Sunday, June 22, 2008

South Lake Tahoe Opening Summer Season

Thousands of visitors swarmed to the tiny, picturesque village of South Lake Tahoe this weekend for the fourth annual Opening Days festivities to mark the launch of their summer season.

With an elaborate street party, gondola rides up into the Sierra Nevada mountains offering stunning views of snow-capped peaks and the lake, the World's Highest Parasailing Competition, a paddlewheeler breakfast and race, and top casino shows, the event is a wonderful Californian occasion.

And with Californian temperatures rocking in the 90s for much of the time to fantastic free music, what more could be asked for?!!!

On Saturday morning as myriad stalls and stages were being set up along the main street, we headed for the 'gondola' - cable car -station in the Heavenly Village. Once inside our gondola we glided smoothly over the chalet-style buildings and began a spectacular ascent to Adventure Peak. Below us, Lake Tahoe, 22 miles long and the third deepest lake in North America, sparkled with shades of light greeny blue to dark blue, while around us snow glistened on distant peaks.

On the way up is an observation post at a cool 9,156 ft where we stopped to appreciate the scenery and take photos. Standing on a wooden platform that juts over the mountainside with such a breathtaking panorama is a wonderful experience.

Once back in a gondola we completed the ride to the top. For those who struggle with heights, take heart: the ride is smooth and hugs the mountain at around the height of the nearby firs. For more info and a professional video see

At the top, the station is set in a hollow offering shelter with a cafe, outdoor seating and a novel bar housed in a round, glass hut. There are also three hiking trails, clearly marked with their degree of difficulty, and an enormous electronic board advising of weather conditions.

But above, for thrill-seeking adventurers, there is the longest zip line cable in North America! This is Lake Tahoe's new edition this year, and for the uninitiated, what this means is that you can strap into a harness from a nearby peak and fly down over 3,000 ft at up to 50 mph dangling from a cable. Apparently, the views of the lake are incomparable from this vantage point! For a flier's view and info see this excellent professional video:

However, we strolled along the easiest of the trails and returned to the Heavenly Village as rain clouds were approaching. Soon after, the gondolas were closed as there was a possibility of lightning strikes.

Back in the village, the street was thronging with people as the Block Party had started. The stalls selling artefacts, and fantastic food for just a few dollars, were showcases for local businesses. There were also recreation and art expos, a craft fair, a motorcross show, Flying Elvi Skydive Team, a display of Harleys and Hot Rods with a Ferrari slipped in for fun and a Miss Hawaiian Tropic Northern Nevada pageant.

And there was amazing music. During the afternoon three stages rocked to bands including Zoo2, a cover band for U2, and star performers Tosh Meets Marley, an incredibly talented reggae mix of former members of Bob Marley and the Wailers and Peter Tosh's band. For an after-party by the ice rink, the village rocked to California Dreamin', described as 'A Musical Journey Through the Golden State'.

In the casinos ticketed shows featured an enticing choice: Motown great Smokey Robinson, Yesterday: a Beatles tribute, and singer songwriter Judy Collins.

But a wonderful alternative is to take a sunset stroll along the narrow curved beach and sit on a wooden jetty overlooking the waters of the lake to watch the last of the orangey sun's reflections, until it slips behind the grandiose mountains.

For Sunday's celebrations, see my next blog.

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