Emerald Bay State Park, South Lake Tahoe, California

Photo not altered in any way. A simple cell phone pic.

We have been to many beautiful places within a small sample size of beautiful places. The mid-May trip to Lake Tahoe was an unreal, much needed experience. Aside from the beautiful sky and clean air, the deciding factor on traveling to Lake Tahoe was the trails. In South Lake Tahoe alone, there are 48 trails, ranging in difficulty from moderate to performance. We only did two during our trip; one in Nevada and this one, in California. 

Emerald Bay State Park is the most frequently-photographed destination in Lake Tahoe. A steep down-hill one mile stretch was a surprising discovery as we realized we had muscles in our calves that we never knew we had. The destinations and sights that followed led to our most tranquil experience in Lake Tahoe, and harvested the most impeccable pictures we have ever taken. 

First and foremost, the drive to this site was horrifying. Our untrained northeastern ignorance (for better or worse) made us naive to the fact that this destination wasn’t just up the street from the Hard Rock Casino. Uber and Lyft were tough to come by in the region, so we set up a costly cab ride, about 16 miles due west, directly into Emerald Bay, the centerscape of southwest Tahoe. Our cabbie took us through Bear Hazard road signs, uphill curves, and views that we can only believe because we were there to see it. Finally, along the final 5 miles , the turquoise colors flow into a very crowded parking lot, filled with people taking pictures and families enjoying a serene experience. Right past the row of port-of-potties and a small information desk led us to a solid rock formation, overlooking the mountain we were about to traverse, and the beach we were about to visit.

This is a place where people take selfies, propose marriage, paint pictures.

The walk is a one mile drop down the mountain to the beautiful beachfront at Emerald Bay, looking along Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe. The Vikingsholm Mansion along the beach is a major tourist attraction for hikers and visitors alike. While we worked to our destination, the thin, elevated air began to catch up on us as we made our way downhill. The sore calves haunted us for the rest of the trip, but it was worth it. On the way down, we got to appreciate the tall Jeffrey pine trees, a delicacy much like everything else at this destination for us. The sap created a moisture in the air on the way down, as did the slight drop in elevation – Emerald Bay is 6830 feet above sea level.

Eventually, the rugged mountain trail turned into a light pavement as we reached ground level and worked our way to Vikingsholm mansion and the beach at Emerald Bay. Although it was closed for the season, Vikingsholm mansion was still a sight to behold. The property was acquired and sold to various landowners throughout the 19th Century. After nearly forty years of established land, Mrs. Lora Knight purchased the property in 1928, and decided to construct a home that reflected some of her Scandinavian travels throughout her life, as Emerald Bay’s landscape reminded Mrs. Knight of fjords that she has seen. With the assistance of Lennart Palmle, an architect from Sweden and Knight’s nephew, Vikingsholm was constructed. Following Mrs. Knight’s death in 1945, the property was sold yet again, and the new owner negotiated a deal with the state of California, which led to the house and property being acquired by the state, which still stands to this day, as a frequently visited destination, and one of the oldest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States.

Vikingsholm mansion, as impressive as it looks, was merely the opening act for the beach at Emerald Bay. The sand was thick and grainy; the water clean and cold. The views were exquisite. Looking ahead at Fannette Island was ideal for the beach. We were not alone; many families showed up and posted up on benches, to enjoy a picnic in a setting of paradise. We joined for a few moments to take in the experience before heading back up.

Fannette Island – The only island in Lake Tahoe.

The walk up was rough. We were climbing up a mountain after a challenging walk down the mountain. We took multiple breaks coming back up to catch our breath and rest our quads. No matter how much step training we did in New Jersey, it still wasn’t enough for us to be prepared for the beautiful challenge of Emerald Bay State Park. Despite the challenging walk, this was a perfect, wonderfully captured moment for us in our travels. It’s a place that you see pictures of online and you research about – and maybe even visit on GoogleMaps (I did all three extensively), but you don’t actually believe that it is real until you actually go there. There’s really no other way to communicate the beauty of Emerald Bay State Park than to share our reflections and upload our pictures — and to that end, we hope we did it justice. But there is no comparison to seeing it in person. 

Sayen Gardens, Hamilton Square, NJ

Unimpaired in its amount of beautiful parks, Hamilton, NJ’s Sayen Gardens boasts a pleasant visual panorama in its exterior with hidden gems nestled away in small, wooded nature trails. Situated along the busy small-town village of Hamilton Square, Sayen Gardens is frequently populated with hikers, skateboarders, and families on any given nice afternoon. If the air is right on a Saturday, you may even stumble upon a wedding in progress. We have been to Sayen Gardens countless times, and we were excited to make this particular visit on an early Spring evening, to take in the trails and the visuals.

After a quick turn on Hughes Drive, one will see the exterior of Sayen Gardens – a public parking lot and an open sky trail, featuring bridges, ponds, and ever changing floral arrangements that transition with the season. The trail spreads the perimeter and provides a nice opening act to what we consider the real treat of Sayen Gardens.

The wooded trails behind the exterior show a display of floral amazement. Frederick Sayen, a worldly man of the early Twentieth Century purchased the property in 1912 and constructed a house, which sits comfortably in the beautiful woods, not too far from the busy streets of Hamilton Square. Sayen House, as it is billed, is available for weddings, receptions, corporate functions, parties – like many other local NJ historical sites. Mr. Sayen had a penchant for flowers around the world, and he displayed his property with breathtaking arrangements, which are diligently maintained by groundskeepers to this day. 

The area behind Sayen House showcases a fountain pond surrounded by one of the many benches in Sayen Gardens, beautifully nestled in the woods. It’s a quiet juxtaposition to its public location in Hamilton Square, as an enchanting park bridge spreads over the pond. This particular spot is prime for photo shoots, as the peaceful woods compliment Sayen’s distinct floral patterns, creating a backdrop for life’s best moments captured on photography. 

What do we like best about Sayen Gardens? The convenience, accessibility, and atmosphere are always nice, but it’s really the dedication to preservation that makes it a special place. Frederick Sayen’s love for flowers from around the world is an influential trademark of the park. While this may not be the destination for the marathon hiking enthusiast, it’s still a great place to get your steps in, and an even better place to take in beauty that transports you around the globe.

Robbin’s House, Windsor, NJ

Robbin’s House, Windsor, NJ

Certain destinations offer enough reflection by presentation alone. Robbin’s House finds itself within a unique category of local, small town NJ history. Once a Royally-indentured body of farmland, this modest plot now sits along a mostly-isolated, 23-acre  hill of an open air homestead. Mostly-isolated; because while the land is kept and preserved, the property still sits within a short, pensive walk along the NJ Turnpike overpass, right at Exit 8, one of the most frequently congested Turnpike exits in the state.

NJ Turnpike – not a fry car from our destination.

What new things can we say about Robbin’s House during a pandemic climate? Not much. There were no tour guides, no fellow curious observers, no hours of operation. Not a soul in sight, other than the occasional ominous turkey vulture, circling its prey over a patch of vacant farmland and dead grass, recently exposed after a month of snowfall.  The property was purchased from the Robbins’ family by the former Washington Township in 2001 (for any of you who are keeping score, Washington Township became Robbinsville Township in 2008.) Ever since its purchase, the property has been used as a picturesque rental space for any grab bag assortment of social events; weddings, grad parties, scout meetings, bridal showers, business conferences. The ensuing pandemic of which we are still currently living put an end to the social bookings at the Robbin’s House, and now the land remains undisturbed and well placed along its long driveway leading you to Hillcrest Farm. 

The ominous plot of Hillcrest Farm.

 Robbin’s House is the final destination along the desolate Windsor Road before it curves into the Turnpike overpass, eventually dropping off on Sharon Road, a stretch of rural-suburban Mercer County. The sign out front of the long driveway guides a thin drive up a makeshift blacktop parking lot, likely created when the property became a rental. The structure itself stands beautifully intact; a classic brick building representing a 19th Century homestead, despite any additional obvious signs of renovations (central air conditioning, headlights, landscaping).  Latoya pointed out an old fashioned ringing bell connecting the original structure to an addition. We made it a point to make a third trip to the House to take a picture of it. Whether it’s a part of the original development of the property, or a cozy add-on is unknown. 

This was a nice site, with plenty of photo opportunities and visual interpretations, not to mention centuries of historical context (We would be remiss if we didn’t include that). As mentioned earlier, the land was deeded from the King of England to Moses Robins (with one ‘b’ at the time) in the early 18th Century. David Robbins purchased the property in 1818, and it’s presumed that the farmhouse was built around then. It is with this family name that the property evolved generationally. With funding by Green Acres and Mercer County, the Township purchased the property in 2001 (Karas, 2013). The property has been utilized as a pastorally themed recreational site over the better half of the past two decades. 

We enjoyed the isolated beauty of Robbin’s House and would absolutely love to revisit the area during a more operational time. Nevertheless, the 23 acre property sits quietly upon Hillcrest Farm, patiently awaiting the much anticipated end of the pandemic.