Lake Tahoe: Escape To The Sky

Posted December 4, 2020 – Narrated by Carmen
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“The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be?—it is the same the angels breathe.”

    Mark Twain
         writing about Lake Bigler, now known as Lake Tahoe, in Roughing It

Fire season is always an adventure. But even with the risks, late summer to mid-December is our preferred time on the Pacific coast.

Two years ago we were held up by the Carr Fire in Redding. This year it was the LNU Lightening Complex Fires. Passing through Sparks Nevada on the 80, we saw flames lapping up a Sierra mountainside.

The smoke cleared a bit as we climbed the 89 toward Truckee, but the traffic thickened.

Summer traffic is always heavy in Tahoe but on this August day it was insane. We had expected lower tourism impact due to the pandemic, but evacuees escaping wildfires were arriving from the valley. Tahoe was overflowing with refugees camped any way they could in any available parking space.

Campgrounds which had closed for the season reopened to accommodate needs. Shoulder season – late August to early September, before the first snow – is usually the perfect time to be here to avoid crowds, but with so many families homeschooling on the road in RV’s, Truckee was bulging at the seams.

Inching through Truckee, we watched as thick feathery boas of smoke snaked over the piney shoulders of the urban forest. If the wind shifted and the basin caught fire it would result in mayhem.

Flash Back

We both flashed back to 2016 when we were in a similar situation in Gatlinburg Tennessee. About an hour before that horrible fire erupted into tragedy, our instincts told us to skedaddle. I spotted a forestry road marked “no entry.” The GPS showed the unpaved lane lead down the mountain away from the business district. Somehow, Jim managed to wedge us out of gridlocked traffic and we took that escape route.

Truckee traffic jams are entertaining – paddlers on the river, leathered bikers with braided beards, and cyclists in candy colored European spandex.

So, we relaxed into the moment and studied fire reports which yielded little to no info about the current situation other than the obvious: “extreme” and “historic.” No wonder everyone was heading up here even though the lake views, obscured by the hellish smoke, lacked the usual “come hither” look.

This was not a tourism event, yet business was open. We were thrilled that restaurants, gas stations and breweries continued to provide services.

The only option was to wait it out. With premature snowstorms in Colorado and Nevada, and severe fires in Oregon and Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe would, for the moment, be our one-day-at-a-time home base until it was safe to head south.

Sparkles of the old Beaubeaux luck began to rise and break to the surface … Stranded in Lake Tahoe … Nice

William Kent Campground

As we checked into the William Kent National Forest Campground, Jim congratulated himself for reserving this space eight days in advance. But as we slipped Beauty snugly into the site, our last tiny Verizon bar took leave of us.

So before the tires could cool, we checked the Red Cross Radio, prepared go-bags and inflated the kayaks.

If all other evacuation efforts failed, we could head downstream on the Truckee River or simply paddle to the center of the lake and hope for rescue.

But, the story ends well. The apocalypse abated and from thereon, the smoke slowly began to clear, and we happily set out to discover the William Kent campground and the small but sublime William Kent Beach.

We didn’t care that our first night’s tiny no hook-up dry camping site was entirely wrong for our Airstream, or that the asphalt site pad was so narrow that we barely fit side-to-side or that, once leveled, the threshold of our door, positioned over a steep crumbling slope, was almost chest level.

If Jim occasionally belted out a Tarzan yodel upon entry and exit, it wasn’t much of an exaggeration, we were seriously up in the trees. Fortunately, a Jeffrey Pine which barely cleared our opened door served to break our momentum as we often fell sprawling out the door toward the slope. So yeah, our site was far from ideal, but so what? It was only a five-minute stroll downhill to THE BEACH!

Let the Tahoe vacation begin!

Luck struck again, when we switched to a better campsite for the remaining eleven nights.

William Kent Campground
William Kent Campground offers NO hookups (no electricity, water or sewer at the site) but there is a dump station with fresh potable water to refill tanks or jerry cans and plenty of restaurants and stores within walking distance.
William Kent Campground
It’s important to study the map before making a reservation at William Kent. Sites and pads vary widely in size. Most of the sites are better for tent or van camping because backing-in puts the door on the wrong side, facing the private area of the adjoining camp site. But this, too, was only a small inconvenience since we weren’t home much.

The summer of 2020 led us to some exquisite recreational lakes which we hope to visit again someday, but none can compete with Lake Tahoe. The view always takes our breath away.

“…the Lake burst upon us—a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft three thousand feet higher still!”

      – Mark Twain


The drama queen of glacier lakes. Caught up in a love-on-the-rocks relationship with California and Nevada, this 72-mile long lake has a story to tell about her birth, her adventures, her hot fling with Mark Twain, her dry spells and glory days, her triangulated marriage, the ensuing scandals and her off-and-on Olympics career.

No wonder she’s in therapy. Hopefully, she will achieve full clarity and all will benefit as her partners cooperate in good faith during these disastrous environmental times.

I mean, look at this water … the range of blues … gold, to turquoise, then cobalt and electric blue.

Someday – when the air quality is better – I hope to circumnavigate the lake – paddling the 72-mile shoreline on my kayak.

As usual, we didn’t plan enough time to experience the cities, and gawk at the private enclaves, or search for the hidden shorelines.

What we missed …

We missed the waterfalls, and rafting the Truckee. We didn’t cycle the Truckee either, or spelunk the old railroad tunnels. Even worse, we failed to hike Fallen Leaf Lake and Galena Creek, and Monkey Rock, and Balancing Rock at the D. L. Bliss State Park. Neither did we explore the Spooner Backcountry, take Pico for a run on Kiva Beach, or paddle the West Shore near Bonsai Rock, snorkel Zephyr Cove, paddle to Fannette Island on Emerald Bay to visit the Tea House and lift a cup to Captain Dick, or watch the cliff jumpers at Angora Lake, and toast every spectacular day at a different craft brewery.

Someday – if the angels allow – we’ll dedicate six to eight weeks nurturing our Tahoe Bucket List.

But in this motherlode of natural beauty – a place that seems to know all of our chill buttons – it would be sacrilege to stress over what we didn’t see and where we couldn’t go because of the pandemic, fires, health (Jim was still in “the boot”), and time constraints. Just being here was a blessing. So we simply surrendered to our tiny spot on the tranquil blue bosom of The Basin and buried our faces into the alpine-Caribbean pulsar of peace that is Lake Tahoe.

And it was good … except for the smoke.

Mark Twain praised the Tahoe air as fit for angels – and I could believe it if the angels were two pack-a-day smokers …

… If, in the last few years, I followed the advice to stay inside to avoid dangerous particulates I might as well live in a bunker …

… and, the way things are going, Living in Bunker could be our future …

… These were my thoughts as I paddled by ten million dollar homes which probably include bunkers.

The air never fully cleared, but every day a few more people came out to play…

…expressing the Tahoe-state-of-mind, each in their own way.

Our micro-Tahoe resort was a wonder. We happily nested there and imagined what it would be like to live on the lake for at least part of the year.


Mornings began at Fire Sign Cafe, a pleasant five-minute walk from our campsite. We were so grateful for the wifi. Fortunately, the food was top-notch and the management exercised sufficient social-distancing measures in the beautiful outdoor seating. There, we indulged in our one big meal of the day.

Spoon Restaurant, just steps from Fireside, is on a rapid and well-deserved rise to being widely recognized as one of the finest restaurants on the lake. They too, offered outdoor dining under the trees.

The food was spectacular!

Coronado friends and family will appreciate that Spoon is owned by Zhee-Zhee, the daughter of Jaime – a musician and local treasure who played at the Coronado Concerts in the Park, and served as Master Of Ceremonies for over a decade … It was good to be back in California, the biggest small town in America.

There are hundreds of campgrounds on Lake Tahoe and we hope to try more of them, but we are now enthused converts of William Kent and not just because it gave us sanctuary in our moment of need. William Kent is a cozy home base where the best of Tahoe can be easily accessed on footpaths and bicycles.

Thank you To Our Hosts

During this season of gratitude, we would like to express our thanks to the lovely staff of volunteer camp hosts at William Kent who helped to make our stay as pleasant and hassle-free as possible. Thousands of camp hosts all over North America make recreational and full-time travel possible for a growing number of retirees, seasonal workers and remote workers. And, as RV travel increases during the pandemic, so does their work load.

Camp hosts are the nomads of nomads. We respect them so much for their service and wish all a wonderful holiday season.

Next: Vinnie’s Northbay Airstream Repair for fixes and upgrades.

Where does the time go?! You can see we are behind. Living in Beauty during COVID-19 pandemic conditions is simply more time consuming. Like you, we are spending more time cleaning, preparing meals, zooming with our friends and family, and finding safe places to exercise. Thank you for your patience as we catch up on the LIB journal this winter.

If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.