I have been visiting Lake Tahoe since I was born and I grew up experiencing what makes Lake Tahoe famous. From learning to ski, swimming in the Lake and going backpacking in the mountains, I learned firsthand about this amazing destination. However, like many I only had a surface level understanding of its history. In this post, I will share with you some background on how Lake Tahoe was formed, settled and some fascinating facts about it!
Lake Tahoe was formed by a series of faultings that formed the mountainous basin and peaks surrounding the Lake. Eruptions from the extinct volcano Mount Pluto formed a dam on the north side of the lake in which melting snow later filled the southern and lowest part of the basin followed by rain and runoff water. Lake Tahoe was finally shaped by glaciers during the Ice Ages, which began a million or more years ago.
For centuries, the Lake Tahoe basin was the summer gathering place for the native Washoe Tribes who hunted and fished along the shores also famous of basket weaving. The Washoe named the area “Da-ow-a-ga,” or “edge of the Lake.” Early explorers unfamiliar to their language interpreted the phrase as “Tahoe” and in 1945 the Lake Tahoe Basin was officially designated.
First pioneers explored the area in the 1860s when silver was discovered in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They came to the area during California’s Gold Rush, planning to strike it rich as the largest silver lode was discovered nearby in 1859 in Virginia City. Also, Tahoe’s timber forests became an important resource as fuel and also to support the labyrinth of mines being constructed nearby. The availability of timber led to the near clear cutting of Tahoe’s forests, which were heavily logged between 1860 and 1890.
By the turn of the twentieth century, news of Lake Tahoe’s natural beauty had reached the wealthy families of San Francisco who sought a new vacation destination. Many mansions of historical significance line Lake Tahoe’s shores today as a result of this era including the Thunderbird Lodge on the East Shore, Vikingsholm the original settlement on Emerald Bay and The Ehrman Mansion in Sugar Pine Point. In the mid 1940’s, gaming establishments, permanent accommodations, hotels and roads were constructed. Following the 1960 Winter Olympics held at Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe was solidified as the premier skiing destination of the western U.S.
Lake Tahoe lies along the borders of California and Nevada and is not governed by any single entity but rather by a handful of different bordering counties. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) formed in 1968 is a bi-state agency between California and Nevada that is responsible with environmental protection through land-use regulation and planning.
Lake Tahoe Trivia – Did you know?
• Lake Tahoe is the 2nd deepest lake in the USA & 8th deepest in the world
• The Lake is 1,645 feet deep at the deepest point, which means one could immerse the Empire State Building into the lake, stack the Washington Monument on top and still have 20 feet to spare
• The average depth of the Lake is almost 1,000 feet
• If Lake Tahoe were drained into California, it would cover the entire state in 14 inches of water. Texas would be covered in 9 inches of water
• The Lake never freezes because of its enormous size and the temperature below 600 feet remains constant at 39 degrees
• An average of 1,400,000 gallons of water evaporates off the Lake every 24 hours (which is only 1/10 of an inch)
• By law, the Lake cannot exceed 6,229 feet in elevation, Truckee River outlet is used to drain the Lake when this occurs and is the ONLY outlet to the Lake
• The Lake is so clear that you can see a white dinner plate 75 feet down
• There are more ski lifts in the Lake Tahoe Basin than in the entire state of Colorado. Visit Pick Your Peak to learn more about the Ski Resorts in Lake Tahoe!
I invite you to share your own historical tale or trivia of Lake Tahoe in the comments below!
Enjoy learning about Lake Tahoe? Follow my blog and me at @robinpenning on Twitter to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.