Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Call of the Wild

Along California's backroad highways, the immense breadth and expanse of the state's territory could not be more obvious. The road stretches on and on, with nothing ahead in sight for miles and miles except for more mountains and more land. In these extensive stretches of land, caught in between this great nothingness of wild scrub and earth, one can drive for hours to some pretty amazing, somewhat inaccessible sights that takes hours to reach. Precisely the point: Once you finally got there, you've 'earned the view,' and you feel privileged to be in the middle of nowhere.

Then comes the arrival. The breathtaking views appear in full perspective, no longer obstructed by the trees that line the tiny and occasionally unpaved roads. Time expands as you look around. It is the moment that justifies hundreds of miles of travel; when all your senses come alive as you take in the scene. The mountains, with their time-softened peaks, speaking of an old, secretive beauty. A hike through the woods, that unfolds in a progression of changing moods, textures and light patterns. A brave, quick dip in a cold, alpine lake that looks like a Norwegian fjord. You spot several Canadian geese summer-ing in the area, and you just feel like the luckiest creature alive.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that, "In the wilderness, we return to reason and faith." Nature's place in our physical, mental and spiritual regeneration, is something that we've always known. As far back as the 19th century, the receding wilderness has been a much sought-after retreat from an industrialized world that is becoming increasingly hectic and stressful. As the need for 'roughing it,' became more popular, the nation's most magnificent natural areas became increasingly accessible. Roads were built, allowing even those less-determined, easier access. When rustic lodges and hotels sprouted in greater numbers, the wilderness experience became more available to all, and not just the few who either had their own summer homes, or were truly roughing it by pitching a tent.

Photos top to bottom, l-r: South Lake Tahoe splendor. Emerald Bay's striking blue waters, View of Fannette Island from hiking trail, Canada goose out for a summer dip.

The wilderness experience must be complete, and accommodations, while being comfortable, must not depart too much from the rustic roots from whence they came. It can be a large lodge hotel or it can be a small cabin, but the requirements remain the same. It has to have that wild frontier image that captures the essence of the landscape.

This trip's first stop is South Lake Tahoe. This picturesque alpine hamlet perched on the easternmost corners of the Sierra Nevadas, appears out of nowhere after about four hours on the US-395. More popular as a winter ski destination, in the summer it is quieter, and the allure of the lake more pronounced, as its cobalt hue is made more vivid by the light of the season. Here we fell in love with the beauty of Emerald Bay, and found Vikingsholm, a 38-room idea of one (very rich) person's 'roughing it,' and one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States. Also nestled in the foothills of the Heavenly ski area is the Grand Residences by Marriot, a beautiful hotel combining traditional mountain architectural design with a modern finish.  

Vikingsholm: Built by Lora Josephine Knight in 1929, this 38-room mountain retreat features Scandinavian architecture. 

Top: The house nestled in the woods facing Emerald Bay, can be reached via a 2-mile (steep!) hike down to the beach, Top, left: All the wood and granite used in the house were from area. The intricate wood carvings and metal work inspired by old churches were hewn and hand forged on site. Top, right: The sod roof is traditionally Scandinavian. Round granite boulders embedded in mortar is reminiscent of old stone castles.

Top to bottom, l-r: Metal and wood details on doors, Servant's quarters and courtyard entry at rear of the property, Spare decoration and furnishings typical of Scandinavian design in one of the bedrooms.

The Grand Residences by Marriott: No rough -hewn logs here. 

Top left and right: The lobby areas feature traditional materials, height and scale with a much lighter and airier contemporary twist. Top bottom: A really cool lamp base.

Cabins and lodges provide a welcome retreat after a long time spent in the great outdoors. At its best, it should be a shelter, yet still somehow remain connected to the landscape. Its enduring allure resides in its ability to be so beautiful without ever completely upstaging its surroundings.

Next: Recreating the rustic feeling at home.

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