Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dogs In Tahoe

Are you visiting Tahoe? Maybe even moving to Tahoe? You will be glad to know that Tahoe is very pet friendly. We have lots of dog and cat owners. You’ll find that Tahoe is a great place to bring your pet.
Photo from

There are a thousand great places to hike with your dog in the forest.
But first, there are a few caveats. Just like most attractive places in this country, most areas in Tahoe have leash laws, and there are animal control officers to enforce them. Here’s the way it works. At any point, if your dog is off leash, you could get a healthy ticket. But of course, many dog owners have their dogs off-leash much of the time. Although there are no guarantees, the way to avoid a ticket is to stay off meadows because they are especially eco-sensitive (and dogs are expressly forbidden on some meadows), stay off popular hiking and biking trails because that’s where other people are, and stay off beaches.
Animal control officers are human, and some of them have dogs, too. They don’t want to harass those who are off in the woods alone, their dogs running free, when there are no people or other dogs to get stressed by an off-leash dog. If you take your dog into the backwoods, you’ll probably be fine. But if you let your dog run free in a popular area, the animal control officer will be thinking about the last time he saw a little kid get scared by a dog, and the next thing you know, you’ll be paying a significant fine to get your dog out of jail.

Your stay-out-of-trouble insurance

We know people who constantly take their dogs onto forest trails and let them run free without a problem. The key is that they go places and at times when few or no other people are around. If you do that, you will have a great experience.
Having made that point, we also have some great dog-friendly beaches! There is information about those below. But first, let’s get one more dark side of the Tahoe pet experience out of the way.

A Warning About Small Pets
Tahoe has lots of coyotes. They are smart, and they have adapted very successfully to a world of people and their pets. The coyotes think it’s just great that people have come to their Tahoe territory bringing coyote dinner in tow in the form of cats and small dogs. Even fenced yards won’t guarantee safety for your small pet. Every local knows someone who watched as a coyote leaped over their backyard fence, grabbed their cat or Chihuahua or Jack Russell Terrier, and leaped back over the fence and disappeared in the forest.
Photo from

Don’t assume your small pet is safe unless it’s indoors or heeling on a leash at your side.
How large does a dog need to be for you to stop worrying about coyotes? Pretty big, actually. I once watched a coyote taunting a Black Lab, trying to get it to follow the coyote into the woods. The Black Lab followed for about fifty yards and then got spooked and retreated. The coyote ran into the woods and joined its pack. The pack members erupted in yipping and howling and yelping. Clearly, they were very upset that the bait-coyote had failed in his mission.
I’ve never heard of anyone losing a dog as big as a Black Lab, but I almost witnessed it myself. So be careful.
Despite coyotes and leash laws, Tahoe really is a great place for pets and for dogs especially. You know how much dogs love the outdoors. We have hundreds of square miles of forest that your dogs can explore.
Now let's get to the beaches you can bring your dog to.

Dog-Friendly Beaches
Many beaches in Tahoe do not allow dogs. At some beaches, like Baldwin Beach on the South Shore, you can’t even bring a dog in your vehicle.
But there are some great beaches that are dog friendly.
One large, dog-friendly beach where dogs can swim is Kiva Beach on the South Shore. But even that beach has leash laws. If your dog is running free there at 6:00 a.m. in the morning, you might be okay. But you can’t count on it.
The following general rule applies and is printed on some signs: If your dog is under complete verbal control and will snap to “heel” despite any tempting distractions, then you should be okay. If not, a leash will prevent a citation.
Photo from

Dogtrekker is a fun link to dog-friendly beaches all around the lake. Remember to read the fine print. At some beaches, dogs aren’t actually allowed in the water. At others, dogs are only allowed on one small portion of the beach or else on the rocks, not the sand. Officially, all dogs must be on leashes at all times.
Note that there is one inaccuracy on the dogtrekker list. Skunk Harbor (a lovely hike and beach) is on the East Shore just north of Spooner Lake, not in Incline Village as listed.
NorthTahoeParks. com lists three dog-friendly beaches on the North Shore. Leashes required.
LakeTahoeGetaways has information on three dog-friendly beaches on the South Shore. Leashes required.
And remember to clean up after your dog.

Kiva Beach on the South Shore is Dog-Friendly!

There is also a good general information website on Dogs in Tahoe here.

There are also a couple of dog parks where your dog can romp with other dogs off-leash.

There are also lots of dog-friendly lodgings, campgrounds, day care, and even restaurants (outdoor patios in the summer). has a substantial list here.
Bring your pet to Tahoe! You and your pet will have a blast.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Moving To Tahoe

Thinking of moving to Tahoe? There are few things in life more exciting! Most Tahoe locals were not born here. Most came for the beauty, the recreation, the mountain lifestyle. Today’s local is a former visitor who took one too many vacations to the Big Lake In The Sky, and they got the strong desire to try life where you live in a spectacular environment year ‘round, rather than merely coming to that environment on vacation.
Of course, there are a hundred major questions to answer before making the jump. This post will attempt to answer some of them.
I’ll begin with some information about various areas in Tahoe and then talk a bit about jobs and housing.

Tahoe has many different neighborhoods and several towns, and which is best depends on your needs. Here is a quick rundown of the various areas of Tahoe.

West Shore
View of Tahoe from Homewood ski resort on the West Shore

West Shore residents love to say the West Shore is the Best Shore, a sentiment that parallels the pride that all of Tahoe’s neighborhoods share to some degree. The West Shore may have the longest average family history for any given home, with many cabins and estates remaining in the same families for multiple generations.
The West Shore is laid-back,  quiet, and has little traffic as long as you stay off Highway 89 during July and August.
In the winter, Emerald Bay is often closed due to avalanche hazard, eliminating north-south drive-through traffic for days and even weeks at a time.
The West Shore has some fine restaurants, marinas, good hiking, and decent public access to lake front. Proximity to Emerald Bay and its spectacular hiking is one attraction of the West Shore, although it should be noted that even more people access it from the South Shore.
If there is a downside to life on the West Shore, it would be its lack of accessibility. Don’t expect to find easy jobs, or hot night spots on the West Shore. Look at the community of Tahoma and its cute general store to see if this is what you’d love or not. The coming Homewood development will bring some controversial modernity and some related service-industry jobs, but that still won’t be enough to allow one to move to the West Shore and expect to find work.
You might think you can live on the West Shore and drive elsewhere to work, but in reality, that is difficult. Highway 89 is the only significant traffic artery, and it is clogged during tourist season (July and August and Christmas week), and as previously mentioned, the highway is often closed to the south during heavy snowloads above Emerald Bay. This matters, because the South Shore has the most jobs, but if you can't get there, you're out of luck.
The West Shore also has the most snow on average of all of Tahoe’s areas, a blessing for those who love quiet, romantic, snowed-in evenings by the fire. But there are areas with steep roads - such as above Rubicon Bay - where the residents avoid ever coming in the winter because if it is snowing, they can’t get to their homes! Or if they are there when it begins snowing, they can’t leave until the roads have melted.
For skiers, The West Shore also has Homewood ski area, perhaps the best deal in all of Tahoe. It doesn’t look like much from the highway, but don’t let that fool you. It is a large area, and its slopes are closer to the lake than any other area, giving it astonishing lake views from the ski runs.
If you ask West Shore people what they like best about their area, they will commonly talk about the cozy neighborhood, bike trails, the summer-cabin-yesteryear feel, the feeling that they can let their kids explore during the day without worrying that they will get into trouble.

North Shore
The beach in Kings Beach

Like all of Tahoe, the North Shore is a collection of communities with a mix of old cabins and modern mansions. Much of the North Shore is quite ritzy, with housing prices to match (whether you want to rent or purchase). Unlike the West Shore, the North Shore has several small towns stretching from Tahoe City to Tahoe Vista, Kings Beach, Crystal Bay and Incline Village. Of those, Incline Village is more of a real town in terms of more numerous housing stock, many more businesses, and Sierra Nevada College, a four-year school with some graduate programs.
Jobs are more plentiful than on the West and East Shores, and the number of full-time residents on the North Shore is several times greater. The North Shore is accessed by three highways coming into the Tahoe Basin, so getting in and out is easier, and it is somewhat more reasonable to commute to jobs outside of the Tahoe Basin. Some people commute as far as Reno, but they usually end up moving out of the basin or finding a different source of income so they don’t have to deal with tourist traffic in the summer and snowstorms in the winter.
Like the West Shore, the North Shore has a two-lane highway that can become quite crowded during tourist season, so a little planning is necessary if you head out during the busy times.
If you ask North Shore people what they like best about their area, they often mention the wide range of restaurants, beaches and walkable neighborhoods, accessibility to Truckee as well as the north Tahoe ski areas of Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, Sugar Bowl, Northstar, Diamond Peak, and Mt. Rose.
People in the Incline Village area also appreciate the cultural advantages of having Sierra Nevada College in their town.
Further, Incline residents appreciate how quickly they can get to Reno for the Reno/Tahoe airport, shopping, doctors, etc. (Although this doesn’t apply when it is snowing!)

East Shore
Think West Shore with 1/3rd the snow and few of the neighborhoods full of small, old cabins. The northern portion of the East Shore (40,000+ acres of land from Sand Harbor to just north of Glenbrook) was once owned by George Whittell, who built the Thunderbird Mansion in the '30s. That land is now owned by the Nevada State Park system.
The people who live on the East Shore are in communities on the south portion of the East Shore from Glenbrook to Cave Rock to Hidden Woods to Skyland to Zephyr Cove/Zephyr Heights to Round Hill.
The East Shore is pretty much residential only. The closest shopping is the Round Hill neighborhood where there is a Safeway supermarket. For more than that, you’ll have to drive to the South Shore or head off the mountain and go down to Carson City. If housing costs are a major concern, you won’t find much in the way of inexpensive cabins on the East Shore.
People who live on the East Shore cite as advantages the world’s greatest view (The Sierra Crest across the lake), proximity to Carson CIty and Reno (accessed by freeway most of the way), and the least snow in Tahoe. (Locals call the East Shore the Banana Belt for its sunnier, less-snowy winters.)

South Shore
Telephoto view of the big South Shore hotels with Mt. Tallac in the background

The South Shore is Tahoe’s only small city, and that brings a range of advantages and disadvantages. South Lake Tahoe (on the California side) and Stateline (on the Nevada side) have a combined year-’round population close to 35,000, which is about 70% of all the people who live in the Basin. If you want those things that come with population (jobs, shopping, more housing choices) then the South Shore is for you. If you want those things that population eliminates (quiet, few people, more exclusive neighborhoods) then the South Shore is not for you. Although it is worth noting that people on the South Shore would say that compared to life in any big city, the South Shore is quiet and has few people. The South Shore does have more vehicles than the rest of the basin, but the main artery through town is four lanes. South Shore residents often notice that the two-lane highway through Tahoe City is slower than the four-lane traffic on the South Shore.
Whether you are renting or buying, the South Shore has the most affordable housing in Tahoe, although there are plenty of opportunities to spend millions if you want to go upscale.
Whether you are looking for a job or planning to start a business, the South Shore has the most opportunities.
People who live on the South Shore say that they like the wider choices of housing, the fact that they can often obtain items and services locally that other Tahoe residents have to drive out of the Tahoe Basin to acquire, more plentiful jobs, a large number of restaurants, and quick access to Sacramento and points west. (North Tahoe residents have to first drive to Truckee and then take I-80 to Sacramento.) (Remember that when it is snowing, there is no quick access anywhere in Tahoe.) Unlike the rest of the basin, the South Shore also has some night spots. (One gentleman who used to own a vacation home in Alpine Meadows on the North Shore told me that his kids call the North Shore the “Dead Shore” because they didn’t think there was anything to do there at night. So he sold his vacation home and got a place on the South Shore because his kids think it is the “Alive Shore.”)
For some South Shore residents, simply being able to drive down the street to get a particular bit of home hardware or computer device or specialized car repair service or having a lumber yard or hospital emergency room close by makes living on the South Shore easier than in other parts of Tahoe.
Like Incline Village with Sierra Nevada College, the South Shore also has the Lake Tahoe Community College, and it serves as a cultural center of the South Shore.

“Tahoe” Areas Outside of the Tahoe Basin
You don’t have to actually live in Tahoe to enjoy its life style. Many people identify with Tahoe even though they live or work outside of the basin.
Residents of Truckee and Squaw Valley and Northstar and the new Martis Valley developments often think of themselves as living in Tahoe, and they are close enough to enjoy all of the advantages that Tahoe offers.
Truckee is a cool, old railroad town just 12 miles north of Tahoe

I once met a group of women from Truckee (a dozen miles downstream from the Tahoe Basin) who said, with good reason, that they lived in the Tahoe area. And when our conversation turned to other Tahoe neighborhoods, they said that it was their opinion that South Lake Tahoe (which is right on the lake) wasn’t really a “Tahoe” area. I’m not sure, but I think their perception was codespeak for feeling that the South Shore wasn’t sufficiently upper-crust enough to qualify as “Tahoe.”
When you open the beautiful, glossy Tahoe Quarterly magazine, you often see advertisements for beautiful “Tahoe” housing developments that are actually in Truckee or the Martis Valley to the north or even down near Montreux Country Club real estate just out of Reno, none of which are within the Tahoe Basin.
Nice property at Martis Camp, just north of Tahoe

Carson Valley below and to the east of the South Shore is a rapidly-gentrifying ranching area with the towns of Minden and Gardnerville. Like Carson City to the north, many aspects of their location are described regarding their proximity to Tahoe. There are a large number of people who live in Carson Valley and commute up Kingsbury Grade to jobs on the South Shore. There are also many former Tahoe residents who’ve moved to Carson Valley in order to be close to what they love but without having to shovel much snow.
Carson Valley is east of Tahoe. This picture shows how the lake sits above the valley.

Kirkwood ski area (recently purchased by Vail Resorts to join their Northstar and Heavenly portfolio) is about 40 minutes by car from the South Shore, and it is another “Tahoe” area with full-time residents. 
(For those who are interested, Kirkwood is a small, exclusive, ski resort community, and it is generally more expensive than Tahoe. It is also snowed in as often as Emerald Bay. Don’t move to Kirkwood if you want to be able to commute out.)
Kirkwood is a classic little ski town just 40 minutes south of Tahoe

Reno and Sparks are twin cities in the same valley, and you can’t tell where one stops and the other begins. The Reno Sparks metropolitan area has approximately 400,000 people, so it has the same advantages of most big cities. 
Years ago, Reno changed the name of their airport to the Reno/Tahoe International Airport, leading to some confusion for travelers who deplane on the desert and look around for a huge lake that is out of sight 30 miles away and 2000 feet up into the mountains to the southwest. Many people who would like the Tahoe experience might want to live and work in the Reno area and drive up the mountain for their recreation. In fact, the last time I was at Sand Harbor on the East Shore, all the people I heard nearby had driven up from Reno. Some of our famous “Tahoe” Olympians actually live in Reno. When the roads are dry, Reno is only an hour away from several ski resorts.

Housing is substantially less to rent or buy in Carson City or Reno than it is in Tahoe. (But housing is not less expensive in Truckee.)
Reno with its backdrop of mountains to the southwest. Mt. Rose Ski Resort is on the left. Mt. Rose is on the right. On the other side of those is the Tahoe Basin.

For most people, the first question they have when thinking about moving to Tahoe is how to earn a living. “Sure, Tahoe is a great place to hang, but are there any jobs?” I’ve dealt with that in some depth in an earlier post here.
To briefly summarize, there are many entry-level jobs clustered in the hospitality industry, and they are easy to get. In addition, those jobs often allow for promotion, i.e., there are executives working for Vail Resorts who started out as liftees. There are fewer jobs that allow you to earn a middle class income, but those too can be had if you have the appropriate skills and education. If you have a nursing degree, or are a certified teacher, or a skilled carpenter, Tahoe is the same as any other community. With persistence and patience, you can often land a good job.
And of course, professionals are always in demand. Every community needs doctors, dentists, attorneys, architects. It is common knowledge that professionals in Tahoe may not command the same fees as in San Francisco, but for those who live in Tahoe, that seems a reasonable compromise to live in such a spectacular place.
Tahoe is also a fantastic place to start your own business. If you have the knowledge, ambition, and some capital, Tahoe can be a great place to start a restaurant, a tour guide service, a clothing boutique, a construction company, or a B & B.
Last, if you have skills that are non-location-specific, then Tahoe beckons. Tahoe has more than its share of writers, artists, designers, recording artists, and software engineers.

To rent or buy is one question. Where to do it is the next question.
In the Tahoe Basin, there are no “really bad” neighborhoods, and there are dozens of good neighborhoods. If you want to rank neighborhoods by their relative merits, the simplest way is to choose a given type of housing - let’s say, a typical 3-2-2 house (three bed, two bath, and two-car garage) - and compare prices from one neighborhood to the next. Many realtor websites group listings by neighborhoods, which makes it easy. Where prices are higher for a given type of property, the neighborhood likely has more to offer. Of course, just because people are paying higher prices in a neighborhood doesn’t mean that you’ll like it better, but you get the idea.
In general, housing is least expensive on the South Shore. Although the South Shore also has its share of very expensive homes.

Tahoe real estate is like that in many resort communities. When general real estate is on an upswing, Tahoe booms even more. When general real estate falls, Tahoe falls even harder.
As with any area, if you buy and plan to hold for the long term, you will likely do very well. If you buy hoping to flip a property in a year or two, you might lose a great deal.
Pricing ebbs and flows with the time, but you can usually expect Tahoe/Truckee property to be less expensive than comparable property in the Bay Area and more expensive than in Sacramento, Reno, and Carson City. Here is a previous post with some real estate info.

Often, people intending to eventually buy will start out by renting in order to get a feel for the various areas. But for many younger people, renting is the only reasonable option.
Finding a rental apartment (Tahoe has very few apartments - most housing is houses) or house is the same as in any community. Get online and plan to spend plenty of time on Craigslist and rental management sites. Take notes. Read reviews. Study blogs and the comments that people post on them. Cross reference interesting housing locations with your most promising job locations.
Consider a trial move for a few months to try out an area before you sign a year-long lease.
Get on social media to find friends and connections in the Tahoe/Truckee/Reno/Carson City area.
If you plan to take a vacation to Tahoe before you move, do some advance homework so you have a plan of where and how you’re going to check out employment and housing opportunities.
You can also check out “roommate-wanted” ads. Sharing lodgings provides the additional advantage in that you also benefit from the local expertise of your roommates.
Note that you can do all of this very cheaply if you plan ahead. If you come in the summer, you can also stay at one of the many campgrounds around the lake. You need not buy any food outside of grocery stores and thus can sample Tahoe very cheaply, and begin to put down roots.
A few caveats: As always, it is difficult to find rental housing if you have pets. It is also very difficult to find rental housing if you don’t have a job. Any job, even an entry-level job as a liftee on the chairlifts, will make a huge difference. Present yourself professionally in your email presentation as well as in your personal presentation.

Moving to Tahoe is very much like moving most places. Be thorough in your planning and you will have a great experience. Come on up the mountain! We'd love to have you join us!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

If You Want To Write A Novel, Build A Campfire

As I’m finishing up my next novel to be published this summer, I’m struck once again by how important the little details are. These are details of character, details of plot, details about details! Each by itself would seem to the casual reader to be of no particular importance. But bringing a novel idea from a potentially-promising-but-crude-and-stumbling first draft to - nine or fourteen drafts later - a story that actually works is dependent on countless little details. It’s relatively easy to write a book-length manuscript with the basic components that most novels contain. But it requires an enormous amount of time and thought for this writer to shape it into a story that has characters that readers will care about, worry about, identify with, and cheer for, and a plot that will make readers want to turn the page.

It was a dark and stormy night

Which brings us to campfires.
I’ve spent uncountable nights camping. Living outdoors and sleeping under the stars is nice, but perhaps the best part of camping is the campfire. Whether it’s the coffeepot heating up over the flames in the morning, lunch roasting on flame-heated rocks midday, or the roaring blaze at night, showering sparks into the air, the campfire is the soul of camping. Take away the fire - when forest fire danger is high - camping is still fun. But it loses its soul.
You’d think with all my camping that building a campfire in any conditions would be easy. And I have, in fact, built a roaring fire after a four-day downpour with nothing but scrounged, soggy wood from the forest, from which I’ve cut some dry heartwood tinder that I lit with a single match.

Over the years, I’ve had a number of failures. I’ve constructed many fires-to-be with my tinder and sticks and larger splits and big logs arranged just so only to strike the match and have the flames grow and spread and then, as I watch with great disappointment, it sputters, coughs, and goes out in great large puffs of moist, choking smoke.
Many times I’ve looked at my smouldering failure and thought, How did this fail when I had it so right? Then I discovered what I did wrong. It’s always about the details of my fuel, or the space between the pieces, or the air flow, or my orientation relative to the prevailing breeze, or my improvised tarp-shelter from the rain, or the moisture level in my wood, or the temperature and humidity… You get the idea.
You can get so close on a campfire and still have it not work.
But with enough attention and focus on the right details, the fire will ignite, burn with a comfortable confidence and draw you into its heat and warmth. If you really score, the people near the fire won’t be able to ignore its power. And even if they're tired and they want to crawl into their tent and sleeping bag for the night, they can’t because they are so engaged with the experience of the fire that they can’t quit it. So they sit up past their bedtime to stay in that combusting world.
Get the details just right, your novel will be just right.