monday though Friday, no charge, the collection includes mining, metallurgical, geological and mineralogical exhibits. The Atmospherium and Planetarium presents fascinating programs of weather developments and the night skies. Open Tuesday thorough Sunday, at varying times, admission is $1 for adults, fifty cents for kids under sixteen, children less than six not admitted. Then you might want to catch a production at the J.E. Church Fine Arts Building, take in the fine prehistoric Indian collection at the Nevada State Historical Society (no charge), or visit two of the well-known ski resorts in the neighborhood. Mount Rose Bowl is seventeen miles to the southwest, with a 2,000-foot lift, several smaller rope tows, and one of the longest ski seasons in the country–about six months. The Reno Ski Bowl, twenty-two miles south on Slide Mountain, is a new resort with "bunny slopes" for the neophytes, and eight runs for the more experienced. Instruction is available.

Reno, provides a large selection of lodges, models and hotels, with rates as low as $7 for two, but the average between $12 and $14. This town, one of the most versatile in North America, considering it has a permanent population of just over 50,000, also gives you some very good restaurants, in addition to those at the clubs. For instance, you can get an excellent full-course French dinner for as little as $3.75 at Eugene's. Go to Miguel's for fine Mexican food (dinners from $1.30 to 3.50), try the steak and lobster at the Lancer, the Italian specialties at Vario's, or the broiled steaks at the River Front. The Lake Tahoe area, by the way, has such a wealth of eating spots in all price classes that we can't go into details. But you won't go away hungry!

Well, there's a bird's eye view of Reno-and probably not at all what you expected. It's certainly a good town to spend a few days in, and during the winter, it makes a perfect headquarters for skiing, if you want to mix sports with some first-class, night-time entertainment. The weather is also pleasant, with clean, clear air–a plus for a city dweller exposed to smog, pollution and gasoline exhaust.

Before we take the short trip back to Tahoe, let's stay in Nevada for a visit to Virginia City, which is probably the liveliest "ghost town" anywhere, the beneficiary of and extensive restoration. Back in 1870, this community had a population of 30,000, four banks, six churches and, according to the AAA, which certainly wasn't around at the time, the only elevator between Chicago and San Francisco. The fabulous Comstock Lode of gold and silver had enriched the town to the point where it was the mining metropolis of the West. The slogan which helped restore the town, "Save Virginia City–she saved the Union," was born because Comstock silver was sent to President Lincoln to support finances of the Union Army.

There are many points of interest in Virginia City. Mark Twain and Bret Harte were reporters on the Territorial Enterprise, Nevada's first newspaper. The Sutre Tunnel, built over a ten-year period (1869-1879) at a cost of $5,000,000, drained some 600 miles of mine tunnels from a depth of 1,750 feet. The nine-mile-ling project was built to make the mines rather safer to work. Among the places to visit are the Consolidated Virginia Mine, most lucrative of the twenty-three miles along the Comstock Lode, with gross revenue of $234,000,000, and Piper's Opera House which started such performers as Lola Montez, Sarah Bernhardt and Edwin Booth. You can stop in daily, ten to six, for twenty-five cents. The Castle, which was built in 1868, depicts the town's prosperity, with antique furniture from all parts of the globe. It is open June through October, eleven to five, admission fifty cents for adults, twenty-five cents for children under twelve. Virginia City, by the way, is located on Highway 17 between Reno and Carson City.

We've sort of bypassed fishing and golfing in the Tahoe locale, so let's remedy that right here. On the lake, anglers haul in mackinaw, Dolly Varden, German brown, rainbow and kokanee salmon. In the streams, you'll hook rainbow and eastern brook trout, and the mountain lakes carry the same families of trout. Trail trips are recommended for many of the streams and smaller lakes.

Among the golf course in the vicinity, you'll find the championship eighteen-hole Tahoe Paradise Golf Course at the Tahoe Paradise, which also has a driving range; the Lake Tahoe Country Club course, being expanded to eighteen holes, where there's also a driving range and putting green; nine-hole courses at Bijou and Glenbrook, and a driving range at Zephyr Cove. All of the above are on the South Shore. On the North Shore, you'll find nine-hole layouts at Tahoe City and Truckee, and there's one planned for Squaw Valley. Possibly the most challenging course is at Incline Village, where Robert Trent Jones has designed an eighteen-hole layout of great beauty.

There are also three or four scenic one-day driving tours recommended for the visitor. The first features a drive around the lake via Highway 50, 28 and 89, past Cave Rock, though Tahoe City, Bliss State Park, Emerald Bay and to Vikingsholm (reproduction of a Viking castle). You can walk a mile and a half from the highway, or rent a boat. The second itinerary features Kingsbury Grande (one used by Pony Express riders), to Minden-Gardnerville, past Genoa, return via Woodfords and Faith, Hope and Charity Valleys, and over Luther Pass to Highway 50. The last is to Reno by way to Highway 50 and 395, passing Nevada's capital, Carson City, then to Bower's Mansion, returning via Highway 40 to Truckee, then to Squaw Valley via Highway 89, finally Bliss Park and Emerald bay.

Getting to Tahoe is easy. San Francisco is 209 miles away, Los Angeles 501, Phoenix 840, Yosemite 198, and Salt lake City 577. The Southern Pacific Railway stops at Reno and Truckee (on the lake's northwest corner), Greyhound buses go directly to Tahoe; by plane, you can fly either to Reno or Tahoe with suck airlines as Western, United, Bonanza and Pacific. You can rent a Hertz or Avis car at Tahoe. Travel agents also offer package tours to the area.

This column originally appeared in Argosy magazine.

Copyright © 1962-2008 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.