The Lake of the Sky / Lake Tahoe in the High Sierras of California and Nevada, its History, Indians, Discovery by Frémont, Legendary Lore, Various Namings, Physical Characteristics, Glacial Phenomena, Geology, Single Outlet, Automobile Routes, Historic Towns, Early Mining Excitements, Steamer Ride, Mineral Springs, Mountain and Lake Resorts, Trail and Camping Out Trips, Summer Residences, Fishing, Hunting, Flowers, Birds, Animals, Trees, and Chaparral, with a Full Account of the Tahoe National Forest, the Public Use of the Water of Lake Tahoe and Much Other Interesting Matter

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Cascade Lake and Lake Tahoe
Cascade Lake and Lake Tahoe

THE LAKE OF THE SKY

LAKE TAHOE

IN THE HIGH
SIERRAS OF CALIFORNIA AND NEVADA

Its History, Indians, Discovery by Frémont, Legendary Lore, Various Namings, Physical Characteristics, Glacial Phenomena, Geology, Single Outlet, Automobile Routes, Historic Towns, Early Mining Excitements, Steamer Ride, Mineral Springs, Mountain and Lake Resorts, Trail and Camping Out Trips, Summer Residences, Fishing, Hunting, Flowers, Birds, Animals, Trees, and Chaparral, with a Full Account of the Tahoe National Forest, the Public Use of the Water of Lake Tahoe and Much Other Interesting Matter

BY GEORGE WHARTON JAMES

Author of
“Arizona, the Wonderland,” “California, Romantic and Beautiful,” “New Mexico, the Land of the Delight Makers,” “Utah, the Land of Blossoming Valleys,” “Quit Your Worrying,” “Living the Radiant Life,” etc.
With a map, and sixty-five plates, including a folding panorama View
 
L.C. PAGE & COMPANY BOSTON PUBLISHERS
 
Copyright, 1915, BY EDITH E. FARNSWORTH

All Rights Reserved


TO
ROBERT M. WATSON
(To his friends “Bob”)
 
Fearless Explorer, Expert Mountaineer,
Peerless Guide, Truthful Fisherman,
Humane Hunter, Delightful Raconteur,
True-hearted Gentleman,
Generous Communicator
of a large and varied Knowledge,
Brother to Man
and Beast and Devoted
Friend,
 
AND TO ANOTHER,
though younger brother of
the same craft
 
RICHARD MICHAELIS
 
These Pages are Cordially Dedicated
with the Author’s High Esteem
and Affectionate Regards.

 

"Bob" Watson, Tahoe guide, at home, with his dog Skookum John

“Bob” Watson, Tahoe guide, at home, with his dog Skookum John

 

INTRODUCTION

California is proving itself more and more the wonderland of the United States. Its hosts of annual visitors are increasing with marvelous rapidity; its population is growing by accretions from the other states faster than any other section in the civilized world. The reasons are not far to seek. They may be summarized in five words, viz., climate, topography, healthfulness, productiveness and all-around liveableness. Its climate is already a catch word to the nations; its healthfulness is attested by the thousands who have come here sick and almost hopeless and who are now rugged, robust and happy; its productiveness is demonstrated by the millions of dollars its citizens annually receive for the thousands of car-loads (one might almost say train-loads) of oranges, lemons, grape-fruit, walnuts, almonds, peaches, figs, apricots, onions, potatoes, asparagus and other fruits of its soil; and its all-around home qualities are best evidenced by the growth, in two or three decades, of scores of towns from a merely nominal population to five, ten, twenty, forty or fifty thousand, and of the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland to metropolises, the two former already claiming populations of half a million or thereabouts.

As far as its topography, its scenic qualities, are concerned, the world of tourists already has rendered any argument upon that line unnecessary. It is already beginning to rival Switzerland, though that Alpine land has crowded populations within a day’s journey to draw from. One has but to name Monterey, the Mt. Shasta region, Los Angeles, San Diego and Coronado, the Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, the Big Trees, the King and Kern River Divide, Mono Lake and a score of other scenic regions in California to start tongues to wagging over interesting reminiscences, whether it be in London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid or Petrograd.

Books galore are being published to make California’s charms better known, and it has long seemed strange to me that no book has been published on Lake Tahoe and its surrounding country of mountains, forests, glacial valleys, lakes and canyons, for I am confident that in one or two decades from now its circle of admirers and regular visitors will include people from all over the civilized world, all of whom will declare that it is incomparable as a lake resort, and that its infinite variety of charm, delight and healthful allurement can never adequately be told.

Discovered by the “Pathfinder” Frémont; described in the early days of California history and literature by John Le Conte, Mark Twain, Thomas Starr King, Ben C. Truman, and later by John Vance Cheney and others; for countless centuries the fishing haunt of the peaceable Nevada Washoes, who first called it Tahoe—High or Clear Water—and of the California Monos; the home of many of their interesting legends and folk-lore tales; occasionally the scene of fierce conflicts between the defending Indians and those who would drive them away, it early became the object of the jealous and inconsequent squabbling of politicians. Its discoverer had named it Mountain Lake, or Lake Bonpland, the latter name after the traveling and exploring companion of Baron von Humboldt, whose name is retained in the Humboldt River of Nevada, but when the first reasonably accurate survey of its shores was made, John Bigler was the occupant of the gubernatorial chair of the State of California and it was named after him. Then, later, for purely political reasons, it was changed to Tahoe, and finally back to Bigler, which name it still officially retains, though of the thousands who visit it annually but a very small proportion have ever heard that such a name was applied to it.

  Clouds Over the Mountain, Lake Tahoe
Clouds Over the Mountain, Lake Tahoe
Click photo to see full-sized.

In turn, soon after its discovery, Tahoe became the scene of a mining excitement that failed to “pan out,” the home of vast logging and lumber operations and the objective point to which several famous “Knights of the Lash” drove world-noted men and women in swinging Concord coaches. In summer it is the haunt of Nature’s most dainty, glorious, and alluring picturesqueness; in winter the abode, during some days, of the Storm King with his cohorts of hosts of clouds, filled with rain, hail, sleet and snow, of fierce winds, of dread lightnings, of majestic displays of rudest power. Suddenly, after having covered peak and slope, meadow and shore, with snow to a depth of six, eight, ten or more feet, the Storm King retires and Solus again reigns supreme. And then! ah, then is the time to see Lake Tahoe and its surrounding country. The placid summer views are exquisite and soul-stirring, but what of Tahoe now? The days and nights are free from wind and frost, the sun tempers the cold and every hour is an exhilaration. The American people have not yet learned, as have the Europeans in the Alps, the marvelous delights and stimulations of the winter in such a place as Lake Tahoe. But they will learn in time, and though a prophet is generally without honor in his own country, I will assume a role not altogether foreign, and venture the assertion that I shall live to see the day when winter visitors to Lake Tahoe will number more than those who will visit it throughout the whole of the year (1914) in which I write. One of the surprises often expressed by those I have met here who have wintered in the Alps is that no provision is made for hotel accommodation during the winter at Lake Tahoe.

To return, however, to the charms of Tahoe that are already known to many thousands. Within the last two or three decades it has become the increasingly popular Mecca of the hunter, sportsman, and fisherman; the natural haunt of the thoughtful and studious lover of God’s great and varied out-of-doors, and, since fashionable hotels were built, the chosen resort of many thousands of the wealthy, pleasure-loving and luxurious. What wonder that there should be a growing desire on the part of the citizens of the United States—and especially of California and Nevada—together with well-informed travelers from all parts of the world, for larger knowledge and fuller information about Lake Tahoe than has hitherto been available.

To meet this laudable desire has been my chief incitement in the preparation of the following pages, but I should be untrue to my own devotion to Lake Tahoe, which has extended over a period of more than thirty years, were I to ignore the influence the Lake’s beauty has had over me, and the urge it has placed within me. Realizing and feeling these emotions I have constantly asked with Edward Rowland Sill:

What can I for such a world give back again?

And my only answer has been, and is, this:

Could I only hint the beauty—
Some least shadow of the beauty,
      Unto men!

In looking over the files of more of less ephemeral literature, as well as the records of the explorations of early days, I have been astonished at the rich treasures of scientific and descriptive literature that have Lake Tahoe as their object. Not the least service this unpretentious volume will accomplish is the gathering together of these little-known jewels.

It will be noticed that I have used the word Sierran rather than Alpine throughout these pages. Why not? Why should the writer, describing the majestic, the glorious, the sublime of the later-formed mountain ranges of earth, designate them by a term coined for another and far-away range?

I would have the reader, however, be careful to pronounce it accurately. It is not Sy-eer-an, but See-ehr-ran, almost as if one were advising another to “See Aaron,” the brother of Moses.

Tahoe is not Teh-o, nor is it Tah-ho, nor Tah-o. The Washoe Indians, from whom we get the name, pronounce it as if it were one syllable Tao, like a Chinese name, the “a” having the broad sound ah of the Continent.

Likewise Tallac is not pronounced with the accent on the last syllable (as is generally heard), but Tal[‘x]-ac.

While these niceties of pronunciation are not of vast importance, they preserve to us the intonations of the original inhabitants, who, as far as we know, were the first human beings to gaze upon the face of this ever-glorious and beautiful Lake.

When Mark Twain and Thomas Starr King visited Tahoe it was largely in its primitive wildness, though logging operations for the securing of timber for the mines of Virginia City had been going on for some time and had led to the settlement at Glenbrook (where four great saw mills were in constant operation so long as weather permitted), and the stage-road from Placerville to Virginia City demanded stopping-stations, as Myers, Yanks, Rowlands and Lakeside.

  Vineyard on the Automotive Highway between Placerville and Lake Tahoe
Vineyard on the Automotive Highway between Placerville and Lake Tahoe
Click photo to see full-sized.

But to-day, while the commercial operations have largely ceased, the scenic attractions of Lake Tahoe and its region have justified the erection of over twenty resorts and camps, at least two of them rivaling in extent and elaborateness of plant any of the gigantic resort hotels of either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, the others varying in size and degree, according to the class of patronage they seek. That these provisions for the entertainment of travelers, yearly visitors, and health seekers will speedily increase with the years there can be no doubt, for there is but one Lake Tahoe, and its lovers will ultimately be legion. Already, also, it has begun to assert itself as a place of summer residence. Fifteen years ago private residences on Lake Tahoe might have been enumerated on the fingers of the two hands; now they number as many hundreds, and the sound of the hammer and saw is constantly heard, and dainty villas, bungalows, cottages, and rustic homes are springing up as if by magic.

Then Lake Tahoe was comparatively hard to reach. Now, the trains of the Southern Pacific and the Lake Tahoe Railway and Transportation Company deposit one on the very edge of the Lake easier and with less personal exertion than is required to go to and from any large metropolitan hotel in one city to a similar hotel in another city.

It is almost inevitable that in such a book as this there should be some repetition. Just as one sees the same peaks and lakes, shore-line and trees from different portions of the Lake—though, of course, at slightly or widely differing angles—so in writing, the attention of the reader naturally is called again and again to the same scenes. But this book is written not so much with an eye to its literary quality, as to afford the visitor to Lake Tahoe—whether contemplative, actual, or retrospective—a truthful and comprehensive account and description of the Lake and its surroundings.

It will be observed that in many places I have capitalized the common noun Lake. Whenever this appears it signifies Lake Tahoe—the chief of all the lakes of the Sierras.

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