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A sojourn in the Sierras

A sojourn in the Sierras


On Highway 88 through the Sierra, there is a pullout where you can see all the way to the Crystal Mountains, a sub-range that runs through the Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe.

I was taking the long way back from the mountains, giving way to the impulse to linger a few minutes longer on the first weekend I’d been out of Napa since March, when the great shutdown began. I had promised my son I’d stay put for the duration of the coronavirus, take no unnecessary risks, have groceries delivered. Napa Valley is not a bad place to call home, if you have stay put for months, but an invitation to visit Wylder Hope Valley, a newly restored historic resort in the Sierra, was pretty much irresistible.

It arrived with photos of High Sierra peaks, meadows and snug cabins set among quaking aspen trees. My daughter and her dog looked at the photos and decided to come along.

In 1926, Sorensen’s opened with cabins and a cafe serving hearty mountain food on Highway 89, south of Lake Tahoe. At about 7,000 feet, it’s on the eastern edge of Carson Pass along the West Fork of the Carson River.

Last year, John Flannigan, the found of Wylder Hotels, purchased the 165-acre resort, and set about gently refurbishing the 30 cabins that had served travelers well. He has achieved a fine balance in preserving the cozy charm while adding a pervasive comfort. When it reopened this summer, he’d added seven yurts and one restored 1951 trailer as options for guests. He kept, however, the name of the venerable Sorensen’s Cafe, along with some of the recipes. They include a “famous berry cobbler” and an interesting “Beef Burgundy Stew,” which, while it bears little resemblance to the French dish, is popular enough to be served at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Our dog-friendly cabin was set back at the foot of a hiking trail that turns into a sledding hill in winter. Working with local craftsmen, Wylder added amenities that might have surprised circa 1926 travelers, but were entirely welcome in 2020: a welcoming bottle of Amador County Barbera, a rainfall showerhead in a newly tiled bathroom, a gas-burning fireplace, and a fully stocked new kitchen with an Italian Bertazonni stove and oven, a set of Sabatier knives, and a rack of spices (also pots, pans and dishes). A subtle luxury — but it’s still a cabin in the woods with an old-fashioned charm.

And here was a bonus: There was no Wi-Fi in the cabin. You could, if you absolutely had to, hike down to the office and sit by a little pond beneath a satellite dish and log onto your email — but you could also be blissfully news-free. For three days, I didn’t know what was happening in the world. There is a restorative power in such bliss; the world is a crazy as it has ever been in my lifetime, but the mountains still stand.

My daughter called the resort “a civilized wilderness,” with paths through the cabins, and swings, hammocks, benches and picnic tables scattered through out the grounds. For a more roughing it experience, down the road, the resort includes 13 camping and RV sites as well as a general store for supplies.

Activities abound. Signs point the way to hiking trails and swimming holes. My daughter’s dog mapped out a favored trail — and from my hammock I waved as they went up the mountain, across a creek, down the mountain, past the cafe (good sniffing there) — again and again and again.

For those who want to venture farther afield, Lake Tahoe is 25 miles to the north, Kirkwood for skiing in winter is not far to the east and to the south is the turnoff to Markleeville, a tiny, charming mountain village with several restaurants and a brewery that is soon to open.

For myself, I was happy just wander around the mountain there and listen to the aspens quaking.

These days, of course, integral to any travel story is how safe a destination feels. On this count, it was outstanding. The cabins were immaculate, the staff is masked, conscientious and courteous. Meals from Sorensen’s Cafe were available on the new redwood deck or the staff will deliver orders to cabins.

The number of available cabins is limited now because of the coronavirus, but those guests who were there also reflected the respect of the staff. Everyone wore masks and kept a distance, but it was a friendly one. Families were there with children who were fishing in the little pond, climbing trees, and exploring the creek. They looked like happy kids from another more relaxed time.

And the dogs all seemed to love it.

All in all, it added up to one of those rare weekends where, when people ask “What did you do?” you can happily reply, “Not a whole lot, I just enjoyed life.”

Which is, of course, why we took the long way home and kept pausing to take one more look at the mountains. At the trailhead where we could see the far-off Crystal Mountains, another car paused too, and an elderly couple got out. “Just look at everything,” the man said. “We’ve been locked inside for four months.”

I sent my son in Los Angeles photos of the cabin, the river, the rocks and mountains at the Wylder Hope Valley resort. “Looks like heaven, “ he said.

We agreed there must be a reason it’s called Hope Valley.

For more information on Wylder Hope Valley, call 530-694-2203 or visit They do have internet in the office.

Watch now: How to take a stress-free road trip with pets

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Features Editor

Sasha Paulsen has been features editor at the Napa Valley Register since 1999. A graduate of Napa High School, she studied English at UC Berkeley and St. Mary's College and earned a Masters in Journalism from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

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