Cove recedes in the background as the M.S. Dixie II
paddle-wheeler traverses Lake Tahoe on its way to a
turn-around in Emerald Bay.
of us in Northern California occasionally welcome friends
and family from out of the region who want to experience
Lake Tahoe. What is a simple and rewarding way to do that?
I am aboard the M.S. Dixie II, the lakeís largest
cruising boat. The picturesque paddle-wheeler glides at
least twice daily between Zephyr Cove, Nev., and Emerald
Bay on the California side. I suspect it will provide an
excellent overview of the lake and am about to find out.
have opted for an 11 a.m. Saturday excursion in mid-June.
Todayís other departure, at 2:30 p.m., looks as though
it might encounter rain.
people make their way up and down steep and narrow stairs,
through two dining rooms, past red-painted railings and
around three decks looking for the best place to sit, the
shipís not-too-loud speakers serenade us with baby
boomer soft rock.
across the water," instructs Paul McCartney.
"Heads across the sky."
of the hundred-plus passengers, dozens of them not
boomers, opt for outdoor seating options at the front and
on top of the boat, in armrest-equipped chairs but also on
benches that underneath contain, probably, life vests or
mostly sunny, 65-degree weather is warm enough to make
sweaters or sweatshirts optional.
boat ever-so-smoothly pulls away from the dock and the
music gives way to a manís voice on the P.A. system. His
message is canned, but cordial.
we get underway on our westward crossing, there are a few
nautical terms that we would like to acquaint you
with," the friendly man says. "The forward
section, where you came aboard, is the bow. The rear of
the boat, where the Dixie II has its paddle wheel, is the
stern, and thatís why she may be called a stern-wheeler.
When youíre facing the bow, the right side of the boat
is the starboard side, and the left is the port
Cove recedes behind us. The resort there has a
comparatively (for Lake Tahoe) deep and wide beach south
of the dock. Volleyball players and other young people are
gathering there for late-morning exercise and socializing.
on the lake, weíre guests of Mother Nature," the
friendly man says, winding down his first announcement.
"Ashore, in a backcountry area, you should leave
nothing behind but your footprints. Out here on this
beautifully clean lake, letís leave nothing behind but
gives way to music again.
no need for argument," Van Morrison intones.
"Thereís no argument at all."
this day, there is plenty of room to roam around the boat,
which has a capacity of 500. For those wanting food, menus
are set out to be perused in the first- and second-level
dining rooms. Items cost $10 to $13, and run the gamut
from cheeseburger to chicken salad, with coconut curry
wrap representing the flair. A bartender also awaits
orders (including $9 mixed drinks) in a covered area on
the promenade (top) deck.
powerboat goes by on the port side, sailboats can be seen
off the starboard, and a few miles straight ahead hovers a
parasail decorated with a smiley face. The Carson Range
rises to the east, the Crystal to the west.
is easy to get lost in the scenery from this 360-degree
vantage from atop one of the planetís prettiest bodies
of water, but there is learning to do. We are
"experiencing" Lake Tahoe, remember. The
friendly man is back, giving us the basics, so take a deep
blue breath and follow along.
the last ice age, the lake was actually about 600 feet
deeper and made its exit at the Brockway Summit, just east
of Mount Pluto," he begins. "During the last ice
age, the Truckee River valley was carved out, and the lake
now makes its exit at the Truckee River in Tahoe City.
snowmelt and rain collect in the lake to form a body of
water 22 miles long by 12 miles wide. The lake is 70 miles
around, and covers 193 square miles, making it the
second-largest alpine lake in the world. Only Lake
Titicaca, in South America, is a larger alpine lake.
deepest spot of the lake, which is located about 5 miles
south of the north shore, is 1,645 feet deep, and for most
of this cruise, weíll have 12 to 13 hundred feet of
water under our hull. Lake Tahoe is the third-deepest lake
of any type in North America."
sharing specifics about water temperature (mid-60s in the
summer, 42 to 48 in the winter) he points out that "a
body of water this size" never freezes.
this is a sizable body of water," he continues.
"Because of its great depths, the volume of Lake
Tahoe is staggering. If emptied, it would cover the state
of California to a depth of 141/2 inches, or float the
state of Texas under 81/2 inches of water. And if the lake
were drained, it would take at the current average annual
precipitation, at least 300 years to fill it back
get our fill of great views during the next half-hour as
the Dixie II approaches Emerald Bay. Every now and then
the friendly man returns with more insights.
describes how the Tahoe basinís original tree, the
Jeffrey pine, was severely depleted by the need for wood
to support 19th-century silver mining operations of Nevadaís
Comstock Lode. White firs, which are not as alpine-hardy
as the pines, took advantage of their competitorsí
decline and flourished. Today, after years of drought have
killed off many firs, the pines are making a comeback.
entering Emerald Bay, a quick look over Dixie IIís outer
rails confirms that what had been deep water is now quite
shallow ó 4 to 5 feet in a few spots, according to the
narrator. The looming Crystal Range, with its snow-topped
mountains, tree-green lower regions and gray-granite
outcroppings predominant throughout, is spectacular but to
my eyes is outdone by Fannette Island, the lakeís only
isle and one of the worldís most-photographed.
we float around Fannette to begin our return, we are able
to glimpse the grandeur of a shoreline castle built in
1929 for Lora Josephine Knight. Her nephew, a Swedish
architect, designed the castle, which explains its
Scandinavian name: Vikingsholm. Knight and her husband
were Charles Lindberghís main sponsors for the aviatorís
milestone 1927 trans-Atlantic flight.
can be toured, for $10 general and $8 for ages 7-17, from
10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily between Memorial Day weekend
and Labor Day. Parking is another $10, and a long walk
from the small lot is involved. For more information,
Bay strikes me as the boat tourís highlight, and as the
Dixie II eases back onto the main body of the lake, most
passengers seem to be settling in their deck chairs or
disappearing to one of the lower decks for lunch. The
friendly man wraps up the Tahoe primer by bringing us up
the silver mining rush and arrival of the 20th century, he
recounts, "the basin became a lightly used summer
resort area that remained that way until the end of the
Second World War. That marked the start of another boom, a
commercial one, when real estate developers, promoters and
casino operators discovered the lake.
resulting development of facilities and services catering
to the varied recreational wants of the public has indeed
made Lake Tahoe Americaís all-year playground."
tunes resume and I decide to ask a few co-passengers what
they think of the tour, handing each my Sacramento Bee
business card. (Simon & Garfunkel egg me on: "Weíd
like to know a little bit about you for our files.")
terrific," responds Tim Jung of Lincoln, Neb.
"Weíve gone a couple of other places. The Ozarks,
that sort of thing. Weíve always kind of gone out on a
paddleboat. Ö We love these old, beautiful boats."
His fiancee, Yvette Montes, agrees.
Offenback and Linda Buscher, visiting from Anaheim, say
they feel the boat tourís $55 cost ($20 for children
ages 11 and younger) is justifiable.
it was warmer, Iíd like (the tour) more," she says.
"But the wind ó we were sitting up front, and it
was a little chilly up there. Itís nice, itís a nice
Yarc of Waukegan, Ill., and his cousin Mariellen Yarc of
Orange County, are sitting at the bow on the promenade
deck. It is his first trip to Lake Tahoe. "I really
had no idea what to expect when I got here," he says.
"You donít know how big everything is, and how itís
going to look. I mean, itís really nice."
says she "really enjoyed" the tour: "I was
surprised by how much you learn. Ö They gave you the
depth, and the history, and some little anecdotes about
thank them for their comments and prepare to walk away
when David turns to Mariellen and asks: "So, should I
give the additional information?"
she responds, smiling and facing me again. "I am the
mayor of Cypress (in Orange County)."
to meet you, mayor," I say, laughing despite the
absence of wit.
you. Well, The Sacramento Bee, I read (it) all the
time." She says she comes to the capital every two
months or so.
long have you been mayor?"
quite a year yet. Iíve been on the City Council; this is
my fourth year."
do you think so far, of being mayor?"
a lot harder than I thought, dude. There are a lot of
unhappy people out there."
be good to get away now and then."
yes it is."
think most passengers agree it has been good to get away
for a few hours on the M.S. Dixie II. A little after 1
p.m. we dock at Zephyr Cove and slowly we disembark. As I
wait near the back of the line, my face feeling mildly
sunburned and knee joints a little weary as I think about
the two-hour drive back to Sacramento, Christopher Cross
croons one of his hits.
Iíve got such a long way to go. Such a long way to
M.S. DIXIE II
addition to the two-hour daytime scenic tours at 11 a.m.
and 2:30 p.m. ($55 general, $20 ages 3-11), the
paddle-wheeler offers dinner-and-dancing cruises most
summer evenings from 6 to 9 p.m. ($85 general, $35 ages
3-11). For more information, visit www.zephyrcove.com.
explore other Lake Tahoe boat tours, check out