Life Lessons Carson Valley Taught My Kids On Spring Break

Before my kids leave the nest, there are important life lessons they must learn and remember, so on their Spring Break, we took them to Carson Valley, Nevada. Often, I have talked about my love for Carson Valley. Still, my kids were surprised when I suggested it as our Spring Break destination. Like many, they asked Why Carson Valley (#WhyCV)? I wanted to remind them what’s important, one last teaching of life lessons before they go off on their own. My kids asked why they couldn’t learn about life at the ocean.

I simply smiled and said that anyone can go to the beach. This isn’t a place just anyone goes.

Now that they are 18 and 20, it’s time to not only tell them (again), but show them. My first trip to Carson Valley last April was something special. I knew there is no better time to be in Carson Valley to learn the life lessons than on Spring Break. It’s an incredibly beautiful valley, but let’s look a little deeper at what this place is all about.

WhereGalsWander was invited as a guest by Visit Carson Valley Nevada and its partners.

Carson Valley on Spring Break

Life Lessons Carson Valley Teaches My Kids: Always Be Kind

Let’s start with the number one reason we wanted to bring our kids to Carson Valley. Moving from the Midwest to Los Angeles gave us a bit of culture shock. We got dirty looks when we held the doors open for others. The “hand wave” to say thank you for letting me in while driving is apparently not universal. My oldest has been begging for a road trip where she can drive. This was the first trip where I got to take a backseat (literally). When we turned onto 395 going north, she drove for another hour, then said, “It’s so nice not to drive in bumper to bumper traffic where everyone is so grumpy.”

It’s not just the drivers who are different. Carson Valley treats you like family coming to visit. JT Basque‘s communal family style dining is a great example. Cook’d Restaurant is another favorite of mine, where the decor and the atmosphere instantly put you at ease. I have to give a shoutout to our server, Grace. She walked up to our table, and with a wink of an eye, told the girls to put their phones away. Just the natural way she chatted with us, cracking jokes, among us laugh. It felt like our favorite restaurant immediately, even if it was the kids’ first time there.

Our first stopping Carson Valley on Spring Break: Cook’d Restaurant

Number One Life Lesson Carson Valley Taught My Kids on Spring Break: Love What You Do

“I am the luckiest person in the world because I love my job. I love what I do”-Sheldon Grauberger

Lake Tahoe Hot Air Balloons Pilot Sheldon Grauberger & my family

Meet Sheldon, pilot for Lake Tahoe Balloons. Sheldon has traveled all over the world as a hot air balloon pilot, often by request and invitation to fly at the biggest festivals or even to transport royalty up into the clouds. His safety record is impeccable, but that’s not why Sheldon is fabulous. He loves what he does. Not only will he tell you this several times, but it’s obvious from the look on his face and the passion in his voice. His excitement is contagious and his smile reassuring. As I posted on WhereGalsWander Instagram live, floating in a wicker basket in the air, the immediate shout from the followers recognizing Sheldon confirmed he is somewhat of a celebrity among my fellow adventurers.

Go Out Of Your Comfort Zone

I have the biggest fear of heights, and I have flown with Sheldon twice now, and not once felt nervous or scared. Because he loves what he does, he explains how things work and why-including the scientific principles behind hot air balloon flying and then hands out popcorn for all to toss to demonstrate it. It’s a Carson Valley history lesson married to topography with a bit of science.

When the balloon rises high enough to peek over the Sierras at Lake Tahoe, it is truly a moment in your life where you feel awe. There’s this sense of accomplishment (even though you did nothing, it’s all Sheldon) of being high enough to see across the world.

Lake Tahoe, seen from hot air balloon

How To Spring Break: Find Your Peace

In the hot air balloon, there is complete peace. It is utterly silent. Although we are moving at the exact speed of the wind, there is no feeling of movement at all. It is the most peaceful I have ever felt.

“I feel centered and grounded, even though I am thousands of feet up in the air,” said Anya.
“Remember this feeling. You’ll get overwhelmed, and stressed and it will all feel like too much. This is what you have to close your eyes and remember. This is what you have to hold on to.” I replied.

Life Lessons Carson Valley-Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Another safe & gentle landing from Lake Tahoe Balloons

Sheldon and his awesome crew set up the tradition of having a glass of champagne and sparkling cider post landing. He is a natural storyteller, sharing how the hot air balloon was invented. Listening to him, it does give a sense of awe in having humankind be able to fly in a silk parachute and wicker basket. This passion to explore, to be free, to be curious is what created this unique adventure.

Remember to Love

I remember talking with Lois Wray, the current owner of the 160 year home known as The Pink House in Genoa. Lois and Dan moved from San Diego to Carson Valley and is was their dream to restore this building-not just for them, but to give back to the wonderful community they found.Renovating a 160 year old historic landmark back to its original Gothic style was no easy feat. She shared stories of being on her knees restoring the hardwood floors, along with her late husband Dan. They enticed a French Chef named Yves Gidot to be the head chef at The Pink House (the food is incredible).

Now to honor her late husband, Lois has opened a fine dining restaurant named after her love Daniel’s Fine Dining. If there is a life lesson Carson Valley taught us, is that true love does exist. Passion for love and life should be at the core of everything you do.

Carson Valley Life Lesson: Food Can Be A Love Language

We meet Remon and Christelle Zamalis, the new owner’s of Woodette’s Diner. Ramon and Christelle are from France originally, then 22 years in Houston before relocating too Reno. Ramon worked as private chef, but jumped on the chance to own a diner located in Carson Valley. Woodette’s continues it’s long standing vibe of a local hometown diner. It’s a happy little spot with truly excellent breakfast foods (lunch looked delicious too). Their love of the community can be tasted in each bite.

The owners of Woodette's Diner in Carson Valley
Woodette’s Owners Remon & Christelle Zamalis

The Most Important Life Lesson from Carson Valley

The other person I wanted my kids to meet was Dwayne Hicks, wildlife photographer and guide for Carson Valley Tours. Dwayne loves this Valley, and grew up here, but Dwayne’s home is not inside a house; he feels most alive out here free with the birds of prey, in spirit with the eagles, he knows the wild horses by name and they recognize his voice as he sings to them.

He and my youngest bond over struggles they have faced. She tells him of her heart condition. He shares with her his need to come out “here” because that is the only place where he felt like he could heal. (Picture “here” as a very high desert ridge overlooking a valley. We are miles and miles from any human soul. We are standing on a rocky hill brush and dirt with wild horses just below us. Snow covered mountains surrounding us, and the wind is blowing through our hair).

Dwayne shares a bit of his life story with Anya. I ask him “if there is one piece of advice you would give to someone about to go out into the world, what would it be?” Even with his sunglasses on, I could see him arch an eyebrow. “Are you sure you want me to give advice?” and chuckled under his breath. Yes, I absolutely wanted to hear his thoughts, and now Anya was curious too.

Don’t Wait

“Don’t wait,” he said. I can’t remember his exact words after that, his wisdom mixed with the wind, the nay of the horses, the crunch of earth beneath our boots. It was along the lines of life is short. People put off their dreams, or traveling for too long. Sometimes, you just have to go for it. I ask him what his next dream trip is…Singapore, to photograph the tigers. This is a man who truly follows his passion.

Don’t wait, he said. I can’t remember his exact words after that, his wisdom mixed with the wind, the nay of the horses, the crunch of the earth beneath our boots. People make dreams, not plans. Then, too soon, it is too late.

Dwayne Hicks, Dwaynesworld & Carson Valley tours

Spring Break Life Lesson: Honor The Earth, Be Responsible

Dwayne and my daughter talk about life as we look for birds of prey on a ranch. Dwayne has special permission to take us on this private land and photograph owls and other wildlife.

When we were flying with Sheldon, I asked him about the different jets of propane that threw the fire up into the balloon. The blue one is used when they fly over horses and livestock. So, horses, he explained, can’t raise their heads and the shadow may spook them. We don’t want them to be scared, or worse, start a stampede. We try to fly over them as quietly as we can. This is their land, he says. We all fall quiet as we sail over the valley. We spot a deer running across the earth below us.

A adult wild horse stands guard over younger horses as they rest
A adult wild horse stands guard over younger horses as they rest

The next day, Dwayne and my husband are talking off-roading. We are literally driving on a “road” that is nothing but worn dirt by tire tracks. Then they talk clearance, and horsepower (no pun intended), and Dwayne stops the Jeep, turns and looks my girls in the eyes in the backseat. He talks about the dangers of being out here. If he says “get back in the Jeep,” then you get back in the Jeep. This is mountain lion country, and part of his job is to know the signs of who else might be around besides us.

Off roading with Carson Valley Tours

Keep Them Wild

He talks about how important it is to keep the horses wild. They don’t want hordes of people out here driving around, trying to find and scare them. Since this is federal land, there are heavy consequences. Taking the wrong type of vehicle out can start a fire driving through the dry grass. A single spark from hitting a rock can create a massive blaze.

Also, those who have dared to try are almost always stuck, and usually destroy their car before they even see a horse. He just shakes his head, sad. This valley is not for everyone. Those who love it and protect it–from the air, on the land, in the community they build–it’s an honor to be with them.

Respecting the wild horses of Carson Valley, Nevada
Dwayne takes the lead as two horses begin to fight

Why CV? Carson Valley Reminds You To Be Adventurous

“Why Carson Valley?” My daughter’s question echoes in my mind. I ask this question to Hot Air Balloon Pilot Sheldon. He points to the mountains, to the wide open range below us and gives me a smile bigger than the mountains he points to and the wide open range below us. Dwayne was born here, and although he can’t stay in one place very long, this is where he calls home. They are wild and free, running the land and soaring the skies like the horses and eagles of Carson Valley.

Dwayne Hicks, teacher of Life Lessons in Carson Valley. Dwayne Hicks photography, and Carson Valley Tours
Me, Dwayne Hicks & My Husband Greg at Woodette’s in Carson Valley

Carson Valley: Be Curious- Drive To It, Not Through It

So why get life lessons in Carson Valley on Spring Break? Travel should be about growth. Adventures should help you to understand who you are, and what you value. These life lessons Carson Valley showed us on Spring Break made an impression that will stay with my kids forever. By taking this trip, and not just going to the beach, they will also understand how to truly experience travel. Don’t go to the restaurant chains. Ask about the history of where you are. Ask and understand the why of how something came to be. And never, ever, pass up the opportunity to visit special little towns with big hearts, you may just leave a little part of yourself that calls you back.

Learning the Life Lessons in Carson Valley over Spring Break
Life Lesson in Carson Valley: Appreciate the Beauty of Spring
Thanks for the life lessons Carson Valley!
Thanks for the Life Lessons Carson Valley!


Zanne is the Founder, Editor, Administration, and Publisher of WhereGalsWander along with the title of Chief Trouble Maker. Blame her for everything.

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  1. I’ve always believed travel can teach you so much about life, but you distilled so many lessons in this one post beautifully, Zanne! Your daughters are lucky to have parents who take the time to share such wisdoms. And I can’t wait to see Carson Valley for myself, you really highlight the best it has to offer!

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