-by Ramona del Rio
There are many beautiful places to see around Lake Tahoe, and many things to do. I have probably seen and done most of them in the 30 years that I’ve been visiting this magical place. Winter, summer, spring and fall. I’ve loved Tahoe in all her seasons.
But for me the best of all is Fallen Leaf Lake, a small clear oval of crystal clear water about a mile south of Lake Tahoe. This is where the real magic is for me, and I like best to come here alone.
To get there I take Highway 89 north at the intersection of Highways 50 and 89 at the south end of South Lake Tahoe. Rather quickly I come to Camp Richardson. In the summer this is a very popular camping and biking site; in winter snowshoeing and cross country skiing reign. (A wonderful experience at Richardson is a winter full-moon cross country ski excursion along the lake, topped by a huge bonfire and refreshments.)
Shortly beyond Richardson I turn onto Fallen Leaf Road, a narrow one-lane paved road that is challenging to drive if you go the full 5-mile distance. Approximately 2/3 of a mile along this road is Fallen Leaf Campground. I drive right on through the campground and park just before campsite #75 on the right. Then I get out and walk. In the winter time, when the campground is closed, I park just beyond the campground off of Fallen Leaf Road and walk in from there. I actually prefer the second choice.
Those are the particulars, but except for providing a map of sorts they don’t tell you anything.
They don’t tell you how beautiful the aspen meadow is in the fall as you drive by on the way to the lake. Just off to your left in a small marshy meadow, they gleam in the light as though the sun had decided to make its home there. Their trunks, all paper white and flaking, show up blue and dappled where the sun doesn’t shine on them, and the little leaves quiver and tremble with the slightest breath of air. You must stop awhile to watch them, to listen to their tremulous rustle in the quiet of the wooded afternoon.
In the autumn it is usually so quiet up here that it almost seems a crime to be driving so noisy a vehicle as a car. A horse would be more appropriate, with the sound of its hooves and the jingle of its bridle the perfect counterpointe.
But I’m up from the Valley, without too much time and lacking a horse of my own. And just modern enough and just old enough that I’ll welcome the convenience of a car even as I regret it.
Once I’m parked and out of the car, I begin the easy walk to the lake’s shore. It’s all ponderosa pine in here, with the scolding of bluejays and squirrels following my progress. Fallen logs, covered with lichen and moss, litter the forest floor. Tiny creatures scurry to safety, and all I catch from the corner of my eye is a quick movement and perhaps the illusion of tiny eyes staring out at me.
There is what passes for a little dock in the area where I usually go. The earth is a little spongy here, and no matter how carefully you choose your spot to sit you will end up with a damp bottom unless you sit on a log or a rock. I usually have this place all to myself in the autumn. That’s the way I like it. Occasionally someone will approach (the clear air and the water surface here carry their voices for miles, and you can hear them coming from a long way away), but when they find the place occupied they smile and move on.
I like to just sit here quietly, looking out over the crystal clear water of this beautiful little lake and shedding the stresses and cares I brought with me from the valley. My shoulders relax, my breathing slows, I feel I have come home.
It isn’t very exciting, I guess. Maybe that’s why I come alone. I unpack my little lunch of French bread, cheese and some fruit and munch away in happy isolation. Often I share this largesse with the bluejays, chipmunks and squirrels, which become suddenly fearless and oh so friendly when they see there is food!
On a bright, clear autumn day at Fallen Leaf Lake it seems the world is a wonderful place, that it must stretch on forever in glory, that perhaps mankind has not done so much damage after all. Fish swim in close to shore so that I can admire the light glistening on their svelte bodies. Occasionally a deer moves ghostlike through the trees in the near distance. Sometimes I find a few smooth round stones and skim them across the water.
Boring? You bet. You should try it sometime.
But as you’re walking in toward the lake, please remember to keep your voice low. And if you see a slightly “fluffy” Hispanic woman skipping stones and feeding squirrels give her a smile and move along. I’m selfish about this place. I don’t even want to share it with you.
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