Tahoe: A new outlet

An account of visiting Lake Tahoe for the first time

A view of Lake Tahoe from a scenic overlook on Mt. Rose Highway.

A view of Lake Tahoe from a scenic overlook on Mt. Rose Highway.

PHOTO/Temi Durojaiye

The vibration from my phone jostled me out of my snooze, and I checked my screen for the cause of the disturbance. There was one message notification from my editor, Jeri Davis. I opened the message.

“On my way. There in a few!”

I replied to her, grabbed my essentials—wallet, lip gloss, lip balm, phone charger and earphones—and got ready to leave my house. I was layered up in a denim shirt and a cotton T-shirt because Lake Tahoe would be cooler than the mild weather in Reno. A few minutes later, Davis arrived.

Following a quick stop for breakfast, we began our drive to Lake Tahoe. The drive was easy and the city of Reno flew by, one blurry tree at a time until we were in the suburbs. Beyond Reno, I realized the outline of the Sierra Nevada felt a little closer—a little more impressive and imposing.

We continued until we were near Galena Creek, and when the shade fell on the car, I looked up and saw the most beautiful pines, tall trees stretching out toward the sky, nearly touching the heavens with their peaks, and replete with needles and leaves that were greenest shades of green I’d seen.

These were the woods I’d imagined in all the children’s books, the ones in all the horror movies where teenagers wandered into before all the terror unfolds, the ones where the lone adult tries to find serenity from a restless urban nightmare—these were those woods.

I was experiencing “nature” as I’d always seen it on Discovery and National Geographic, and it made me more excited about the prospect of seeing the lake. The thought of coming back here to hike in the woods also flitted through my mind for a quick second. I think beauty compels us in strange ways.

After seeing Galena’s beauty, I began paying attention to the landscape and soon enough, Mt. Rose was in front, beside and around me—8,000 feet of mountain, rising from below the elevated road we were on. I wanted to stop the car to savor the view and revel in the vision of this majestic structure.

As we got closer, Davis pointed out that the lake was already on the horizon and I slowly contemplated what the lake might look like, as well as the best way to take in the full experience. Then I saw it.

“Wow! Oh, my god!” I quietly exclaimed in the car.

I was stunned by how huge it was. Sky blue water seemed to span in every direction, bordered by daunting mountains on some sides, and the horizon on the others.

PHOTO/Temi Durojaiye

We finally stopped at Sand Harbor, a beach touted as one of the premier spots to experience Lake Tahoe. The beach itself is a small strip of sandy land on the north side of the lake, hedged by trees and rocks. There’s a parking lot, an amphitheater that hosts the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival and a wooden walkway that extends the length of the entire peninsula.

I wandered onto the sand for a while trying to take in as much as I could—shimmering blue lake ahead; children, teenagers and adults floating, swimming, kayaking and even playing in the sand; umbrellas of different shapes and sizes; and the mountain peak on the east side of the beach.

It was all so stunning: the way the sunlight reflected off the water, the colors on the sand, the joyful and excited sounds, the mountains, the rocks, the breeze, and the panoramic view from the edge of the mountain that forms the peninsula, to the rock formations on the west.

The trip had been worth it, just to see the magnificence in front of me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into the water but seeing this natural elegance alone was satisfying. I stepped off the beach and onto the wooden walkway and headed west towards the rocks just past the amphitheater.

We reached Divers Rock, a collection of rocks precariously leaning against one another and began climbing to get a better vantage. The water around the rocks seemed clearer, and everything felt more vivid—I suspect the fear of falling to a gruesome end may have heightened my senses.

We got off the rocks and headed back towards the beach, still trying to decide if we were going to get in the water. Although I didn’t have a swimsuit, it was too appealing to pass up. I slowly waded into the water, rolling up my pants to avoid getting wet.

It felt incredible. There was a certain release in finally getting in. The water was slightly cold, clear and shimmered even better up close. Everything felt perfect. I looked up to the mountains on my right and imagined being on the summit. I wondered if it would give the same mental escape I was enjoying.

After wading in as far as I could, I realized I wanted to go in farther. So, I quickly took off my clothes and went in with my underwear. I felt my anxiety tick up as my hydrophobia began to kick in, but I steadied my breath and maintained my balance. I went in much farther this time, neck-deep while standing on the tips of my toes. Oh, joy! This was even better than I’d thought.

Wading had been great but walking with the water mere inches from your face, it felt special. Weightless. Joyful. I wished I’d learned to swim. Davis had wandered much further out than I had, and I was slightly jealous that I wasn’t equipped enough to do the same, or brave enough to even try. Still, walking on tippy toes in the water was a close enough comfort.

We spent a few more minutes in the water, then got out because we still wanted to drive around the entire lake before late afternoon. I’d suggested the idea—I wanted to get a true feel for just how large the lake was and barring getting on a boat, this was the next best thing.

I got dressed, headed out to the parking lot, and we began the drive towards Emerald Bay and back to Incline Village. Seeing Cave Rock was very exciting, as well as the strip of road near Emerald Bay that had a drop-off on both sides. There were also burnt trees from a wildfire on the sides of some hills. Emerald Bay itself was a wonderful sight to behold and seemed very cozy.

On the way back, I got to see Incline Village for the second time, and it felt like something straight out of Hollywood—an entire town designed like a tourist resort or a movie set. The drive through Incline Village was the last bit of the trip around the lake, and then we headed back to Reno.

I was certain that I would be back at Lake Tahoe soon enough, and be able to swim way out into the coldest waters. I’ve always had a complicated relationship with water—a source of anxiety and refreshment. Now, I long for the day it is simply a source of the release I found at Tahoe.