November time in Northern Nevada is all about Thanksgiving and winter season on the slopes. I spent a week working in Reno and got a few days to explore Lake Tahoe, Carson City and Truckee.
Fast facts: this part of the world hit the map 150 years ago during the gold rush, then with the transcontinental railway and finally with legalised gambling. While Las Vegas is the biggest city, Reno has more gambling history and is the gateway to Lake Tahoe, a 22 mile long lake high up in the Sierras. Great for skiing in winter and camping in summer! Reno has a great climate – nearly 300 days of sunshine, a dry climate, hot in summer, cold in winter.
The only time I’d been in Nevada before was in 2003, when we went on a road trip to Las Vegas from San Diego. This time around things would be different – I’m happy to be older: I can legally drink and legally gamble (being 20 in Vegas limits your options).
Reno: The Biggest Little City in the World
Reno’s tagline is “The Biggest Little City in the World”. It’s about 250,000 people and flying in you see the bright lights of the major casinos downtown. Straight off the plane, you’re hit by slot machines in arrivals! I found downtown was quiet in the evenings, few people walking around or in bars/restaurants. It seems people clear out after work (plus Americans eat & shut up early). I don’t like casinos so didn’t bother gambling.
I had more fun in Midtown – some great places to eat and drink. Midtown Eats had super (elk) burgers and like everywhere in the US, you get an interesting choice of craft beers. Across the road was a newly opened Italian bar/restaurant ran by 2 guys in their 70s. Real chatty people (one a retired TWA pilot, the other complaining about his new Surface Pro 3 battery life). Great to see you never retire in the US!
The best museum I found was the “National Automobile Museum“. Hundreds of amazing cars, from the very first cars in the 1890s through to the 1980s. The collection was built by Mr. Harrah of the casino fame. Seeing an original Ford Model T was cool – even though it wasn’t black but red! I also liked all the stylish curves on the 1930s cars, like a shiny copper plated Rolls Royce through the 50s and 60s – Chevvys, a white Cadillac given to Elvis by his dad (just think diners, Buddy Holly music and open air movies).
Reno seems to have lots of tourism but not a lot of industry. The big news is that Elon Musk’s Tesla is investing in a huge battery factory near Reno, promising 6,000 jobs which is huge. Even after a week there, I still don’t know why Johnny Cash wanted to shoot a man in Reno…
Exploring Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve seen and with so many amenities close by it’s easy to understand why it’s so famous. It’s 22×11 miles in size, so a 75 mile round road trip, with half in California and half in Nevada. There are a few towns around the lake, booming tourist resorts all year round. With so many ski resorts in 30 min drive from the lake, it’s a great base (the 1960 Winter Olympics were in Squaw Valley).
I got to see north and south – first staying in South Lake Tahoe and exploring the stunning Emerald Bay, then going north to take in Tahoe City and Incline Village. Emerald Bay is picture post-card stuff – pine covered slopes dropping into a narrow inlet with a tiny island in the middle. There’s a unique wooden house called Vikingsholm built by the shore.
The north and eastern sides have so much too. I explored the forest trails by running to Marlette Lake – stunning nature, with pine forests, streams, logging cabins, gradual climbs and a lake overlooking Lake Tahoe below. Americans like trail walking and bringing their dogs, although I did find the brown bear and mountain lion signs a novelty (every brown log in the distance turns into a bear in your mind’s eye).
In summer the lake must be magical – the water is so clear (visibility down to 70ft) and there are beaches north and south. Sand Harbor is the prettiest. The views are breath-taking – the bright blue sky reflects off the lake and with the mountain peaks in the distance it’s such a picturesque panorama. Sunrises and sunsets are special – the sky lights up in warm reds, oranges, yellows, pinks – it’s worth getting up early to watch.
Mountain Biking at Tahoe
Ski season was only starting in late November and with little snow on the ground, I decided to go off the trails on a bike instead. I got out two days, first in South Lake Tahoe where I went on a 3hr ride up the Powerline Trail towards Monument Pass.
The trails were empty save a few dog walkers. There was a lot of steep climbing, but worth it in the end as you get into the wilderness, miles from towns, traffic or people. Big skies and big mountains. It was cold, 5C so even with my gloves my hands and feet were chilled. The single trail descent was tough but fun – eventually I’ll be able to go over 1ft rocks and down steps, but not yet. I like my front teeth.
The second day I rented a bike in Incline Village and wanted to attack the famous Flume Trail, which runs for 5 miles about 300m above the Lake along a narrow single trail with sheer cliffs off to one side. In a word, spectacular. It reminded me of the most dangerous road in the world in Bolivia which we biked down in 2003. I had a long day in the saddle, as rode part of the 164 mile Tahoe Rim Trail as well. This was worth the long climb from the village (1,000m+ in total over 47km that day).
The mix of scenery, remoteness and weather conditions made it memorable. I went from t-shirt at the lake to biting cold and frozen ice at the top (altitude of Diamond Peak 2,850m). The snow had frozen into glass ice, so for good bits I had to walk and push the bike uphill. The forested trail was narrow but gave stunning views of both sides of the Tahoe Rim – I had lunch looking down on Carson Valley and Washoe Lake to the east. The TRT is famous for the TRT Endurance Runs, which Kilian Jornet has won on a number of occasions – one day that would be cool to do.
I finished off the ride on the Flume Trail – I’d seen so many amazing pictures of this trail. The day was sunny and windy but the trail didn’t disappoint. I said “wow” more than once as I looked down to Sand Harbor and across the lake. The fact it was practically empty also helped. There was only room for one bike to pass, and you didn’t want to slip off the side! I was tired but exhilarated by that ride. After a pecan pie and coffee as reward, I can definitely say that’s one of the best days I’ve had on a bike.