Walking the Wild Trees Pt. 3: Vikingsholm, Tallac Historic Site
Saturday, October 8
South Lake Tahoe, CA
Upon the advice of our proprietor, we walked a block down to Ernie’s Coffee House, a large but warm and cozy breakfast nook, where we plan our day. We are interested in seeing Vikingsholm, a historic summer residence tucked away beneath some cliffs a few miles farther up the west side of the lake.
A controlled burn near the highway north of town is blowing some smoke across to the lake. And after winding past Tallac and noting a bunch of people on a bridge near there, we drive up this breathtaking, short spur that leads to views of something I had briefly read about, something about a a tea house on an island. That’s what it looks like we’re seeing in this small, secluded bay, and soon we are in the Vikingsholm parking lot, located near a huge outcrop of rocks overlooking Emerald Bay and Fannette Island, the tea-house island.
The way to the home, which sits directly below the rock outcropping, is a mile walk down and back along a fairly steep incline, with warnings at the top for people not up to a walk like this. All in all, we find the walk less difficult than advertised, and well worth the effort, as it winds down through a nice forest.
At the bottom is a castle-like home built by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight in 1929. The coast here reminded her of her native Norway, and she built it with local materials. It’s a strange kind of American Craftsman-style, 38-room home, parts of which contain no nails or spikes. It’s quite lovely, almost completely hidden among the trees from above, and we take a lot of pictures as we stroll the grounds. The back was also the entryway, with small rooms as part of an enclosue that made an impressive entrance after the ride down. Emerald Bay is a popular lake boat tour stop, and a steady stream of tour craft, from small motorboats to a couple of paddlewheelers, circuit Fannette Island all day. Even in the off-season, it’s a popular spot.
We also took a short walk a little past the house. A guy was in the stream taking pictures above a pool, and we are introduced to the Kokanee salmon. It’s spawning season. Last week South Lake Tahoe hosted the Lake Tahoe Kokanee Salmon Festival. The Kokanee here were introduced by holding ponds at the Tahoe City Fish Hatchery that overflowed, or so the story goes. Three years later, the freed salmon returned to the streams, and they have integrated into the ecosystem. All in all, a great way to spend a couple of hours.
Last night we caught a glimpse of the Tallac Historic Site as darkness descended on the forest. This time, walking among the tall trees with the sunlight streaming through the gaps, we got a quick glimpse at a past time of opulence in the early days of the white occupancy of this area. Three family summer cottages were here, and walking among them, you can easily imagine their heyday.
The Tallac site is really something. It’s in a deep forest along the shoreline. It was quiet, the almost full moon rising over the State Line high-rises in the late afternoon, a scene out of an era that, with our relentless need to redevelop, is disappearing. I guess I know I’m old when I realize this. But like Ojo Caliente before it was re-developed, this is one of those places you just don’t see much of anymore. The buildings, all made of wood with high ceilings and interesting ridges and roofs, are definitely of another time. Nobody would build houses like this today. Nobody.
The Baldwin estate, now the museum, closed for the season, was smallish, with nice gardens amidst the redwoods. Baldwin ran the casino that used to sit on one part of the park.
Next door, the Pope estate was particularly fascinating, with lots of small buildings behind the main house, which faced the lake, for the servants and help — a blacksmith shop, dairy, school room and tiny apartments for the seamstress, maid, butler and other full-time servants. The grounds included intricate gardens and lakelets and waterfalls. A table seemed to be hewn from one tree, with the branches woven into the cover.
The Popes even had a boathouse for their own boat, with tracks that ran 100 feet out into the lake, so that the boat could be hauled to land without the guests even getting their feet wet. Along the beach was a marooned sailboat, slammed into the sand with a Jolly Roger flag waving at a precarious angle. Wonder what happened there?
Next door to the Pope estate was the best of the lot, Valhalla. The home is the only one in actual use today, set up for weddings and receptions, one of which is going on during our visit. The Valhalla boathouse has been converted into a community playhouse, which, to my mind, is an enlightened way to “redevelop.”
We also walked around the area where the resort the Baldwin’s operated once sat. The buildings there didn’t have stone foundations, and today the forest has taken it all back, leaving folks to guess where the buildings stood. The only clue, which took us awhile to find, was a circular lagoon you can see near the front porch of an old photo on display. Another reminder, that like Tikal, given enough time, the natural world will take back what we have built and return to its natural state. That’s a little encouraging.
After the walk, we returned to Orchid Thai. We wound up in a corner next to a local couple who, according to the guy, had started drinking at 9 am to watch a football game. The woman, a bleached blonde who kept having to hitch up her jeans to keep her butt crack from showing, used to work at Orchid Thai, knew everybody who was working on this night. While we were perusing our menus, she suggested the pumpkin curry, which Billie got and was great. When the guy couldn’t figure out if Singha, the Thai beer, was like Sing Tao, the Chinese beer which he hated. I explained the difference. He interrupted his champagne to order one.
Another group came into our little nook, and one of the women was having a birthday. When they started singing happy birthday, the couple started in singing, and we all wound up doing a rousing chorus. The blonde, who was bombed out of her mind, helped everybody in the booth order, and finally, when they began taking pictures, she dropped onto somebody’s lap while the boyfriend took pictures of the whole kit and caboodle. We left after telling them that we hadn’t had that much entertainment in a restaurant in years.