Published on Monday, July 31, 2017

Precious moments in the Golden State

Ben Hatch and wife Dinah continue their road trip through California, heading north to a seemingly familiar Lake Tahoe and then hitting the bubbling mudpots of Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Something about being British and 50 and having watched an awful lot of US TV over the years meant I felt familiar with Lake Tahoe even before our Hyundai parted company with US50 and began cruising along South Tahoe's main drag, past the Dennys, the Burger Kings and the Taco Bells.

The (busiest) south end of this giant 72-mile-circumference body of water is where Californians come to party and have fun.

Extended family groups with seemingly endless amounts of small children emerge from their condos at first light, set up huge tents and sunshades, bring vast chiller boxes stuffed with food and drink plus giant tables to set it all out on and then plonk into camp chairs for the duration.

Each hotel on the water's edge has its own private strip of sand but ours was so packed we decided to head a little west, hugging the bay along I89 for 30 minutes with the windows down to smell the Incense Cedars and Jeffrey Pines until we reached Emerald Bay, a horseshoe of water in the lake so beautiful it's a state park.

The view from Inspiration Point vista, high above the lake, made us realise why this place is so popular - cloudless royal blue skies meet sun-flecked sapphire waters with the white peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range as background. No wonder Mark Twain described this scene as 'the fairest picture the whole earth affords'.

We pulled into Baldwin Beach on the way back and spent a lazy couple of hours swimming in the cold, cold lake. After the initial heart-stopping moment as we plunged our shoulders below the waterline, it became incredibly invigorating.

The kids played as Dinah and I ploughed along the shoreline, the rays of the sun making us squint as we stared up at Maggie's Peak.

That evening we walked along the beach from our hotel as the pink sun set on another balmy day until we chanced upon the Riva Grill and scored a table overlooking a mini harbour of fancy boats and expensive-looking jet skis.

As we left, the valet overheard us talking: "Where you from, you Southern jessies?" he asked in a thick Scunthorpe accent. "Brighton," we laughed and asked him what he was doing in Tahoe.

"Living the dream, living the dream" he grinned. I guess it must feel that way every time he checks the weather back home.

After a morning kayaking on the lake, we packed up and headed away from the crowds to Lassen Volcanic National Park in the Cascade Range in northeast California.

No, I'd never heard of it either but that's the thing about the US. They have these amazingly beautiful places that no one else except the Americans have heard of. Its heart is Lassen Peak, the largest plug dome volcano in the world, and it's a geologist's dream, with boiling mudpots popping and bubbling, stinking sulphurous hot springs hissing and angry fumaroles spitting steam - plus dozens and dozens of the most stunning hiking trails around.

We did the two-hour hike out to Mill Creek Falls where we were rewarded with crashing waters and absurdly-tall Ponderosa Pines as we wolfed our sandwiches and debated who was the best at counting the rings on felled trees along the way.

Now, our kids have always been city mice and have to be bribed to hike anywhere but for once it seemed they didn't mind the effort.

Phoebe and Dinah led out front and our 10-year-old Charlie and I chatted about everything and nothing as we negotiated the winding path back to our car.

The trail was gorgeous, of course, but the real treat was just me and the boy shooting the breeze, with no distractions for a couple of hours. That's a proper holiday.

Ben and Dinah Hatch travelled with

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