January 11 – 15

The day had come to leave our lovely little abode. It’s always sad to leave when our contracts are up, but I found Santa Barbara to be especially difficult to leave.

“Why the hell are we leaving?!” Jamie and I would ask each other. The hospital had offered to extend our contracts a while back, but we declined, as we were already set on heading to Arizona. It was a special time in SB, but eventually it had to end. 

We packed up our car in typical Tetris fashion, sure to leave ample space for Queen Charley’s throne in the back seat, complete with a bed and only the softest and comfiest blankets.

So Monday morning, when all the preparations were set, we punched Lake Tahoe (specifically, Stateline, NV) into the GPS and left Santa Barbara in our rearview.

We slingshotted east around the southern edge of the Sierras and spun up north on US-395. Some say this route rivals the Pacific Coast Highway in its grandeur, which was a pleasant surprise to us when we found that out. The highway hugs the eastern edge of the Sierras and follows it all the way up to Reno. To the west we passed desert shrubs and arid foothills beneath the monsters that compose the Sierra Nevada range, ushering us along.

Around lunchtime, we made a stop in Lone Pine, the jumpoff point for many folks looking to summit Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak7 in the lower 48. The Alabama Hills sit in front of the Sierras, and would look massive in their own rite, were it not for the overseer peaks behind them.

We went for a walk through the hills, ceaselessly amazed at the majesty of the craggy mountains, while also hopeless in our attempts to fully grasp their size. Mt. Whitney was set back from the front of the range just a bit, but looked menacing nonetheless.

After a bite in Lone Pine, we were ready to push forth, and knew our destination was too far to allow for any more stops along the way. 

We passed massive Mono Lake and the turnoffs for Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes, climbing up over 8000 feet as the desert turned into stands of dry pine still waiting for winter’s chilly blanket. It was good to be back in the real mountains. Crisp, fresh, cold air.

Interesting to think we were at sea level in Santa Barbara that morning, and over 8000 feet that afternoon.

We pulled into the Tahoe area after dark, and stopped off at Charley’s dog sitters house that we found on Rover. Charley would be sitting this part of the trip out, as we were planning for some skiing and hiking and our lodging did not allow dogs. Our place, however, was massive and pretty cheap (considering it’s Tahoe in the winter)- a 2 bed 2 bath condo with full kitchen and living and dining room for around $120. It was probably 2 times the size of our tiny home back in SB. 

After unpacking, we picked up some BBQ down the road in Tahoe Summit Village, and called it a night.

Tuesday morning, Jamie and I had to make a trip up to Reno, about an hour’s drive, to take care of some business. As I’ve mentioned before, there are some annoyances that come with travel nursing. My health credentials needed some attention, so we found a Concentra occupational health clinic in Reno and spent several hours in the waiting room before being seen. What a way to start vacation. 

Once that was finished though, we were free and clear for the rest of the day, and the rest of the two weeks off.

We found a short hike near South Lake Tahoe for the afternoon, and got our first looks of the Lake and the mountain-lined basin in which it sits. I forgot how much I’d missed winter hiking. There’s a different kind of peace that comes with it. The silence is stronger, and its interruptions are softened by the snow.

In the evening, we drove around to the southwest area of the lake and Emerald Bay, a 3 mile long outlet connected to the lake. Our hope was to catch a good sunset, but we left empty-handed, as the clouds muffed out the sun’s final act. There’s always tomorrow.

I wouldn’t say skiing is totally akin to riding a bike. Sure, you tend to re-learn the basics pretty quick, but the physical toll of a day of downhill skiing can be rather large when you aren’t used to it. Jamie had rented us skis and day passes to Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe for Wednesday. I’d have to agree with the folks that see it’s one of the more scenic places to ski in the States. The photos tell it best, but, like with most things, they will never do it justice. You have to get the full sensory experience.

What the slopes lacked in good conditions (some trails closed due to inadequate snow), it made up for in the sense of no wait times at any lift. We managed to get in 20 runs on Wednesday, and didn’t have to spend any time avoiding crowds.

You could tell the views would be sensational, but that day there was a low blanket of cloud cover obstructing a full panorama of mountains and the lake in front of us.

“It just needs to lift a bit more,” we’d say as we rode the lifts back up the mountain. Every time  it cleared a bit, a new swell of fog would take its place. Finally, toward the end of the day, we got the distant vistas we had been hoping for all morning.

After getting our fill on the slopes, it was time to march our sore bodies back to the condo and get our fill of chili that Jamie had set on the slow cooker all day. The result was a perfect ski day topped off with a cozy dinner and watching a few episodes of Schitt’s Creek, our latest show we’ve been binging. 

We got back on the hiking trail Thursday, but snowshoes not needed. The snowpack on most of the trails, combined with below-average snowfall so far this year, had us slapping on the microspikes over our snow boots instead.

Cathedral lake is a small alpine lake that lies beneath Mt. Tallac on the south side of Lake Tahoe. That was our destination, but really, the journey was the best part. Trailhead parking was closed, so we got out and walked a mile into the forest to start the hike. Gently meandering through a pine forest, we quickly punched out through a clearing onto a spine that climbed up between Fallen Leaf Lake to the east, and Mt. Tallac to our west. It offered unobstructed views back over Fallen Leaf and Lake Tahoe, and we walked along that ridge for about 15 minutes, stopping every few minutes to take it all in. We were the only ones on the trail, best we could tell, and the solitude did our souls well. We had a little picnic at a rock outcropping just short of the distal end of our out-and-back hike, and enjoyed the complete lack of urgency in our bones.

In the afternoon, with plenty of time before sunset, we decided to make our way over to Secret Cove, a not-so-secret area on the southeastern side of Lake Tahoe, with incredibly clear waters and massive rocks on which to perch for a bit. We stayed there only for a handful of minutes, as our silence was cut short by a rather noisy group of folks arriving at the beach. We made our way back along the trail by which we came, and popped out on some sedan-sized boulders half submerged in the lake, and from there we took in one of our favorite sunsets. It’s brilliance was in the indescribable color palette, stillness of the lake, and backdrop of faraway mountains on the shore opposite us. It was peaceful and calm. So calm.

Friday morning was moving day yet again, as we packed up and decided our next stop would be the Kanab area in Utah. A bit too far for a day’s drive, we’d spend a night in St. George, UT, just over the border from Nevada. To get there, we’d have to traverse the great expanse of Nevada. That day, we learned that Nevada is a beast.

We picked up Charley from the dog-sitter (she got excellent marks for good behavior and cuteness) and set out.

Which state has the most mountain ranges in the US?

Would it surprise you to find out that it’s Nevada? (FYI:Only briefly vetted for accuracy via google)

The state is dotted with ranges. If you ever have a chance, take look at a topographical map of the US. Nevada is bizarre.

I get excited when I see highway signs that read “chain installation area.” Typically it means we’re in for a climb on the highway and there’s potentially nasty weather, and with that usually comes the more interesting landscapes. We saw a lot of those signs that day. 

We passed Hawthorne, NV, home to a US  Army Depot, and largest ammunitions storage in the world, so they say. 

We cruised down long stretches of desolate highway down into and out of countless valleys. I clocked us on one of the first valleys: it took us over 11 minutes to cross down into and out of a valley going 80mph. I thought that was pretty impressive, until it happened again and again but for much longer times.

The Extraterrestrial Highway is a 100 mile stretch of asphalt laid down in the funkiest and barren desert landscape, and we did every mile of that. Area 51 sat on the other side of the Papoose Mountains from us, maybe 10-15 miles away at one point. As we approached Rachel, NV, we saw a cow carcass picked clean on the side of road. Like I said: a weird place. For the entire 100 miles, going around 80mph on average, we saw less than 10 cars. Surely the most isolated and lonely highway stretch we’ve ever encountered.

When it was all said and done, we pulled into St. George well after dark, and weary from the 10 or so hours in the car that day. Charley was a champ, never whimpering once, as Jamie and I (mostly I) whined about how exhausted we were.

We settled in to our micro room at Motel 6, did some laundry, and called it a night.

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