USA 2016 – Day 9 – Sonora to Sonora Pass to South Lake Tahoe

This day took us from Sonora over a challenging mountain pass, through a glorious valley over another mountain pass to Lake Tahoe.

After breakfast, we stopped at Wal-Mart to top up on GoPro batteries (half the price of Australia), an extra power pack and one more micro SD card, all things that would have been useful at the start of the trip, had we known beforehand!

We filled up with fuel as late as we could before the pass (78 miles to the next stop it would be tight with Elvis’ tiny tank) and then followed a magnificently smooth brand new road up the mountain;  I could tell it was brand new not just because of the surface and because they were doing extensive road works replacing the Tarmac at certain points along the route, this held us up a little but the surroundings were lovely so I didn’t mind one bit. At one point we were following two BMW motorbikes and a Can-Am Spyder, this is an odd looking vehicle that looks like a mobility scooter from the back…


Waiting in a queue at roadworks surrounded by beautiful trees, on the way to the Sonora Pass

We climbed the mountain around winding corner with a speed limit of 40 mph (boo), and stopped at a view point overlooking the valley. Below us, high cliffs dropped to a snaking lake dammed at the far end; the pine trees clung to the mountainsides, overlooked by rocky outcrops.

Donnell Lake
Another view of Donnell Lake

We continued up the road, gaining altitude as we went and arrived  at the official start of the pass. Roadsigns warned of steep roads and tight bends ‘not suitable for large vehicles or vehicles pulling trailers’. Awesome… and a little scary, with me, less than two years into riding, on a motorbike which didn’t do bends very well, feeling a little apprehensive but excited at the same time.



Getting near Sonora Pass

But it was fine (it always is!), a few hairpins bends but no more challenging than I have already experienced on this trip. As we climbed further, the trees thinned out and rocks became more prominent in the scenery; the views between the mountain peaks were stunning. A stream carried water down from the pockets of snow which stubbornly remained in high, north-facing spots of the high peaks, refusing to melt despite the recent very hot summer. Even though we were so high, it felt oddly cosy, as if we were in a lowland valley, with the peaks enclosing the pass and the sun blazing, it didn’t feel like we were at 9,000 feet.



Sonora Pass, and some snow!

We reached the summit, 9,624 feet, and the road quickly dropped down into the valley beyond. It wove down the mountain, a little tighter than the west side (although that may have been my perception as I sometimes find riding downhill far more difficult than uphill as it often feels like the motorbike could run away from me).



Finally at the top of the Pass
The road down

At one point I saw what I thought to be a monument, of some sort, made up of dark coloured statues of lots of people having a gathering. Then the statues moved …and I realised that these statues were, in fact, Marines out on a training exercise, their camouflaged outfits making them appear dark brown against the scenery. I waved, they waved back 😃.


As we descended, the pine forest and rocky outcrops dispersed and transformed into idylic mountain meadows.

At one point we found ourselves following a Marines Hum-Vee, they stopped at a turn-out in a gentlemanly fashion and let us pass.

We then passed the US Marines Mountain Warfare Training Centre; that explained our recent interactions with the people dressed like marines.
We arrived at Highway 395 and headed north, passing through the beautiful Walker River Canyon and into the valley.

We stopped at Walker for lunch, $1.75 chilli dog on special at the Walker Country Store and Gas Station, which did us very nicely,  and the ladies inside were very friendly and helpful with onwards directions and advice.


Walker Country Store and Gas Station

The next stretch of our trip was along the Carson Valley where we crossed the state line into Nevada. Wow, what a difference a little sign and a state line makes… Casinos, that’s what Nevada seems to be all about, I’m sure it’s not everything but it was apparent that proximity to a state line where one side allows gambling and the other doesn’t means that it’s profitable to have casinos. I couldn’t tell you how many I counted in a distance of about 20 miles, maybe 20, yep, there was a lot.


At Minden, we took the 85 then the 206 out of the Carson Valley and up a road carved out of the side of the mountain it provided us with excellent views of the valley. Over the summit we went, dropping down towards Lake Tahoe.

Looking down towards Carson Valley


Again, casinos: this was still Nevada, after all; I was very surprised how built-up this area of the lakeside was. Perhaps I shouldn’t be, it is world famous, after all.

Our hotel was, thankfully in California, about a mile west of the Nevada state line; no casinos but still busy. Beautiful sunset though, across the lake.

Sunset over Lake Tahoe

Tomorrow we plan to explore the lake, ride across to Sacramento before heading back to San Francisco. We then have one more day with the motorbikes with the intent of riding across the Golden Gate Bridge and exploring the north.


3 thoughts on “USA 2016 – Day 9 – Sonora to Sonora Pass to South Lake Tahoe

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