Sunday, August 18, 2013

Trips: Sierra Nevada Mountains - Clair Tappan Lodge

The baby is asleep, I’m awake with a head cold, and Chris is battling cancelled flights so this seems to be a good a time as any to post some photos from our trip down to Truckee, California.

So here is the backstory. [I’d like to note that I’m a bit fuzzy on specific dates - most of this happened before my time]

Back in the early 1940’s, my Grandfather George started looking for a place to go skiing that was relatively close to his home, which, for most of his life, was Los Angeles, California. Being a stationary products salesman and a natural cheapskate, money was tight so he set out to look for the least expensive ski destination around. That turned out to be Soda Springs, a tiny hamlet of a town located at 7,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, above Truckee, California.

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It also happens to be the place that receives the most snow in the entire mountain range. Better yet, there was a convenient train from LA that dropped him in town, within walking distance of the cheapest lodgings around: The Sierra Club’s Clair Tappaan Lodge.

He was hooked.

He also started coming during the summer months, to take advantage of the great hiking opportunities. This was a double win for him as my grandmother was not a fan of the lodge - in either the summer or the winter. Their marriage was a rocky one and I think they both looked forward to his yearly trips.

 “The Lodge” as we call it in our family, is a rustic structure that was built in the 1930s by Sierra Club volunteers. Bare bones would also be a pretty good descriptor, as the sleeping is mostly in dormitory-style rooms, with shared bathrooms, family-style meals, and the expectation that everyone pitch in on a daily basis to do chores.

Despite all that, it has a devoted following and when my mom was born in the late 1940s, she soon became acquainted with the children of other families that made the yearly trek up to the mountains.

Lake Karin - named by my grandfather in honor of my mother. Mud puddle Sonja is right around the corner. Seriously. 

Even to this day, it remains a pretty good deal: for $60/day you get a bunk (and if you’re lucky, your own room), three square meals, and access to the library, hot tub, and occasionally, talks by local historians and naturalists.

Lake Flora

By the time I started making the trek down to the lodge in the 1980s, I was introduced to the children of my mom’s [long ago] playmates, now grown with families of their own. The third generation. It was also a good way to spend time with my grandfather - we got to visit him without having to spend two weeks in August in Los Angeles - one of the very most miserable times to visit that southern city.

The view of Donner Lake from Donner Peak

I soon began to have my list of favorite hikes. The short trek to Long Lake, probably the best swimming lake in the entire area, was my very favorite. Picturesque Lake Flora was also nice.

Here are a few Frey-family favorites.

By far my grandfather’s most adored hike was Donner Peak. He’d clamber to the top, all the while telling us stories of the emigrants that hauled their wagons up these imposing slopes in the 1840s with the hopes of making the fertile lands of central California. He claimed you could still see the rope marks on the trees. He even had a special spot for lunch, tucked high into the rocks, with a picture perfect view of Donner Lake and the railroad far below. 

So it was very appropriate that he told my mom and uncle that he wanted his ashes spread in this special place. He died almost exactly a year ago - it took us a while to assemble our family, my uncle, and two cousins for the journey south to this spot. But it was definitely worth the wait. I’m not going to post pictures of the little ceremony we had but it was lovely and wonderful. And he has a beautiful spot with an unbeatable view on his favorite mountain. 

The rest of the week was spent showing Chris and Ben our favorite haunts as they’d never been to the Lodge. 

On the dam on the way to Long Lake

August is a pretty hot and dusty time to visit but they were good sports. Ben never objects to a little grubb-a-fication. 

Long Lake is perfect for little tykes - it’s a 1 mile hike and is probably the warmest of all the area lakes. It also has several shallow bays that are perfect for little guys to paddle about.

Ben, my mom, and the best vacation purchase ever. That giraffe was awesome. 

Hiking with my papa.

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: these are high alpine lakes. They are cold. A significant post-swim warm-up period is almost always required. 

Had to do a little bit of photoshopping on this one [below] - no full frontals, thankyouverymuch. 

When one gets tired of walking -there are always Daddy’s shoulders

Good for napping, too.

One of my favorite activities as a kid was to walk down to the train tracks below the lodge. There used to be huge cavernous snow sheds and a giant roundhouse where they could turn the engines around for their trip back down the mountain. The sheds have been replaced by concrete versions and the roundhouse is long gone, but it’s still fun to go down and poke around on the tracks. [Really safe, I know]. These are busy tracks so you have a high probability of being in close proximity to a rumbling, mile-long freighter. 

Did you ever place pennies on the tracks when you were little to see how squashed they’d get? I’m sure the train engineers hate it but it was grand fun. 

Here is Ben getting a lesson on the proper placement of pennies. 

There are still a few short train sheds that are fun to walk through - nothing like the old days though when a train passing through the tunnel would shake the entire structure and you’d have to stand really close up against the wall to avoid becoming train paste. In writing this, I can’t believe my parents let me do this as a kid. :)

Inside the tunnels.

This was the highlight for our little train-obssessed tyke. The engineers gave him several toots on the horn and he waved like crazy. Until they put on the brakes and he decided that protecting his hearing was of greater importance. 

They were also doing a bit of construction at the train yard - what 2.5 year old doesn’t love to steer heavy equipment?!

It was a great trip - but also a lot of work. Parenting can be stressful while on vacation - especially in an old, creaky lodge and on narrow hiking trails. Ben also got sick halfway through which was a bummer. Chris had to leave after four days to head back to work and even with my parents and extended family, I was ready to head for home. 

And it was a long trip home since we were driving back to Seattle. We’d flown down to Reno (an hour from the lodge. A city I will be happy to never visit again, I think. It’s like a blast furnace) but were driving home with my parents. Forest fires 60 miles away also made things smoggy the last few days so we hit the road a day earlier than originally planned. 

Norther California - smoke central. Made for great sunsets, though.  

There were two highlights to our trip home: the first was a tiny town outside of Medford, Oregon called Jacksonville. I’d never heard of it but my mom insisted that we skip the rather dull Medford in favor of this little spot. What a gem. 

We stayed at the Wine Country Inn, which was perfectly acceptable (and they honored a low price quote that I found on one of the big aggregate travel sites) and then spent the next morning wandering around this historic town. I love the fact that a sushi restaurant is housed is the old-timey drug store building (above). 

Wish we’d had more time to poke into the shops and sample the restaurants. 

It’s right in the middle of wine and orchard country. There are tasting rooms all over the place and lots of fresh fruit stands. My kind of place. Ahem, for when I’m not pregnant, of course.

Ben went to jail. We hope this experience shocked him enough to want to stay clear of similar institutions for the remainder of his life. 

After that it was back on the road though flat, boring central oregon. It really bugs me that Willamette Valley, one of arguably the most fertile valleys around, bills itself as the ‘grass seed capitol of the world’. Way to go, guys. Let’s concentrate on making those golf course owners happy, not feeding the masses. Ok, and that rant is over. 

If you get tired of looking at grass, there are always a few interesting billboards to keep you occupied: 

On a related note, whatever happened to the concept of purgatory? I thought that was the first step before heaven or hell. Seems like poor purgatory has kinda fallen by the wayside in these modern times.

The second highlight of our trip was staying with family friends in Portland for a quick overnight trip. They took us down to the Portland Saturday Market (near Portland State) and it was absolutely the best market I’ve ever been to. And that’s coming from a Seattlelite (A town which seems to have appointed itself the queen of farmer’s markets). This one put them all to shame. 

It was also a zoo:

We gorged ourselves silly on pastries, cheeses, and wonderful fruit and veg. 

Ben has been on a seafood kick lately. He tried to steal some manilla clams. Was going to tuck them right into his stroller basket. Sorry kiddo, if Mama can’t eat clams (damn the pregnancy restrictions!), neither can you.  And don’t forget your jail experience. Shoplifting is no good. 

Playing basketball at our friend’s house. He needs a few more years before he can perfect his mad hops. 

After that it was time to head for home. And boy are we glad to be here. There is nothing like one’s own bed and the comfort of one’s casa.