N. Lake Tahoe, Nevada
10/28-10/30: After all the lakes in Mammoth I had one more… but I had been in California for too long. I decided to stay in Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side in an AirBnB. It was in Incline village. I arrived to my accommodations with enough time to get to the lake and watch the sunset. I asked my host where the best spot to watch the sunset would be because I would only have two here. I’ll be hitting the road on the 30th en route to Vegas.
Sunset on Lake Tahoe
The best place to catch the sunset in my vicinity would be at Hyatt’s private beach. There are many trails and hikes with amazing views too, according to my host but none of which I would be able to get to with enough time to watch the spectacle. Hyatt Regency also has a really great restaurant, and if you’ve been following along, I was overdue for a good meal; WAY OVERDUE. The restaurant is detached from the hotel but would include parking in their paid lot- just mention to the host that you parked in the lot and need a gate ticket. The restaurant is called ‘Lone Eagle Grille’.
When I arrived to the restaurant, I immediately went around the building and to the beach behind it. I had it to myself and it was beautiful. The lake had waves similar to the Atlantic- this lake was huge, but not as big as the Great Lakes; yet Lake Tahoe was more ocean-like than those. I sat on the edge of Lake Tahoe, in the little town of Incline Village, Nevada, for about 3 hours watching the sun. Instead of the sun setting on the horizon it tucked behind an uneven jagged mountain line. It was setting in California. It must’ve been about 19:30 when I finally went in to eat. I was excited to have real food!
Fine Dining; Incline Village
I ended up ordering so much. I started with a roasted and pickled beet salad and a ‘Coal Miners Daughter’ cocktail along with water. My main dish was a cabernet braised short rib dish made with Angus beef. The steak sat on top of perfectly whipped potatoes and I even ordered a side of mac and cheese. The food here was outstandingly delicious- worth the splurge. I was seated at a two-top right beside a kindling fire to keep me warm.
It was the middle of fall and the nights were cold. I sat here awhile continuing to sip on my wine and journaling about my previous stops, just trying to keep up with documentation of my days. To be honest, it can be hard to find a moment to sit and write when I’m constantly on the move; I’m either exploring a new place or driving to the next one… and if I’m not doing one of those things than I am sleeping. Nevada was going to keep me busy, I only had 3 full days of exploration and 1.5 days of driving.
Nevada lake shoreline; a paradise
Eventually I made my way back to my AirBnB. It was late and I had the place to myself, my host has an art studio a couple blocks away and spent most of her time there. The next day I woke up fairly early to explore. I was looking for the big smooth rocks and calm crystal teal blue water Lake Tahoe is known for.
My first stop was a nearby Nevada state park- Sand Harbor. The beach was all mine, Lake Tahoe is a sleepy town in the fall. I climbed around the rocks in search for a way to get a glimpse of Bonsai rock. I learned about this rock pretty quickly when searching for trails in Lake Tahoe. This is one of those ‘most photographed’ landmarks. Unfortunately, I came to a point I wouldn’t be able to cross and the rock was just on the other side of the point that stuck out just far enough to hide the landmark. Instead, I played a little on the rocks and took some pictures. Still I had time, and am too determined or perhaps stubborn, to let that be my only attempt; I was going to get to Bonsai Rock.
Finding Bonsai Rock
I left the park and drove about 2 minutes down the street, parked on the side of the road and hiked down the hill side. Once I was at the water I started climbing the rocks back toward Sand Harbor State Park, Bonsai would be somewhere between that 2 mile/minute stretch of land I gained from the drive. While still on the cliffs edge I found a tire swing, so fun! I must’ve gone off course at this point because I was doing some serious climbing thereafter- not an easy feat. And there it was, I found Bonsai rock!! Again, I had the beach all to myself. I like Lake Tahoe in the fall, I was in paradise. The water was stunning but it was too cold outside to get wet.
If it was any other season the place would be bombarded with crowds; Lake Tahoe becomes a playground both in the Summer and the Winter. After my hike I drove back to my AirBnB to quickly shower. With a large apetite, I headed out for dinner. Whoops, I was back in California… again. I was doing my best to stay in Nevada, to experience the state, but it was hard to find options during the off season; many businesses are closed. The restaurant I found was a stark difference from my dinner last night. The room was large but dark and musty, I sat at the bar and ate. I got out of there quickly and went back to my place to get ready for the next day. I wanted to make a quick stop, outside Nevada, on route to Las Vegas.
Death Valley National Park
For the last time, I crossed the Nevada state line into California to take a quick detour into Death Valley National Park. Some people call October 30th mischief night. Perhaps that’s what I can blame this next mishap on. Or maybe I can blame it on the park itself, after all it is ‘Death Valley’ and if that isn’t fitting than I don’t know what would be. The pictures online are unreal. I figured I could make it for the sunset, a time of day I prefer to enjoy outside of my car. So, I picked a place in Death Valley to visit; Zabriskie Poin- it was a no brainer.
This was just a quick stop to catch the sunset and views reminiscent of the moon. It’s rumored that some of the Star Wars scenes were shot here. Like all deserts, this was a windy place in the later part of the day. Regardless I went out of my way to be here and I wanted to capture myself. I got a few pictures and became greedy- with my lightweight travel tripod set up I backed away just far enough to get in the shot and in seconds a huge gust of wind knocked my camera flat on the hard rock it was set on. I set the tripod up in such a strategic way, weighing down the base and wrapping the camera strap around my backpack to enforce and balance the weight- just extra measures, I never saw this coming.
The tripod was extended only 30 inches but the combination of wind and the hard rock was just enough to jam the lens and establish it dead. Apparently, I hadn’t learned my lesson at Mono Lake when my tripod toppled over in the soft sands and got my gear slightly wet; I was too lucky there. I only had to clean and dry the camera properly to fix all the issues. This time I wasn’t so lucky. Once I arrived to Vegas I spent the night researching and troubleshooting the lens error I was getting from the camera. I was able to straighten it out with force but the camera would not recognize the hardware. After I exhausted everything online I started looking for a replacement option.
I ended up investing in an upgrade- my new go-to lens, my favorite multipurpose lens. I bought this, a G series F4/18-105. (Save $100 off the same lens, here). The only other lens I had with me was my F4.5-6.3/55-210- ideal for wildlife. My new lens is much heavier than the one I broke but it works almost everywhere. Two months later I got a new tripod, too. I love this one; it has goes everywhere with me and has never fallen. (I see there is only 1 left in stock at the time of this post, here is the same one with red accents). It even fits in my Osprey daypack, you can get here, so I can take it with me everywhere- and I do.
I highly recommend hikers to grab an Osprey, here are two other ones the tripod can fit in: Skimmer16 or the Daylite Plus. The bags fit a 2.5L bladder, 3 lenses, tripod, camera, snacks and more for a day on the trails. Also, the tripods linked above are lightweight, full size, and compact perfectly. Both Sunpak TravelLite pods above have a swivel ball mount. I DO NOT recommend the Amazon Basics aluminum tripod- this one, if you are shooting outside and will not be standing with the equipment.
*I held on to the lens and took it to a shop in Austin, TX. (January 2019) but they said the lens could not be fixed.
Las Vegas- a place full of secrets
10/30-11/2: I arrived to Las Vegas late last night and was staying in another AirBnB. How could I visit Nevada, and not swing through Las Vegas? I’ve never really had a desire to visit Las Vegas but how can I complete all 50 without stopping here? I stopped for a quick overnight stay and thought it was quite a novelty that it landed on Halloween.
I spent my first morning in Las Vegas locating the new lens. It started with me calling a few stores and eventually tracking down THE ONLY one (in Vegas) to a Best Buy where they price matched it to a deal I found on Newegg. And just like that I was back in business, in less than a day. Any money I would’ve spent to gamble I squandered on the new lens. In the eyes of a gambler- I’d say I won. I scored a deal on the price match; I later realized the associate was not supposed to match the price I found because it was a 3rd party listing, but it saved me $100 on the lens.
Although I had a new lens, the pictures beyond this point were all taken on cell phones- mainly due to the events I partake in.
To celebrate my win, I drove to Lucky’s to have the famous Bloody Mary topped with their waffle breakfast sandwich. By the time I finished this meal it was 1pm. I HAD to go to the old strip to do Slotzilla, the zipline. When I arrived to the old strip I walked it’s entirety and just found myself people watching. I’m sure Las Vegas is always full of unique and interesting people, but on Halloween it is also full of costumed people. I ran into 3 guys from Turkey, they were dressed as Warriors. I took a picture with them and kept walking, stopping twice at the DJ stage and cutting through a Casino.
Slotzilla at the old strip
Finally, I built up the courage for Slotzilla, which isn’t scary at all. I would launch along side two Australian guys. Before getting suited up, the heights are intimidating- these two guys put me at ease as we joked around waiting for our turn. Once we were strapped in and ready it became a race- I didn’t lose! After I came back down to the strip the Warriors from Turkey caught up to me again and escorted me to my car. This was actually really nice of them because there were definitely some shady people around, including a guy who tried to pick pocket me. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it lends another opportunity: don’t let fear hold you back from traveling internationally. Any danger you are warned of overseas happens in America more often than you are made aware.
Celebrating Halloween with the Chippendales
I drove back to my AirBnB to get ready for the night. I bought last minute tickets to a show. There are so many shows every night in Vegas, but not planning far enough in advance I had a limited selection. Since I already skipped out on gambling, I thought it only made sense to go with a staple. I chose to see the Chippendales. I bought main seats, not VIP, although once inside a bouncer moved me to an end/center aisle seat in the 3rd row. My seat was so close to the action, ecspecially considering the guys came down to the floor often throughout the show and I even danced with one in the crowd… and then I got closer. I was pulled on stage for the final guest act.
Cameras are not permitted in the venue, and I was alone as well so there is no secreative photo evidence I am privy to. I just remember glimpses of the moment- I get stage freight and was front and center with a spotlight on me and a mostly naked man, or two. It is worth noting, I was completely sober for the entire show. When I am traveling solo, I don’t drink often- for safety and comfort reasons. I make exceptions of course when I am with friends or celebrating. I could’ve used a shot for that performance though.
Being an Extra on a stage in Las Vegas
The previous acts with crowd members were very rowdy. Most would include a chair dance or something of that nature. Of course, it would be my stupid luck that I was pulled for the most intimate act- alone! Teddy, the host, pulled me on stage and had me introduce myself and then asked me a few questions before he sang Ed Sheeran to me. It was simple enough…
Again, I hate being on stage. Presenting in college was the worst. I hate public speaking and crowds of people staring at me. I was happy that all I had to do was hold his hand and look at him while he sang ‘Thinking Out Loud’. Of course I was shaking with nerves, then he pulled me close to him and the crowd thought it was adorable. But wait, that wasn’t the end- he sent me stage side and told me to wait there for more direction. I had no idea what I was agreeing to when I walked on that stage.
Sin City, Nevada
This act was for the troops, I got picked for the military tribute. A nice lady took me from the side to the back of the stage and the Chippendales started their performance. Jon came and got me and we slow danced in front of everyone and then he grinded on me. Mind you, not only am I intimidated to be on stage but now I have to dance in front of everyone!? He ended by dramatically taking all his clothes off and dipping me in the perfect position to cover his junk. Simultaneously the other guys were all holding an American flag that they drop to expose me covering Jon’s naked body. When the lights went out Jon sent me away with a kiss. Teddy met me back stage and said he’d see me later and I went back to my seat.
The show went on and eventually the bouncers told the crowd to get close to the stage- “stand up for this one.” Teddy singled me out again at this point- calling me by name on the mic and using me as an example to the crowd. Obviously this is their job, but it was my Las Vegas experience and I don’t think it could’ve been anymore Vegas for me. After the show, I went to the lounge and had a drink; it was so necessary, my nerves were still a wreck.
I had no idea I’d end up on the stage this night- it seemed like a wild dream far from reality. Audience members at the bar kept telling me how cute I was on stage, I assume because I was so stage shy. The beginning of my day in Vegas felt so weird- not like the way people describe Las Vegas. In the end, the Chippendales gave me the true Las Vegas vibes that every pamphlet around town tries to express.
My time in Nevada ends as I move on to Utah
Teddy came out and greeted all the people in the lounge and thanked them for coming. He eventually found me and told me I was his favorite and bought me another drink. That’s when I let him in on the secret- I was still sober. He was shocked and laughing. Then he brought me to the other guys where we all talked and hung out for an hour or so before we all left the building. I am not sure when Teddy left- I found myself haning out with Jon and Chaz the majority of the night.
We were discussing my trip and Jon was telling me about his recent trip to Zion- a place I was heading to soon. It was nice to hang out with the guys after the show- reminiscent of ‘shooting the shit’ with my guy friends back home. It was getting late and I was leaving the next day, back on the road for a long drive. I ended up leaving to go back to my AirBnB and then caught up with Teddy again before leaving Nevada for good.
The next day I was on the road to Cedar City, I have no idea why. In fact, I ended up just catching up with friends back home over the phone and didn’t leave the hotel until I realized I hadn’t eaten all day. I went to Jack in the Box for dinner. Much later, like the following year, I realized what my intention for Cedar City was… I’ll be back.
In hindsight, I don’t know what I expected this part of the country to look like. I had only heard Nevada was mostly a desert other than Las Vegas. That’s not entirely wrong, but then you have Lake Tahoe, and Reno as well. I still want to get back to Nevada- I never knew they would have the mountains. I also never realized I would enjoy the desert. And of course, if you’re planning your first trip to Nevada, just add Las Vegas. As much as I didn’t want to enjoy it, there is a weird charm to it all. Go for a show, it’s a city meant to entertain, and there are so many options!
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