RENO — An authentic paddle-wheeler cruising year-round west of the Mississippi. A fashion show and auction of the latest New York, Paris and West Coast designs taking place at a mountain resort. A stroll down an 1870s boardwalk in an Old West town complete with deserted mine shafts, Boot Hill Cemetery and the Bucket of Blood Saloon.
All these attractions and more await the visitor making a spring visit to the Lake Tahoe area.
Sunset Recreational Ranch, a quarter mile west of the airport on U.S. 50, offers year-round horseback riding with or without a guide. Rates are $15 per person for the first hour and $10 an hour thereafter. Riding trails meander through 185 acres of meadows along the Truckee River.
At night, casino lounge and headliner shows go full tilt, but some daytime casino activities are also worth considering.
Lessons in Craps
Harvey's offers lessons in the fine art of craps shooting. Free instruction is open to persons 21 and older at noon daily followed by a 25-cent practice game.
Caesars Tahoe began a "Ritz Auction" last season, and if its popularity continues, it may become a semi-permanent feature at the hotel/casino. Several days a week, fashions from New York, Paris, Greece, Los Angeles and San Francisco are modeled and then auctioned off. Free prizes are awarded at each show and spectators are under no obligation to bid or even buy a drink.
According to Tommy Varzos, owner-organizer of Ritz Entertainment Auctions, the bidding can get hot and heavy. "Almost anything can happen," Varzos said. "Our outfits usually go for well under retail, averaging less than $40. And, surprisingly, the shows are as popular with men as with women."
"One day two executives from the same company, in town for a convention, got into a bidding war. One ended up paying $440 for an Albert Nipon silk dress that would normally sell for about $125 in a store."
Other attractions entice Tahoe visitors outdoors.
Heavenly and Squaw Valley both provide tram sightseeing rides. The Heavenly Valley tram carries adults for $8 and children for $5 up Gunbarrel ski run to 8,250 feet, 2,000 feet above the lake. It's a fine place for taking pictures of the 72 miles of Lake Tahoe shoreline and surrounding Sierra Nevada.
If you'd like to make a day of it, sightseeing on the gondola or cable car at Squaw Valley is a good choice as there is a little European-style ski village at the base with a variety of specialty shops for browsing. You'll enjoy strolling around the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics and you may want to drop in at the recently refurbished Olympic Village Inn.
For $4, Squaw's cable car goes from 6,200 feet to 8,200 feet, and at the top you'll find a deli, cafeteria, lunchroom and Alexander's Bar and Grill, a sit-down restaurant with a commanding view of mountains and lake.
An out-of-the-ordinary way to make the trip to Squaw is to hop aboard the Tahoe Queen, a heated, glass-bottom paddle-wheeler that leaves several days a week at 8 a.m. from Ski Run Marina near the Stateline casinos. A buffet breakfast is available during the two-hour crossing in addition to a peek at beautiful Emerald Bay.
Boating to Ski Area
Once docked at the north shore, a bus transfers passengers to Squaw Valley or Alpine Meadows. At 4:30 p.m. the boat returns to the other side, with snacks or dinner for the hungry and dancing for the energetic. This costs $16.50, food extra.
Another all-day activity is a drive around the lake, called by some "the most beautiful drive in America." If you don't have access to a car, an outfit aptly named "Sightseeing Tours" will take you by bus. (Adults $25, half-fare for children 16 and under accompanied by an adult.)
Included on your travels around this, the largest high-altitude alpine lake of 99% pure water in the world, will be Eagle Creek and Falls and Emerald Bay State Park.
Emerald Bay was carved by a massive glacier and a remnant of granite remains, Fanette Island, in the middle of the bay. A footpath leads down to the shore where Vikingsholm, a reproduction of a 9th-Century Norse castle-fortress, completed in 1929, sits at the water's edge. (Open for tours in summer.)
At Fanny Bridge in Tahoe City, you'll probably want to see the lake's only outlet, where the Truckee River begins. Take a close look in the water and you may see some gigantic rainbow trout.
Drive on to Kings Beach on the North Shore for a lunch stop where there are lots of casinos and restaurants to choose from.
Capital and Mining Town
A second popular all-day tour is a visit to Carson and Virginia City (also included on the "Sightseeing Tours" agenda).
Carson City, named for frontier scout Kit Carson, is the smallest state capital in the United States. It has some interesting locally quarried sandstone buildings dating back to the 1860s, along with a fair amount of cozy Victorian houses. They include one where Mark Twain boarded with his brother, Orion Clemens, who later became a state senator.