Thursday morning I was rudely awakened at 8:15 AM by a helicopter that sounded like it was landing on the roof of the motorhome. They are extremely loud and seem to make an awful lot of noise to move so slowly. We are only a mile and a half from the airport, which is where a couple of helicopter tour companies are located, and we must be right below the flight path when these helicopters land and take off.
I spent the morning cleaning my camera gear and loafing about, enjoying the almost perfect weather. At noon it was 75 degrees and sunny with a pleasant breeze.
For lunch we went to The Beacon restaurant, which is located on the south shore of Lake Tahoe. We ate outside on the front deck, shaded by huge pine trees.
A sandy beach filled with sunbathers lay between us and the clear cobalt blue water of the lake. We saw very few of these people actually go in the water, probably because it is very cold. There was a marina next to the restaurant and a lot of very nice looking boats were moored there.
After a leisurely, but expensive, lunch we rode with Bruce and Karen up a winding highway that gradually worked its way to a vista called Inspiration Point, which overlooked a portion of Lake Tahoe called Emerald Bay. The only island in Lake Tahoe is located in this bay. The view was fantastic.
And now for the history lesson. Lake Tahoe is a very old lake. About 25 million years ago the Sierra Nevada Mountains were formed by geologic faulting, a tremendous uplifting, dropping, and shifting of land. The land that sank created a valley that later became the Tahoe Basin. . Lava from Mt. Pluto on the north shore formed a natural dam across the basin’s outlet and the basin gradually filled from the rivers and streams flowing from the surrounding mountains. The “modern” lake was shaped during the last ice age, less than a million years ago. There are 63 streams now flowing into Lake Tahoe and only one outlet, the Truckee River. Unlike most bodies of water in North America, Lake Tahoe’s water never reaches an ocean.
It is a large lake, 22 miles long and 12 miles wide with 72 miles of shoreline. The surface of Lake Tahoe is 6,225 feet above sea level, the highest lake of its size in the United States. It is the second deepest lake in the United States, the third deepest in North America, and the tenth deepest in the world. Its maximum depth is 1645 feet.
During February and March the water temperature usually cools to 40 to 50 degrees, but it never freezes. In August and September the lake warms to 65 to 70 degrees. That’s why you don’t see too many people actually IN the water.
Lake Tahoe’s water is very clear, its water clarity is about 70 feet, down from over 100 feet in the late 1960’s. It is slowly loosing its clarity due to erosion depositing sediment in the lake. It is estimated that Lake Tahoe is filling in with sediment at a rate of one foot every 3,200 years, so that in 3,158,400 years the lake will become a meadow.
The lake has a retention time of 650 years. That is the average time that water, or some dissolved substance, spends in the lake. In other words, if you dumped pollutants in the water, it would take an average of 650 years for all of it to leave the lake. In comparison, the retention time for some other lakes in North America is 7.2 years for Lake Powell, 99 years for Lake Michigan, and 7 days for Lake St. Clair.
For thousands of years the lake was occupied by Native American tribes. There is evidence of the presence of the Washoe Tribe at Lake Tahoe over 10,000 years ago. Native Americans camped, hunted, and fished at the lake without outside intervention until General John C. Fremont “discovered” the lake in 1844. In 1859 the Comstock Lode (silver) was discovered in Virginia City, Nevada and Lake Tahoe became a center of commerce involving the silver mines and the Central Pacific Railroad. All of this activity resulted in a very large-scale deforestation of the Tahoe Basin. It is estimated that over 80 percent of the Basin’s forests were clear-cut during this time. Today's residents are much more conservation minded and are doing a very good job of protecting the Lake Tahoe environment.