Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wagmore, A Real Life Ringer For Spot

I was recently chatting up readers when I was exhibiting books at an art & wine festival. Somebody asked about Spot, the 170-pound Harlequin Great Dane in my books. As I began to answer, I noticed a crowd of people across the street. They were all congregating around something I couldn't see. Whatever it was, it had people excited. I heard shouts of, "Oh, my God, look at that dog!"

Some people shifted, and I finally saw what all the fuss was about. A huge Harlequin Great Dane.

So of course, I had to go over and meet Wagmore, a gorgeous two-year-old Dane who, it turns out, just happens to weigh 170 pounds.

Wagmore is a Therapy Dog In Training, and it was easy to see that he would calm and soothe anyone suffering any kind of stress or anxiety. In the course of 30 minutes, I watched as several dozens of people pet him and hugged him, all while he performed his magic of giving everyone loving attention completely free of any hint that he was a substantially bigger carnivore than a mountain lion and he had huge teeth to match. 

The collective blood pressure of the entire crowd dropped in Wagmore's presence. The smallest children ran to him and reached up to pull on his jowls or yank on his tail. The largest men wrapped their arms around him as if they'd known him since he was born instead of having seen him for the first time seconds before. Women leaned on him and didn't want to leave even after they'd had multiple photos taken.

I spoke to Wagmore's owner, who told me that these street events were part of the socialization of a therapy dog. As a result, Wagmore was comfortable in any size crowd for any length of time. Because Wagmore was calm under all circumstances, he brought out the calm in people. 

Getting to meet Wagmore was a gift. If you want to know more, Wagmore has his own Facebooks page here.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Local's Look At The Tahoe Keys

Let's say you like boating and you want to buy a house in Tahoe. Or maybe you want to vacation in Tahoe and stay directly on the water, close enough to the main lake that you can kayak out in just a few minutes. Let's also suppose that you don't have two or more commas in your bank account. 

We have a place for you at the Tahoe Keys.

The "Keys" is a housing development on the South Shore, and it is made up of miles of dredged canals that are lined with approximately 1500 upscale homes and townhouses. Nearly every residence has a private dock, so life in the "Keys" is a great way to get a living-on-the-lake experience at a fraction the cost of one of the fancy houses directly on the main lake.

Google Map of the "Keys"

Google satellite view of the "Keys"

Because of the price/value relationship of waterfront homes, Tahoe Keys real estate is always in big demand.

The "Keys" has a Home Owners Association that every owner must join. As with most HOAs, this provides some significant Pros and Cons to life at the "Keys." 

There are restrictions on what you can and can't do with your property. Some people don't like such constraints, but you probably will appreciate that your neighbor can't permanently park a giant RV with a trailer in front of your house. Nor can your neighbor paint his house with pink and blue stripes.

The HOA provides multiple recreation facilities, indoor and outdoor pools, beaches, and tennis courts.

The downside to the HOA is primarily that the mandatory dues are around $2000 a year for houses and much more if you have a townhouse where the grounds and exterior are maintained by the HOA. 

There are other rules, but you get the idea.

The "Keys" also has a small commercial area with some merchants and professionals. There is the Tahoe Keys Marina as well as The Fresh Ketch, a popular restaurant.

If you get serious about moving to the "Keys," you will learn about its controversial past, specifically, the fact that it was begun in 1959, which, unfortunately, was back when developers thought that dredging and paving and steamrolling the land was the best and highest use of real estate. So they took a huge wetland area around where the Upper Truckee River emptied into Lake Tahoe and began digging canals. For those readers who weren't yet around in those days, what we now call valuable wetlands used to be considered useless swamps and wasteland good for nothing but breeding mosquitoes.

Of course, we now know that wetlands are the natural filter for running water. Before the "Keys" development, the Upper Truckee water flowing into Lake Tahoe was clear. After the "Keys" were begun, the water was a muddy brown streak coursing out into the blue lake.

To this day, they are still trying to fix the problem. They've made some progress, but much more work needs to be done.

But there is no going back. The "Keys" may be an environmental nightmare that is slowly being improved, but it is also a wonderful neighborhood of waterfront homes.

Here is the channel out to the main lake.

A classic Chris Craft "Woodie" heading out to cruise the main lake. 

A gentleman and his dog motor in past Lighthouse Shores, one of the Tahoe Keys areas that faces the main lake.

Whether moving to Tahoe or vacationing in Tahoe, check out the Tahoe Keys. It is the only place of its kind at one of the world's premier lakes.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Best Beaches In Tahoe - D.L. Bliss State Park

D.L. Bliss State Park Beach – West Shore
Parking – Limited - You must get there early!
Fee - $10 per vehicle
Dogs – Sorry, not allowed on the Beach nor on the trails nor left unattended anywhere. (But leashed dogs are allowed in the camping and picnic areas.)
Boat Launch – No, unless your boat is a kayak, paddleboard, or canoe that you can carry to the water.

Note that as of this writing, D.L.Bliss State Park is closed for the season. So you might want to bookmark this for use next summer.

To get to this great beach, drive north from Emerald Bay up the West Shore a couple of miles or so and look for the sign. Or drive south down the West Shore a mile or so from Rubicon Bay or about 4 -5 miles south of Meeks Bay.

Look for the park sign.
This is the highway sign at the park entrance.

Once you pay at the gatehouse, the drive winds its way in over a mile. (They will give you a park map when you pay.) Near the end of the drive, the road splits. Going to the right takes you to the Rubicon Trailhead. Going to the left takes you down to the beach. If you get there early, especially on weekdays before July 4th or after Labor day, you can park at the lot right on the beach, making it very easy to carry your lunch and umbrella and Tahoe Mystery novels to the sand.

This is a view of the south beach from above. Rubicon Point is at the end of the beach.
This is the view of the south beach from down on the sand.

This is the north beach, right next to the closest parking lot. Wow.
What a great place to hole up with a novel. Is that Marlette Peak across the lake?
I can almost see the Flume Trail, which is featured in the book I'm reading, Tahoe Killshot.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

How To Sell Books And Grow Your Writing Career- Exhibit At Art & Wine Festivals

If you're a writer and you want to get some attention for your books, there is simply no better way than exhibiting at a popular art & wine festival. Specialty book festivals like the L.A. Times Festival of Books or the Tucson Festival of Books are good, but you are competing for readers' attention with 650 other authors. Much better to be the only author at an Art & Wine Festival. Thousands of people attend these things, and the readers will notice you and remember you. 

This is the Mountain View Art & Wine Festival where I recently exhibited.
The crowd was huge, and people were buying books! 

Yes, it is expensive to get a tent ($200) and banner ($100) and pay the entry fee ($250). But I know authors who spent $6000 on a publicist and got a few radio interviews, a newspaper column, and no book sales that they could attribute to the expense. Are publicists bad? Of course not. Many are good, and many produce good results. But if you want serious results for nowhere near as many dollars, getting in front of readers at a festival can't be beat.

This is my display tent, a 10' X 10' EZup tent. You can get cheaper versions at Costco.

You will sell books at a festival. How many depends on many factors like whether or not you have professional covers, whether or not you smile and are friendly, whether or not you have just one book or an entire series, whether or not you have some free handouts like color postcards that advertise your books, whether or not your books are available cheap on Kindle. (While many people buy paper copies, many people also take my card and order them on Kindle. I know because I can see the bump in Kindle sales starting the very first night of the festival.)

You can get your books in front of more people at a popular festival than any other way.

The bottom line is that you will sell books because lots of people simply love to meet authors and support their books! (Yes, you will also notice that hundreds of people won't even notice your tent. Those are the people who don't read. But the addicted readers will absolutely stop and check you out.)

I have a 10-foot-long colored banner and a few smaller banners with review quotes.
I have a tablecloth on a cheap folding table from Costco,
and I put my books on wire stands that you can buy from Amazon.
I get cheap, over-sized postcards from Vistaprint with my book covers printed on them.
Hundreds of people take them. Often, they look my books up on Amazon and buy them for their Kindle

Will you make expenses and lots of money on top of that? Not at the beginning. I certainly didn't. But unlike paying for advertising or a publicist, at a festival you will absolutely find people who will buy and try your book/books. If your book isn't very exciting or professional, they won't spread the word. But if you have a top-quality book, your rep and cred will grow, and your career will expand. 

The thousands of dollars that you might otherwise spend on publicity will get you an entire season of weekend shows including hotel costs. Compared to investing in any other business, it costs very little to do a summer's worth of festivals and get yourself out there in front of hundreds of thousands of readers.

I've been selling books since 2001. From my experience I am confident about what are the best things you can do to jump-start your writing career.

First: Write some great books that make people email their friends and rave as soon as they turn the last page. If you don't do this, you will have a serious uphill battle. But if you do this, you've done the most important thing of all.

Second: Get out into the crowds and show people your books. And the single most effective way to do that is to exhibit at art & wine festivals. I've done them for years. My audience is now large enough that I could quit doing festivals and just focus on writing. But I won't because they are simply too effective at finding readers. 

Go for it. If you don't know how to scrape up the money, skip your annual vacation or eating out for a year. You put an enormous amount of time into writing your book. Now invest in your writing career. What have you got to lose?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Up, Up, And Away - Ballooning At Lake Tahoe

When I was a kid, the 5th Dimension had a huge hit with the Jimmy Webb song Up, Up, And Away. It was about hot air ballooning, and it fueled fantasies about what it would be like to go up in a balloon.

Years later, ballooning became popular, and you can now do it all over the country. 

But where might be the most beautiful place to go ballooning? Tahoe ain't a bad candidate...

The balloon takes off from a large boat.

You can hear the whoosh of the burner, which heats the air and makes the balloon rise up.

By controlling the altitude, the pilot can take advantage of the onshore and offshore breezes and go over the land or come back over the water.

When the pilot turns off the burner, the balloon is completely silent. Gradually, the air in the balloon cools, which makes it contract, and the balloon loses some of its buoyancy. The balloon slowly drops down toward the lake.

For thrills, the pilot brings the balloon right down to kiss the water. Then, with a blast of the burner, the balloon rises back up. Eventually, the pilot brings the balloon back down, and the mother-ship boat comes underneath it for landing.
If you are interested in one of life's great experiences, here's the link to our local ballooning company.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lunch At Emerald Bay!

Most Tahoe locals have this experience. We go through our weeks working, working, working. And every time we see the mountains or lake we think that we never get enough time to enjoy this amazing place. We're sometimes envious of tourists who manage to take an entire block of time to experience Tahoe. (Of course, we could do that, too, but like most people, we usually go somewhere else on vacation.)

The problem in enjoying Tahoe is that we tend to think that, as with tourists, to really enjoy hiking or skiing or boating requires a day or six off, and how are we going to do that?

So it was a real gift when our friends Alice and Gary called us up and asked us to have lunch at Emerald Bay.

They weren't inviting us for something that required an entire day or more. Just lunch. Wow, what a concept.

So we made sandwiches and jumped into their speedboat. Tahoe is a big place, and many boaters talk about how long it takes to get across the water. But at 45 knots, you can get from the Tahoe Keys to Emerald Bay in just a few minutes.

Here, we're approaching the entrance to Emerald Bay.

Mt.  Tallac is behind us to the left.

Maggie's Peaks are up at the head of Emerald Bay. The gray triangle is the Rock Slide
where part of the mountain slid down to the bay back in 1955. 

Our hosts found a perfect cove to drop anchor.

The moment we pulled out our sandwiches, this girl showed up, hoping for a treat, which,
in accordance with best wildlife management science, we denied her. Sorry, girl!

When lunch was over, it was a fast trip to the South Shore and back to work!

Thanks to Gary and Alice for a world-class lunch!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Is This The Coolest School In Tahoe?

As kids get ready to head back to school, parents sometimes wonder if there is a better way to get them motivated, interested, or even - dare I say it? - excited about school.

Located in Kings Beach on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe is a school that I guarantee will do all of the above for your kids.

It's called the Tahoe Expedition Academy, and it's open to kids from preK through high school. TEA features all the best of many good schools, but it adds a fantastic range of experiential learning, especially through outdoor activities. 

TEA has small student-to-teacher ratios, and it gives those students many ways to learn through "doing." There isn't anything inherently wrong with sitting in a classroom listening and watching. But when your kid participates in fun activities that are designed to be instructional and not just playtime, their interest soars.

TEA addresses all aspects of your kid's learning experience, even including good nutrition. 

It isn't cheap, around $13,000 for annual tuition. This is always a major barrier for many kids who might benefit from a private school, especially one in a spectacular environment. However, TEA does have some scholarship money available. 

(I encourage parents without much financial means to think creatively regarding raising money for tuition. You may be able to get a low-cost loan. Better yet, you may be able to put together a fundraising presentation and approach potential donors. For example, I know people who would consider funding the education for a relative's child or a friend's child if only the family demonstrated the child's need, ambition, hunger for education etc. and combined it with obvious frugal habits. Few things dampen a potential patron's generosity like seeing the people asking for help eat out in restaurants, drive new cars, buy fancy clothes and spend money in non-frugal ways. In fact, simply foregoing these kinds of unnecessary expenditures might save more than enough to pay the tuition.)

Like any great experience, it requires some planning. The application deadline is May 1st for attendance the following fall. If you'd like to consider the Tahoe Expedition Academy for your child next year, you have eight months to make plans before you have to apply. (Although you may want to apply early.)

Click through to the TEA website and spend some time exploring.

Here is their TEA FAQ page.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Best Hikes In Tahoe - Bayview Trail To South Maggie's Peak, Southwest Shore

Category - Strenuous - This hike is only for experienced hikers in good shape
View Rating - 10 out of 10!
Distance - 5 miles round trip
Elevation Gain - 1800 feet
Highest Point - 8700 feet

Do you want to know what may well be the single most spectacular hike in Tahoe? Better, even, than Mt. Tallac or the Sand Harbor Overlook near Herlan Peak? A hike the summit of which is almost deserted? Try the Bayview Trail up to South Maggie's. 

"Wait," I hear you saying. "What could possibly be more spectacular than hiking Mt. Tallac?"

A reasonable question, especially since Mt. Tallac's summit is 1000 feet higher. But Mt. Tallac is twice as far from Lake Tahoe as is South Maggie's. And South Maggie's looms directly over Emerald Bay, which many people think is the most spectacular part of Lake Tahoe. Ask people who've done both hikes, and you'll find that many agree with me. South Maggie's Peak simply offers a more dramatic view, which happens to also include a great look at Mt. Tallac!

This is what Maggie's Peaks look like from the highway just south of Emerald Bay. The north peak is the one on the right. Our target is South Maggie's on the left. It is only 200 feet higher than the north peak, but it has a nicer summit and is much easier to get to.

The beginning of this hike from the Bayview Trailhead is in most trail guidebooks. But the end - the last portion up to the summit of South Maggie's Peak - is not. The likely reason is that the final portion isn't a well-constructed trail, and the Forest Service doesn't like hikers to go just anywhere because that leads to erosion. In fact, they won't like that I'm telling you about this hike. (But I'll also tell you how to mitigate your impact so you don't have to feel guilty!)

Here's where to go. At Emerald Bay, don't park at the Vikingsholm lot or the Eagle Falls Trailhead lot. Instead, drive to the southernmost part of the highway around Emerald Bay and pull into the Bayview Campground lot directly across from the popular vista point overlook.

Drive in past the campground and go to the end where the trailhead parking is. (Remember to avoid weekends and always get there early. 8 a.m. is a good time to arrive if you want to find a parking place.)

This hike goes into Desolation Wilderness, so you'll need a permit. Because you're just going for a day, you can fill out your own permit at this sign. They're in the box to the right. (Bring your own pen.)

When you get to this sign, go right. (The Cascade Falls Hike is detailed here.)

The initial trail is a strenuous single track that climbs up a forested slope. It is work and it doesn't have a lot of views, setting you up for the big surprises to come.

Soon, you will pop out at the top of the Rock Slide, where a big chunk of mountain slid down into Emerald Bay in 1955. Don't worry, you can walk up and look down at the view without fear of falling. (This area was featured in Tahoe Deathfall.) Fannett Island (Tahoe's only island) with its stone Tea House is easy to see. The big boat on the left side is the Tahoe Queen, hovering just out from the Vikingsholm Castle, which is hidden in the trees just in from the swimming beach.

Here's a zoom shot of the Queen.

Continuing up the trail, you come to Granite Lake, hiding at 7500 feet below Maggie's Peaks. Granite Lake is a great place to take off your shoes and cool your feet on the way back down.

As the trail rises above Granite Lake, you move into a forest of giant California Red firs. These grow to 6 or more feet in diameter as you approach 8000 feet of elevation (their climate sweet spot).

Here's a Red fir with a giant burl that allowed me to pretend for a moment that I was King Louis the Sixteenth, sitting on his throne.

The trail zig-zags up a serious slope to the saddle that lies between North and South Maggie's. To the north and west, you can see much of Desolation Wilderness spread out below you. Don't go too close to the overlook (BE CAREFUL!)  

Here, I'm trying to channel John Muir. 1000 feet below me is Eagle Lake, a popular destination up the Eagle Falls Trail. PLEASE NOTE THAT ONE CAN FALL FROM ROCKS LIKE THESE! HANG ONTO YOUR CHILDREN IF YOU GO NEAR DROPOFFS!

From the saddle, the trail continues southwest. In just 100 yards or so, we are going to leave the trail and strike up the open forested slope to the left.

Turn left off the trail and just head up. If you only go up, you can't miss the summit. Because there isn't a formal trail, erosion is a concern. You can avoid creating a path that would channel water and cause erosion by simply walking carefully up at a gentle angle, zig-zagging up the slope as you would if you were climbing on cross-country skis. It is the more direct, steeper paths, caused by hikers and mountain bikers alike, that contribute to erosion. A "Leave No Trace" philosophy prevents erosion just as it prevents litter.

When you near the summit of South Maggie's, head for the north (left) portion. The views are better, and the perfect lunch spots more numerous. To the left rear is Lake Tahoe and the town of South Lake Tahoe adjacent to it. Front left is Cascade Lake, a private lake where John Steinbeck once wintered and wrote (and did some serious drinking!). Rear right is Fallen Leaf Lake. In the distance is Heavenly in the center left and the Freel Peak massif on the right. At 10,880, Freel Peak is the highest mountain in Tahoe.

Speaking of lunch...
Turkey, tomato, spinach, and cheddar on a whole wheat ciabatta roll. 
If that sounds too healthy, don't worry, we took the edge off the health
quotient with a whole lotta chips!

As you look down from the summit, Granite Lake is 1200 feet below you, and Emerald Bay is 1300 feet below that.

After lunch, plan to take some time to memorize the view. And what a view it is!