I’m not much of a rule breaker. It isn’t necessarily about doing the right thing; it’s about doing the CORRECT thing. It’s the Capricorn in me I guess, cursed with a driving need to reach perfection. So on this night I set out for the second time in a week to catch the Milky Way in a arch over the lake, having been unsuccessful in my previous quest. The forecast all day had been promising picture perfect clear skies so, with that familiar anticipation in my belly, I begged my crew to venture out into the darkness (the crew being my 19 year old son and his girlfriend who are avid horror movie watchers). We arrived at Sugar Pine around 11PM as I had planned just as the moon was setting to our backs, grabbed my gear & multiple flashlights and set out on the hike down to the water. If you’ve never been to Sugar Pine and you’re on the West shore of Tahoe it’s worth a visit. Wealthy financier Isaias W. Hellman built his summer home here in the early 1900’s and the compound is still in beautiful condition on a knoll overlooking the lake. A mansion, carriage house, boat house and various guest quarters dot the property and make for interesting window snooping. Guided tours are available but I’m the type that prefers to snoop. As a lot of you know already, the gorgeous pier jutting into the lake is a personal favorite spot and frequent object of my lens affection. So with flashlights in hand our little threesome set about the walk through the woods to reach the shore. Here’s where the aforementioned rule breaking comes in. Technically the park closes as sunset. There was no gate and we were able to drive right into the parking lot but there was a quite large and prominent sign clearly stating that visitors are required to vacate the premises at sunset. I made no mention of this to my unwitting accomplices and ventured on down the darkened path past the century old darkened buildings, which seem so welcoming by daylight. At night, not so much, especially when accompanied by teenagers with visions of horror flicks burned in their brains. Halfway down the pine-lined path and just passed the tennis court I looked into the illuminated window of a cabin to see a park ranger entertaining guests. In a loud whisper I instructed my companions to go “lights out” before we were spotted! We continued down the trail illuminated only by the waning moon past the mansion, down the hill and onto the pier. This has always been my happy place but the apprehension of my comrades, who insisted on vocally rehashing similar cinematic scenes that surely must have taken place on this very spot, was contagious. I set about swiftly setting up my gear, all the while getting the unsetting feeling that someone, or something, was watching. The gentle lapping of the waves against the pilings of the pier, usually a soul soothing sound, conjured visions of creepers just below the boards stealthily waiting to grab an ankle for a midnight snack. Never one to give in to fear, I pushed the gruesome ghouls from my mind and proceeded to get lost in my lens yet again. Snapping away I was suddenly acutely aware of the silence growing behind me. I turned to look and saw the kids huddled together, clinging to each other, patiently waiting for me but obviously totally freaked out! Sighing inwardly I realized it was time to go. Still in the dark to avoid the watchful eye of Ranger Rick, I hastily packed up my gear and we began the trek back to the car, this time without the benefit of illumination from moon, which had set. As we crested the hill Pine Lodge Mansion impeded our path and we became painfully aware that there was no comfortable route around it. Happy memories of afternoons spent as a family lounging in rocking chairs on the front porch were replaced with the feeling of impending doom. We were positive that a million eyes were trained on us from behind those darkened windowpanes. A nervous laugh escaped my lips as I broke free from our little group and began a full on run for the car, only to be passed up by my two much younger compadres. I was left in the darkened dust! We all made it back safely but couldn’t shake that creeptastic feeling for the remainder of the night. The kids minced no words while promising me that my next night venture to Sugar Point would be a solo outing. As much as I like the resulting shot from our adventure it still isn’t the image that I had hoped to capture. The promised forecast for a clear night sky never materialized as the elusive Milky Way remained shrouded by a mysterious veil of glowing cloud cover. Luckily I’ll be back to Tahoe mid August and this time my partner in crime will be my “always up for anything” best girlfriend. The adventure continues. I’ll keep you posted! ~W
P.S. If you’d like to see the larger version of “Night Crew” check out the Gallery/NewReleases section of the site. Hope you enjoy it.