Highway 50 on the east shore leads to highway 28 at Spooner Junction taking us past some crystal-clear water on our way to Incline Village. Past Incline is King’s Beach where we see a farmer’s market in progress by the beach. Parking is $8, but the friendly parking attendant lets us know that it’s free on the street, so that’s where we park.
I drive a little east on the highway until I can turn left to go around the block…sort of a fat, lazy U turn…to go the other way. It’s the easiest way on this busy stretch of road.
The little side street…just feet from the main highway…is filled with trailers and run down houses. I think we’ve just found the poor side of town, just out of the view of the tourists on the main drag. It’s a reminder that not everybody up here is rich.
At the intersection of 89 and 28, there are a few businesses. We buy a couple of sandwiches here and head over to a public picnic area where the Truckee River flows out of Lake Tahoe. There are plenty of picnic tables in this gorgeous area. Our sandwiches are delicious, along with the fruit we got earlier at the farmers market.
Just a few feet away is a small dam that regulates the flow into the river. In the stretch between the dam and highway 89 (a very short distance) is a school of some of the biggest rainbow trout you’ll ever see. We’re told that no fishing is allowed within 200 yards of the dam, so these fish have learned that this is the place to be. A local sporting goods shop has set up a couple of fish food vending machines doing very good business.
There’s a bike trail along the river that starts here so we decide to go hiking. A sign at the beginning of the trail says that pedestrians should stay on the left and bikes on the right, which sounds fine in theory, but there’s only two small lanes…what happens when a bike is coming the other way? It seems that most people just stick to the “keep right” philosophy but my wife keeps insisting that we stay left. After a few too close encounters, I finally get her to see it my way but she’s tired of keeping out of the way of the bikes, so we head back to the car.
Travelling on along the north shore, we go to the CalNeva Lodge. This should be more of a landmark. It was owned for a time by Frank Sinatra and one of the cabins along the shoreline was where President Kennedy had his trysts with Marilyn Monroe. It’s changed hands a few times since then, in fact, my wife handled one of the sale escrows back when she was in the business.
We had originally planned to stay here for a cheap north shore room but had second thoughts as we learned that the present owners were gathering a reputation for not keeping the place up and lost it to the bank in foreclosure. A sale never materialized, so the bank now runs the place.
My wife tells me why it didn’t sell…the property’s key claim to fame is its location. CalNeva means that the state line runs right down the middle of the place. You can see the state line drawn on the wall inside with the casino starting on the Nevada side. The pool also has the state line down the middle. Sounds neat, until you think of the nightmare of sorting out a property sale not only in two cities and counties, but in different states. It wasn’t one of her easier escrows, to be sure.
Inside is a beautiful bar with a giant Tiffany glass ceiling. The place looks old…in a retro kind of way…but not too worn out. We have a couple of drinks served by a friendly bartender. Afterward, we blow a few bucks on slot machines in the sparsely populated casino. It’s the middle of the day and all the table games are closed. They’re only open during the evenings, Thursday through Sunday.
We walk around to see the cabin that Kennedy used, walk into the old showroom, see the pool with the border in it, and the big room that served as a dance hall in the early days. It’s neat, but very quiet and no buzz here so off we go.
As we wind our way back to the south side, I remember about the Ponderosa. In the 60’s and 70’s, we used to watch Bonanza all the time. On the show, Ben Cartwright owned pretty much all the land on the eastern side of Lake Tahoe. After a couple of years on the show, a set was actually built between Incline Village and Spooner Junction, which became a little theme park open to the public.
I didn’t recall seeing any signs for it on the way to the north shore so I started looking on our way back. Soon, I saw a large parking lot with an old Conestoga wagon next to it. A large fenced off area was up the hill but there were no signs. We drove around to the back part and saw the unmistakable Cartwright ranch house along a western themed streetscape. We’d found the Ponderosa. It had gone belly up and was just rotting alongside the road. The website is just a tombstone…”The Ponderosa Ranch is now closed to the public. There are no plans for it to be reopened.”
Coming back into the Stateline area, we decide to do a little gambling. Parking in the back of Harrah’s, we wander along highway 50 and walk into Bill’s Casino, which had a $1.50 microbrew and hot dog special. We make our way into the bar, which had just a few locals in it. We inquire about the deal and get served but the bartender makes sure to tell us that “there are no free drinks just because you gamble here.” Okay then.
We make our way out onto the gaming floor. Besides us, there are exactly 4 people in the casino. Not exactly a lively place. Bill’s closed down last month (January, 2010). Doesn’t surprise me in the least.
We went over to Harrah’s next. Played a little roulette and some slots. More players here but still not a large crowd. No energy at all. We take the tunnel that runs under the street to Harvey’s (built for the cold winter days they have here) but it’s no different. Gambling is just a major letdown on this trip.
I do need to note that we were here at the very depths of our current recession, so I guess it should not be too surprising.
Coming out to go back to the hotel, we see a couple of homeless guys trying to get enough money for a tall boy. Boy, the Nevada side of things was sure depressing today.
For dinner tonight, we head on over to Café Fiore, near the base lodge for Heavenly Valley. It’s hard to find, hidden behind another larger restaurant, but this small (7 tables) intimate Italian bistro is such a find.
I have a plate of veal saltimboca while my wife gets linguine fra diavolo, a plate of pasta liberally infused with different seafoods. An appetizer plate of sauerkraut and veggies are accompanied by a delicious breadbasket. I was not a sauerkraut person, but a taste of theirs turned my opinion around. Just in time as we’d be in Germany in a couple of month’s time.
Charming, delicious, and relaxed. The restaurant is so small that by the end of dinner, you know everyone in there. The contractor up from Santa Clarita with his wife. The schoolteacher on a weekender from Simi Valley. The law firm partner with his wife from Newport Beach. Great fun. I highly recommend Café Fiore when you’re in the area. Reservations are essential in this tiny little café.
The next day we have one last wonderful breakfast and check out. We head west on highway 50 and make our way home down the Central Valley.
Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick