Crossing the Sierra Nevada
An early breakfast saw us on the road before 8am. About 12 km from Mariposa we came across a fantastic downhill that made me wish for my bike. The road was smoothly surfaced with beautifully cambered bends at a 7% gradient for 4 miles then across a bridge and another 7 miles of similar road back uphill. Thereafter the road undulated sinuously for mile after mile across rolling hills of pasture and forest. Our first stop was in Jamestown which is famous for the number of movies with trains that were made there. We looked around for a coffee but were obviously too early because nothing seemed to be open. Continuing on to the strangely named Angel Camp we found a coffee and also a pavement studded with plaques honouring frogs with record jumps. The frog jumping contest, begun in 1928, inspired Mark Twain to write his story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County". Twain lived in a shack above the town between 1864 and 1865 while he was still a struggling young, unpublished, author. I should mention that the backroad we were taking was smoothly asphalted and clearly lined with neatly formed shoulders. Some of our major highways are not as well surfaced.
At Jackson we turned onto highway 88 heading for Lake Tahoe. This 90 mile road must rate as one of the nicest drives I have done in years. There was seldom a straight stretch as the road wound back and forth and up and down through the Sierra Nevada. The altitude rose steadily and we saw signposts for 4000', 5000', 6000' all the way to 9000'. Part of the way along we came across a sign stating that "Due to avalanche minimisation Highway 88 will be closed at 11:30". This caused us some concern because Highway 88 was the most straightforward way to get to Lake Tahoe from our direction. I spotted a Highway Patrol vehicle and hopped out to talk to the officer. I approached carefully with my hands well clear of my body to show that I was friendly. He informed me that the roads authority were planning to blow up, or down, some unsafe snow pack and would then have to clear the road so there could be a couple of hours delay. We took the opportunity to stop at a cafe to have lunch, they actually had tea for us, and then drove slowly for the 30 miles to where the avalanche clearing was taking place. The road rose higher and dirty snow piles appeared alongside. The snow packs became taller and more widely spread until there was snow all around us. The road was clear of course and there was little traffic, of course. Eventually we reached the end of a queue of cars and settled down to wait, however long. In fact it was less than 10 minutes before we were allowed through, we had timed it almost perfectly.
The remainder of the trip to Tahoe was uneventful apart of the fabulous views over the lake that left us almost breathless. The only issue is that the speed limit along the road is often as low as 35 mph (60kph) which feels as though we are crawling. Our hotel in Tahoe City is quite comfortable and well situated not far from food and facilities. The views, East, across the lake are wonderful and we watched as the setting sun lit up the clouds and snow capped mountains
Next morning we decided on a short drive to view the more exclusive areas of North Tahoe - Cornelian Bay, Tahoe Vista, King's Beach and Crystal Bay. The house prices here start at $2 million and work up to $10 million (at the real estate agent), some of the properties were pretty grand. We continued on to the unusually named village of Incline which seemed to be perfectly straight to me. Here we found the Tahoe Environmental Research Centre which is part of the University of California. We went in to have a look at some of their displays which describe the formation of Lake Tahoe and also the measures being taken to maintain the water quality. The campus looked really nice, I would love to be a student or researcher there. We also took a drive up the hill to a lookout 3 miles from the lake for some spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
On our return to Tahoe City I noticed how the speed limits seem to change from 25 mph to 45 mph without any rhyme or reason. It is lucky that they don't use speed cameras here otherwise I would have copped quite a number of tickets. By th way, I am pleasantly surprised at how courteous the drivers are in California. There is never any aggro even if they are stuck behind a slow moving vehicle. When we cross the road drivers will pull up and let us cross even if we are not a a designated crossing. They have a system known as a four-way stop with a stop sign on each street. The first driver to arrive at the intersection gets to go first and the others then move off in the order they arrived. It works!!!!!
After a short rest we hit the shops, didn't spend anything but gave the shopkeepers someone to talk with for a while. Near the bottom of town Maree discovered a museum with huge array of baskets woven by various indigenous tribes from the California region. These were of very intricate design and were very most interesting to look at. There were other displays also of delicate beadwork and decorative items made from shells and feathers. Upstairs was a display of models of the boats which used to take tourists for boat rides on the lake. To kill a bit more time we went for a walk past the local golf course which still had a lot of snow on the fairways.
We have discovered the the roads through the Lassen Volcanic Area which climb to 10000 feet are still closed so we have had to make some changes in our plans. We will have to take a fairly significant detour to by pass the closed roads so have decide to cut out a night at Burney and have two nights at Mt Shasta instead.