Expectations, Pleasures and Gratitude

By Elizabeth Manduca


VRTG-Duff-Chalet-photo-1-10-2-2013Chasing the Sun, Coast to Coast

I’m always amazed that I can fly from the east to the west coast of the United States in a matter of hours. I tend to reserve the window seat and hope for good weather. That way I can see the earth’s terrain including the rocky coast of Maine, massive buildings in densely populated cities, multi-colored crop circles of the flatlands, and the intimidating sharp, peaked mountains before landing in the glittering neon of Reno.

Late August 11:30 pm

After collecting my luggage, I found the car rental agencies conveniently located near the baggage claim, with pick-ups just across the street. Reserve a car early. I didn’t, and the only choice was a subcompact for 7 am the next morning. My dismayed face must have encouraged an exceptional Budget agent named Maryknoll to get me on the road by 1 am in the morning, in a souped up Ford Edge for a few extra bucks.

I headed for Lake Tahoe and the Duff Chalet. What a pleasure it was to be disconnected from all electronic devices, and starting an adventure full of expectation. Under the brilliant moon of the California sky, deer were grazing in a mysterious mist along Highway 89; as truckers gave me their friendly welcome.

2:30 am

Arriving safely at the chalet, I keyed in the garage door code, drove in, and dragged my bags into the foyer. Walking up a short flight of stairs, I was instantly mesmerized by the moon peeking through the pines into windows of marvelous shapes which made for an enticing, quiet and whispered pleasure. Exhausted, I chose a bedroom, collapsed on a big foam topped bed, pulled up a fat bedspread and put pillows over and under my head.

Ambience of a Well-Loved Home and an Athlete’s Expectations

After sporting activities in the Lake Tahoe area, I want my accommodations to include comforts to rest my tired frame, such as blasting showers, a hot tub, a comfortable bed, and a quiet location. I also would like a great kitchen where I can consume copious amounts of calories while telling wild and exaggerated stories. The Duff Chalet has this and more. The split level Duff Chalet has a happily lived-in ambience to be shared with you, the guest.

The chalet is located halfway up the Alpine Meadows Ski Hill road. On a quiet cul-de-sac, away from the hub-bub of towns and traffic, the chalet is conveniently close to stores, restaurants, and activities.

The geometrically interesting ceiling on the second level is offset by cream-colored walls adorned in artwork. The vaulted knotty pine, triangular ceiling pieces, and large windows overlooking an alpine vista make this area a visual pleasure. The living room has two sections — one with couches and entertainment center; and the other with a seating area enhanced by a gas fireplace of rich earth-tone stones, which creates an old-style cabin feel.

The kitchen is a communal gathering place with an eight-foot dark pine trestle table, a tiny white children’s table, and a twelve foot island that could easily seat eight people, while your chef prepares meals on the other side. The view from the eight big kitchen windows overlook a massive granite mountain ledge dotted with pines protruding like curly-headed cocktail toothpicks. A nice master bedroom suite with full bath, an office, and a half bath complete this floor.

The first level has two attractive bedrooms with comfortable queen size beds, and a third adorable children’s room with two sets of bunk beds covered with bright red and white animal-themed bed spreads. With such a fun room, kids probably don’t go to sleep very quickly!

The bathroom décor is composed of rich brown stone. A large living room, entertainment center, woodstove, and laundry room complete the downstairs.

Porch Living and the Extras

The chalet’s warm interior is conducive to indoor relaxing, four outdoor porches as well. The porch, outside the kitchen is equipped with a gas grill and a couch. The largest porch harbors a teak table, six chairs, two lounges, and ahhh … the hot tub! The lower level has a sweet front porch with a loveseat. The fourth porch is and a long, thin one that stretches along the back of the house, which also could serve as a child’s secret hide-a-way.

In the past I have rented adequate, but sterile properties. This chalet contains over 130 pieces of artwork for you to peruse, respect, and enjoy. They include skiing prints, Scandinavian and European bric-a-brac, Tahoe design rugs and wall hangings, stone and textile Native American figures, spirit masks, and a totem pole from the Northwest Coast’s indigenous nations. Coincidentally, the items match because the dominant colors are reds and shades of black.

The bookshelves are full of a wide range of good books and DVDs available for use.

A True Four Season Resort AreaVRTG-Duff-Chalet-Photo-2-10-2-2013

Pick any season, grab a Lake Tahoe Visitor’s Guide and go! Dennis Duff, the owner of the chalet, graciously spent an hour on the phone telling me about the area, so I was ready to drive 73 miles to circumnavigate Lake Tahoe.

I went one way on my first day and the opposite way on my last day to to make the most of the incredible views. Late in August the traffic is tolerable and the temperatures are divine.

Lake Tahoe sits at the highest altitude of any lake of its size in the USA, and is also the second deepest. In fact, if it were emptied over the entire state of California, people would be standing in fourteen inches of water.

The Lake Tahoe area provides some of the best skiing, hiking, and water sports in the country. Golf courses, including disc golf, horseback trail riding, boat tours, and river rafting will keep you active and entertained.


As a long distance swimmer I am always searching for a safe and long stretch of deep water, which I found at the Nevada State Park, Sand Harbor, also home to the popular Lake Tahoe outdoor Shakespeare Festival. The water is sparkling clear with a sandy bottom. Wooden and brick walkways surround this wonderful state park. There is also a place to play in the water among the giant boulders.

D. L. Bliss State Park provides a smaller, good swimming area, deep with a sandy bottom at Lester Beach. A day-use pass ranges from $10-$13. Two good beaches for water sports galore are Kings Beach, California, and Zephyr Cove, Nevada. They are popular for people in their teens and twenties. The water is very shallow so it’s not conducive for a good swim. Commons Beach includes sand and a grassy area with playgrounds. The water is very shallow and the bottom is so rocky that solid water shoes are needed. It was amusing to watch people who didn’t have shoes on!
Summer concerts are held on the beach on Sunday afternoons.VRTG-Duff-Chalet-Photo-3-10-2-2013

Sugar Pine Point State Park is quiet with peaceful easy trails. It is home to the Ehrman Mansion which which offers tours. The grassy slope in front of the mansion leads to a dock where a ladder provides access to the water. Filled with fun shaped boulders, it’s not good for swimming, but sure is fun to play in!

Hiking and Biking

The Five Lakes Trail is within walking distance of the chalet. I hiked the trail through manzanita and snowberry bushes full of little birds. The trail changed to switchbacks around huge boulders and grayish-blue rock flecked with red and green lichen. Reaching the boundary of Granite Chief Wilderness near the top, I was enthralled by the gigantic Jeffrey pines, their limbs covered in squiggly hunks of moss or sporting mushroom clumps. The trail terminates with a necklace of small primeval lakes.

A short, easy, but stunningly beautiful hike, Emerald Point Trail starts at the turnout/rest stop just before Sand Harbor State Park. The trail follows the shoreline with vistas of luminescent aqua-colored water studded with boulders that sometimes look like creatures or animals. The Duffs have the book Lake Tahoe, Must-Do Hikes for Everyone by Mike White,

Miles of bike trails of different terrains encircle the lake and are quite popular. There are many bike shops where you can rent a bike or just a helmet. Be sure to pick up the free Lake Tahoe Bikeway Map at a bike shop or visitor center. I biked on the easy, converted rail/trail which follows the quiet stretches, rills, and little pools of the Truckee River from Alpine Meadows to Tahoe City.

Peaks and Paws, a festival for dogs, is held at Olympic Valley in August. You’ll see bikers headed for the festival with backpacks holding little dogs, their heads peeking out, ears flapping, tongues lolling, enjoying the breeze. The bigger dogs have to run beside the bikes.

Culture and History

Students from The Tahoe Center for Environmental Science at Sierra Nevada College conduct an informative tour concerning lake ecology. The most notable part was a 3-D movie that took us around and below the lake with explanations of the ecosystem and the lake-forming geographical events.

For $5, I saw a world class collection of exquisite baskets and artifacts representing the work of over 85 tribes stretching from Mexico to British Columbia at the Marion Steinbach Indian Basket Museum. At the age of sixteen, Marion Steinbach started collecting these baskets. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington D. C. wanted part of this collection, but Marion said no. She wanted to keep them in one collection, closer to where they were created. Also located on the site are the Gatekeeper’s Museum, the Watson Cabin Museum, and a display with videos devoted to bears.

Vikingsholm, a Scandinavian castle, is accessed from a parking lot high above Emerald Bay by walking down a steep mile-long roadway. I admit that I huffed and puffed my way back up, camera snapping this natural landmark the entire way. The house has eclectic furnishings in the stark Viking style. The beach faces the only island in the lake and the owner of Vikingsholm erected a tea house on it. The beach is open for swims, picnics, and boat rides to the island.

Thunderbird Lodge was the home of George Whittell, Jr. (1881-1969), heir to a family made rich by the gold rush. The two hour tour of this fantastic lodge is by tour bus only. During the ride, we were treated to stories about this eccentric and enigmatic man.

Whittell worked for a short time with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. He loved animals and kept a lion named Bill, and a small Asian elephant on the property.

The tour of the house, outbuildings, and gardens with incredible fountains spilling over layers of granite, even included a walk through a 600-foot underground tunnel. A card house brought the rich and famous from Los Angeles and San Francisco to play poker. If Whittell wanted to get away from the poker game, or if he was annoyed by his guests and their drunken revelry, he simply went into the bathroom, opened a false wall and disappeared down a spiral staircase to his room!

The boathouse holds one of the largest wooden boats in the country and is rigged with airplane engines! You can rent it for $10,000 per night. That benefits the foundation caring for the property. The tour is well worth the steep $39 fee.

The Tallac Historic Site is comprised of old cottages, the Pope Estate, and the Washoe Indian Museum which documents the Washoe’s indignation of the loss of their land to wealthy American businessmen. The Baldwin cottage has a Steinway square grand piano, which the docent allowed me to play. I played from old Tahoe sheet music while entertaining visiting tourists. What a rare treat as often pianos in historic properties are off limits.

Time to Say Thank-you and Good-bye

I was grateful for the smooth flight leaving Reno. Passing the rugged western mountains, I reflected on my exciting and enriching week of exploring one of the most beautiful areas in the USA. Choose any season and Tahoe beckons with a vast array of magical adventures.

Gratitude and thanks to the Duff family for exceeding my expectations, for their hospitality and their willingness to rent their wonderful chalet … not to mention the great bottle of wine they left me in the refrigerator.

I bid good-bye to them and Lake Tahoe, and shall make it a point to return.

Happy to Go — Hate to Stop (travelin’ that is) Liz

Category Placement

The Duff Chalet is outstandingly located close to terrific ski hills and a myriad of outdoor activities. We have selected it for the category Vacation Rentals for the Sports Enthusiast. It is also super family focused!

Sand Harbor Beach, Lake Tahoe, California

RELATED LOCATIONS: for more vacation rental options in this general area, check the article recently written about Lake Tahoe, California

Comments Welcome: Make a comment below (our writers work hard…give them some love!) on any of our Live Reviews by Travel Writer Cindy White, Liz Manduca, Emily Yurcheshen, Deborah Nelson, or Renee Fontaine, and get a FREE Digital version of The Vacation Rental Travel Guide when it is hot off the press!