NevadaGram #195 – Incline Village, Crystal Bay and Coaldale


In all my years of exploring Nevada the most difficult place for me to get a handle on has been Incline Village. Incline Village NevadaI could never find the There there. Now with the help of Kayla Anderson (see below) I’ve learned there isn’t one.

In most small Nevada towns, if you could get up on the roof of the tallest building, maybe 3 or 4 stories, which you’d find at the center of town, you’d see everything there is to see. Down all the streets, over the all the fences, into all the back yards.

Not Incline Village though. It’s not just that the trees get in the way, although they do. It’s that it was never a town in the usual sense, although it’s trying to become one. Every other other burg in Nevada formed itself round some natural activity center — a railroad depot, a mine, a ford of the river, a crossroads. Incline Village formed around a golf course.

Five Years Ago in the NevadaGram

We had a great time doing the things you do at Goldfield Days, starting with the the pancake breakfast at the Fire House and continuing through a warm sunny day with the parade, the property auction, hot food, cold drink, historic presentations in the Court House.

Ultralite plane at Goldfield Days 2012Radio Goldfield (89.1 fm) toured the town with an atv and big speakers spraying music into the air (including family favorite “My Ding-a-Ling”) and Alan Metscher presided over a highly enjoyable Bus Tour of the old city.

He showed a school bus full of visitors the path of the great flood of 1913 and the area burnt in the great fire ten years later. His tales sometimes began “Legend has it that. . . .” 2012 Goldfield Days ParadeThat is not a quibble, a place’s legends help to define it, I mention it to indicate that he did not permit the facts to stand naked and alone in his presentation, but coiffed them and shod them and put feathers in their hats to show them at their best.

2012 Goldfield DaysThe land auction was exciting to watch, and brought Esmeralda County some serious money.

Underneath these traditional enjoyments there was a subcurrent of anticipation throughout the day: the president of the Chamber of Commerce had promised to set a school bus on fire that night.

Read the whole thing here

But before we get to that, let’s take a look around.

I like coming to the north shore of Lake Tahoe from Carson City via US 50 because it is a 4-lane highway built for cars, while the Mount Rose road Nevada 431) is a 2-lane paved-over wagon track zig-zagging up the east slope of the Sierra, built for 3 mph but driven at 50.

Turn north on Nevada 28 at Spooner Summit and start into the forest. You’ll encounter one gem after another, starting just a few miles along at Spooner Lake, surrounded by aspens and by 12,000 acres of forest, part of Lake Tahoe State Park. You can access 50 miles of hiking, equestrian and mountain biking trails here; the 2-mile trail around the lake is an easy stroll with many small pleasures along the way. Cost is $10 in summer, $7 in other seasons.

Continuing north on 28 we might pass the entrance to Thunderbird Lodge on the left without noticing it. The yacht Thunderbird at Thunderbird Lodge, Lake Tahoe NevadaIt’s just as well; this was the estate of George Whittell whose eccentricities were financed by the enormous wealth he’d pulled from the stock market in 1929 just before the crash. He lived a phenomenal life and built a phenomenal stone house to live it in. Beautifully restored and maintained it is available for tours which you can arrange at Sand Harbor or at the Visitors Center farther along. Highly recommended. Take the tour and descend the 600-foot tunnel from the house to the boat house — and what a boat! One of the rooms along its length was his pet lion’s kennel, poker games were conducted in another.

Back on the road. As you approach Sand Harbor you’re passing above Clemens’ Cove. Mark Twain wrote in “Roughing It” about making a timber claim here in 1861, involving construction of a brush lean-to and setting the forest on fire.

Sand Harbor State Park (8 am to one hour past sunset, 365 days a year. Drive in: $7 winter, $12/summer. Bike in: $2 Walk in $1) is almost magically beautiful. There’s nothing prettier on a sunny summer’s day than the creamy crescent of beach, sprinkled with bathers in and out of the water, and punctuated with pointillist dabs of red, white, orange, green and blue umbrellas, edging the big blue lake. There is a boat launch, a couple of short scenic hikes, and you can rent kayaks and paddleboards. There’s a Visitor Center and even a bar & grill with a shaded deck. In winter the parking lots are kept clear of snow and you can take an unforgettable sleigh ride into the wintry woods. Do this.

The new East Shore Trail is being built from Lakeshore Drive in Incline Village to Sand Harbor, part of a planned 10-foot wide Lake Tahoe Bikeway that will go all around the Lake.

The Cartwrights of Ponderosa Ranch, NevadaFurther on we pass the hallowed grounds of the Ponderosa Ranch on the right, fabled home of the Cartwright Family in the hugely popular television series “Bonanza“, broadcast by NBC in color at 9 o’clock on Sunday nights. The make-believe Ranch opened in 1967 and closed in 2004.

Incline Village Nevada Visitors CenterIf ever a town needed a Visitor Center, it’s this one, and happily enough it has one, ahead on the left at the eastern edge of town, dispensing detailed information to out-of-towners about all the ways to enjoy the lake: hiking and biking trails from the Flume Trail to the Ale Trail; the food, three dozen dining choices when you include Crystal Bay three miles farther along; the drink from the elegant Lone Eagle Grille on the water to the beer-shrine The Alibi in the industrial district to the comfortable Crosby’s in Christmas Tree Village; the nightlife — casinos at the Hyatt and at three more in Crystal Bay; and the lodging, the splendid Hyatt and both the Biltmore and the 9-room Border House in Crystal Bay. Highly recommended.

It’s all just ahead and hugely enjoyable: so press on and enjoy it!

Ten Years Ago in the NevadaGram

Like every other sane person in this crazy world, I try to get to Laughlin four or five times a year.

Laughlin Nevada and the Colorado RiverIt provides just the right balance between Monaco and Mayberry. It’s a gambling resort with fishing privileges, a calm, friendly and undemanding place and every time I come I feel the urgency drain out of me and a sweet and tender lassitude take its place.

If there can be anything like a small town with 11 large casino resorts, this is it. Back in August, for example, the Aquarius Casino Resort collected four boxes of school supplies for Diamondback Elementary School across the river in Bullhead City.

River walk, Laughlin NevadaAt Halloween the Edgewater and Colorado Belle held a community- wide Safe Street Trick-or-Treat party, complete with a haunted house, a 900-lb carved pumpkin and candy for the kids. In the fall the River Palms sponsored a food drive with employees and the public encouraged to donate canned food and other non-perishables to benefit the area’s families in need. Next I expect that the Tropicana Express will be holding a Bake Sale for the Senior Citizens.

There was a time — 20 years ago Circus Circus made the Colorado Belle the most photogenic casino on the river — when Laughlin seemed destined to rival Las Vegas for splash and excitement.

It didn’t happen. By 1996, talk of overtaking Las Vegas had ended. In fact now Laughlin presents itself as a serene alternative to Las Vegas overload. Fishing node, Colorado River at LaughlinThe RiverWalk has now been extended upriver all the way to Davis Dam, and one of the recent improvements was the addition of a fishing platform. Does that say it all?

Not quite. The outlet mall that opened 10 years ago has new owners who have added three new stores and are bringing 28 new stores, more high-end than before.

Are We There Yet? - photo by Robin CobbeyRead the
whole thing here

In 1960 — one lifetime ago or less — there were only four houses where Incline Village is now, and the place didn’t have a name yet. In winter the California Highway Department plowed the snow off the road on the Nevada side of the border so the school bus could get to the four kids who lived there. They rode to Truckee and back each day, an hour’s drive via King’s Beach and Tahoe City.

Then the Crystal Bay Development Company bought 9,000 acres from George Whittell and began to cut roads and develop beaches, a ski area and a Robert Trent Jones golf course. The “Chateau” at the golf course was the company offices as the golf course was created. As it became famous, some of the people who came to play fell under Tahoe’s spell so that much of the early residential development was strips of second homes not far from the fairways.

The ghost of Mark Twain lingers at Incline Village in the person of McAvoy Layne, who has been a resident for 40 years. He described the demographics in that earlier time: “There was a saying in those days that anyone who lives at Incline Village has either two homes or two jobs. Now there are more families here, working people who are making it into a real community.”

Community was not an issue in the 1880s when Incline’s pioneers were all working people, cutting down trees and getting them over to the mines in Virginia City.

Sawmill at Sand Harbor, Lake TahoeThe Sierra Nevada Wood & Lumber Company built a sawmill at Sand Harbor in 1878 where logs were floated from around the lake and were sawed into lumber. From there the cut lumber and cordwood were hauled by narrow-gauge railway to the foot of “The Great Incline” and pulled up nearly to the summit of the Carson Range, a 20-minute ride up the 4,000-foot tramway, 1,400 feet above the lake. The cars were angled to keep the loads level as they traveled up the steep grade, and the system could deliver 300 cords of cordwood or 1,500 board feet of cut lumber day-in, day-out to the V-flume.

The great Incline, north shore Lake Tahoe about 1880The tramline was a minor miracle of engineering; a double-track of narrow-gauge rails, eighteen feet in overall width, with cross ties on a solid log bed supporting them. As four loaded cars were being hauled up on the endless cable by the steam engine at the top, four empties were let down the other pair of rails. Near the top of the Incline the rise was 8 feet in every 12, a 67 percent grade; the 8,000-foot cable weighed 7 tons.

At the top the wood was put piece by piece into the V-flume that carried it rapidly through the Virginia City Water Company’s 4,000 foot tunnel and on down the steep east slope to Lakeview north of Carson City where it was loaded onto flatcars of the V&T and hauled to the Comstock.

Fifteen Years Ago in the NevadaGram

My Wendover item last month was out of date before its electrons settled. Wendover WillThe Mississippi-based Isle of Capri company had bid $30 million, but Columbia Sussex Corp (Horizon, Lake Tahoe; Maxim, Las Vegas) upped the ante to $31 million for the Silver Smith and Stateline, the bankrupted Smith Family hotel casinos on the Utah border. As the High Desert Advocate reported, “Attorneys for the two battled like poker players from the old west. In counter bids ranging from one to two million they raised and counter-raised until the price climbed to $41 million.”

Peppermill Hotel Casino, Wendover NevadaAt that point, the Peppermill (which had abandoned an earlier offer for the properties) came back to the table with a partner called Generation 2000 and offered $42,500,000. Isle of Capri folded, but Columbia Sussex hung tough until the bidding reached $55 million. But that was their limit, and the sale went to the Peppermill — which will operate the Silver Smith — and Generation 2000 — which will operate the larger State Line. The sale includes a $22 million non-refundable deposit, which will go a long way toward paying the unsecured creditors and the back taxes sorely missed by the Wendover schools.

Wendover, NevadaThe City of West Wendover is already deciding what to do about annexing Wendover Utah (citizens of both communities approved the idea at the recent election) while facing the grim decisions demanded by a $600,000 budget deficit. Having these two properties on the eastern boundary returned to full throttle is most welcome to Wendover, Elko County, and the state as a whole.

Are We There Yet? - photo by Robin CobbeyRead the
whole thing here

The company ceased operations in 1895, and you might call this prehistory, even though the bunk houses for the 200 – 250 men who built and operated the famous Incline briefly attracted an election precinct and a fourth class post office called Incline. When they were done, they left with everything they could carry and abandoned the rest.

Crystal Bay is three miles farther west, past the roundabout at the junction of Nevada 431 right at the California line. It is considerably smaller — barely 300 residents in 2010 — and older than its near neighbor. The bright commercial cluster at the border hangs everything out in plain sight.

Jim Kelley’s Tahoe Nugget is small and friendly with a devoted local clientele.

The Crystal Bay Casino is famous for its music, both for the performers and for the superb acoustics of its venues, and the food at the Bistro Elise and the Steak & Lobster Room lives up to the stylish atmosphere too.

Tahoe Biltmore, Crystal Bay NevadaThe Tahoe Biltmore is a full service hotel and 24/7 casino with live table games and slots, sports book, two restaurants, a nightclub, a children’s arcade, and attractive room rates to boot.

And the 3-story, 10 room Border House offers luxurious accommodations a short walk from th Crystal Bay Casino

Coaldale NevadaOn a recent drive up US 95 Robin and I paused at Coaldale, a burnt-out ruin on US 95 north of Tonopah that was once a popular stop for travelers.

Coaldale NevadaWikipedia says: “The service station was closed down due to EPA testing in 1993 that found that its underground fuel tanks were leaking. Soon, the restaurant and motel closed, since the service station was the primary attraction for travelers. At some point before 2006, a fire destroyed the restaurant.”

Coaldale NevadaI remember pulling up to the shiny new gas pumps here many years ago and seeing it — all of it, including the buildings that have since burned — as the little store was being prepared by new owners for its Grand Opening.

Coaldale NevadaA young man was painting the trim around the front door and  I paused to talk with him as he applied the paint, very careful to do a perfect job. As we talked I watched through the doorway as an extended family was busy arranging brand-new merchandise on all the display racks and stocking the shelves with t-shirts, sweatshirts and caps in vivid colors.

His parents had just bought the place, he told me. This was their dream come true, and they had worked long and hard to make it a reality.

It was a beautiful moment.

Parting Shot —

King Street, Carson City Nevada

King Street, Carson City Nevada about 1880



  1. I got a chuckle out of your description of the Incline road system. Back in 1959, my father, Raymond M Smith was hired by Crystal Bay Development Co to design the new town of Incline Village. His design basically included everything below Mt Rose highway. He abhorred straight lines and square corners. Check out the street map for Hidden Valley in Reno…another of his designs.
    PS. The longest road in Incline is Tyner Way. …my middle name.
    Good to see your Nevada gram David.

    G Tyner S


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