Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory
Learning to Relax
By Charles Shugart Jr.
Reno and majestic Lake Tahoe can help you get better at taking it easy
Reno calls itself “The Biggest Little City in the World.” With a population of more than 200,000, I’m not sure if the word “little” still applies, but certainly there are many attractions. The town got its start during the middle of the 19th Century, partly because of the tremendous gold and silver deposits discovered in nearby Virginia City at the Comstock Lode, and partly because the first Transcontinental Railway crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains on its way to Sacramento. The fertile Truckee Meadows Valley was centrally located for both, and as more people and businesses settled there, Reno officially came into being in 1868.
By the early part of the 20th Century, Nevada’s mining activities began to diminish. The boom towns that blossomed and prospered because of all the mining suffered mightily; most fell into the typical “bust” mode, gradually becoming little more than ghost towns. As economic activity shifted to places like Las Vegas and Reno, those towns’ political and business futures rose quickly.
With liberal divorce laws and statewide gambling (opened during the early 1930s), Reno experienced another boom period. Gambling proved to be a longer-lasting industry than mining, and is still going strong in the 21st Century. For a number of years the expression: “I’m going to Reno” meant the speaker was going to get a divorce. The state didn’t make much money on all those divorces, but the act of establishing a Nevada residency for several weeks was very good for local businesses.
Although the gaming industry remains the leading revenue producer in Reno, its civic leaders realized that a broader base could be of benefit, so a more lenient tax structure was implemented to draw commercial investments to the area. The city has not experienced the extreme growth of Las Vegas, but—along with its satellite communities—it’s having a population, home-building and industrial boom of its own.
Reno is in a valley at the base of the mighty Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, yet it’s in the high desert—the city’s elevation is 4400 feet. Like most locations at the eastern base of the Sierras, Reno is in the mountain’s “rain shadow.” Water-filled clouds blow in from the Pacific Ocean and drop their moisture along the Sierra’s western slopes, creating all those lovely forests west of the mountain summits, and all the dry deserts to the east. Reno’s river—the Truckee—escapes from Lake Tahoe, flows through town and empties into nearby Pyramid Lake, which has no outlet.
The Sierras have two distinct personalities: gently sloping western flanks with abundant rain, snow and forests, and the steep eastern side that drops quickly to the high and dry deserts. Each side is different. Each is fascinating. Reno is perfectly located for exploring the surrounding high desert country and the steeply-rising escarpments that are the eastern side of the mountains.
As to Reno’s climate: Hot and dry in summer; cold and dry in winter. The highest temperature ever recorded was 108 Fahrenheit. The coldest was 16 below Zero.
Among the favored activities in town, there are more than 60 gambling locations, including downtown casinos that also offer high-class entertainment productions. But glamour and glitz are not all Reno has to offer. The annual Artown Festival is acknowledged by the National Endowments for the Arts as one of the biggest and best such celebrations in the country, attracting talented men, women and children from all over the U.S. and beyond. Taking place every July, the renowned event includes fine-art paintings, sculptures and other visual exhibits, live theater, music, dance, film and many added cultural activities.
Golfers can select from 30 quality courses in the area. And Reno calls itself “The Bowling Capital of the World,” but that’s not because there are a gazillion bowling alleys (there aren’t). It’s because the $50,000,000 National Bowling Stadium hosts 100,000 bowlers every year, mostly in tournaments.
A popular destination for travelers is the National Automobile Museum; it’s among the world’s best car collections. Years ago it was in the outlying community of Sparks and consisted of hundreds of antique and collectible cars from the Bill Harrah collection. However, although the automobiles were excellent, they were crammed into a couple of ugly tin buildings that seemed to serve no purpose except as protection against the elements. Since becoming the National Automobile Museum, things have gotten much better. Open space has been utilized in sensible ways. Many of the vehicles are in settings that represent the eras in which the cars were used; thus lending a flavor of realism. The collection includes more than 200 vehicles—one of them as old as 1892.
During September, Reno hosts the National Championship Air Races and Air Show. Actual airplanes racing each other around a closed course! P-51 Mustangs from WWII are among the stars in these races, along with the Grumman Bearcat and Hawker Sea Fury. There are also jet airplane races. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform to the great excitement of the spectators. There are old-style biplanes, aerobatic performances, military and civilian flight demonstrations, plus dozens of ground displays and aircraft to wander among.
You can enjoy the downtown River Walk with its waterfalls and fine dining, or take in the state gambling and historical museums.
Thirty miles from town is must-visit Lake Tahoe, nestled in a High Sierra valley at an elevation of 6229 feet. The Nevada/California border bisects the lake and, predictably, the Nevada side offers mostly gaming and big-time entertainment, whereas the California side has recreational opportunities such as camping, hiking and boating.
Tahoe is an all-year attraction. Nevada’s town of Stateline offers gaming and entertainment throughout the year, of course, but with the arrival of winter, outdoor activities shift from hiking, fishing, swimming and boating to skiing and snowboarding.
You’ll want to have your motel or camping location reserved far in advance—preferably during mid-week. RVers note: it is best to drive straight to the site and disconnect. Dealing with the traffic and parking problems while towing is not fun.
True, crowded conditions can be a bother. Equally true, Tahoe is one of the most beautiful lakes you’ll ever see. So bite the bullet and spend a few days there. If possible, visit just before schools close for summer, or just after they open again; the crowds are diminished considerably during the “school” season.
HOW IT FORMED
Although Lake Tahoe looks like it was formed in a volcano (as was its northern neighbor, Oregon’s Crater Lake) that was not the case. The tectonic buckling that shoved the Sierra Nevada Mountains high into the air also caused what is called “block faulting.” The gigantic blocks aligned themselves in such a way as to create a broad, very deep basin in the mountains. Beginning about a million years ago, an ice age resulted in heavy glacial carving of the region, further shaping what was to become modern Lake Tahoe.
A lava flow from a now-extinct volcano blocked the northern drainage of the ancestral Truckee River. Rainfall and melting snow filled the gigantic chasm and, voila! Lake Tahoe formed. It’s 22 miles long and 12 miles wide and, at 1645 feet, is the second deepest in the U.S. (beaten out only by Crater Lake’s 1949 feet). The combination of surface area and depth make it the largest alpine lake in the country. Because it is so deep and the fact that rivers draining into it carry little mud, the lake is clean and clear. On a cloudless day, the lake is as blue and stunningly gorgeous as any lake in the world.
Lake Tahoe is worth visiting simply because it’s so lovely. And if you’re seeking active recreation, you’ll find seemingly endless choices. You can rent a boat for water-skiing or fishing, go kayaking or canoeing, or just putt around enjoying the wonderful scenery and listening to the quiet that’s found on the water.
On land, there’s bicycling, horseback riding, hot-air ballooning, and drives through the magnificent surrounding forests. And ff you work hard enough at your recreation, you will have earned the right to relax in camp, with your feet up, beverage of choice in hand, watching yet another magnificent sunset in the High Sierra. Sometimes relaxing is difficult, but it’s always worth the effort.