Merlin has traveled many realms on his road trips, and every February we wait for snow to transform Lake Tahoe into Winter Wonderland. Tracking the first real storm of the season on Weather Underground, we packed Merlin’s Planet Dog road trip gear and waited for that magic window of clear roads after fresh snow dump.
It’s a 3 1/2 hour drive from Merlin’s Marin to South Lake Tahoe, from Pacific Coast sea level over Echo Summit’s 7,382 feet to lake elevation at 6,225. We travel US 50, the old California Trail Carson Route following early emigrants, gold rushing 49ers, and the Sierra Nevada Pony Express. California’s first designated state highway, US 50 is a Lincoln Highway scenic alternate. Yes, we stop for stretch breaks at all historic plaques. The first snow is usually Fresh Pond. A required stop, Merlin leaps from the car to attack the closest snowbank. Enthralled by snow, Merlin tunnels with his nose while rolling around on his back and punching the sky with his paws, forming darling dog snow angels.
Merlin has been welcomed across America, although certain Midwest motels insist on giving him a smoking room, even though I insist he doesn’t smoke, and he smells better than most travelers I’ve met. With a nose a half million times more sensitive than a human hotel clerk, dogs deserve a clean, quiet place to rest for the night so we boycott all smoking dog establishments. For dog friendly accommodations we consult AAA guides and Bring Fido and often stay at Three Peaks Resort near Stateline, lured by their Saint Bernard in flowered beach shorts sign. While checking current snow cams, we discovered the pet friendly section on Tahoe South website and were smitten by the newly renovated Avalon Lodge. Promising to pamper people as well as pets, we pounced on a mid-week special and packed the pooch.
Avalon welcomes us with a cozy fire and hot mulled wine. A comfy dog bed, water bowl, and humongous biscuit were waiting for Merlin. Human amenities include posh New Zealand spa balm, scrumptious fresh breakfast breads, and an elegant, fireplace warmed guest room. Wet earthy aroma of the opulent travertine-lined shower transport me back to one of my most extraordinary hotel experiences ever, the magnificent Museum Hotel in remote Cappadocia, Turkey.
While most people visit Tahoe snow for winter slope sports, we pursue snowy forest trails and photogenic vistas. Fueled by Alpina Coffee on the way to Emerald Bay, we park at a snow-covered bike trail through Eldorado National Forest. Merlin springs from the car and flops in the nearest snow to wiggle a fresh dog snow angel. Romping and rolling, he bounds along the mixed conifer forest trail, sniffing raccoon prints and listening for deer. Dog heaven. We make fresh paw prints in the snow covered Angora Garden Labyrinth and head towards Heavenly for lunch at the Blue Angel Cafe.
Continuing northeast into Nevada, we duck past the casinos and nip out to our secret beaches. Merlin races across the sand and plunges into the clear water for an icy drink. Always on the lookout for Tahoe Tessie, legendary cryptozoological cousin to Loch Ness Nessie, Merlin trots along Zephyr Cove. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, second only to Crater Lake in depth and mystery. Merlin pads along the shore, big grin, head high, chasing floating ice and gold-flecked waves. More dog heaven.
We return to Avalon where Merlin is welcomed to laze in the lounge with us by his new best friend in Tahoe, host extraordinaire Dan. We’re all looking forward to visiting Avalon again soon. Maybe Merlin can arrange to get us snowed in at Avalon’s vacation rental chalet. Sleeps six, plus dogs. Anyone want to join Merlin for snow angels?
Text and photos (c) Cindy A. Pavlinac, www.CAPavlinac.com