Mention Nevada and most folks think of Vegas casinos and clanging slot machines. But what about Lake Tahoe? No, not the ski resorts. We're talking about taking a scenic run of a whole different sort, with the Lake Tahoe Corvette Club.
Every spring, when the snow has pretty much melted off the mountains, this organization hosts a world-class gathering in South Lake Tahoe, drawing the likes of legends such as Bob Bondurant, Tony DeLorenzo, and Dick Guldstrand, along with a first-rate collection of Corvettes.
Rather than dwell on the specific cars, though, we thought it better to focus on the draw: Lake Tahoe and the surrounding sights. A couple years ago, club organizers briefly considered some other locations for the annual event, but that idea was overwhelmingly voted down by members. No surprise, since Tahoe not only has unparalleled beauty, but also some epic driving experiences. What better way to enjoy your Vette than going on one of the most exhilarating road trips you could ask for? We'll supply a few highlights for your next vacation.
To get your bearings, we should point out that Lake Tahoe straddles the state line between California and Nevada. Think of a clock face, and the dividing line extends basically between high noon and just before six. On the left half, the California side, the destinations are mostly of the natural variety. You'll also encounter some striking scenery on the Nevada side (but might also strike gold at some of the casinos). We'll start our tour in South Lake Tahoe, right at the MontBleu resort, where the club held its event this spring.
Head clockwise from there on Route 89 to Richardson Park, where you can pull right up the shore and spot some lingering snowcaps. Then push on to Emerald Bay, undoubtedly one of the most spectacular vistas you'll ever find. Located at about 7 o'clock, the park there features Vikingsholm, one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the western hemisphere. There's also a hand-built, stone "tea house" on Fannette Island, where the lady of the mansion used to have her butler take her in a rowboat for a pleasant afternoon diversion.
But we have more diversions in mind beside this eye-pleasing waypoint. Pushing clockwise on the road that circumnavigates the lake (take Route 28 through quaint little Tahoe City) to Gar Woods Bar & Grille, overlooking Carnelian Bay. This restaurant is named after those famous mahogany runabouts from the '30s and '40s. You can still see some fine examples on the lake dating back to this era. Of course, hundreds of restaurants line the shores of Lake Tahoe, so we'll leave that up to your personal tastes, but we've also had good meals at Jason's and outstanding burgers at the funky Char Pit grille in King's Beach on the north end of the lake.
After passing through Kings Beach (a great picnic spot, as well), crossing into the Nevada side of Lake is marked by the sudden appearance of a few casinos. We've heard of many folks getting married here (and at South Lake, too), since wedding licenses are easily obtained and most wedding chapels will help you with the paperwork, so gettin' hitched can happen without a hitch. (And some say the same is true of getting a divorce in nearby Reno, which usually takes a couple weeks, with no residency or hearings required.)
Our convoy of Corvettes took a slight detour off Route 28 at Incline, heading up the hill on Route 431 to an overlook on the way to Mt. Rose, where we gathered for a group photo. Then we backtracked to Route 28 to continue around the lake, threading through the sandstone canyons near Sand Harbor Beach, another pretty spot that overlooks the aptly named Crystal Bay. The water is so clear, you can see boulders far below. (Note, however, that Sand Harbor can be very crowded in the summertime, so don't assume you'll be able to pull in there, and if you park on the main road, you might find a ticket on your windshield when you return.)
From there, the road winds through tall trees on the way to Spooner Lake. The speed limit is fairly low through here, so if you want to open up your Corvette, peel off to the left at Highway 50 and head down to Carson City. The 4,000-foot drop in elevation is dramatic, as this was where the steep V-flume used to float logs down the mountain to build the fantastically rich mines of Virginia City (an intriguing historic site that we plan to visit in a later issue). Anyway, the big, sweeping bends of the 50 are smooth and fast, but watch out for the highway patrol at both the top and bottom of this 20-mile stretch of four-lane highway. Also, those tall sticks lining the highways around Lake Tahoe aren't for marking apexes or braking stages-they help the snowplows find their way in blizzards.
Another nice stretch of highway is the portion of the 395 that heads through Washoe Valley (north into Reno). This area is walled by tall mountains that form the eastern edge of Lake Tahoe. Just watch your speed going through Pleasant Valley, at least until the new section of highway is completed that'll make the trip much quicker. We were guided on this portion of the trip by John Balentine, a retired peace officer, and his red C5. He was a good sport, striking friendly poses at our photo locations.
Alternatively, you can head south on 395 from Carson City, the Nevada state capital, and turn right on Jack's Valley Road (Route 206) to the little town of Genoa. Inspired by the Italian city of the same name, it's actually pronounced "je-NO-uh" by the locals. Claimed to be the oldest town in Nevada, and founded in 1851 by Mormons operating a trading post (now a state park), this charming and shady village has a special attraction that those abstemious pioneers would have shunned: the Genoa Bar.
This funky-yet-enticing "Thirst Parlor" (don'cha just love that name?) is the longest continuously operated bar in the state. And it looks it too, complete with antlers, a pot-bellied stove, a trap door in the wooden plank flooring, antique oil lamps, and all sorts of other Western bric-a-brac. The barmaids are cordial and attractive, enhancing the intriguing ambience, which includes a black leopard-print bra left behind by actress Raquel Welch. Even the Diamond Dust Mirror (shine a flashlight on it to see the rock sparkles) behind the bar has some history; it was shipped in the 1840s from Glasgow, Scotland, around the horn to San Francisco, and then delivered by covered wagon. As you might imagine, a number of movies have been shot in this wild-West setting.
Besides a chance to slake your thirst, the town offers some other attractions, especially if you're into antiques and museums, as pointed out by our host, Paul Anthony of the Lake Tahoe Corvette Club. And there's a surprisingly elegant gourmet French restaurant, La Ferme, located right across the street from the Genoa Bar. We've had some memorable meals there, and recommend it wholeheartedly.
You can continue from Genoa south on 395 for a long, wonderful drive to SoCal, or take the 88 over to NorCal (a much better, though slower, drive than the Interstate 80, which can get bumpy in parts, due to all the damage from truckers and snowplows). Or you can take the Kingsbury Grade (State Route 207) route back up to South Lake Tahoe and the casino resorts up there as well. This route is full of twisties and switchbacks, making it a great place to flex your Vette's suspension.
All told, visiting Tahoe in the warm seasons offers everything a Corvette owner yearns for, and then some. So plan ahead for next year's event with Tahoe Corvette Club. While it holds regular trips every month ("We're an eating and drinking club with a Corvette problem," jokes past president Barbara Cowe), the highlight of the year is the annual car show, which raises money for local charities.
Police-Blotter Anecdotes from John Balentine
• "One time I got an accident report on the radio from Pleasant Valley, and upon arriving on the scene, I found a young blonde had smacked her Vette into a pole. Fortunately there were no injuries to her, but the front of her car was a mess. Following typical police procedure, I asked what happened, and after rolling her eyes and biting her lip, she cried, 'I just washed it, and I can't do a thing with it!'"
• General advice on posted speed limits near Tahoe: Don't go more than 10 mph over, and on the high-speed section through Washoe Valley on the 395, don't exceed 5 mph over (75 mph). Any faster and the cops will nail you.
• Driving fast uphill on the section of Highway 50 between Carson City and Spooner Lake, when the wind hits Balentine's wife's '78 Vette just right, it's been know to lift the front end right off the pavement!