As I meandered down the dusty road, I slowly, almost imperceptibly, heard string music floating between the trees in the distance. Was it just my imagination playing forest tricks on me again? Or were the sprites and pixies singing lullabies to the midsummer sky?
The beckoning jangle drifted in out of my perception, yet I couldn’t tell from which way was it was coming. A little further up the road, civilization appeared in the form of a rugged, back-country lodge rising from the dense woods.
Lost Trail Front Porch Hot Mamas and High Strung
Aug. 18 | 12:30 to 3 p.m.
The Reno Ceilidh Band
Sept. 8 | 12:30 to 3 p.m.
As I passed the driveway, two mountain bikers zoomed by just back from their morning ride up Snagglepuss, dirty smiles pasted on their faces like little kids up to no good.
Around the corner of Lost Trail Lodge, I found around 60 local folks hanging out underneath the canopy listening to a tie-dyed group of bearded gray hairs picking out an old Jerry Garcia tune on various acoustic instruments. Even though it wasn’t the long lost Sierra nymphs of whom I’d dreamt, it could’ve been; the magic of music belonged there just so.
Soon a trio of women took the stage with ukuleles in their hands. You could feel the life stories emanate between them as they sang their simple versions of classic Americana tunes, a soft, cool breeze fluttering through the trees beneath a wispy sky of blue.
The audience nibbled on fresh watermelon and sipped on beers as their children wandered around the wood-chipped yard, clambering on fallen logs and searching for nebulous insects. The shade of pine and fir offered a nice respite from the high heat of Tahoe summer.
The sound of soft, intimate chatter and honest conversation between kinfolk wafted between the heart-plucked tones on stage. I almost felt as if I’d been transported back to simpler time gone by.
Through the backstage door beyond the musicians is the lodge itself, built two decades ago by the unknowable David Robertson.
“It was a Home Depot kit,” he says sarcastically before running away through the trees beyond a question’s reach.
Inside, the rooms are full of antique knickknacks ranging from old area maps and leather-bound snowshoes to oil lanterns and wooden skis. Upstairs in the kitchen, I find a quiet moment to speak with the lodge’s caretakers, Tony and Lindsey Nieman.
They’ve lived out here for the past eight years while raising their daughter Kiely, 12, and son, Shepard, 4. The first season they moved in was during the record winter of 2010-11. Robertson, who is Lindsey’s father, had picked a good year to head to Hawaii for the season.
“By the time he got back, we were still buried,” says Tony with a knowing smile to his wife. “The good thing was we liked it here and, more importantly, we still liked each other, so we stayed. We figured if we could make it through that winter, then we’ve got this nailed.”
The couple now earns a living renting the lodge to back-country skiers, Pacific Crest Trail through-hikers, wedding celebrants and others for special events.
While they held several bluegrass gatherings early in their tenure, they had decided to hold off after seeing the impact it was having on the surrounding forest. One time nearly 300 folks made the trek up the rocky, four-wheel-drive Cold Stream Road to the Pacific Union train tracks. They all had to hike another half mile to reach the lodge.
“At one point, it seemed like it had outgrown us,” says Tony. “But as the years went by, people kept asking about it.”
This summer the lodge is hosting three Backcountry Bikes and Bluegrass events as fundraisers. The first was on July 21. Aug. 18 will feature the Lost Trail Front Porch Hot Mamas and High Strung and will benefit Friends of Yogi Bear. The event on Sept. 8 will feature The Reno Ceilidh Band and will benefit Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue. At 11 a.m. there’s a bike ride from the summer parking lot. From 12:30 to 3 p.m., there’s free music at the lodge; bring a picnic basket. They will be asking for donations for the local organizations.
“We decided it was time to bring it back because it makes people’s hearts happy,” says Lindsey. “This place is special because it allows people to come together in a secluded, intimate environment.”
“When you hike out here and earn it, especially in the winter, this is the holy grail,” says Tony. “There’s a warm bed, a home-cooked meal and a hearty fire burning. There’s no phone reception so most people leave it in the car. Even in Tahoe, it’s hard to really get away from it all these days. People are surprised this is here. And it requires just the right amount of effort.” | (530) 320-9268, losttraillodge.com