Steinbeck’s Tahoe Revisited

 

“Lake Tahoe ... a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft full three thousand feet higher still!” - Samuel Clemens a.k.a. Mark Twain 1861.  Photo of Doc Brown by Keith Price of Tahoe Photographic Tours.

“Lake Tahoe … a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft full three thousand feet higher still!” – Samuel Clemens a.k.a. Mark Twain 1861. Photo of Doc Brown by Keith Price of Tahoe Photographic Tours.

It was July. The last place I wanted to be was on the Pacific Coast.

Mom had been killed at the hands of the Republicans. Silver spoon member of the lucky sperm club George W. Bush had advanced the fascist control of his party in many subtle ways to rob the American worker of more basic rights.

The most powerful stranglehold Bush imposed was created to hamper our most basic freedom — mobility. Poorly educated workers who had flipped for McDonald’s pre-911 still held the country hostage working for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — now firmly entrenched as America’s Gestapo.

I told my wife Marisol to cancel the trip. There was nothing worth seeing — the west was dead.

The inconvenience of getting through the cascade of airport “butt-checkers” alone was not worth it. An economic study has shown that other people feel the same about the Transport Safety Administration.

A large percentage of former air commuters opt out of flying. They drive instead.

It is much more dangerous to drive than fly. Due to this behavioral shift TSA is directly responsible for at least 2,904 deaths on the road per year.

I had no choice but to fly. I live on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico.

I was compelled to make the trip. I had work to do and we had committed to visit friends Daniel and Lannete Hall in South Lake Tahoe where they had rented a house for the month.

Tahoe Photographic Tours — Ultimate Family Photos & Much, Much More

I arrived in South Lake Tahoe a week before Marisol. I needed to pick up a family car at the Reno airport.

During that week with Daniel and his wife Lanette I learned that they had scheduled a trip with Tahoe Photographic Tours. Both explained that the service had achieved the remarkable feat of becoming rated #1 on TripAdvisor.com.

I was intrigued. But the tour would have to wait.

I was speaking at the Oxford Club’s Private Wealth Seminar in Ojai, California.  It would take me a week and a half to get back up to Lake Tahoe.

Upon return I called Tahoe Photographic Tours and set up a tour for the next day for my family group of seven. Robin Price, co-founder along with her husband explained that Greg Albino would pick us up at 8:45 AM sharp.

July 23rd, 2013 8:45 AM

A black SUV pulled up outside the house. Greg turned out to be a stocky gentleman with linebacker eyes. These he developed over three decades of casino combat as a craps pit boss in the Harvey’s Lake Tahoe casino.

We piled in and rode to Richardson’s beach. Greg gave an excellent discussion of the local community as we rolled out of South Lake Tahoe to the west on Highway 89.

We stood in awe of the surreal beauty of what could pass for a Caribbean beach at 6,225 feet above sea level. Mountains drew the eye up to far greater heights. This forming a surreal backdrop to a marsh behind the beach that formed a pastoral green meadow trees could not grow in.

Granite has a coarse grained crystalline molecular structure that shapes the rock like a fractal. This Gives the mountains of Tahoe and the canyons of Yosemite a unique visual pattern.

Doc Brown and Marisol.  Photo by Greg Albino of Tahoe Photographic Tours.

Doc Brown and Marisol at Emerald Bay. Photo by Greg Albino of Tahoe Photographic Tours.

This breathtaking view was created over 65 million years as the North American tectonic shelf mashed into and ground over the Farallon plate to the West.

This is now the Pacific Ocean.

The process gave birth to the Sierra Pacific mountain range. This jagged youth lacked the tens of millions of years more that eroded the Rocky Mountain range into smoother rounded forms to the east.

This air from the west picks up humidity over the Pacific ocean. As the air rises it cools. The humidity condenses into rain droplets in the summer — or snow in the winter.

The gulf stream pushed clouds over 10,881 feet of Granite. Air masses from the Pacific are bone dry by the time they reach Genoa just east of Lake Tahoe — the first settlement in Nevada founded by Mormons.

This makes Lake Tahoe the end of the line for rainfall.

Everything to the East is arid desert. To the west stretches verdant Californian forests and farmlands to the Pacific Ocean.
Greg explained that the entire lake area was heavily forested before white men.

How The American Gold Industry Devastated The Tahoe Basin

Then the Comstock Gold and Silver Lode was discovered in nearby Virginia City across the Carson Valley. Lots and lots of gold — and even more silver.

Rich as it was the ore body had problems. It was both crumbly and deep.

Tahoe Photographic Tours Family shot at Richardson's Beach.  The mountain's  behind show scars from clear cutting in the 1800s.  From left to right, nephew Zachary Brown, niece Carly Brown, brother Todd Brown, nephew Brandon Brown, sister-in-law Shandy Brown-Spooner, Aunt Marisol, Doc Brown.  Photo by Greg Albino.

Tahoe Photographic Tours Family shot at Richardson’s Beach. The mountain’s behind show scars from clear cutting in the 1800s. From left to right, nephew Zachary Brown, niece Carly Brown, brother Todd Brown, nephew Brandon Brown, sister-in-law Shandy Brown-Spooner, Aunt Marisol, Doc Brown. Photo by Greg Albino.

At just 180 feet below it became unsafe. The local pine was too scrubby to shore up the cut. German Jewish Engineer Philip Deidesheimer solved the problem in 1860 with square-set timbering.

The fir stands of Lake Tahoe were the perfect for timbering.

James W. Haines invented the V-flume in 1867. Flumes of the past were half tubes with water flowing through. The U-Flume clogged with rubbish creating blowouts.

This stopped production.

The V shaped flume allowed the bark pieces and other timber rubbish to slide along under the log. This greatly reduced blowouts.

The V-flume transported timber 32.5 miles from Alpine County, California, between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite to Carson City, Nevada. Rail took the logs the rest of the way to the Comstock up the mountain to Virginia City.

Eventually ten major V-flumes would strip the Lake Tahoe basin of timber. Over 33,300,000 board feet of lumber and 171,000 cords of firewood eventually flowed 80 miles to the arid east.

Douglas Fir, Yellow Pine, and Red Cedar rough hewn timber began to honeycomb the mines. Silver Fir Pine firewood fired steam engines that cut the timber and drained the water swamped mines shafts of deeper levels. Eventually it was said that, “a forest of underground timbers of enormous dimensions” lay under Virginia City.

As early as 1873 residents of the Lake Tahoe basin began to protest over the extensive clear cutting by the timber industry — a bastard child birthed from Comstock mining operations

Greg ended this history lesson while posing our family for our first photographic shot.

Look Mom! No Guardrail – The Emerald Lake Overlook

Highway 89 from Richardson’s Beach west is carved into granite so strong and sheer that the road is no wider than two cars with a sudden drop facing the lake. Caltrans is too complacent and misguided to install a guardrail.

At least a dozen cars plunge 300 feet over the side each year. Nonetheless Greg Albino’s driving was rock steady.

This makes for the most breathtaking view one can imagine — if not terrified of heights. Tahoe Photographic Tours can reroute for those tourists with extreme acrophobia.

Marisol has the fear.

She closed her eyes in terror and covered her face in her hands we rode over the razor thin highway up the granite cliffs, over the ridge top, and down to the Emerald Bay overlook.

As we drove I asked Greg what he felt was the most important aspect of his job as a pit boss. He explained that he was in charge of making sure that the cash drop at the end of the shift was as fat as possible.

Harveys and Harrah's casino are poised on the edge of a noble sheet of blue water.  Photo by Doc Brown.

Harveys and Harrah’s  South Lake Tahoe casinos are poised on the edge of a noble sheet of blue water. Photo by Doc Brown.

I was intrigued because I have always been impressed with the quality of management of Caesars Entertainment Corp (NASDAQ: CZR). Marisol and I restrict our gaming to casinos that fall under their umbrella such as Harvey’s and Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe.

Our video poker points in the Caesars Entertainment Total-Rewards player’s club is the best we’ve found.  It routinely gives us reduced rates at our favorite properties such as Caesar’s Palace or Paris across the strip.

The game of craps dates back to the crusades.

But it started in America among wealthy Louisiana landowners. Before the crap table men hunched over the a city sidewalk watching six sided dice bounce off a wall. Bets are made before, or even while, the dice twirl until two random numbers from 1 to 6 sit face up.

To some the hunched men looked like toads. The game was first christened crapaud in the United States — the French word for toad.

Crapaud had a flaw that allowed cheaters to exploit the house. John Winn corrected the problem by adding the “don’t pass” bet.

Most players focus on the odds. Spouting off permutations makes them feel important at cocktail parties.

But the real bang is in controlling bet size. Professional gamblers call this “money management.” It is just as important as the odds but far harder for most gamblers to implement.

It takes enormous discipline to maintain bet sizes at a manageable level. It’s far easier to throw bets onto the pass or come line and take odds.

Greg said, “I manage the size of the drop by changing the minimum bet size on the crap table.

Hummingbird feeding in the Tahoe Basin.  Photo by Jeremy Hall.

Hummingbird feeding in the Tahoe Basin. Photo by Jeremy Hall.

That really hit home. I had noticed that when the casinos get busy — usually on Friday and Saturday — that it becomes nearly impossible to find a craps table with a minimum bet of just $5.

The reality is that I rarely play craps anymore. They did away with the $1 tables in the early nineties.

This one change increased 5 fold the necessary bankroll to play the game. I have since restricted play to the video poker machines and moved onto a far better game of chance; the stock market.

I explained this to Greg. He understood my dilemma but countered by reporting that someone had won a million dollars in hard cash shooting craps in the Harrah’s Lake Tahoe casino across the street.

Boss Albino ended with a frown “He hit us hard!

When I asked if the free alcohol for players was a problem he explained that he has to order a violent drunk out of the casino at least once a day. Croupiers who can size up a problematic player quickly rise to the level of pit boss — one of the most critical of casino management positions.

We arrived at the Emerald Bay overlook. Greg took a series of stunning shots of our family before we piled back into his SUV and headed to Fallen Leaf Lake.

It was in these mountains that John Steinbeck took refuge after dropping out of the Stanford University undergraduate English program. John already showed signs of violent alcoholism.

This would destroy two marriages and estrange his children.

Steinbeck worked at a local state fish hatchery but was fired for unruly behavior that included wild random pistol fire into the ceiling where he was lodged. To his credit John Steinbeck was a relatively gentle white invader of the Tahoe Basin.

Mark Twain’s callous carelessness started a wildfire making him a pioneering eco-terrorist — albeit unintentional.

When sober, Steinbeck worked on his first novel. It was a pirate tale about Sir Henry Morgan he named “Cup of Gold.”

Doc Brown and Marisol sit on a wall near Angora Fire Lookout with a spectacular view of Fallen Leaf Lake below.  The state fish hatchery where John Steinbeck worked stock the streams that feed into the Tahoe Basin.   Photo by Greg Albino of Tahoe Photographic Tours.

Doc Brown and Marisol sit on a wall near Angora Fire Lookout with a spectacular view of Fallen Leaf Lake below. The state fish hatchery where John Steinbeck worked stock the streams that feed into the Tahoe Basin. Photo by Greg Albino of Tahoe Photographic Tours.

The book flopped.

After Steinbeck was fired from the fish hatchery he left Lake Tahoe never to return. But the experience brought him closer to nature and gave him an interest in fish.

This set the stage for his friendship with Ed Rickets and the penning of Cannery Row.

John had to have noted the ghastly scars on the mountainsides of the Tahoe basin from wanton clear-cutting by his white European descendants. The ecological devastation was well worth it in economic terms.

On July 27th 2013 the Economist reported that, “In 1890 an average American was about six times better off than the average Chinese or Indian [in the country of India in the far east].

Nonetheless it wasn’t just the local whites who had grown tired of the grinding force of American industrialization that sucking the life out of the local flora and fauna.

The Washoe tribe had lived in the Lake Tahoe basin for 9,000 years. Trade among tribes extended far down into Mexico and far up into Alaska.

White Europeans herded native Americans onto reservations out of sight and out of mind.

The Modoc tribe in the nearby Southern foothills of the Cascade Mountains had no gold, timber, nor arable land. They didn’t need to be carried off or caged away on a reservation.

They had no conflicts with whites until neighboring Pit River Indians killed intrusive white settlers in the inter-mountain area of the Fall River Valley and Burney Basin. Culturally insensitive soldiers sent to intervene confused the Modocs with the Pits.
Captain Jack led 52 Modoc warriors against the white devils in the madness that ensued.

The tribe was decimated to a population count of just 153. Captain Jack and three warriors were executed for defending their families.

Modoc Indian "Don E. (Everton) Shelp was nicknamed "Boogie Man" on his romps about Alaska in the 70s.  Photo by Doc Brown.

Modoc Indian “Don E. (Everton) Shelp was nicknamed “Boogie Man” on his romps about Alaska in the 1970s. Photo by Doc Brown.

The tribe is homeless and tiny to this day but well respected for standing against the invading land grabbers. Modoc Indian Don Shelp explained to me how he is welcome with all tribes up and down the pacific Northwest and counts Floyd Buckskin, chief of the Achumawi tribe as a dear friend.

The Achumawi tribe is the strongest of the various Pit River tribes.

The American Indian of the Pacific Northwest would have fared far worse if Spanish Mexico had retained control. Hispanic society itself is born from the bad genetics of the more corrupt, less citizen right conscious, civil legal code system of the Roman empire. La Porta, Lopez-de-Silanes, Shleifer, and Robert Vishny (2000) penned “Investor Protection and Corporate Governance” in the Journal of Financial Economics showing that countries and former colonies that speak romance languages suffer from lower levels of investor protection.

Civil code is much more corruptible than English common law. Civil code systems are inflexible because judges cannot rule outside of standing statutes.

Napoleonic Civil Code has evolved over two millennia from the Roman Empire. It has engendered neither stable nor desirable political economies.

The cancer spread via Spanish conquistadors and Portuguese mariners. Former colonies in the Americas have tended to adopt the legal codes of the mother country. Case in point everything south of the U.S. border today is under despotic control of another flavor of white European descendants.

Geographical regions under rule of Napoleonic code have lower standards of living as compared to the Northern European and English societies. This translates into higher levels of crime for not just the PIGS — Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain — but also for their piglets — Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela to name a few.

Small wonder that French settled Louisiana has the highest murder rate in the 50 states. It is the least favorite place in the U.S. to incorporate. Another sad case is Spanish based Puerto Rico with a murder rate many fold higher than Louisiana. This fact alone will likely take Puerto Rico out of the running for statehood if push comes to shove — sad considering the highly decorated valor of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. armed forces.

Spain itself also suffered from bad geography.

Daniel and Jeremy Hall practice their sparkly eye technique learned from George Clooney in "Men Who Stare at Goats."  Photo by Doc Brown.

Daniel and Jeremy Hall practice their sparkly eye technique learned from George Clooney in “Men Who Stare at Goats.” Photo by Doc Brown.

Societies in warmer climes are less efficient than those in the north. See The Economist “No Sweat” Jan 5th, 2013.

The northern barbarians of the cold reaches of Europe and the British isles enjoy political economies that are far more just and productive. Today the Romans are barbarians and the barbarians have become civilized.

Case in point that today’s Mexican indigenous tribes suffer near total exclusion from the distribution of societal wealth.
It would not be until nine years after the publication of “Cup of Gold” that John Steinbeck would seriously address social inequality between the less lucky to follow the by then well healed landed Californian descendents of white European settlers who staked first claim. “In Dubious Battle” Steinbeck describes the aggressiveness with which wealthy white Californian produce growers culled socialists from the ranks of migrant farm workers.

The Republicans could not send their constitutional equals to some far off reservation. In “Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck perfected his sharp social criticism of unequal Californian culture largely unchanged to this day.

That’s North Star over there!” Exclaimed Greg. Nobody in our group responded.

It’s a famous ski area,” he explained assuming from our silence that none of us knew of it.

You mean ‘flat-star‘” responded my brother Todd.” Greg gave us an inquisitive look that slowly turned into a sly grin.

Powder hounds, huh? They’ve added steeper trails to North Star.

As steep as Squaw Valley?” I interjected. I explained to Greg that not only were we expert skiers who had mastered freestyle in our youth hereabouts but also that Todd was offered a shot at the World Freestyle Circuit before moguls became an Olympic event.

Lanette Hall chills after a day of hiking the mountainsides of the Tahoe Basin.

Lanette Hall chills after a day of hiking the mountainsides of the Tahoe Basin.

This really opened the discussion. Greg explained that he came to Tahoe seeking it out as a snow skiers paradise. An entry level job on the craps table eventually led to higher management as a pit boss.

Over the years he married and had children. His son was on the way up the ladder as a professional skier when an injury took him out. Today the young man works for Heavenly as a Ski Team Coach for Vail Associates.

It is a fine company.

I worked as an auditor in the accounting department of Vail Associates at a Beaver Creek property in the late 1980s. That gave me an interest in both accounting and finance as well as a ski pass to the entire Vail Colorado ski area.

I started work at 11:00 PM and ended at 7:00 AM in a large concrete structure near a lift base where I backed up the accounting data for the day on large reels of magnetic tape. I broke powder over 50 days that year and started on a path that led to my Ph.D. in Finance from the University of South Carolina.

We stopped at a lookout atop Mt. Tallac before dropping into Fallen Leaf Lake. The view over the El Dorado Forest was breathtaking. And the extent of the clear-cutting in the 1800s was even more evident.

Lower Glen Alpine Falls

Tahoe Photographic Tours Family shot at Lower Glen Alpine Falls.  From left to right, nephew Zachary Brown, Doc Brown, niece Carly Brown, nephew Brandon Brown, Aunt Marisol, brother Todd Brown, sister-in-law Shandy Brown-Spooner.  Photo by Greg Albino.

Tahoe Photographic Tours Family shot at Lower Glen Alpine Falls. From left to right, nephew Zachary Brown, Doc Brown, niece Carly Brown, nephew Brandon Brown, Aunt Marisol, brother Todd Brown, sister-in-law Shandy Brown-Spooner. Photo by Greg Albino.

Greg grinned as he said, “I really think you are going to like this next view.” We rolled to a stop at the bottom of Lower Glen Alpine Falls.
There are various types of lava in the Tahoe Basin. Basalt is one.
The best example of polygonal molecular morphology you will see is the rock underlying this magnificent waterfall. In Turkey vertical columns rise to great heights.

But here these shapes lay flat creating an intricate horizontal stepped random cellular network that is as much order as it is chaos. Lower Glen Alpine Falls is gently mesmerizing making it hard to leave.

Lily Lake

We trundled up the narrow gravel road to Lily Lake. This high alpine pond is set against the backdrop of Mount Tallac, the highest peak in the Tahoe Basin. Greg snapped more family pictures at the end of the day tour. We were back home by 2:30 in the afternoon.

Lake Tahoe Keys

I received a phone call later that afternoon from Keith Price co-founder of Tahoe Photographic tours. We were invited to a sunset photographic shoot at the Tahoe Keys.

Keith Price picked us up promptly before sunset. As we drove to the edge of Lake Tahoe and walked out onto the pier Keith recounted his three decade romance with his wife Robin,

I was a showroom Maître d’ at Harrah’s. Robin was starring in the show with Jim Neighbors — from the hit T.V show Mayberry RFD. While having a drink with the kids in the show I asked the pretty blonde if I could meet the ballerina. She replied ‘oh that’s me.’ Three weeks later after just one date she moved in. We have been married 28 years.

We approached a husky gentleman at the end of the pier. Keith introduced us to the mayor of South Lake Tahoe — Tom Davis.

I smiled as I shook Tom’s hand. Then I jested, “Mayor of South Lake Tahoe must be a heavy mantle to bear?”
His grin turned serious,

At times you’re right. But not lately, a murder and two prominent citizens have died this week.” When I asked about the murder Tom replied, “Whomever did it butchered him up real bad but still no suspect. We’ll get em.

This was clearly a man who cared deeply about his community.

My brother Todd and Tom chatted about how excessive eco-consciousness had given teeth to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) — a serious impediment to local employment. The TRPA board of political cronies seriously hampered the quality of life in the high alpine town split between California and Nevada. Over-regulation had damaged the re-gentrification of the middle-class community.

Lily Lake is near Lower Glen Alpine Falls.  Photo by Doc Brown.

Lily Lake is near Lower Glen Alpine Falls. Photo by Doc Brown.

The TRPA is the new cavalry for the area working on behalf of the leisure class. The now seedy South Lake Tahoe had become a reservation of sorts for members birthed into the “We Are The 99.”

The manipulation of zoning laws is less controversial than bullets yet is far more effective.

The four tiny bedroom, two bath home Daniel Hall had rented was a dated ramshackle on a postage stamp size piece of land. It was worth no more than $100,000 in any other city with logical land-use laws.

Smaller neighboring houses in worse condition listed and sold at $350,000 or more.

This did not fare well for local employees who moved in for the skiing and worked for lower pay than elsewhere. Casino managers and business owners alike were forced to work three jobs. In areas with wiser local planning one job would have been enough.

This made me think of another part of the country made less livable by the 1% of the Pacific Northwest — Portland, Oregon. Housing there cost twice as much in a city with less strict planning such as in Houston.

Reduced migration has subdued economic growth in both Lake Tahoe and Portland, Oregon. The net result is an increase in inequality.

The 1% can afford prime real estate in the area at any price and have no need for quality public education, sewage, water, or power.

Founder of Tahoe Photographic Tours Keith Price preps his Cannon for a photograph of Lake Tahoe at sunset.  In the background South Lake Tahoe Mayer Tom Davis and Todd Brown discuss the severe barriers to the re-gentrification of the alpine community imposed by the Tahoe  Regional Planning Agency (TRPA).  Photo by Doc Brown.

Founder of Tahoe Photographic Tours Keith Price preps his Cannon for a photograph of Lake Tahoe at sunset. In the background South Lake Tahoe Mayer Tom Davis and Todd Brown discuss the severe barriers to the re-gentrification of the alpine community imposed by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA). Photo by Doc Brown.

Even as the locals struggle, multi-million dollar homes liter the wilderness owned by those who can afford anything they want at any price. This makes Portland and Tahoe a fun visit but difficult residence for all but the 1%.

See Zoning Laws; Biking and Hiking, But No Parking.

We are missing the sunset standing here chatting,” Keith exclaimed. We all started hastily snapping shots as we nearly missed our narrow window of time.

Then as if in telepathic communication we all gradually became still taking in the natural geographic wonder of the dim reddish sunlight reflecting through the mountains and off of the noble sheet of blue water. It was then that I understood the secret of how Tahoe Photographic Tours had risen to #1 on TripAdvisor.com. The experience wasn’t just a fabulous family album tour of American Natural History, it was a re-connection of long lost friends from some forgotten past.

It was good karma coming full circle, and the best explanation yet as to why the word “goodbye” does not exist in any native language of the Tahoe Basin.

-Doc Brown

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