It’s not an easy drive from Park City, Utah to Bear Valley, California.
Yes, the majority of the trip is a stick-straight highway allowing speeds of up to 80 MPH, but aside from the interesting Bonneville Salt Flats, the scenery is non-existent through most of western Utah and all of Nevada. It’s flat. It’s HOT (topping out at 109 degrees). It’s boring. It’s LONG. By the time we got to Reno, our destination for the night, I’d reached my road trip limit: I was practically scratching at the windows to get out of the car.
One night in Reno was supposed to be a quick, forgettable stop-over to make the 12+ hour drive a little easier. The only good thing I’d heard about the town was that on their honeymoon (42 years ago), my parents won enough money to purchase the land on which my childhood home would be built. I’d found a new hotel with a great rate, with no smoking or gaming, but right on the strip. We were pleasantly surprised that the brand-new Whitney Peak Hotel focuses on an outdoor lifestyle, with funky modern décor, a 7,000 square foot bouldering gym, and the tallest climbing wall in the world (167 feet, right over the “Reno” sign).
We dined at Heritage, the hotel restaurant, whose menu is based on local, in-season ingredients. I adored the s’mores dessert: homemade marshmallows, roasted at the table, with dark chocolate and cinnamon grahams. (I also loved my gin/sage/St. Germain cocktail.)
We hit the casino at the El Dorado across the street just as the classic “Reno” sign was lighting up. Between slots and blackjack, we cashed in about $230 up overall! (My parents are proud.) After a good night’s sleep and a spectacular breakfast (homemade tamales!), we continued our trek to Bear Valley with unexpected happy memories of Reno.
Not long after leaving Reno, the drive changes dramatically. Instead of a flat, straight highway, we gained significant altitude on a super-curvy, one-lane road that winds through giant trees into the Sierras. It was no longer scorching hot; in fact, we drove through a bit of chilly rain. A charming cabin awaited us, a rental we’d share with friends for the long weekend.
The purpose of the trip was to join our dear friends, Ryan and Caroline, for Caroline’s 40th birthday. Between travelers like us and local friends, the partying group was somewhere near 65 people. The weekend had a loose itinerary, which included lots of lake time, standup paddleboard hockey, an impressive BBQ on the beach, a tennis tournament, a soccer game in honor of the World Cup, and a pizza party to watch the World Cup finals. SO MUCH FUN.
The highlight of the weekend was Caroline’s birthday celebration, which felt like a summertime outdoor festival with a scrumptious taco bar and cupcakes. We danced under the full moon to a live band until the wee hours of the morning. Ryan and Caroline know how to throw a good party- the whole weekend was a blast.
By the time Monday rolled around, we were all tuckered out. Two back-to-back 40th birthday trips had caught up with us. We bid adieu to our loved ones and the sweet little cabin. A long, hot drive awaited us, which we filled by recounting the fun times and great friends (old and new) from the weekend and listening to Pete Townshend’s book-on-tape. A spectacular sunset made our night in Elko, Nevada a little more bearable (so hot!) and a squiggling, squealing dog awaited us in Park City.
As always, time away from home makes me adore it that much more…but I can’t quite believe that the full moon would have looked quite so lovely here as it did over the shimmering water of Bear Lake.
One year ago: A taste of Autumn in July.