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Old 12th January 2018, 06:47   #1
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Default A Drive to South Lake Tahoe

December occasionally brings single digit and very rarely zero (degree Celsius) on the temperature scale in Bay Area, California. 2017 saw less rainfall than even normal and the dry cold is not fun overtime. December is family and vacation time for most techies due to the winter break in schools and the festive season. When the idea of a 2-3 days road trip came to my mind, I started looking for feasible hot spots. Since I was only interested in site seeing and not Games, Casinos or theme parks, usual spots Los Angeles and Vegas were out from the list. Few options I was interested were Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park and Lake Tahoe as all were within five hours drive. I had been to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park during the 2017 summer and hence those were also excluded. Lake Tahoe was the final option as I eliminated Yosemite also from the list as it’s very similar to Kings Canyon and Sequoia.

Lake Tahoe is a Huge Alpine Lake and tourist spot that is shared between State of California and Nevada. During winter, it's a skiing spot with beautiful snow filled mountains and in summer, there are boating and other activities in and around the Lake. Lake Tahoe is about 240 miles from my place. Last year on these same days I was in Tahoe and witnessed the worst snow storm Tahoe saw that year.

Lake Tahoe
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Winter break being the busy season, room rents tends to increase two or three fold during this time of the year. I realized I must act fast to get a good stay with deals. Since none of us were in to skiing we were more interested in playing in the snow. With that in mind, I started exploring stay options at South Lake Tahoe, possibly with access to a beach so the kids can play in snow and sand near the Lake. I found a reasonable deal from expedia and booked the stay for two nights at Beach Retreat & Lodge at Tahoe.

Weather forecast for Tahoe did not promise any snow fall for that week, but our friends who visited Tahoe in the previous weeks confirmed there was enough snow in the woods and surrounding areas for kids to have some fun. Though not required with this year’s weather forecast, I already had the basic gear needed for driving in the snow. I brought all of those before my trip last year and it was used extensively during that trip. Those were Snow Ice scrapper, Tire Chain, Several pairs of Gloves and a Good Jacket/Thermals, Shoes with hard sole.

My car is AWD with All season tires, hence I used snow chain during last visit. Shops with chain and installation are available where snow chains are required. They charge you around 30$ per car per installation. Self-installation of snow chains is easy with minimal practice before starting from home could save this money. Chain rentals can cost you almost one third of the purchase price. Proper gloves are a must if planning to try self-installation as the snow and subzero temperatures will make it hard to work bare hand outside. Snow chains restrict the car speed to 35-40Mph and above that speed, chains will start making lot of noise.

Dashcam from Last Year Tahoe Trip.



A Small Frozen lake near Lake Tahoe



Back to current trip,
Next on the list is to explore the site seeing options in and around South Lake Tahoe. Some places identified were Taylor Creek Visitor Center, Tallac Historic Site, Pope Beach, Lake Tahoe Historical Society Museum, Cruise at MS Dixie II through Lake Tahoe, The Gondola at Heavenly-Cable Car.

Packing, including snacks and water was completed on the night before the trip. Snacks are a must to avoid cranky kids in the car as we may not find any good restaurants immediately when they are hungry. Food was not a major concern for us as we always prefer a McDonalds or Subway while driving and they are available at most of the places.
On Saturday, 23rd-Dec-2017. With everything set, we started around 7:30 Am in the morning and the destination is just over 4 hours’ drive. In my case, I might take 1-2 extra hours since we always stop for a good view or play area for the kids. We got the first glimpse of ice within 3 hours of drive. It was a small stream in a valley and after climbing down we found thin sheets of ice here and there on the surface where the current was not very strong. From there, we started seeing more snow on the road sides and in the woods but none on the road. We stopped at few spots and the kids got to play in the snow and make a snow man.
Pic from Nanna Ice Pick

On the way

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Our first stop, Taylor Creek Visitor Center and Tallac Historic Sites were adjacent to each other, but both were closed for the season. We were disappointed seeing the closed gates, but soon realized we could still park the car by the roadside and walk inside. We explored the snow covered grounds on foot and saw some trails. The Visitor center had some amazing views. Saw lots of fresh bear tracks with cubs which looked like less than 2-3 hours old. Near the entrance, there was a warning that showed this area has frequent Bear activity. But we were not lucky enough to meet any bears. I was not ready to explore too much into woods with kids, but we did take a short walk through one of the trails and saw beautiful meadows on the trail. There was lots of bird’s activity in this area.

Taylor Creek and Tallac Historical Site

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Our next point was Pope Beach, unfortunately we missed our stop for this point as we drove past it. When we realized that, we decided to keep it for the third day as it was getting late. We checked in to the Hotel by 5.00 and it was already dark by the time.

Our second day plan included Cruise and Cable Car ride. The Cruise we booked was on MS Dixie II which is a big vessel with three decks and restaurants on board. The cruise is a two-hour round trip. Some of the reviews I read said that it was tough to get parking at Cruise location if we reach exactly on time. Also read that near the boarding location, there was access to the Lake Beach so even if we reach early, kids can play on the beach. So we reached almost two hours before boarding time and parked the car. The beach was awesome with clean sand and crystal clear water. Kids enjoyed playing at the beach. With kids, it was worth reaching early at this place before boarding time. Saw few ducks in the Lake and they were used to tourists and were not scared easily.

Zephyr Cove Beach at Ms Dixie boarding point

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The Cruise Vessel’s name is MS Dixie II and Dixie was the name of Owners Daughter. The original MS Dixie is currently serving as a barge and it served as a cruise vessel from 1949 to 1993 which was originally brought from Mississippi river. The current one started service from 1994. MS Dixie II has the appearance of a paddle wheel boat with four giant wheels at the rear. But the paddle wheels give only minimal thrust and are more for enhancing the look. Most of the power that propels the boat comes from the normal propeller below the water powered by a Diesel Engine. The boat has a capacity of 500 people. After boarding, we got a place inside first deck and luckily that trip was not at all crowded. This could be because we choose Christmas day for the trip. We spent time in the restaurant and also on the various decks. The third deck is open and gives an amazing view in all directions though it was really cold there. The restaurant prices were reasonable and we ordered some snacks and drinks. The cruise takes a round trip via Emerald bay and there is a Hidden castle which was build around 1929 called Vikingsholm. There was a small island in front of the castle which has a small tea house built by the castle’s original owners.

MS Dixie and Vikingsholm Tea house

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Our Next point was Heavenly Gondola Ski resort which we picked for the cable car ride. The parking at this place is a one day parking and by the time we reach there, it was 3:25 pm. The cashier at the ticket booth informed us that the resort will be closed by 4:00 pm so we will get only around thirty minutes to spend there with a parking fee of 20USD. Hence, we postponed that plan for next day and headed back to the Hotel.

Third day morning, we spent some time at the beach behind the hotel. This beach was not as clean as the beach near Cruise site, but not too bad either. After playing and having a photo session, we headed to Cable car entrance and found a long queue at the ticket counter. Fortunately, the queue was moving fast. The cable car will take us to the top of a snow filled mountain and has the facility to carry Skiing equipment if someone opted for it. This ride has an intermediate stop which is a view point which gives the beautiful bird’s eye view of mountain ranges and the Tahoe Lake below. We could spot MS Dixie II in the lake from the cable car. At the last stop, there was skiing and tubbing for kids. After spending some time there, we started our return ride.

Lake access at Beach Retreat Hotel and Heavenly Gandola

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Since kids already played at the beach, we dropped the plan for Pope beach. We had checked out from the hotel before heading to the cable car ride. Around 2pm we filled the tank and headed back Home. On the way back we spotted few good spots for more snow play and stopped for some time.

For the return trip, I selected a route that is not generally preferred and was though a country side. It was from Lake Tahoe, Hwy50Hwy49Hwy88i5Hwy 580. For some distance, it was though a forest with a dry river bed on the left and was a nice scenic drive which I enjoyed. It was a single lane road with speed limit of 50Mph and occasionally going to 25Mph during curves with very less traffic. I pulled over to make way for the few cars that came up behind so I could enjoy the view and drive at a slow pace. Initial half of that route was a dry wooded area and that slowly turned towards a green country side with lots of Farms with cows, horses etc. Occasionally coming across beautiful houses with huge open area and most of these houses were having some old American Classic pickup trucks and cars to the newer models in their yard. I felt these people doesn’t have the habit of selling old vehicles before getting a newer one since parking is not an issue which was totally different from the area where I was staying.
Majority of this route was like a downhill drive and occasionally I switched to manual mode to avoid braking. Being a naturally aspirated v6 my car is not very fuel efficient, it normally returns 22 MPG and this return trip it gave 28MPG which was a first. Though we missed the snow fall, it was a nice trip for me and my family.

Some more Pics..

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A Drive to South Lake Tahoe-misc5.jpg

Thanks to Pavana for helping me to edit.

Arun

Last edited by arunrajk81 : 12th January 2018 at 06:49.
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Old 12th January 2018, 11:10   #2
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Default Re: A Drive to South Lake Tahoe

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Originally Posted by arunrajk81 View Post
Lake Tahoe is a Huge Alpine Lake and tourist spot that is shared between State of California and Nevada. During winter, it's a skiing spot with beautiful snow filled mountains and in summer, there are boating and other activities in and around the Lake. Lake Tahoe is about 240 miles from my place.
Thanks for sharing the details and the awesome pictures. Feels like I am in the story!

Quote:
Though not required with this year’s weather forecast, I already had the basic gear needed for driving in the snow. I brought all of those before my trip last year and it was used extensively during that trip. Those were Snow Ice scrapper, Tire Chain, Several pairs of Gloves and a Good Jacket/Thermals, Shoes with hard sole.
Always better to be prepared for the worst than leave something behind home!

Quote:
My car is AWD with All season tires, hence I used snow chain during last visit.
Do all season tyres need snow chains or all tyres need one during snow? My cousin stays in Florida and has mentioned summer, all weather and winter tyres - though I never understood that. I'm assuming all season tyres sit between the summer and winter ones?

Quote:
Snow chains restrict the car speed to 35-40Mph and above that speed, chains will start making lot of noise.
35-40 mph = 56-64 km/h which I suppose should be fast enough considering the road conditions. How is the braking affected by the snow chains?

Quote:
Near the entrance, there was a warning that showed this area has frequent Bear activity. But we were not lucky enough to meet any bears.
Wow, so you mean that bears just roam around freely? That would be a scary situation for me!

Quote:
Occasionally coming across beautiful houses with huge open area and most of these houses were having some old American Classic pickup trucks and cars to the newer models in their yard.
Nice to see people keeping old cars and trucks! At least these folks have to space to keep the old-timers. All the newer vehicles come with all sorts of electronic nannies and the old ones would be refreshing to drive once in a while.
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Old 12th January 2018, 19:41   #3
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Default Re: A Drive to South Lake Tahoe

Wow - I did Lake Tahoe 12 odd years ago in a Dodge Durango - I wonder if it is still available. What pretty sights. Thanks for refreshing the memories.
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Old 12th January 2018, 20:19   #4
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Default Re: A Drive to South Lake Tahoe

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Originally Posted by blackwasp View Post

Do all season tyres need snow chains or all tyres need one during snow? My cousin stays in Florida and has mentioned summer, all weather and winter tyres - though I never understood that. I'm assuming all season tyres sit between the summer and winter ones?
A/S Tires are popular in states where the weather does not get too nasty. Technically the tire compound is affected more on a A/S tire compared to true winter tire, but the A/S lets you go with some piece of mind without dealing with two to three sets of wheels and tires....

On my Legacy GT I have performance A/S tires so I can enjoy the tarmac outside of the Bay Area and when it does rain like crazy (such as the other day) I have plenty of grip. Depending on how bad the snow gets on I-80 and the approach roads to Lake Tahoe, CHP will let you go up if you have an AWD vehicle (Subaru, Audi) and no chains.
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Old 12th January 2018, 23:56   #5
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Default Re: A Drive to South Lake Tahoe

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Originally Posted by blackwasp View Post
Thanks for sharing the details and the awesome pictures. Feels like I am in the story!

Do all season tyres need snow chains or all tyres need one during snow? My cousin stays in Florida and has mentioned summer, all weather and winter tyres - though I never understood that. I'm assuming all season tyres sit between the summer and winter ones?

People living in those areas where it snows ,sometimes carry two sets of tires. An all-season tires and Winter tires. Winter tires have different pattern or studs and normally has soft rubber. These will be noisy and worn out fast if used during summer.Most of the vehicles comes with All season tires in US except few. Usage of chain varies from state to state and some state it's illegal. In California, they rate the road conditions as below for regions during snowing.

R0: Chains must be carried, but they don't need to be on your tires
R1: Chains required unless you've got snow tires or all-wheel drive
R2: Chains required unless you've got snow tires AND all-wheel drive
R3: Chains required, no exceptions.

If the snow is not removed time to time, some places the small crystals join together and form a hard ice which looks similar to color of road than white color. Its the most dangerous situation for vehicles since it will be very slippery and cannot easily identify it from a normal wet road since color is same for both. During these conditions, braking is far better with chains than without chains.

Regarding Bears, its black bears and are not generally aggressive as Grizzly’s and are smaller in comparison. Sometimes they come close to your tents or cabins at camp sites. I have seen those bears with cubs in Yosemite.

Last edited by arunrajk81 : 12th January 2018 at 23:59.
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Old 13th January 2018, 00:06   #6
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Default Re: A Drive to South Lake Tahoe

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Wow - I did Lake Tahoe 12 odd years ago in a Dodge Durango - I wonder if it is still available. What pretty sights. Thanks for refreshing the memories.
Model name Durango still exist, but it changed from Body on Frame to a unibody construction and looks totally different. New Durango is based on Jeep Grand Cherokee. For me it looks better than old and is in my wishlist.
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