After driving all day through 115 degree heat across endless Nevada deserts, we reached the turn-off for Reno, which would take us to Lake Tahoe. Hoping to camp in the pristine pine forests I remembered from my childhood, and wake up to take a dip in the lake, I drove the mountain roads with enthusiasm. As night fell, the lights around the lake revealed that there was a lot more development here than I remembered. Every single campground we passed was full. Finally, we met a ranger at yet another full campground. He had just come from Donner Pass, 45 minutes away, and informed us that every campground between Lake Tahoe and there was full, this being the last camping weekend before the start of school in California. He mentioned that there was one site open at the Donner Memorial State Park campground, and if we wanted to chance it, it would be worth a try. Having few other options, besides pricey motels, we made the drive.
Midnight at Donner Pass can be creepy, if you know the history. But at least it wasn’t snowing…
After setting up the tent and organizing the rest of our camp for morning, we made a camp fire in the fire ring, but decided we were all too tired to eat. So one by one, we settled into our bedrolls. When I awoke the next morning, our camp was better than I had even hoped for at Lake Tahoe. Old pines towered over 100 feet above us. Donner Creek playfully spilled into Donner Lake, just yards away. I cooked our breakfast on the campstove while we warmed ourselves by the fire ring. After cleaning up the breakfast things, we repacked and broke camp.
We drove the short distance to the lake, and made use of one of the park’s many hiking trails. By now, the sun was fully up and the temperatures in the high 70’s at our altitude. Donner Lake was irresistible, so we donned swimsuits and went in. Though there is really no designated swimming area, we were at a small inlet that was not very busy with boats, and had a very refreshing swim. The water was clean and cold. We could see the bottom of the lake up to about six feet. After drying off in the warm sun, it was with deep regret that I changed back into my clothes, and we left our enchanted campground to continue our journey. Today we would be visiting an old friend near Vacaville, then travelling through Mount Shasta in hopes of finding another camping spot for the night.