Wearing nothing but a rope necklace and shorts while trying to survive a heatwave so hot that even shady spots remain scorching, I finally found relief from the sun heavy air in the local swimming holes of Tahoe National Forest. Cut in half by Highway 49, the forest boasts many natural lakes and rivers, and even during a busy summer weekend, I was still be able to find parking.
There’s nothing like smelling pines trees while kayaking across a rippling reflection of the sky.
I got to go to Rollins Lake with my buddy’s family and we goofily spent the afternoon kyaking the lake, battling both wakes from jet skis and guerilla attacks from each other. Someone had decided it would be fun to start capsizing each other’s kayaks, and that idea quickly went from being one person’s mischievous endeavor to becoming everyone’s main form of entertainment that afternoon.
But between the naval battles and splashing, there were also plenty of moments of quiet reflection on the lake. An eagle peeked her head out from her home after I noticed her nest perched on the precipice of a tall dead tree. Birds of prey shadowed our kyaks as we stopped at shorelines and observed the sediment breaking apart where the beach clay kissed the waterfront. Giant logs of trees felled past happily floated by, tempting anyone to try to work the buoyant wood into a canoe.
Elsewhere in the forest, my buddy and I went searching for the rumored Champagne Falls, a beautiful area of comfortable spa like pools strung together by a series of mini waterfalls. And though it took us 6 hours to get there (we took our time meandering through the river and rock climbing the giant interluding stones), it only took us 20 minutes to get back. On the way we wandered past endless spectacular views of mountains covered by shades of pine green and the white and black of spotted boulders. We even encountered a rock shrine that my buddy and I improved.
We stopped for a second at a beautiful cliff (at least five stories high!) that overlooked a series of rocks with scoops of water sleeping in them and concluded that this unmarked river bend must be the aforementioned Champagne Falls – though we really couldn’t tell for sure. But our confusion was quickly replaced by thrill as soon as we figured that we could go cliff jumping here.
Although all the gold is long gone by now, obvious from the empty mines dotting the mountains surrounding Tahoe National Forest, natural riches are still plentiful and peacefully waiting to be discovered by the next John Muir type out here in Gold Country.