by Rita Goldner
Today I am chillin’ among the cool mountain pines at Lake Tahoe. This is a short retreat I take with my husband Dave every year. For him, it’s various water sports; for me, plein air painting and lately, writing/illustrating picture books. I couldn’t have a better place for it, and that’s not just because I’m getting away from the heat. Among all the wildly populated tourist destinations in the country, this is the only one I’ve found where I can, without much effort, find an isolated spot to commune with nature. Someday I may write a picture book about Lake Tahoe, and I could really go nuts with the illustrations.
This clear, cobalt blue gem tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountain range is the nation’s second deepest lake, scoured out by glaciers and filled about two million years ago. Until the nineteenth century, only Native American tribes knew about this treasure hidden high in the mountains. They fished, hunted and collected medicinal plants, undisturbed by outsiders.
John C. Fremont found Lake Tahoe in February 1844, while traveling west, and designated it as a good mountain crossing-over point for explorers and settlers. The harsh winters hindered development at first, but that changed when silver was discovered in nearby Virginia City in the 1860s. The mines were quickly followed by a prosperous lumber community, cutting timber, milling it at the lake, and then transporting it to Virginia City. As roads improved in the early 1900s, the area became a destination for outdoor enthusiasts: skiers in the winter and boaters in the summer.
The beauty of the lake caused mushrooming hotels, lodges, casinos, guided tour excursions, motorboat races, and the presence of the rich and famous. Visitors like Howard Hughes, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis, Jr. flocked to the area, and soon private mansions sprang up around the shore, blocking access to the beach for the not-so-famous locals. Today there is a constant struggle between developers and those wanting to slow the growth, and accompanying pollution.
Sixty-three streams flow into the lake, but only one flows out. The outlet is the head of the Truckee River, where the flow is carefully controlled by gates. Sometimes it’s only a trickle, but when water is plentiful, all the gates are open and the gushing roar is witnessed by tourists standing on the bridge. The best view is achieved by leaning over the cement barrier, backsides to the street traffic. The view from the street is a row of derrieres lined up along the barrier, thus the name, “Fanny Bridge.”
The water in Lake Tahoe is very cold. One day while I was landscape painting at the river just below Fanny Bridge, I met an enterprising young man who took advantage of this. He had been laid off from his job and couldn’t find another one. Desperate to take care of his family, he bought a metal detector and swept the water every day. There is a busy river raft rental business there, and throngs of rafters starting their trek down the river drag their hands in the cold water, often losing their rings.
I talked to the wading man for a while, as I painted, and he reported that he had made over $30,000 the first year, but his findings were slacking off. He figured that he had over-fished the area, and was now getting mostly bottle caps. This was an unusual way to reap the benefits of this beautiful lake. As for me, I found my treasure in painting, hiking, and creating new story books in my head.
Rita Goldner is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series. For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit OrangutanDay.com. Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. Works in progress: H2O Rides the Water Cycle, The Flying Artist, and Rose Colored. To view additional illustrations and Rita’s books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook. Subscribe to Rita’s newsletter, Orangutans and More! and receive a free coloring page of today’s illustration.