Pavement makes trip through Baja an easy drive


The Baja peninsula is a mix of desert and mountains–sometimes at the same time. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s called a highway, but by many standards it is a merely a two-lane road. However, for those who remember when it was all dirt, this stretch of asphalt is like pavement heaven.

The 1,711-kilometer or 1,063-mile long Carretera Transpeninsular (Transpeninsula Highway) was finished in 1973. It stretches from the north in Tijuana (the busiest border in the world) to Cabo San Lucas in the south (the tip of the peninsula). It weaves across Baja California, with views of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez as it crosses the desert and goes through mountains. (The peninsula is 40 to 240 kilometers wide in places, or 25 to 150 miles.)

At times Highway 1 goes on forever without a curve or another vehicle to be seen. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

People have been traveling the length of Baja for centuries, whether it was on foot, by animal or a sturdy vehicle. Part of it is the original camino real built by the Spanish to link their missions.

Before the asphalt was laid much of it was one lane of dirt. The highway at times covers that original road and in other locations was laid nearby or farther away for stability reasons or to avoid flooding.

Military checkpoints are scattered throughout Baja. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Today the road allows for easier access for tourists via vehicle to this swath of Mexico. Plenty of hotels cater to travelers from the United States and Canada, as do restaurants. Like anywhere, though, some of the best food is found where the locals go. Don’t judge a dining establishment by what it looks like.

The highway has also opened up commerce. This can be a good thing for stores and consumers. While plenty of goods are still brought in via ferry from the mainland, the distribution by truck is now easier.

Highway 1 is more than 1,000 miles long, running the length of Baja. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

One problem with that is all the 18-wheelers on the road. This highway is not wide like most built in the United States. A truck roaring by in the opposite direction will shake even a fully loaded vehicle. Those drivers are going fast, not abiding by the speed limit. They are also prone to passing those in front of them who are going too slow by their standards.

While it’s possible to go 65 mph in some locations, the speed limit is often much less. Often times the posted speed limit is 80 kilometers per hour, which is 50 miles per hour. The maximum posted on Highway 1 is 120 kph, or 75 mph.

Animals and trucks are two moving entities to always be wary of as a driver. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Some sections of the road are better than others. Potholes are a problem if it’s rained a lot. This adds to the time it takes to travel. Road construction seems to be constant, which also adds to time getting from Point A to Point B. Sometimes when a section has been washed out the detour is through dirt. Facebook even has a page dedicated to Baja road conditions.

Animals on the road is another concern, as well as vehicles without proper working parts—like brake lights.

The Sea of Cortez is picturesque even while whizzing by. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Gas usually is not a problem to find, but there are times when stations don’t have any. This is why the rule of thumb is to fill up when possible. One particular stretch of Highway 1 doesn’t have any stations, but entrepreneurs sell it out of containers along the side of the road. This liquid has a premium price, but at least you keep moving.

When it comes to the built environment, Highway 1 boasts a few major cities along the route, but is mostly small towns or lonesome looking taco stands. It’s the natural surroundings what will make one pull over for various photo ops. To the west is the anything but tranquil Pacific Ocean, while the east boasts the more placid and turquoise Sea of Cortez.


Sometimes the asphalt turns to dirt. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Fertile farmland is scattered throughout. Depending on the growing season it’s possible to buy produce along the highway without going into a store. Wineries can also be found on this stretch of road in the north.

The desert offers an array of flora. From the Dr. Seuss like bajooms to the federally protected cardón cactus. While much of the terrain is desert, mountains are visible in so many locations. Las Tres Vírgenes volcanoes, which were last active in 1746, are a distinct landmark at 6,548 feet or 1,996 meters.

There is plenty to be enamored by, with a plethora of possible side trips and things to see and do along the way. Take your time, it’s a highway to paradise.

Mulegé–A naturally beautiful town with equally as charming people

The Santa Rosalia River is a distinguishing landmark in Mulegé. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

An unexpected vacation along a tranquil river with palm fronds swaying in the breeze, the Sea of Cortez within walking distance in one direction and the town in the other, well, it could have been worse.

When the Jeep made a loud clunking sound I knew I wasn’t going anywhere. While it spent more than a week in the shop, I spent time getting to know Mulegé, a town of less than 4,000 people in Baja California Sur.

The arched sign leading to downtown Mulegé. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s a proud town. After all, the full name is Heroica Mulegé. The “Heroica” part came about after the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. The locals were able to stave off an invasion from the United States. While Mexico lost the war, Mulegé won the battle and obviously remained part of that country. (This is the war where the U.S. acquired the land that today is California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.)

Prior to my “forced” stay I had spent one night in Mulegé in March, and had filled up the gas tank more than once as I passed through. That one night as well as crossing over the river on the upper bridge made me curious about this town. Now I had the time to satisfy that curiosity.

Trips to cave paintings are available with a tour guide out of Mulegé. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Several cave paintings are in the area, with the Borjitas reportedly the oldest in North America.  The guided trip that lasted the better part of a day was outstanding. That alone made the stay worthwhile, as I had wanted to see some of these Baja caves that so many had told me about. If only the ceiling could talk, to share the stories from more than 7,500-years-ago. I wonder what life was like. How was the desert different? Did these people travel? What did they eat? What did they do for fun?

What I am left with after spending 11 days and 12 nights is this overwhelming sense of how wonderful the people of Mulegé are—no matter their nationality. This has been my experience 99 percent of the time in Baja, so it should have come as no surprise. What was different this time, though, was that I needed help. And help readily came without having to ask.

I was lucky to have been staying someplace where the owner spoke English, gave me advice on the Jeep and mechanics, loaned me his vehicle, kept reducing my nightly rate the longer my stay went on, invited me to dinner with his friends, and for drinks more than once. (I declined all of them because being maskless indoors with strangers isn’t my thing these days.)

The Mission Dam is on the north side of town. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Cliff Taylor, who owns Clementine’s (aka Cliff’s Place), is quite the character. The 78-year-old will say, “I have stories”—and he does. He tells them with a drawl that still lingers from growing up in south Louisiana. He was a professional poker player in Las Vegas for a while, became a certified public accountant, opened a bed and breakfast with an ex-wife in Oregon, sailed a bit, and then put down roots in Mulegé.

Taylor bought his house in Mulegé in 2002, the first day he was in town. It was cheap—$15,000. He later found out it was so inexpensive because it was built out of wood. Not a good thing in this climate; termites can destroy a place. He got it reinforced and has been living in it ever since.

Today, he has 13 rentals of various sizes all in an enclave along the Santa Rosalia River. (My first night I was in an oversized studio with a courtyard; the rest of the time a two bedroom, one bath house that slept seven.) He has built about 20 places, selling some to friends, doing it on spec for others. He’s in the process of building a three-story duplex right on the river.

Juan Carlos says business is down at the Racing restaurant because fewer tourists are in town. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It was along this river that AJ and I would walk multiple times a day. Mostly pelicans flock to this body of water. A few egrets and other shorebirds also call it home. Fish jump like I’ve never seen before.

Taylor is a dog lover, which is great for so many of us who travel with our four-legged children. He opened an animal clinic on the south side of town. Regularly he hosts veterinarians who come for spay/neuter clinics. This is for the locals, but also the surrounding ranches and small towns.

With having a full size kitchen and a variety of food with me, I didn’t eat out much. But when I did, I was thoroughly satisfied. The Mulegé Brewing Company is a must stop for anyone who likes beer and pizza. In the year it has been open it has established quite a following.

An outstanding breakfast was found on the town square at Cazuelamolcajet. A series of food stalls line one side of the square, selling a variety of edibles throughout the day. More Mexicans than gringos filled the outdoor chairs each time I went by. The Mexican omelet served with beans and a drink was 120 pesos or $6. It was big enough to be my meal for the day. I just wish I had gone there sooner in my voyage so I could have tried more of their creations.

The Sea of Cortez looking south toward the point of Bahía Concepción. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Another meal was at Racing, a definitively gringo spot along the river. A menu only in English is the first give away this is where the ex-pats go. Juan Carlos, who has been working there for about three years, said 70 percent of the restaurant’s customers are Canadians. That’s not happening this year with the U.S. not allowing people to cross the northern border because of COVID.

I would have gone back if I had had a kayak because it was directly across from where I was staying—the river separated us. Still, it was close enough to walk—which was my mode of transportation.

The fried zucchini was a recommendation from one of the guys who was on the cave painting tour. Good choice. They were cut into rounds instead of sticks, as is more the norm in the United States. The breading was light. It did not taste like they were deep fried, which was welcome. I took half the order home for the next day. I rounded out the meal with a green salad—it literally only had green vegetables. The food with two beers (one was to go) came to 270 pesos or $13.50.

Breakfast at Cazuelamolcajet is hearty, delicious and inexpensive. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With all this eating, it was a good thing I was on foot to walk off the calories. It was a little more than a mile to town, most of which was a path along the river. I tried to get into the prison museum, but COVID has shut its doors indefinitely. This wasn’t an ordinary facility for law breakers. Most were able to keep working during the day, returning at night to sleep inside. There were no bars. The front looks more like a church, while the four corners are castle-like. Those, though, were where the guards would keep watch. Not a bad view of the town, river and desert hills beyond.

Another trek led me to the old mission that was founded in 1705 by Juan Manuel Basaldúa. Construction on the stone temple did not start until 1754, with the doors opening in 1766. Today it stands as a reminder to the past.

One excursion led me to the Sea of Cortez, which is the body of water the river empties into. The rocky, shell-filled beach was pretty, especially with no one else there. From that vantage point I could see the tip of Bahía Concepción. Having driven that stretch of Highway 1, I knew that incredible soft, sandy beaches were so close. That warm water is so clear it looks like you could drink it; or at least gargle with it since it’s salty. While the beaches beckoned, they could not be visited until my way out of town.

Fittingly, Mulegé means great sandbar of the white mouth, a name hailing from the Cochimie Indians.

Cliff Taylor is a character who has multiple rentals along the river. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

  • Clementine’s (Cliff Taylor): clifftaylor1942@hotmail.com. Prices vary based on the unit, with discounts available for extended stays.

7,500-Year-Old cave paintings tucked into mountains of Baja Sur

Images in the San Borjitas cave are more than 7,500 years old. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A significant glimpse into an ancient world covers a large cave in Baja Sur California.

Carbon dating puts the paintings at San Borjitas at 7,500 years old. Some say they are the oldest in North America.

Most of the figures are of humans, with one archaeologist recording 120 figures. Other depictions are of animals, notably fish, possibly deer and a turtle, and what appears to be an oversized frog. Red and black “ink” are predominant on the limestone, with some figures depicted in both colors.

Andy and Ricardo are dwarfed by the cave. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

What the images mean, well, only those who painted them would know for sure. With spears through some of the people and many with their hands in the air, a fight of some sort could be documented. Scientists believe this may be where the great mural tradition originated.

Three main Indian tribes once inhabited the peninsula—Guaycura, Pericue and Cochimie. The latter are who occupied this area of Baja. Mostly they moved to where there was water. Following the behavior of animals kept them alive. A small amount of water was visible as we hiked in, with vibrant greet plants in some locations. This could have been how people earlier than these tribes migrated as well.

Spanish missionaries discovered the paintings in the 1700s. Francisco Javier Clavigero mentioned the art in his 1789 book “A History of Baja California.” The Cochimie told the Spaniards these paintings were not done by their people, but spoke of a “race of giants” who once lived in the area.

The Borjitas cave is about 100 feet wide and nearly as deep. The opening is about 20 feet high and then gradually gets lower. How the painters reached the ceiling is a guess—perhaps erosion swept away some of the “floor” or they were tall, thus the reason images are so large, or possibly they built a platform.

Many of the figures are half red, half black. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Our guide said this would have been a ceremonial cave, not someplace anyone except perhaps the medicine men would have lived or slept.

In the mid-1980s UNESCO declared it a world heritage site. The only way people are supposed to visit the cave in the Sierra de Guadalupe mountains between Mulegé and Santa Rosalia is with a guide. Salvador Castro Drew has been taking people on tours for years. The government shut down him down in February because of the pandemic. He resumed operations in mid-November.

Besides a trip to the caves, Castro gives a history lesson about the town, stops to talk about medicinal plants, and provides a satisfying lunch. While the hike is not strenuous or long (less than 2-miles round trip), one would want to be in decent shape and be sure footed.

Salvador Castro Drew leads tours out of Mulegé to various cave paintings in the area. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Details:

  • Mulegé Tours: Salvador Castro Drew
  • Email: muletours@hotmail.com
  • Cell: 615.161.4985
  • Cost: Depends on number of people and specific tour.

Step back in time at the Bowers Mansion in Nevada


The Bowers Mansion is open for tours on weekends through October. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Alison “Eilley” Oram Bowers left this world much like she entered it—poor. But the years in between, well, those were full of riches, extravagance and adventure.

Her legacy remains today at Bowers Mansion in Washoe Valley, Nevada, which is part of the larger 52-acre Bowers Mansion Regional Park. It was 150 years ago this summer in 1870 that Bowers turned her home into a resort.

“This was the place to picnic. There would be 4,000 to 5,000 people,” docent Tammy said on a recent tour of the mansion.

Even today it is considered the people’s park. Most summers it is bustling with visitors. COVID-19 closed the pool, stopped tours until last month, and has prevented large gatherings.

The mansion was built in 1863 by Bowers and husband Lemuel “Sandy” Bowers for about $250,000, which would be about $6 million in today’s dollars. They owned 160 acres at the time, which went out to Washoe Lake. Much of the rock and wood came from the local area. Walls are at least 18 inches thick in places, providing for good insulation in the hot summers and cold winters of Northern Nevada.

“It probably never got hot,” the docent said of the mansion, explaining how windows could be strategically opened to get a good cross flow of air. “We believe they all shared the bedroom downstairs. They probably didn’t live upstairs.”

One of the original beds from when the Bowers lived in the mansion. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Eilley Bowers was born in Scotland to itinerant farmworkers. She married her first husband at the age 15. Together they traveled to the United States after he became a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints. After six years they divorced. She then married another Mormon, and they settled in the Washoe Valley—the area that divides Carson City and Reno. He chose to go to Salt Lake City when the church called back parishioners. She stayed behind.

Eilley and her nephew, who had been living with the couple, moved to the now abandoned mining town of Johntown not far from Virginia City. She started a boarding house there, and then another in Gold Hill when that town sprouted up after gold was discovered. She established several mining claims, with one being next to the man who would become her third husband. They merged their assets and became millionaires. Some say their fortunes amounted to $4 million at one point.

The couple had two children, who both died very young. They then took in a young girl who had been orphaned on a ship. She died in 1874 at age 12 of a ruptured appendix.

Together the Bowers went to Europe to shop for furniture to fill the 16-room estate. At the time the floors were wood. Carpeting was added in the 1980s. Originally the billiards room was upstairs, though now the pool table is downstairs in the library. More than 1,000 books filled the shelves when the Bowers lived there. Hallways are spacious; even the upstairs rooms are large compared to many built in that time period. The house feels comfortable, livable. Hot and cold springs are also on the property.

“As soon as they moved in, they were broke,” the docent revealed.

Her third husband died in 1868. By that time the mines were drying up and their money was nearly spent. Eilley Bowers added a third story to the mansion in the hopes of returning to her boarding house days, but that essentially exhausted all of her money and the business was never profitable. In 1870 she opened the area up to be a party spot as another attempt to earn money. Those who came to the property in the 1870s would often arrive by train, being dropped off a couple hundred feet away.

By 1878 she could not pay the taxes on the property and lost everything in foreclosure to Myron C. Lake. Henry Ritter then took possession and ran it as a resort from 1903-1946. In the early 1900s he added electricity.

The Reno Women’s Civic Club raised the money to help Washoe County buy the property in 1946 to turn it into a public facility. A plaque on the building acknowledges their efforts. Another plaque recognizes the restoration committee of 1969 that collected money for the preservation of the mansion. Today, Washoe County owns and operates the park and mansion. Through the years hundreds of people have donated original items from the mansion back to the site for the benefit of visitors. These items are noted with a sign. Other furniture has been collected to resemble the time period of when the Bowers lived there.

Eilley Bowers died in 1903 in Oakland, California, at the age of 77. Her ashes were buried on the hillside above the mansion next to her last husband. Also buried there are their three children.

This downstairs room is where the Bowers spent the bulk of their time. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

  • Website
  • Phone: 775.849.0201
  • Tours: Memorial Day through Nevada Day (Oct. 31) from 11am-4pm
  • Cost: $9, cash only.

Angora labyrinth a sanctuary for getting away from life’s chaos

A labyrinth in the Angora burn area offers a space for reflection. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

No matter the time of day, whether the sun is tapping its final dance across Freel Peak or storm clouds are casting shadows on the ground, a sense of serenity, of calming overcomes those who traipse across the grounds of Angora Garden.

That was the plan.

This labyrinth created by the hard work of South Shore locals is not meant to be a religious symbol. Instead it is spiritual. As Frank Lloyd Wright said, “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.”

Tucked off on the right side of Lake Tahoe Boulevard near Angora Creek as one heads deeper into the Angora burn area is this special piece of land that came into being because Jay Newburgh wanted to do something after the Angora Fire. She and her husband, Henry, didn’t lose their home in June 2007. Theirs was one of three houses on Pyramid Circle that survived.

The hillside that was charred in 2007 after an illegal campfire got out of control is coming back to life. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The Newburghs bought the parcel where a house once stood and a year after the fire that consumed 253 other homes on the South Shore in order to turn it into a spot residents and other locals could enjoy. Even today Angora Garden remains a bit of a sanctuary. Weeds now grow in the labyrinth, but it remains a spot worth visiting. A few benches allow time to escape the realities of today. Although the hillside with charred trees still erect is a reminder of the fire, at the same time it shows how resilient Mother Nature is with the rebirth of foliage. Looking in the other direction are some of the South Shore’s iconic peaks like Freel.

Linda Hughes of Tulip Landscaping created the space with 150 yards of soil and 5 yards of pea gravel. Along the perimeter are white and red fir, cedar, aspen, willow, pines, and dogwood trees.

At the time the labyrinth was being built, Jay Newburgh called it a “spiritual tool that doesn’t have anyone’s labels.”

History of Carson Valley comes alive at Dangberg Ranch


The Dangberg estate started as a cabin and grew as the family increased in size. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

As a gentle breeze blew it was as though the secrets of days gone by were being carried in the wind. Several of the secrets about the Dangberg clan are revealed in an hourlong guided tour of the family’s old homestead on the outskirts of Minden, Nevada.

Patriarch Heinrich Friedrich Dangberg came to the area in 1856. He was 18 when he left Germany, having stopped in other locales in the United States before putting down roots in the Carson Valley. The ranch grew to 48,000 acres. While some descendants are still alive, four generations lived in the family home from 1857 to 1995. Today the site contains eight structures built between 1857 and 1917. On the adjacent parcel, which is private land, is the Dangberg barn built in 1875, a corral, and deteriorating brick slaughterhouse from 1918. All the meat the family and workers consumed was processed at the ranch. This included beef, pork, sheep and poultry.

Clothing worn by the family and other items fill one of the bedrooms. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Dangberg served three terms in the Nevada Legislature, in the House and state Senate. (His son, Fred, served two terms in the Legislature.) The elder Dangberg died in 1904 at the age of 73. He was buried at the Lone Mountain Cemetery in Carson City. Two years before his death the family formed the Dangberg Land and Livestock Co.

The Carson Valley might look much different if the Dangberg family had decided to settle somewhere else. They successfully diverted the Carson River to irrigate their fields, ensuring there was hay year round. The Dangbergs were some of the first ranchers in Nevada to grow alfalfa. The family developed the town of Minden in 1905; it became the county seat in 1918. The old flour mill that was founded by the Dangbergs is now part of the Bently Heritage Estate Distillery. They had a role in getting electricity to the valley in the early part of the 20th century.

In 1866, Dangberg married Margaret Ferris. (It was her brother who invented the Ferris wheel.) The lineage of Clarence Dangberg, the youngest of their five children, is the only surviving clan. He started the C.O.D. Garage in Minden, which today is the C.O.D. Casino.

Fred Dangberg, the oldest son, was an entrepreneur and risk taker. He allowed the V&T railroad in Carson City to lay down tracks across their land, with the terminus being Minden. The Dangbergs weren’t friendly with the folks in Gardnerville, and were able to keep the train from going that far south. He developed a gambling problem, used the company checkbook to pay off his debt, and was eventually kicked out of the company.

First the agriculture market collapsed, then the stock market, mix in family infighting and the Dangberg clan started to unravel. They were able to hold on, even recover and grow their land holdings after World War II.

The parlor is filled with a slew of items that once belonged to the Dangbergs. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The ranch was sold in 1978 to ranchers in the area. A life estate allowed three remaining Dangberg women to live out their lives at the house. The last woman died in 1995.

In 2007, the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park opened to the public. Tours started that same year. It encompasses 5½ acres. More than 43,000 original items belonging to the family remain. More items continue to be added to the estate. In 2019, a freight wagon that belonged to the family was obtained from the Dayton Valley Historical Society. Restoration is ongoing, with a grant recently secured to restore the columns that were once the entrance to the ranch. Today the park is owned by Douglas County, with the site run by the nonprofit Friends of Dangberg Home Ranch. In non-COVID times events are scheduled seasonally.

Tours now are limited because of the pandemic. Mark Jensen takes people around the outside, telling stories about various members of the Dangberg clan. Photos of who he is talking about are in the barn, with more in the screened in porch. It’s easy to imagine a lazy afternoon of sitting there with a spiked lemonade or something else cool to drink. While the three upstairs bedrooms are off limits to visitors, it’s possible to tour the main house. In all, there are five bedrooms, two parlors and the kitchen in the main house. The north wing includes the ranch kitchen and workers’ dinging room. Jensen stands outside regaling guests with stories about the 4,000-square-foot home, the old grand piano, the Persian rug and all that the home contains.

The cellar and workers’ dining hall are open to self-guided tours. This is home to the oldest refrigerator in the valley and so many more artifacts from an era that seems so long ago.

Equipment left over from the ranching days sits idle along the fence. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

  • Address: 1450 Highway 88, Minden, Nevada.
  • Website
  • Call for tour reservations: 775.783.9417.
  • Tour cost: $10 per person.

Tourism officials in overdrive to get people back to Tahoe

Updated June 25.

Road trips. That is what most tourism bureaus are banking on to salvage the summer season. Tahoe is no different.

“Travel will be more regional. The drive market will be expanded,” Carol Chaplin, CEO of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, said June 19. Tourism on the South Shore was the focus of that day’s webinar hosted by Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce.

Advertising dollars are being redirected from those who would fly here to those within 600 miles from Tahoe or about a 10-hour drive away. The thinking is Tahoe will be a stop on many people’s road trip itineraries. The other focus for ads will be on Southern California and Las Vegas. With LTVA’s website traffic “skyrocketing” from Las Vegas, officials are confident in having that area be a target. Starting July 13 there will be a regional ad campaign in Los Angeles that will layer on top of the LTVA campaign. This will be all digital for six weeks.

Although the Reno-Tahoe International Airport lost about 95 percent of its passenger load since the world shutdown in mid-March, the numbers are starting to come back. Chaplin, who is wrapping up her year as president of the Airport Authority, said one day there were only 270 passengers. Normally, there are thousands.

People line up for ice cream June 20 in Camp Rich. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

LTVA has partnered with the Tahoe Fund to purchase two digital billboards; one on the West Slope and the other on Spooner Summit, talking about safe distancing and wearing masks.

When COVID-19 hit LTVA canceled all paid media, then changed the message to shelter in place and Tahoe will be here when it’s appropriate. Then came the rebound phase. This week begins the launch phase, meaning the agency wants as many people here as possible. Being responsible is part of the message. The messaging to potential visitors will be to adventure lovers, those wanting to relax and recharge, and to those with and without kids. Realizing there is plenty of space to recreate in the outdoors is a draw for people living in more confined locations like cities. Still, there is only so much sand to sprawl out on at the beaches. Social distancing has not been taking place on Tahoe beaches.

With California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week mandating masks be worn indoors and sometimes outdoors, that is part of the responsibility component marketers are stressing. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak implement a mask-wearing policy effective June 26.

This past weekend the Camp Richardson area looked like a typical summer weekend with traffic congested, people milling about, and a line out the ice cream store. Even so, the California tourism bureau expects tourism spending to be about $72 billion for 2020, half of what it was in 2019. Half the jobs in tourism (613,000) could be lost. No local jobs numbers or revenue figures were provided during last week’s talk.

I know my family won’t be contributing to the local economy like we expected to. This week I was supposed to be hosting about 40 people from all over the country. We have delayed the gathering for one year. I have to say the folks running the MS Dixie in Zephyr Cove were super easy to deal with. I wish I could say the same for Lakeland Village in South Lake Tahoe. I still haven’t received my deposit—which is more than $1,200. (I’m not rebooking until I get this money back.) While we are going to stay there in 2021, it was anything but easy to get all the condos canceled, then secure the same pricing level as this year for next. The fact that Vail Resorts, which now manages the condos, made me deal with the former management company and some third party I had never heard of was absurd. Fingers are crossed things go more smoothly in a year and that I actually get this year’s deposit refunded.

Oddly, on June 17, Aramark, which runs the MS Dixie paddle-wheeler, sent out a press release about its Fourth of July fireworks cruises. When asked how such a thing could be possible when there won’t be any fireworks this year, the company sent a response saying, “This has now been canceled.” But they didn’t send a press release to all media saying as much, just to this writer who inquired about it.

While the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament is still being played July 8-12, there won’t be any spectators. The 80 or so celebs will be featured in about 18 hours of live TV between NBC and the Golf Channel. Chaplin said at Hole 17—the party hole where all the boats are—will be different this year. People won’t be allowed to get off their boats. This event has always been a boon for area nonprofits. About $600,000 has been committed this year to charities, with locals to receive about $200,000. It’s not known if there will be parameters like health care and racial equality being where the money is spent.

Other notes:

  • Heavenly’s gondola will open July 3.
  • LTVA’s Nevada visitors center will open before July 4.
  • The Stateline events center at MontBleu will break ground July 9, with NBC televising it. Utilities will be put underground this year and waterlines rerouted. It will not go vertical this building season as had originally been planned.
  • The chamber bought 500 “care” signs for businesses to use; the 9 x 12 adhesive signs have messages about distancing.

History of Todos Santos comes alive on walking tour


Hotel Guaycura on the far left, with the Todos Santos Inn to the right. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

If only the walls could talk. So much history is hidden inside the brick buildings of Todos Santos, Mexico. Fortunately, every other year many of these buildings are open to the public during the Historic Home Tour.

Wood isn’t often used in this tropical climate. Termites are one of the concerns. In several of the structures on the tour it was pointed out that beams were black palm. Docents spoke of how these palms are insect resistance, but are no longer used because they are endangered. For the wealthy, wood floors were a sign of status even though they weren’t practical in that climate.

Interior photos of private homes are not allowed. In the back of this house is the wall used as the screen for the original movie theater. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Todos Santos, which is an hour north of Cabo San Lucas on the Pacific Ocean side of Baja California Sur, has had an up and down history. By 1773, the mission was on its third religious order. According the literature handed out at this year’s tour, “In 1890, botanist T.S. Brandgee described Todos Santos as a pretty place of 30 to 40 houses overlooking fields of sugar cane. Its prosperity during the last half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th was based on sugar production. The austerely handsome brick homes in the historic district and many of the public works were largely financed with sugar money.”

The sugar cane industry evaporated in the 1950s when the aquifer dried up. Still, that sugar cane history was part of the historic walking tour earlier this year. Today Todos Santos is a thriving town of about 6,000 residents, boasting a large ex-pat community full of artists, surfers and retirees. The culinary experience is outstanding.

The ticket to the 27 locations was a fundraiser for the Palapa Society, a nonprofit education enterprise. Participants could go at their own pace in any order they wanted. Volunteers at each site dispensed information, though the brochure that came with the ticket was extensive.

Some of the locations are possible to visit without being part of the biennial event, such as Centro Cultural, Hotel Casa Tota, Todos Santos Inn, Hotel Guaycura, Hotel California and Teatro Marquez De Leon. However, it was the private homes that were the most captivating.

Todos Santos’ present-day theater first opened in 1944. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A 30-foot high cement wall at the back of one property used to be the screen for the old movie theater that operated there from 1935-44. Viewing would have been great from ground level or the second story. An indoor theater was built on the town plaza in 1944, which has since been restored and is used for films, lectures and other productions.

The old Todos Santos Inn used to be next door to the theater. For a time, it was the only place to stay in town. Originally, the two properties were owned by the same family when they were built in the late 1800s.

The current Todos Santos Inn had been a school. By the early 1900s the first cantina in Todos Santos opened where La Copa bar now exists, along with a store. During the Mexican revolution of 1910 someone threw dynamite at the building in protest of the owner’s ties to dictator Porfirio Diaz. The property fell into disrepair until it was bought in 1988 and later refurbished.

Ramon Wong, who became secretary of Defense for Mexico, has his name tied to several properties in town. People believe he came to the area at the height of the railroad building near the U.S. border. His descendants now live in La Paz. Wong was a soap maker when he lived in Todos Santos. The soap factory was located where Café Todos Santos is today.

Many of the homes in downtown Todos Santos are upstairs while stores are below; often with both being owned by the same person.

Not all of the buildings on the tour are open to visitors. Still, their stories are interesting. The next Historic Home Tour of Todos Santos will be in March 2022.

A relationship solidified in sand – Lovers and Divorce Beaches

Looking from Divorce Beach to Lovers Beach and beyond to Cabo San Lucas. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Tales of romance and infidelity filled the boat as it bounced along at a steady pace toward the famous Arch of Cabo San Lucas.

Each captain has his own story about how Lovers and Divorce beaches got their names. Playa del Amor always gets a mention as people motor by. Playa del Divorcio, even though it is five times bigger, isn’t always able to be seen because it can be too rough to even get a peek, let alone access it.

The “attitude” of the two beaches is more likely how they got their names. Lovers Beach is on the Sea of Cortez side; tranquil, inviting, even swimmable. It’s the turbulent Pacific Ocean that tumbles onto Divorce Beach. It is uninviting, has a potentially deadly undertow, and is not recommended for swimming. A vast swath of sand connects the two.

A heart shaped rock breaks from the others on Divorce Beach. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While “drive bys” are the norm for most people when it comes to these two beaches, they are worth spending a little time at because they are so beautiful and different.

Most of the people were clustered on the Lovers side. Does it sound better to want to hang out there? Divorce Beach is much more wide-open. If sand is your thing, that’s the place to be. If water if what you are after, stick with Lovers. Rock formations on both sides are worth gawking at, or snapping a few pictures of.

Lovers Beach is on the Sea of Cortez. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Don’t expect any amenities, so bring what you need/want for however long you intend to stay. Sometimes people will be hawking overpriced beers.

Both beaches are accessible by panga for about $12 (U.S.) a person from the Cabo San Lucas Marina or Médano Beach. The drop off and pick up is at Lovers Beach. This trip is for the able bodied; even excursion peddlers who say there is a ladder might not be telling the truth. And those who help you in or out of the boat expect a tip.

Industry experts trying to figure out the future of travel

Today, snow quality doesn’t even register as a concern for mountain destinations. This is a dramatic change considering it has been at the top of the list for decades. A pandemic has altered priorities for travelers as well as the destinations they want to visit.

Mountain Travel Symposium on May 13 hosted a webinar titled Mountain Tourism in the Age of COVID-19: What the Data Tells Us. At the start participants were asked: As a business, what is your biggest concern? The answers:

  • 36 percent—customers’ fear of travel
  • 34 percent—health and safety of staff and guests
  • 19 percent—reoccurrence of government-required shutdown
  • 7 percent—my bottom line
  • 4 percent—marketing and communications to guests
  • 0 percent—snow quality during winter 2020/2021.

Over the course of a couple weeks starting in mid-March travel came to a screeching halt throughout the world. Luxury and upper scale hotels in the United States hit single-digit occupancy. It is the 18- to 34-year-old sector that was slowest to cancel trips, according to data provided during the webinar.

“You could get younger millennials with deals. That’s why target messaging is important,” said Pete Comeau with Phocuswright. Pre-COVID-19 deals were the way to stimulate travel for all consumers. Not so anymore. In this new world most people want to feel safe; and that’s assuming they want to travel or have the money to do so.

A sign in Bijou Community Park in South Lake Tahoe is likely to remain for several months. (Image: Susan Wood)

Occupancy is incrementally increasing across all hotel categories, but has a long way to go to recover. Fifteen percent of hotels are completely closed, including most throughout the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region. Experts don’t expect 2021 numbers to reach 2019 stats. Ali Hoyt with STR said 1 million room nights are still being sold each night. Occupants include first responders, homeless, airline personnel, other business travelers, and a few on the road for fun. (STR provides premium data benchmarking, analytics and marketplace insights for global hospitality sectors.)

Hoyt said this time of closure or minimal occupancy is an opportunity for properties to rethink how they want to serve customers, and their business operations as a whole.

More encouraging for destinations is that people are tending to postpone trips as opposed to outright cancellations. Tom Foley with Inntopia said, “In the last two weeks it is nudging into the positive to more bookings than cancellations. We are on a knife-edge right now.”

As the arrival date gets closer, people are canceling. People who were planning to travel in May, June and July have rebooked for June, July and August. Many who were once planning a summer trip have rescheduled for the fall. Foley said new bookings are coming for July, with the second most popular time frame being September through December.

From a May 3 survey by Destination Analysts it looked at what months people in the U.S. have plans to take a leisure trip:

  • May—5.4 percent
  • June—12.7 percent
  • July—20.7 percent
  • August—20.8 percent
  • September—23.5 percent
  • October—19.7 percent
  • November—15.5 percent
  • December—14.5 percent
  • No plans to travel in 2020—21.8 percent
  • Sometime in 2021—8 percent.

Flexibility isn’t something the hospitality industry has always been known for. Foley said 10 weeks ago concessions were made in about 33 percent of cases, whereas today it is 100 percent. He said 90 percent of properties are offering full refunds.

Dave Belin with RRC Associates said, “It now feels like resorts, hotels and airlines are taking on more of the risks.” It was noted how ski resorts are offering guarantees on 2020-21 season passes; something that has never been offered before.

Increased consumer confidence is what will move the needle for travel. It’s not there today. Boston Consulting Group took a survey April 24-27 about consumer sentiment. The question—Would you be concerned about doing any of the following in the near future?:

  • 67 percent—traveling internationally
  • 66 percent—taking a cruise
  • 62 percent—taking a domestic flight
  • 61 percent—taking a bus, subway or train
  • 60 percent—visiting a theme park
  • 58 percent—going to a restaurant
  • 58 percent—visiting a casino
  • 56 percent—staying at a hotel
  • 50 percent—taking Uber/Lyft
  • 47 percent—staying at an Airbnb
  • 34 percent—going to a local store
  • 23 percent—cooking at a friend’s house
  • 20 percent—ordering food for delivery
  • 12 percent—shopping online.

Marketing is going to be a huge component going forward. The panel suggested messages be customer centric, realizing everyone is struggling. Consumers should expect to see ads less focused on what a destination has to offer and more with a moral compass as a barometer, including health and safety being selling factors, and empathy being part of the message.

The participants were later asked: As a business, what is your biggest opportunity? The results:

  • 44 percent—pent up demand to travel
  • 19 percent—becoming more locally focused
  • 16 percent—a chance to differentiate
  • 9 percent—improvement of health and safety standards
  • 7 percent—capturing new clients
  • 5 percent—relieving overcrowding
  • 1 percent—changing DMO and town tax/funding mechanisms.

There was mixed sentiment as to whether experts believe consumers will want to stay at traditional hotels or a private home in the future. Already larger hotel brands like Hilton and Marriott are touting how they have certain cleaning protocols in place. On the flip side, travelers might want the intimacy of a home knowing they won’t run into masses of people. Cleaning, though, could be a concern for some.

“Safety and security will be really big and will be until we see a vaccine,” Comeau said. “Property managers will be challenged.”

With one-fifth of the U.S. population out of work, discretionary income is lacking. Travel is one of the first things to get cut. That reality is something destinations are going to have to contend with. It could be a while before people have the money to travel even if they feel safe to do so.

Another thing that was brought up in the webinar is that people are going to want the destination to be fully open. This means restaurants to eat at, stores to shop in, and entertainment venues operating. Cities and counties, though, are likely to open in stages as is being seen now. Capacity at restaurants, hotels, on boats and other tourist destinations are going to be lower going forward based on regulations, let alone on who actually shows up. There won’t be jobs for everyone who lost them. These are economic realities for everyone.

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