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Periodically Speaking: The Glittering West

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As I steel myself to review Tahoe Quarterly and Desert Living, two luxury regional magazines from the West, my mantra is not "No Fear," but "No Envy." Both magazines celebrate living the very good life in some of the most beautiful parts of our country. What's to envy?

Tahoe Quarterly, published in Incline Village, Nevada, is new to our newsstand. Its Winter issue focuses on three elements: gorgeous Lake Tahoe, the ski resorts off to the northwest, and Reno to the northeast.

The issue contains a couple of articles about Alex Cushing, who died recently at age 93. Apparently a Robert Moses-type master builder, he turned nearby Squaw Valley into a major ski resort, making the area's reputation and fortune when he convinced the Winter Olympics to come there in 1960. He stepped on a few toes in the process, and some environmentalists claim he stepped on a few mountains as well.

Lake Tahoe is the centerpiece of the area and of the magazine. Leo Poppoff writes of what goes on in the famously blue water during the winter, as marine life moves around, nutrients are brought up to the surface after settling to the bottom during the summer, and oxygen in turn moves down into the depths.

The clarity of the water is measured by dropping a dinner plate-sized "Secchi disk" into the water and watching it until it disappears. Right now it disappears at 65 feet, and the goal of environmentalists is to get Lake Tahoe so clear you'll be able to see it 100 feet down. Poppoff explains that the lake remains ice-free in winter because of its depth and because of the heat stored in its 40 million gallons.

That's good news for Scott Gaffney, a ski cinematographer who provides a short essay on one of his favorite recreations: surfing the north shore of Lake Tahoe during old-fashioned blizzards. Snug in his wetsuit and gloves, he notes how tourists stop their cars and gawk at him from the shore, until the raging wind and snow drive them back into their vehicles.

There's a sweet article about John "Snowshoe" Thompson, born in Norway, who saw an employment ad in a Sacramento newspaper in 1855 for a mail carrier. This was no ordinary route, but a 90-mile trek in the Sierra Nevada Mountains starting at Placerville, California. In the winter, of course, the snow made the route all but impassable.

But not to Snowshoe Thompson, who from his Norwegian childhood remembered the long boards used to glide across snow-covered ground. He carved skis from green oak planks, and carried more than 80 pounds of mail on his back on the route for 20 years. Old-timers said he reached 60 miles per hour going downhill and could ski-jump 100 feet.

Of course, Tahoe Quarterly has a lot of articles about fine restaurants, glorious spas, places to ski, chalets to buy. Real estate rules the ad pages. But its heart is in the land and lake.

We move south to Phoenix, Arizona, home base to the monthly Desert Living. It covers a fairly broad territory, from Arizona through New Mexico.

The spine of the January issue describes it as the "2007 Luxury Issue," so maybe the editors do go a bit overboard this one month a year.

Take the opening section, about "what's new, what's hot, what's now." We learn that something called the Rocket Racing League is forming, with ex-Air Force jet jockeys to race thunderous rocket-propelled airplanes on a two-mile course over the desert. Also in the works is a high-tech personal watercraft that resembles a porpoise. It's powered by a 425-horsepower Corvette engine, will reach 55 mph on the surface, can roll 360 degrees and, yes, will even work underwater.

I read about the restaurateur in Scottsdale who also caters meals on private jets, such as "Kobe beef with a side of foie gras layered with black truffles and 24-karat gold." Then there's a new eau de toilette for canines, part of Fruit & Passion's HOTdog collection, "with notes of fruit, fig leaves and cedar." We're assured that the ingredients are all hypoallergenic.

Some mighty fancy cars are reviewed in the issue, including a Bentley Arnage (MSRP: $242,000) and a Rolls-Royce Phantom (MSRP: "If you have to ask…").

But there are well-written, serious articles in the issue, such as an analysis of Phoenix's new "skewed halo" 9/11 memorial, which includes a piece of mangled steel from the World Trade Center, rubble from the Pentagon, and earth from Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

You'll also find a detailed look at the Beaulieu house in North Scottsdale, powered by hydrogen and designed to capture rainwater and sunlight. It's an environmentally friendly 6,900 square-foot mansion built into a mountainside. It has garden roofs, swimming pools, and fantastic views of the desert.

What's to envy?

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