Searching for snow

February 25, 2003

We saw a lot of mornings like this during January and early February. Winter and fog go hand in hand on the Delta. Photo by Glenn.
Winter just doesn't seem like winter without a good dusting of snow, but when you live along the California Delta, the only white stuff you're likely to see in January and February is the tule fog that blankets our community on most cool, windless nights and mornings. It had been a couple of years since we last romped through snow drifts and we were all missing it, so the weekend before Valentine's Day we decided to pack up the car and venture into the Sierra for some seasonal action.

The first thing you need to know about us Gehlkes is that while we are excited about snow we aren't fond of snow driving. We'd prefer to wait for a cloudless day rather than tote around chains on the outside chance that we might actually get caught in a snowstorm. So it seemed like the perfect opportunity when we set out on the bright, cool morning of Feb. 9 for a drive up Interstate 80 to Truckee. By the time we had passed Auburn and were heading into the higher elevations, we realized the folly of our caution. Not only would there be no fresh snow this trip, but there hadn't been fresh snow for perhaps the past couple of weeks. Spring was arriving early in the mountains, which should have come as little surprise in this El Nino year when there has been little rainfall in our state and the weather has been unusually warm.

Ben discovers his talents as a snow angel artist. Photo by Roni.
Nonetheless, we did finally discover snow spotting the hillsides as we neared Donner Summit, and the local snowparks were still doing brisk business renting innertubes and snowboards to folks like us who had come up for the weekend. We were content to pass these up in favor of waiting to reach our final destination, the Inn at Truckee, where we planned to rent a room for the night and do some sightseeing around town.

Truckee, like the rest of the Sierra, was in the throes of spring thaw when we arrived. But Ben was so anxious to play in the snow that he contented himself with a mud-covered patch of the stuff outside the motel while Roni checked us in. Muddy snowballs aren't a lot of fun, however, so our next order of business was to find "real" snow where we could have a snowball battle and build a snowman and such. Our search was at last rewarded when we stumbled across a wide open field of glistening white next to the town's sanitary district headquarters.

How cold was it in Truckee? Cold enough that Roni was glad she'd brought the ice scraper before we got on the road Feb. 10. Photo by Glenn.
The temperature was warm enough that we wouldn't have needed the thick coats and snow clothes we'd brought for anything other than snow play. Ben raced to put on his snow pants and gloves, getting tangled in them by his haste. He raced ahead, scooping up handfuls of snow to pelt Mom and Dad even as we were doing our best to take pictures of the area and savor the serenity of this winter wonderland we had discovered. Once we had soaked in enough nature, though, we took turns firing snow volleys at our son. The kid is relentless. Let your guard down for a second and you're likely to feel the chill of a snowball to the back of the head. And this snow wasn't soft, having melted to little more than a two-inch-thick crust over a field littered with pine needles and other objects.

We attemted a snowman, but the hard snow wouldn't stick to the snowball body we tried to form, so it wound up making a massive piece of ammo in our final snow battle with Ben. We had better luck with snow angels. Ben's was a real work of art for someone who doesn't get much practice. (At least, we've never seen Ben practice making sand angels, which is about the best anyone would be able to do in Oakley.)

Ahhhh, a picture worth a thousand words. Yes, that's Lake Tahoe as seen from the Nevada side. Photo by Glenn.
Satisfied that we'd had our snow play, we visited downtown Truckee and checked out some of the tourist shops. Of course there was a stop at Sweets candy shop to pick up a couple bags of Roni's favorite chocolate and caramel covered popcorn (also known as turtles), and at Truckee Toy and Train where Ben always relives part of his early childhood by playing with their Thomas the Tank Engine display while Mom and Dad remember fondly earlier trips to Truckee to watch trains rumble through the center of town, when Ben knew no greater joy.

As night fell, we got it into our heads that dinner would be at some family-style restaurant that we all felt must be located somewhere in town. A place to get a hamburger or a salad or some other standard family restaurant fare. But after searching in vain through the motel phone book and then spending half an hour driving through town, we reached the conclusion that no family style dining of the type we sought was to be had in Truckee and thus resorted to Chinese cuisine at the Panda Express. Judging from the long line we enountered, it was a hot place with the locals as well as us out-of-towners.

The little signs of spring make their presence known in February. One of the remnants of Glenn's garden railway, a sweet broom plant, shows its color. Photo by Glenn.
After a nearly sleepless night — made more uncomfortable by the fact that the thermostat in our room kept the heater running on high until we figured out how to shut it off — we stumbled out of town and decided to follow Highway 89 along the west rim of Lake Tahoe. Naturally, we took the wrong road and wound up driving along the eastern shore, which took us through such Nevadan enclaves as Incline Village and Kings Beach. We did get some breathtaking views of the lake, with its perfectly blue water surrounded by tree-covered shores and snowcapped peaks. After driving through the gamblers' alley at Stateline and stopping for a last look at the snow in South Lake Tahoe, we continued on to Placerville and toward home, all of us exhausted from two days of fun and sleep deprivation.

Our trip to Truckee was without a dout the highlight in a month that has been filled with work deadlines and major breaking news events around the globe. Roni was kept very busy with a pair of regular newsletter jobs and a major advertising brochure package for a new client, not to mention her other duties as chamber of commerce president and newspaper correspondent. Meanwhile, Glenn's schedule has been changing day to day as he covers various duties at the newspaper, including preparations for war coverage should the bombs start falling on Iraq.

Just to make life more exciting, our local Internet service provider for the past five years decided to call it quits two weeks ago, and overnight all their accounts were transferred to a new company. The details of the move are still being sorted out, so we aren't quite sure where the Gehlke Family Home Page will eventually end up. But regardless of where this site winds up physically, you will still be able to find it here virtually. Continued thanks for visiting us here each month.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

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