Six weeks ago, we blasted off in a fictional interplanetary spacecraft, without leaving the comforts of home. Our launching pad was the 180-foot diameter Legacy Dome in downtown Reno. By imagining the dome as a scaled-down sun, we re-calculated the size of each of the planets, and their distances from the dome.
As a way to explore our humble hometown, we traveled from the Legacy Dome to each of the planets in our little local solar system. So far, we have visited downtown Reno, the campus of the University of Nevada, the entire course of the Truckee River, Reno’s twin city of Sparks, and Virginia City.
This week, with our rocket fuel all but spent, we coasted on to spectacular Saturn, the last stop in our journey. On our way, we passed the state of Nevada capitol building in Carson City and landed on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, about 35 miles from the Legacy Dome. Here at lovely Lake Tahoe, our scaled-down Saturn would only be about 15 feet in diameter. Even though Saturn is the farthest planet from Earth that can still be seen with the naked eye, we could only make out the faint sky glow of downtown Reno beyond the lake’s northeastern horizon.
Before we touched down on the Ringed Planet, we were briefed by NASA at the Fleischmann Planetarium on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno. In their full-dome theater, we viewed the gorgeous film “Saturn, Jewel of the Heavens”, produced using images and data retrieved by the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft. Of course, the most striking feature of Saturn is its disk of thin reflective rings, composed of countless small particles orbiting the equator of the large gaseous planet.
Like a ring around Saturn, the Tahoe Rim Trail is a 165-mile long distance hiking trail that completely encircles the lake. Earlier this month, we hiked the scenic Spooner to Marlette section of the trail, high above the east side of the lake. From our elevated vantage point, we had a 180 degree view of the entire lake, and the majestic Sierra Nevada range across the deep blue water.
A little closer to lake level, we went for another hike on the Rubicon Trail along the edge of Emerald Bay, one of the most photographed places in America. In my opinion, the saturated blue sapphire gemstone would describe the intense color of the bay better than the elegant green emerald. Nevertheless, “Sapphire Bay” is definitely a rare and exquisite jewel, and a fine setting to abandon our space probe and return home.
But wait, before ending our interplanetary ride, we met up with friends one last time at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena, and rocked to the classic music of Sting and Peter Gabriel. In about a week, we will leave home again for our next three-month, month-at-a-time adventure. Fortunately, where we are going, we won’t need a space ship.