Part 6 out of 8
day is not sufficient for a shipment it is placed in the box. When
a sufficient number is on hand, they are taken out by the boatman,
carefully cleaned and hung up to dry in fly-proof, open-air cages.
When perfectly dry inside and out they are packed in sweet-smelling
Tallac Meadow hay, and shipped by express.
Many visitors cannot understand why there are no fish in some of
the lakes that, to their eyes, seem just as well adapted for fish as
others that possess an abundance. Even old timers do not all know the
reason. If a lake is shallow, when the deep snow falls it soon sinks
below the surface in a heavy mushy mass that presses down upon the
fish and prevents their breathing. Then, if a severe frost follows and
the mass freezes the ice squeezes the fish to the bottom. Over three
years ago Watson took fish to Bessie Lake, putting in as many as 6000
fry of Lake Tahoe and other species. The next year, and the following
years they were all right, having grown to eight or nine inches in
length. Then came a severe winter and in the spring there was not a
living fish left. The bottom was strewn with them, many of them with
[Illustration: A gnarled monarch of the High Sierras, an aged Juniper,
near Lake Tahoe]
[Illustration: Mountain Heather, in Desolation Valley, Near Lake Tahoe]
[Illustration: The Successful Deer Hunter at Lake Tahoe]
[Illustration: Chris Nelson, With His Catch, a 23 Lb. Tahoe Trout]
HUNTING AT LAKE TAHOE
In the chapter on the Birds and Animals of the Tahoe Region I have
written of the game to be found. There are few places left in the
Sierras where such good deer- and bear-hunting can be found as near
Tahoe. During the dense snow-falls the deer descend the western
slopes, approaching nearer and nearer to the settlements of the upper
foothills, and there they do fairly well until the snow begins to
recede in the spring. They keep as near to the snow line as possible,
and are then as tame and gentle almost as sheep. When the season
opens, however, they soon flee to certain secret recesses and hidden
lairs known to none but the old and experienced guides of the region.
There are so many of these wooded retreats, however, and the Tahoe
area is so vast, that it is seldom an expert goes out for deer
(or bear) that he fails. Hence the sportsman is always assured of
"something worth while."
As for bear I have told elsewhere of recent hunts on Mt. Freel from
Tallac, and the two bears killed there in 1913, and of Carl Flugge's
experiences. With Tallac hunters, Flugge, Bob Watson or any other
experienced man, one can scarcely fail to have exciting and successful
THE FLOWERS OF THE TAHOE REGION
It would be impossible in the space of a brief chapter to present
even a list of all the flowers found and recorded in the Tahoe Region.
Suffice it to say that 1300 different species already have been
listed. This chapter will merely call attention to the most prominent,
or, on the other hand, the rarer and special flowering plants that the
visitor should eagerly search for.
As fast as the snow retires from the sun-kissed slopes the flowers
begin to come out. Indeed in April, were one at Tahoe, he could make
a daily pilgrimage to the receding snow-line and there enjoy new
revelations of dainty beauty each morning. For the flowers, as the
snow-coating becomes thinner, respond to the "call of the sun", and
thrust up their spears out of the softened and moistened earth, so
that when the last touch of snow is gone they are often already in bud
ready to burst forth into flower at the first kiss of sunshine.
In May they come trooping along in all their pristine glory, God's
thoughts cast upon the mold of earth, so that even the men and women
of downcast eyes and souls may know the ever-fresh, ever-present love
Most interesting of all is the snow-plant (_sarcodes san-guinea
Torrey_). The name is unfortunate. The plant doesn't look like
snow, nor does it grow on or in the snow. It simply follows the snow
line, as so many of the Sierran plants do, and as the snow melts and
leaves the valley, one must climb to find it. It is of a rich red
color, which glows in the sunlight like a living thing. It has no
leaves but is supplied with over-lapping scale-like bracts of a
warm flesh-tint. At the lower part of the flower these are rigid and
closely adherent to the stem, but higher up they become looser and
curl gracefully about among the vivid red bells. In the spring of 1914
they were wonderfully plentiful at the Tavern and all around the Lake.
I literally saw hundreds of them.
Next in interest comes the heather, both red and white. In Desolation
Valley, as well as around most of the Sierran lakes of the Tahoe
Region, beds of heather are found that have won enthusiastic Scotchmen
to declare that Tahoe heather beats that of Scotland. The red heather
is the more abundant, and its rich deep green leaves and crown of
glowing red makes it to be desired, but the white heather is a flower
fit for the delicate corsage bouquet of a queen, or the lapel of the
noblest of men. Dainty and exquisite, perfect in shape and color its
tiny white bell is _par-excellence_ the emblem of passionate
Blue gentians (_Gentina calycosa, Griseb_) abound, their deep
blue blossoms rivaling the pure blue of our Sierran skies. These often
come late in the season and cheer the hearts of those who come upon
them with "a glad sweet surprise". There are also white gentians found
The water lilies of the Tahoe Region are strikingly beautiful. In many
of the Sierran lakes conditions seem to exist which make them flourish
and they are found in plentiful quantities.
Wild marigolds abound in large patches, even on the mountain heights,
where there is plenty of moisture and sunshine, and a species of
marguerite, or mountain daisy, is not uncommon. The Indian paint-brush
is found everywhere and is in full bloom in deepest red in September.
Wild sunflowers also abound except where the sheep have been. Then not
a sign of once vast patches can be found. They are eaten clear to the
The mullein attains especial dignity in this mountain region. Stately
and proud it rises above the lesser though more beautiful flowers of
the wild. It generally dies down in September, though an occasional
flowering stalk may be seen as late as October.
Another very common but ever-welcome plant, for its pungent and
pleasing odor, is the pennyroyal. It abounds throughout the whole
region and its hardiness keeps it flowering until late in the fall.
Beautiful and delicate at all times wherever seen, the wild snowdrop
is especially welcome in the Tahoe Region, where, amid soaring pines
and firs, it timidly though faithfully blooms and cheers the eye with
its rare purity.
Now and again one will find the beautiful California fuchsia
(_zauschneria Californica_, Presl.) its delicate beauty
delighting the eye and suggesting some of the rare orchids of a pale
The Sierra primrose (_Primula Suffrutescens_) is often found near
to the snow-line. Its tufts of evergreen leaves seem to revel in the
cold water of the melting snow and the exquisite rose-tints of the
flowers are enhanced by the pure white of what snow is left to help
bring them into being.
It is natural that, in a region so abounding in water, ferns of many
kinds should also abound. The common brake flourishes on the eastern
slopes, but I have never found the maiden hair. On the western slopes
it is abundant, but rarely if ever found on the easterly exposures.
Most striking and attractive among the shrubs are the mountain ash,
the mountain mahogany (_cereocarpus parvifolius_, Nutt.) the
California laurel (_umbellularia Californica_, Nutt.) and the
California holly, or _toyon_. The rich berries, the green leaves,
the exquisite and dainty flowers, the delicious and stimulating odors
all combine to make these most welcome in every Sierran landscape, no
matter at what season they appear.
While in the foregoing notes on the flowers of the Tahoe region I have
hastily gone over the ground, one particular mountain to the north of
Tahoe has been so thoroughly and scientifically studied that it seems
appropriate to call more particular attention to it in order that
botanists may realize how rich the region is in rare treasures. For
what follows I am indebted to the various writings of Professor P.
Beveridge Kennedy, long time professor at the University of Nevada,
but recently elected to the faculty of the University of California.
One could almost write a "Botany" of Mt. Rose alone, so interesting
are the floral specimens found there. This mountain stands unique in
the Lake Tahoe region in that it is an intermediate between the high
mountains of the Sierra Nevada and those of the interior of the Great
Basin. Its flora are undoubtedly influenced by the dry atmospheric
conditions that exist on the eastern side. A mere suggestion only can
be given here of the full enjoyment afforded by a careful study of
what it offers.
At from 10,000 feet up the following new species have been found.
_Eriogonum rhodanthum_, a perennial which forms dense mats on
hard rocky ground. The caudex is made up of many strands twisted
together like rope, its numerous branches terminated by clusters of
very small, new and old leaves, with flower clusters. Another similar
species is the _E. rosensis_.
An interesting rock-cress is found in the _Arabis Depauperata_,
which here shows the results of its fierce struggles for existence. It
bears minute purple flowers.
Flowering in the middle of August, but past flowering at the end of
September the _Gilia montana_ is found, with its numerous white
and pink leaves.
Nearby is the _Phlox dejecta_ in large quantities, resembling a
desert moss, and covering the rocks with its tinted carpet.
An Indian paint-brush with a flower in an oblong cream-colored spike,
with purple blotches, was named _Castilleia inconspicua_, possibly
because it is so much less conspicuous and alluring to the eye than
its well-known and striking brother of the California fields, _C.
parviflora_. This species has been of great interest to botanists,
as when first observed it was placed in the genus _Orthocarpus_.
Professor Kennedy thinks it is undoubtedly a connecting link between
the two genera. It has been found only on Mount Rose, where it is
common at between 9000 and 10,000 feet elevation. It reaches, however,
to the summit, though it is more sparingly found there.
Professor Kennedy also describes _Hulsea Caespitosa_, or Alpine
dandelion, a densely pubescent plant, emitting a disagreeable odor,
whose large yellow flowers surprise one when seen glowing apparently
out of the masses of loose volcanic rock. It is soon found, however,
that they have roots deep down in good soil beneath. Another new
species, _Chrysothamnus Monocephala_, or Alpine rabbit-brush, is
a very low, shrubby plant, with insignificant pale yellow flowers.
A beautiful little plant, well adapted to rockeries and suited for
cultivation, is _Polemonium Montrosense_. Under good conditions
it grows excellently. It was found on the summit of Mt. Rose, and at
Clusters of the Alpine Monkey-flower (_Mimulus Implexus_, Greene), are
also found on Mt. Rose, as well as on other Tahoe mountain summits.
The rich yellow flowers bloom profusely, though their bed is often a
moraine of wet rocks over which a turbulent cold stream has recently
Slightly below the summit the little elephant's-head have been found
(_Elephantella attolens_(Gray) Heller). Rydberg in his _Flora of
Montana_ showed that these were not properly the true _pendicularis_,
as they had hitherto been regarded, hence the new name. The corolla
strikingly resembles the head of an elephant, the beak of the galea
forming the trunk, the lateral lobes of the lips the ears, and the
stigma the finger-like appendage of the trunk.
In August, growing below the perpetual snow banks at about 10,000 feet
elevation that supply an abundance of moisture, one will often find
clumps of _Rhodiola Integrifolia_, which attract the eye with
their deep reddish-purple flowers and fruits. The leaves also have a
Nearby clambering over the granite bowlders the Alpine heath,
_Cassiope Mertensianae_, with its multitude of rose-tinted flower
bells, sometimes is found, though not in the profusion it displays in
Another very interesting plant is the Alpine currant (_Ribes
Inebrians_, Lindl.) which between the years 1832 and 1907 has
received no less than eight different names accorded by European and
American botanists. It is a remarkable shrub, in that it occurs higher
on the mountain than any other form of vegetation except lichens. The
roots penetrate deeply into the crevices of the lava rocks, enabling
it to withstand the fierce winds. The flowers, which appear in
August, are white, shading to pink, and the red berries, which are not
especially palatable on account of their insipid taste and numerous
seeds, are abundant in September. Another new Mt. Rose _ribes_
has been named _Churchii_ in honor of Professor J.E. Church, Jr.,
whose original work at the Mt. Rose Observatory is described in the
chapter devoted to that purpose.
Growing at elevations of from 6000 to 10,000 feet, displaying a
profusion of white flowers sometimes delicately tinged with light
purple is the _Phlox Douglasii_, Hook. It is low but with loose,
much-branched prostrate stems and remarkably stout, almost woody
A new Alpine willow (_Salix Caespitosa_) has also been
discovered. Professor Kennedy thus writes of it:
The melting snow, as it comes through and over the rocks in
the nature of a spring, brings with it particles of sand and
vegetation, which form a very shallow layer of soil on a flat
area to one side of the main branch of the stream. On this the
willow branches adhere like ivy, rooting at every joint and
interlaced so as to form a dense mat. From these, erect leafy
shoots, one or two inches high, appear, with the many flowered
catkins extending above the foliage. The pistillate plants
occupy separate but adjacent areas to the staminate ones.
[Illustration: Professor Fergusson at the Fergusson Meteorograph
at Mt. Rose Observatory. 10,090 Feet]
[Illustration: An Alpine White Pine, Defying the Storms, on the
North Slope of Mt. Rose, 9,500 Ft.]
[Illustration: Tallac, Lake Tahoe]
[Illustration: Looking North from Cave Rock, Lake Tahoe]
THE CHAPARRAL OF THE TAHOE REGION
The word _chaparral_ is a Spanish word, transferred bodily into
our language, without, however, retaining its strict and original
significance. In Spanish it means a plantation of evergreen oaks, or,
thick bramble-bushes entangled with thorny shrubs in clumps. Hence,
in the west, it has come to mean any low or scrub brush that thickly
covers a hill or mountain-side. As there is a varied chaparral in the
Tahoe region, it is well for the visitor to know of what it is mainly
Experience has demonstrated that where the larger lumber is cut
off close on the Sierran slopes of the Tahoe region the low bushy
chaparral at once takes full possession. It seems to prevent the
tree seeds from growing and thus is an effectual preventive to
reforestation. This, however, is generally not so apparent east of the
main range as it is on the western slopes. One of its chief elements
is the manzanita (_Arctostaphylos patula_) easily distinguishable
by the red wood of its stem and larger branches, glossy leaves,
waxen blossoms (when in flower) and green or red berries in the early
The snow-bush abounds. It is a low sage-green bush, very thorny, hence
is locally called "bide-a-wee" from the name given by the English
soldiers to a very thorny bush they had to encounter during the Boer
War. In the late days of spring and even as late as July it is covered
with a white blossom that makes it glorious and attractive.
Then there is the thimble-berry with its big, light yellow, sprawling
leaves, and its attractively red, thimble-shaped, but rather tasteless
berries. The Indians, however, are very fond of them, and so are some
of the birds and animals, likewise of the service berries, which look
much like the blueberry, though their flavor is not so choice.
Here and there patches of the wild gooseberry add to the tangle of
the chaparral. The gooseberries when ripe are very red, as are the
currants, but they are armored with a tough skin completely covered
with sharp, hairy thorns. In Southern California all the fruit of
the wild _ribes_ have the thorns, but they do not compare in
penetrating power and strength with those of the Tahoe gooseberries.
One of the most charming features of the chaparral is the mountain
ash, especially when the berries are ripe and red. The Scotch name
_rowan_ seems peculiarly appropriate. Even while the berries are
yellow they are attractive to the eye, and alluring to the birds, but
when they become red they give a splendid dash of rich color that sets
off the whole mountain side.
The mountain mahogany is not uncommon (_Cereocarpus parvifolius_,
Nutt.) and though its green flowers are inconspicuous, its long,
solitary plumes at fruiting time attract the eye.
While the California laurel (_Umbellularia Californica_, Nutt.)
often grows to great height, it is found in chaparral clumps on the
mountain sides. It is commonly known as the bay tree, on account of
the bay-like shape and odor of its leaves when crushed. It gives a
spicy fragrance to the air and is always welcome to those who know it.
In many places throughout the mountains of the Tahoe region there are
clumps or groves of wild cherry (_Prunus Demissa_, Walpers), the
cherries generally ripening in September. But if one expects the ripe
red _wild_ cherries to have any of the delicious richness and
sweetness of the ripe Queen Anne or other good variety he is doomed
to sad disappointment. For they are sour and bitter--bitter as
quinine,--and that is perhaps the reason their juice has been
extracted and made into medicine supposed to have extraordinary tonic
and healing virtue.
The elder is often found (_Sambucus Glauca_, Nutt.), sometimes
quite tall and at other times broken down by the snow, but bravely
covering its bent and gnarled trunks and branches with dense foliage
and cream-white blossom-clusters. The berries are always attractive to
the eye in their purple tint, with the creamy blush on them, and happy
is that traveler who has an expert make for him an elderberry pie, or
distill the rich cordial the berries make.
Another feature of the chaparral often occupies the field entirely
to itself, viz., the chamisal or greasewood (_Adenostoma
fasciculatum_, Hook, and Arn.). Its small clustered and needle-like
leaves, richly covered with large, feathery panicles of tiny
blossoms, give it an appearance not unlike Scotch heather, and make a
mountainside dainty and beautiful.
The California buckeye (_Aesculus Californica_, Nutt.) is also
found, especially upon stream banks or on the moist slopes of
the canyons. Its light gray limbs, broad leaves, and long, white
flower-spikes make it an attractive shrub or tree (for it often
reaches forty feet in height), and when the leaves drop, as they do
early, the skeleton presents a beautiful and delicate network against
the deep azure of the sky.
Another feature of the chaparral is the scrub oak. In 1913 the bushes
were almost free from acorns. They generally appear only every other
year, and when they do bear the crop is a wonderfully numerous one.
A vast amount of wild lilac (_Ceanothus Velutinus_) is found on
all the slopes. It generally blooms in June and then the hillsides are
one fragrant and glowing mass of vivid white tinged with the creamy
hue that adds so much charm to the flowers.
The year 1913, however, was a peculiar year, throughout, for plant
life. In the middle of September in Page's Meadows a large patch
of ceanothus was in full bloom, either revealing a remarkably late
flowering, or a second effort at beautification.
Another ceanothus, commonly called mountain birch, is often found.
When in abundance and in full flower it makes a mountain side appear
as if covered with drifted snow.
Willows abound in the canyons and on the mountains of the Tahoe
region, and they are an invariable sign of the near presence of water.
There is scarcely a canyon where alders, cottonwoods and quaking
aspens may not be found. In 1913 either the lack of water, some
adverse climatic condition, or some fungus blight caused the aspen
leaves to blotch and fall from the trees as early as the beginning of
September. As a rule they remain until late in October, changing to
autumnal tints of every richness and hue and reminding one of the
glorious hues of the eastern maples when touched by the first frosts
No one used to exploring dry and desert regions, such as the Colorado
and Mohave Deserts of Southern California, the Grand Canyon region,
the Navajo Reservation, etc., in Arizona and New Mexico, the constant
presence of water in the Tahoe region is a perpetual delight. Daily
in my trips here I have wondered at the absence of my canteen and
sometimes in moments of forgetfulness I would reach for it, and be
almost paralyzed with horror not to find it in its accustomed place.
But the never-ending joy of feeling that one could start out for a
day's trip, or a camping-out expedition of a week or a month and never
give the subject of water a moment's thought, can only be appreciated
by those who are direfully familiar with the dependence placed upon
the canteen in less favored regions.
HOW TO DISTINGUISH THE TREES OF THE TAHOE REGION
By "trees" in this chapter I mean only the evergreen trees--the pines,
firs, spruces, hemlocks, cedars, junipers and tamaracks. Many visitors
like to know at least enough when they are looking at a tree, to tell
which of the above species it belongs to. All I aim to do here is to
seek to make clear the distinguishing features of the various
trees, and to give some of the more readily discernible signs of the
different varieties of the same species found in the region.
It must not be forgotten that tree growth is largely dependent upon
soil conditions. The soil of the Tahoe region is chiefly glacial
On the slopes and summits of the ridges it is sandy, gravelly,
and liberally strewn with masses of drift bowlders. The flats
largely formed of silting while they still constituted beds
of lakes, have a deep soil of fine sand and mold resting on
coarse gravel and bowlder drift. Ridges composed of brecciated
lavas, which crumble easily under the influence of atmospheric
agencies, are covered with soil two or three feet, or even
more, in depth, where gentle slopes or broad saddles have
favored deposition and prevented washing. The granite areas of
the main range and elsewhere have a very thin soil. The flats
at the entrance of small streams into Lake Tahoe are covered
with deep soil, owing to deposition of vegetable matter
brought from the slopes adjacent to their channels. As a
whole, the soil of the region is of sufficient fertility to
support a heavy forest growth, its depth depends wholly on
favoring washing and removal of the soil elements as fast
as formed, or holding them in place and compelling
Coniferous species of trees constitute fully ninety-five per cent.
of the arborescent growth in the region. The remaining five per
cent. consists mostly of different species of oak, ash, maple,
mountain-mahogany, aspen, cottonwood, California buckeye, western
red-bud, arborescent willows, alders, etc.
Of the conifers the species are as follows: yellow pine, _pinus
ponderosa_; Jeffrey pine, _pinus jeffreyi_; sugar pine, _pinus
lambertiana_; lodge-pole pine, _pinus murrayana_; white pine, _pinus
monticola_; digger pine, _pinus sabiniana_; white-bark pine, _pinus
albicaulis_; red fir, _pseudotsuga taxifolia_; white fir, _abies
concolor_; Shasta fir, _abies magnifica_; patton hemlock or alpine
spruce, _tsuga pattoniana_; incense cedar, _libocedrus decurrens_;
western juniper, _juniperus occidentalis_; yew, _taxus brevifolia_.
[Footnote 1: John B. Leiberg, in _Forest Conditions in the Northern
The range and chief characteristic of these trees, generally speaking,
are as follows:
_Digger Pine_. This is seldom found in the Tahoe region, except
in the lower reaches of the canyons on the west side of the range. It
is sometimes known as the Nut Pine, for it bears a nut of which the
natives are very fond. It has two cone forms, one in which the spurs
point straight down, the other in which they are more or less curved
at the tip. They grow to a height of forty to fifty and occasionally
ninety feet high; with open crown and thin gray foliage.
_Western Juniper_. This is a typical tree of the arid regions
east of the Sierra, yet it is to be found scattered throughout the
Tahoe country, generally at an elevation between five thousand and
eight thousand feet. It ranges in height from ten to twenty-five or
even sixty-five feet. Its dull red bark, which shreds or flakes
easily, its berries, which begin a green color, shade through to
gray, and when ripe are a rich purple, make it readily discernible.
It is a characteristic feature of the scenery at timber line in many
With the crowns beaten by storms into irregular shapes,
often dead on one side but flourishing on the other, the tops
usually dismantled and the trunks excessively thickened at
base, such figures, whether erect, half overthrown or wholly
crouching, are the most picturesque of mountain trees and are
frequently of very great age.--_Jepson_.
_Yew_. This is not often found and then only in the west canyons
above the main range. It is a small and insignificant tree, rarely
exceeding forty feet in height. It has a thin red-brown smooth bark
which becomes shreddy as it flakes off in thin and rather small
pieces. The seeds are borne on the under side of the sprays and
when mature set in a fleshy scarlet cup, the whole looking like a
brilliantly colored berry five or six inches long. They ripen in July
_Incense Cedar_. This is commonly found all over the region at
elevations below 7500 feet, though its chief habitat is at elevations
of 3500 to 6000 feet. It grows to a height of fifty to one hundred and
fifty feet, with a strongly conical trunk, very thick at the base, and
gradually diminishing in size upward. The bark is thick, red-brown,
loose and fibrous, and when the tree is old, broken into prominent
heavy longitudinal furrows. The cones are red-brown, oblong-ovate when
closed, three-fourths to an inch long.
_Shasta Fir_. This is found on the summits, slopes and shores
of Lake Tahoe, and to levels 6200 feet in elevation on the slopes and
summits directly connected with the main range. It is found along the
Mount Pluto ridge. It is essentially a tree of the mountains, where
the annual precipitation ranges from fifty inches upward. In the Tahoe
region it is locally known as the red fir. Sometimes it is called the
red bark fir and golden fir. It grows from sixty to even one hundred
and seventy-five feet high with trunk one to five feet in diameter and
a narrowly cone-shaped crown composed of numerous horizontal strata of
fan-shaped sprays. The bark on young trees is whitish or silvery, on
old trunks dark red, very deeply and roughly fissured. The cones when
young are of a beautiful dull purple, when mature becoming brown.
_White Pine_. This is found on northern slopes as low down as
6500 feet, though it generally ranges above 7000 feet, and is quite
common. It sometimes is called the silver pine, and generally in the
Tahoe region, the mountain pine. It grows to a height of from fifty to
one hundred and seventy-five feet, the branches slender and spreading
or somewhat drooping, and mostly confined to the upper portion of the
shaft. The trunk is from one to six feet in diameter and clothed with
a very smooth though slightly checked whitish or reddish bark. The
needles are five (rarely four) in a place, very slender, one to three
and three-fourths inches long, sheathed at the base by thinnish narrow
deciduous scales, some of which are one inch long. The cones come in
clusters of one to seven, from six to eight or rarely ten inches
long, very slender when closed and usually curved towards the tip,
black-purple or green when young, buff-brown when ripe. It is best
recognized by its light-gray smooth bark, broken into squarish
plates, its pale-blue-green foliage composed of short needles, and its
pendulous cones so slender as to give rise to the name "Finger-Cone
_Sugar Pine_. This is found on the lower terraces of Tahoe,
fringing the region with a sparse and scattering growth, but it is
not found on the higher slopes of the Sierra. On the western side
its range is nearly identical with that of the red fir. It grows from
eighty to one hundred and fifty feet high, the young and adult trees
symmetrical, but the aged trees commonly with broken summits or
characteristically flat-topped with one or two long arm-like branches
exceeding shorter ones. The trunk is from two to eight feet in
diameter, and the bark brown or reddish, closely fissured into rough
ridges. The needles are slender, five in a bundle, two to three and a
half inches long. The cones are pendulous, borne on stalks at the
end of the branches, mostly in the very summit of the tree, very
long-oblong, thirteen to eighteen inches long, four to six inches in
diameter when opened.
This pine gains its name from its sugary exudation, sought by
the native tribes, which forms hard white crystallized nodules
on the upper side of fire or ax wounds in the wood. This flow
contains resin, is manna-like, has cathartic properties, and
is as sweet as cane-sugar. The seeds are edible. Although very
small they are more valued by the native tribes than the large
seeds of the Digger Pine on account of their better flavor.
In former days, when it came October, the Indians went to the
high mountains about their valleys to gather the cones. They
camped on the ridges where the sugar pines grow and celebrated
their sylvan journey by tree-climbing contests among the men.
In these latter days, being possessed of the white man's
ax, they find it more convenient to cut the tree down. It is
undoubtedly the most remarkable of all pines, viewed either
from the standpoint of its economic value or sylvan interest.
It is the largest of pine trees, considered whether as to
weight or girth, and more than any other tree gives beauty and
distinction to the Sierran forest.--_Jepson_.
The long cones found in abundance about Tahoe Tavern are those of the
_Yellow Pine and Jeffrey Pine_. These are practically one and
the same, though the latter is generally regarded as a variety and the
former the type. Mr. Leiberg says:
The two forms differ chiefly in the size of the cones, in the
tint and odor of the foliage, and in the color and thickness
of the bark, differences which are insufficient to constitute
specific characters. The most conspicuous of the above
differences is that in the size of the cones, which may
seemingly hold good if only a few hundred trees are examined.
But when one comes to deal with thousands of individuals
the distinction vanishes. It is common to find trees of the
Jeffrey type as to foliage and bark that bear the big cones,
and the characteristic smaller cones of the typical yellow
pine, both at the same time and on the same individual, while
old cones strewn about on the ground indicate that in some
seasons trees of the Jeffrey type produce only small-sized
cones. The odor and the color of leaves and bark are more or
less dependent on soil conditions and the inherent vitality
of the individual tree, and the same characters are found
in specimens belonging to the yellow and Jeffrey pine. It
is noticeable that the big-cone variety preferably grows at
considerable elevation and on rocky sterile ground, while the
typical form of the yellow pine prevails throughout the lower
regions and on tracts with a more generous soil.
The yellow pine has a wider range than any other of the Tahoe
conifers, though on the high, rocky areas, south and west of
Rubicon Springs it is lacking. It crosses from the western
slopes to the eastern sides of the Sierras and down into the
Tahoe basin over the heads of Miller and McKinney Creeks,
in both places as a thin line, or rather as scattering trees
mixed with Shasta fir and white pine.
It grows from sixty to two hundred and twenty-five feet high with
trunk two to nine feet in diameter. The limbs in mature trees are
horizontal or even drooping. The bark of typical trees is tawny
yellow or yellow-brown, divided by fissures into large smoothish
or scaly-surfaced plates which are often one to four feet long and
one-half to one and a quarter feet wide. The needles are in threes,
five to ten inches long; the cones reddish brown.
It must be noted, too, that "the bark is exceedingly variable,
black-barked or brown-barked trees, roughly or narrowly
fissured, are very common and in their extreme forms
very different in trunk appearance from the typical or
most-abundant 'turtle-back' form with broad, yellow or light
_Lodge Pole Pine_. The range of this tree is almost identical
with that of the Shasta fir, though here and there it is found at as
low an altitude as 4500 feet. It loves the margins of creeks, glades
and lakes situated at altitudes of 6000 feet and upward, where it
usually forms a fringe of nearly pure growth in the wet and swampy
portions of the ground. In the Tahoe region it is invariably called a
tamarack or tamarack pine. It is a symmetrical tree commonly reaching
as high as fifty to eighty feet, but occasionally one hundred and
twenty-five feet. When stunted, however, it is only a few feet. The
bark is remarkably thin, rarely more than one quarter inch thick,
light gray in color, very smooth but flaking into small thin scales.
There are only two needles to a bunch, in a sheath, one and a half to
two and three quarters inches long. The cones are chestnut brown, one
to one and three quarters inches long.
It is when sleeping under the lodge pole pines that you begin to
appreciate their perfect charm and beauty. You unroll your blankets
at the foot of a stately tree at night, unconscious and careless as to
what tree it is. During the night, when the moon is at the full, you
awaken and look up into a glory of shimmering light. The fine tapering
shape, the delicate fairy-like beauty, instantly appeal to the
sensitive soul and he feels he is in a veritable temple of beauty.
They are very sensitive trees. In many places a mere grass fire, quick
and very fierce for a short time, has destroyed quite a number.
_White Fir_. This follows closely the range of the incense cedar,
though in some places it is found as high as 8700 feet. It is one
of the most perfect trees in the Sierras. Ranging from sixty to one
hundred and fifty and even two hundred feet high, with a narrow crown
composed of flat sprays and a trunk naked for one-third to one-half
its height and from one to six feet in diameter, with a smooth bark,
silvery or whitish in young trees, becoming thick and heavily fissured
into rounded ridges on old trunks, and gray or drab-brown in color,
it is readily distinguishable, with its companion, the red fir, by the
regularity of construction of trunk, branch and branchlet. As Smeaton
Chase expresses it, "The fine smooth arms, set in regular formation,
divide and redivide again and again _ad infinitum_, weaving at
last into a maze of exquisitely symmetrical twigs and branchlets."
_Red Fir_. The range of the red fir is irregular. It occurs
on the Rubicon River and some of the headwaters of the west-flowing
streams, reaching a general height of 6000 feet, though it is
occasionally found as high as 7000 feet. In some parts of California
this is known as Douglas Spruce, and Jepson, in his _Silva of
California_ definitely states:
The name "fir" as applied to the species is so well
established among woodsmen that for the sake of
intelligibility the combination Douglas Fir, which prevents
confusion with the true firs and has been adopted by the
Pacific Coast Lumberman's Association, is here accepted,
notwithstanding that the name used by botanists, "Douglas
Spruce" is actually more fitting on account of the greater
number of spruce-like characteristics. It is neither true
spruce, fir, nor hemlock, but a marked type of a distinct
genus, namely, _pseudotsuga_.
It must not be confounded with the red silver fir (_Abies
Magnifica_) so eloquently described as the chief delight of the
Yosemite region by Smeaton Chase. It grows from seventy to two hundred
and fifty or possibly three hundred and fifty feet high, and is the
most important lumber tree of the country, considering the quality of
its timber, the size and length of its logs, and the great amount of
heavy wood and freedom from knots, shakes or defects. On young trees
the bark is smooth, gray or mottled, sometimes alder-like; on old
trunks one to six and a half inches thick, soft or putty-like, dark
brown, fissured into broad heavy furrows. The young rapid growth in
the open woods produces "red fir", the older slower growth in denser
woods is "yellow fir". Every tree to a greater or lesser extent
exhibits successively these two phases, which are dependent upon
situation and exposure.
The chief difference between the white and red fir is in the
_spiculae_ or leaves. Those of the red fir are shorter, stubbier
and stiffer than those of the white. The bark, however, is pretty
nearly alike in young trees and shows a marked difference when they
get to be forty to fifty years old.
_The Alpine Spruce_ (_Hesperopeuce Pattoniana_ Lemmon) is
found only in the highest elevations. Common in Alaska it is limited
in the Tahoe region to the upper points of forests that creep up
along glacier beds and volcanic ravines, close to perpetual ice. It
disappears at 10,000 feet altitude on Mt. Whitney and is found nowhere
south of this point. On Tallac, Mt. Rose and all the higher peaks
of the Tahoe region it is common, giving constant delight with its
slender shaft, eighty to a hundred feet high, and with a diameter at
its base of from six to twelve feet. It is only in the lower portions
of the belt where it occurs. Higher it is reduced to low conical
masses of foliage or prostrate creeping shrubs.
By many it is regarded as a hemlock, but it is not strictly so. It was
first discovered in 1852 by John Jeffrey, who followed David Douglas
in his explorations of the forests of the American Northwest.
In favorable situations, the lower limbs are retained and
become long, out-reaching, and spreading over the mountain
slope for many feet; the upper limbs are irregularly disposed,
not whorled; they strike downward from the start (so that it
is almost impossible to climb one of the trees for want of
foothold), then curving outward to the outline of the tree,
they are terminated by short, hairy branchlets that decline
gracefully, and are decorated with pendant cones which are
glaucous purple until maturity, then leather brown, with
The main stem sends out strong ascending shoots, the leading
one terminating so slenderly as to bend from side to side with
its many purple pendants before the wind, and shimmering in
the sunlight with rare beauty.--_Lemmon_.
On the slopes of Mt. Rose near timber line, which ranges from 9700 to
10,000 feet according to exposures, while still a tree of considerable
size, it loses its symmetrical appearance. Professor Kennedy says:
Buffeted by the fierce winter winds and snows, the branches on
the west side of the tree are either entirely wanting or very
short and gnarled, and the bark is commonly denuded. Unlike
its associate, _Pinus Albicaulis_, which is abundant as
a prostrate shrub far above timber line, the spruce is rarely
encountered above timber line at this place, but here and
there a hardy individual may be found lurking among the pines.
The greatest elevation at which it was noticed is 10,500 feet.
To me this is one of the most beautiful of Sierran trees. Its delicate
silvery hue, and the rarely exquisite shading from the old growth to
the new, its gracefulness, the quaint and fascinating tilt of its
tip which waveringly bends over in obedience to whichever breeze is
blowing makes it the most alluringly feminine of all the trees of the
It is interesting to note the differences in the cones, and in the way
they grow; singly, in clusters, at the end of branches, on the stems,
large, medium-sized, small, short and stubby, long and slender,
conical, etc. Then, too, while the pines generally have cones every
year, the firs seem to miss a year, and to bear only alternate years.
The gray squirrels are often great reapers of the cones, before they
are ripe. They cut them down and then eat off the tips of the scales
so that they present a pathetically stripped appearance.
THE BIRDS AND ANIMALS OF THE TAHOE REGION
_Birds_. The bird life of the Tahoe region does not seem
particularly interesting or impressive to the casual observer. At
first sight there are not many birds, and those that do appear have
neither so vivid plumage nor sweet song as their feathered relatives
of the east, south and west. Nevertheless there are several
interesting species, and while this chapter makes no pretense to
completeness it suggests what one untrained observer without birds
particularly on his mind has witnessed in the course of his several
trips to the Tahoe region.
It soon becomes evident that altitude has much to do with bird life,
some, as the meadow-lark and blackbird never being found higher than
the Lake shore, others at the intermediate elevations where the Alpine
hemlock thrives, while still others, such as the rosy finch and the
rock-wren, are found only on the highest and most craggy peaks.
While water birds are not numerous in the summer, observant visitors
at Lake Tahoe for the first time are generally surprised to find
numbers of sea gulls. They fly back and forth, however, to and from
their native haunts by the sea. They never raise their young here,
generally making their return flight to the shores of the Pacific in
September, October and at latest November, to come back in March and
April. While out on the mountain in these months, fifty or more miles
west of Lake Tahoe I have seen them, high in the air, flying straight
to the place they desired.
The blue heron in its solitary and stately watchfulness is
occasionally seen, and again etches itself like a Japanese picture
against the pure blue of the sky. The American bittern is also seen
Kingfishers are found, both on the lakes and streams. It is
fascinating to watch them unobserved, perched on a twig, as motionless
as if petrified, until, suddenly, their prey is within grasp, and with
a sudden splash is seized.
On several of the lakes, occasionally on bays of Tahoe itself, and
often in the marshy lands and sloughs of the Upper Truckee, near
Tallac, ducks, mallard and teal are found. Mud chickens in abundance
are also found pretty nearly everywhere all through the year.
The weird cry of the loon is not infrequently heard on some of the
lakes, and one of these latter is named Loon Lake from the fact that
several were found there for a number of years.
Flocks of white pelicans are sometimes seen. Blackbirds of two or
three kinds are found in the marshes, also killdeer, jacksnipe and the
ever active and interesting spotted sandpipers. A few meadow-larks
now and again are heard singing their exquisite song, reminding one
of Browning's wise thrush which "sings each song twice over, lest you
should think he cannot recapture that first fine careless rapture."
Doves are not common, but now and again one may hear their sweet
melancholy song, telling us in Joaquin Miller's poetic and exquisite
There are many to-morrows, my love, my love,
But only one to-day.
In the summer robins are frequently seen. Especially do they revel
on the lawns at Tahoe Tavern, their red-breasts and their peculiar
"smithing" or "cokeing" just as alluring and interesting as the
plumage and voices of the richer feathered and finer songsters of the
Mountain quails are quite common, and one sometimes sees a dozen
flocks in a day. Grouse are fairly plentiful. One day just on the
other side of Granite Chief Peak a fine specimen sailed up and out
from the trail at our very feet, soared for quite a distance, as
straight as a bullet to its billet for a cluster of pine trees, and
there hid in the branches. My guide walked down, gun in hand, ready
to shoot, and as he came nearer, two others dashed up in disconcerting
suddenness and flew, one to the right, the other to the left. We never
got a sight of any of them again.
At another time I was coming over by Split Crag from the Lake of the
Woods, with Mr. Price, of Fallen Leaf Lodge, when two beautiful grouse
arose from the trail and soared away in their characteristic style.
At one time sage-hens were not infrequent on the Nevada side of the
Lake, and as far west as Brockways. Indeed it used to be a common
thing for hunters, in the early days, to come from Truckee, through
Martis Valley, to the Hot Springs (as Brockways was then named) and
shoot sage-hens all along the way. A few miles north of Truckee, Sage
Hen Creek still preserves, in the name, the fact that the sage-hen was
well known there.
Bald-headed and golden eagles are often seen in easy and circular
flight above the highest peaks. In the fall and winter they pass over
into the wild country near the almost inaccessible peaks above
the American River and there raise their young. One year Mr. Price
observed a pair of golden eagles which nested on Mt. Tallac. He and I
were seated at lunch one day in September, 1913, on the very summit of
Pyramid Peak, when, suddenly, as a bolt out of a clear sky, startling
us with its wild rush, an eagle shot obliquely at us from the upper
air. The speed with which it fell made a noise as of a "rushing mighty
wind." Down! down, it fell, and then with the utmost grace imaginable,
swept up, still going at terrific speed, circled about, and was soon
lost to sight.
Almost as fond of the wind-tossed pines high up on the slopes of the
mountain as is the eagle of the most rugged peaks, is Clark's crow,
a grayish white bird, with black wings, and a harsh, rasping call,
somewhat between that of a crow and the jay.
Of an entirely different nature, seldom seen except on the topmost
peaks, is the rosy-headed finch. While on the summit of Pyramid Peak,
we saw two of them, and one of them favored us with his (or her)
sweet, gentle song.
Hawks are quite common; among those generally seen are the long tailed
grouse-hawk, the sparrow hawk, and the sharp-shinned hawk. Night-hawks
are quite conspicuous, if one walks about after sunset. They are dusky
with a white throat and band on the wing. They sail through the air
without any effort, wings outspread and beak wide open, and thus glean
their harvest of winged insects as they skim along. Oftentimes their
sudden swoop will startle you as they rush by.
Woodpeckers are numerous, and two or three species may be seen almost
anywhere in a day's walk through one of the wooded sections. Many are
the trees which bear evidence of their industry, skill and providence.
The huge crow-like pileolated woodpecker with its scarlet crest, the
red-shafted flicker, the Sierra creeper, the red-breasted sap-sucker,
Williamson's sap-sucker, the white-headed woodpecker, Cabanis's
woodpecker with spotted wings and gray breast, the most common of
woodpeckers, and Lewis's woodpecker, a large heavy bird, glossy black
above, with a white collar and a rich red underpart, have all been
seen for many years in succession.
The red-breasted sap-sucker and Williamson's sap-sucker are found most
frequently among the aspens and willows along the lake shore, while
the red-shafted flicker, Cabanis's woodpecker, and the white-head
favor the woods. One observer says the slender-billed nut-hatch is
much more common than the red-breasted, and that his nasal laugh
resounded at all times through the pines.
High up in the hemlock forests is the interesting Alpine three-toed
woodpecker. It looks very much like Cabanis's, only it has three toes
in place of four, and a yellow crown instead of a black and red one.
In importance after the woodpeckers come the members of the sparrow
family that inhabit the Tahoe region. The little black-headed
snowbird, Thurber's junco, is the most common of all the Tahoe birds.
The thick-billed sparrow, a grayish bird with spotted breast and
enormous bill is found on all the brushy hillsides and is noted for
its glorious bursts of rich song.
Now and again one will see a flock of English sparrows, and the
sweet-voiced song-sparrow endeavors to make up for the vulgarity of
its English cousin by the delicate softness of its peculiar song.
Others of the family are the two purple finches (reddish birds), the
pine-finch, very plain and streaked, the green-tailed towhee, with its
cat-like call, and the white-crowned sparrow,--its sweetly melancholy
song, "Oh, dear me," in falling cadence, is heard in every Sierran
The mountain song-sparrow, western lark, western chipping-fox,
gold-finch, and house- and cassin-finches are seen. The fly-catchers
are omnipresent in August, though their shy disposition makes them
hard to identify. Hammond, olive-sided and western pewee are often
seen, and at times the tall tree-tops are alive with kinglets.
Some visitors complain that they do not often see or hear the
warblers, but in 1905, one bird-lover reported seven common
representatives. She says:
The yellow bird was often heard and seen in the willows along
the Lake. Late in August the shrubs on the shore were alive
with the Audubon group, which is so abundant in the vicinity
of Los Angeles all winter. Pileolated warblers, with rich
yellow suits and black caps, hovered like hummers among the
low shrubs in the woods. Now and then a Pacific yellow-throat
sang his bewitching "wichity wichity, wichity, wee." Hermit
and black-throated gray warblers were also recorded. The
third week in August there was an extensive immigration of
Macgillivray warblers. Their delicate gray heads,
yellow underparts, and the bobbing movement of the tail,
distinguished them from the others.
The water ouzel finds congenial habitat in the canyons of the Tahoe
region, and the careful observer may see scores of them as he walks
along the streams and by the cascades and waterfalls during a summer's
season. At one place they are so numerous as to have led to the naming
of a beautiful waterfall, Ouzel Falls, after them. Another bird is
much sought after and can be seen and heard here, perhaps as often
as any other place in the country. That is the hermit thrush, small,
delicate, grayish, with spotted breast. The shyness of the bird is
proverbial, and it frequents the deepest willow and aspen thickets.
Once heard, its sweet song can never be forgotten, and happy is he who
can get near enough to hear it undisturbed. Far off, it is flute-like,
pure and penetrating, though not loud. Gradually it softens until it
sounds but as the faintest of tinkling bell-like notes, which die away
leaving one with the assurance that he has been hearing the song
of the chief bird of the fairies, or of birds which accompany the
heavenly lullabies of the mother angels putting their baby angels to
Cliff-swallows often nest on the high banks at Tahoe City, and a few
have been seen nesting under the eaves of the store on the wharf. The
nests of barn swallows also have been found under the eaves of the
Nor must the exquisite hummers be overlooked. In Truckee Canyon, and
near Tahoe Tavern they are quite numerous. They sit on the telephone
wires and try to make you listen to their pathetic and scarcely
discernible song, and as you sit on the seats at the Tavern, if you
happen to have some bright colored object about you, especially red,
they will flit to and fro eagerly seeking for the honey-laden flower
that red ought to betoken.
Several times down Truckee Canyon I have seen wild canaries. They are
rather rare, as are also the Louisiana tanager, most gorgeous of all
the Tahoe birds, and the black-headed grosbeak.
Of the wrens, both the rock wren and the canyon wren are occasionally
seen, the peculiar song of the latter bringing a thrill of cheer to
those who are familiar with its falling chromatic scale.
Then there is the merry chick-a-dee-dee, the busy creepers, and the
nut-hatches hunting for insects on the tree trunks.
The harsh note of the blue jay is heard from Tahoe Tavern, all around
the Lake and in almost every wooded slope in the Sierras. He is a
noisy, generally unlovable creature, and the terror of the small birds
in the nesting season, because of his well-known habit of stealing
eggs and young. At Tahoe Tavern, however, I found several of them that
were shamed into friendliness of behavior, and astonishing tameness,
by the chipmunks. They would come and eat nuts from my fingers, and
one of them several times came and perched upon my shoulder. There is
also the grayish solitaire which looks very much like the mockingbird
of less variable climes.
The foregoing account of the birds, which I submitted for revision to
Professor Peter Frandsen, of the University of Nevada, called forth
from him the following:
I have very little to add to this admirable bird account.
Besides the gulls, their black relatives, the swallow-like
terns, are occasionally seen. The black-crowned night-heron is
less common than the great blue heron. Clarke's crow is more
properly called Clarke's nutcracker--a different genus. The
road robin or chewink is fairly common in the thickets above
the Lake. Nuttal's poor will, with its call of two syllables,
is not infrequently heard at night. The silent mountain
blue-bird, _sialia arctica_, is sometimes seen. So is the
western warbling vireo. The solitary white-rumped shrike is
occasionally met with in late summer. Owls are common but what
species other than the western horned owl I do not know. Other
rather rare birds are the beautiful lazuli bunting and the
western warbling vireo. Among the wood-peckers I have also
noted the bristle-bellied wood-pecker, or Lewis's wood-pecker,
Harris's wood-pecker, and the downy wood-pecker.
_ANIMALS_. These are even more numerous than the birds, though
except to the experienced observer many of them are seldom noticed.
While raccoons are not found on the eastern slopes of the High
Sierras, or in the near neighborhood of the Lake, they are not
uncommon on the western slopes, near the Rubicon and the headwaters of
the various forks of the American and other near-by rivers.
Watson assured me that every fall he sees tracks on the Rubicon and
in the Hell Hole region of very large mountain lions. They hide, among
other places, under and on the limbs of the wild grapevines, which
here grow to unusual size. In the fall of 1912 he saw some strange
markings, and following them was led to a cluster of wild raspberry
vines, among which was a dead deer covered over with fir boughs. In
telling me the story he said:
I can generally read most of the things I see in the woods,
but this completely puzzled me. I determined to find out all
there was to be found. Close by I discovered the fir from
which the boughs had been stripped. It was as if some one of
giant strength had reached up to a height of seven or eight
feet and completely stripped the tree of all its lower limbs.
Then I asked myself the question: "Who's camping here?" I
thought he had used these limbs to make a bed of. But there
was no water nearby, and no signs of camping, so I saw that
was a wrong lead. Then I noticed that the limbs were too big
to be torn off by a man's hands, and there were blood stains
all about. Then I found the fragments of a deer. "Now," I said
to myself, "I've got it. A bear has killed this deer and has
eaten part of it and will come back for the rest." You know
a bear does this sometimes. But when I hunted for bear tracks
there wasn't a sign of a bear. Then I assumed that some hunter
had been along, killed a doe (contrary to law), had eaten what
he could and hidden the rest, covering the hide with leaves
and these branches. But then I knew a hunter would cut off
those branches with a knife, and these were torn off. The
blood spattered about, the torn-off boughs and the fact
that there were no tracks puzzled me, and I felt there was a
mystery and, probably, a tragedy.
But a day or two later I met a woodsman friend of mine, and I
took him to the spot. He explained the whole thing clearly.
As soon as he saw it he said, "That's a mountain-lion."
"But," said I, "Where's his tracks?" "He didn't make any," he
replied, "he surprised the doe by crawling along the vines.
I've found calves and deer hidden like this before, and I've
seen clear traces of the panthers, and once I watched one as
he killed, ate and then hid his prey. But as you know he won't
touch it after it begins to decompose, but a bear will. And
that's the reason we generally think it is a bear that does
the killing, when in reality it is a mountain lion who has
had his fill and left the remains for other predatory animals,
while he has gone off to hunt for a fresh kill."
Occasionally sheep-herders report considerable devastations from
mountain-lions and bear to the Forest Rangers. James Bryden, who
grazes his sheep on the Tahoe reserve near Downieville, lost sixteen
sheep in one night in July, 1911.
There are three kinds each of chipmunks and ground-squirrels. All of
the former have striped backs and do more or less climbing of trees.
Of their friendliness, greediness, and even sociability--where nuts
are in evidence or anticipated--I have written fully in the chapter on
Tahoe Tavern. Of the three ground-squirrels the largest is the common
ground-squirrel of the valleys of California. It is gray, somewhat
spotted on the back, and has a whitish collar and a bushy tail. The
next in size is the "picket-pin", so called from his habit of sitting
bolt upright on his haunches and remaining steadfast there, without
the slightest movement, until danger threatens, when he whisks away so
rapidly that it is quite impossible to follow his movements. In color
he is of a grayish brown, with thick-set body, and short, slim tail.
He has an exceeding sharp call, and makes his home in grassy meadows
from the level of the Lake nearly to the summits of the highest peaks.
The "copper-head" is the other ground-squirrel, though by some he may
be regarded as a chipmunk, for he has a striped back.
The flying squirrel is also found here. It comes out only at night and
lives in holes in trees. On each side between the fore and hind legs
it has a hairy flap, which when stretched out makes the body very
broad, and together with its hairy tail it is enabled to sail from
one tree to another, though always alighting at a lower level. A more
correct name would be a "sailing" squirrel. The fur is very soft, of
a mouse color and the animal makes a most beautiful pet. It has great
lustrous eyes and is about a foot in length.
The tree squirrel about the Lake is the pine squirrel or "chickeree."
The large tree squirrel is abundant on the west slope of the Sierra
from about six thousand feet downward, but it is not in the Lake
basin, so far as I am aware. The pine squirrel is everywhere, from
the Lake side to the summits of the highest wooded peaks. It is dark
above, whitish to yellow below, usually with a black line along the
side. The tail is full, bushy, the hairs tipped with white forming a
broad fringe. It feeds on the seeds of the pine cones.
The woodchuck or marmot is a huge, lumbering, squirrel-like animal in
the rocky regions, wholly terrestrial and feeding chiefly on roots and
grass. The young are fairly good eating and to shoot them with a rifle
is some sport.
Of the fur bearing and carnivorous animals the otter, fisher, etc.,
all are uncommon, though some are trapped every year by residents of
the Lake. The otter and mink live along the larger streams and on the
Lake shore where they feed chiefly on fish. They may sometimes catch a
wild fowl asleep. The martin and fisher live in pine trees usually
in the deepest forests, and they probably prey on squirrels, mice and
birds. They are usually nocturnal in their habits. The martin is the
size of a large tree squirrel; the fisher is about twice that size.
The foxes are not often seen, but the coyote is everywhere, a scourge
to the few bands of sheep. Often at night his long-drawn, doleful howl
may be heard, a fitting sound in some of the wild granite canyons.
One day while passing Eagle Crag, opposite Idlewild, the summer
residence of C.F. Kohl, of San Francisco, with Bob Watson, he informed
me that, in 1877, he was following the tracks of a deer and they led
him to a cave or grotto in the upper portion of the Crag. While he
stood looking in at the entrance a snarling coyote dashed out, far
more afraid of him than he was surprised at the sudden appearance of
A few bears are still found in the farther away recesses of the
Sierras, and on one mountain range close to the Lake, viz., the one on
which Freel's, Job's and Job's Sister are the chief peaks. These are
brown or cinnamon, and black. There are no grizzlies found on the
eastern slopes of the Sierras, nowadays, and it is possible they never
crossed the divide from the richer-clad western slopes. In September,
1913, a hunting party, led by Mr. Comstock, of Tallac, and Lloyd
Tevis, killed two black bears, one of them weighing fully four hundred
pounds, on Freel's Mountain, and in the same season Mr. Carl Flugge,
of Cathedral Park, brought home a good-sized cinnamon from the Rubicon
country, the skin of which now adorns my office floor.
The grizzly has long since been driven from the mountains, though
there may be a few in southern Alpine County, but the evidence is
not conclusive. The panther is migratory, preying on young colts and
calves. They are not at all common, though some are heard of every
year. The "ermine" is pure white in winter, except the tip of the
tail, which is black. It is yellowish brown in summer.
There are two rabbits, one a huge jackrabbit of the great plains
region, the other the "snowshoe" rabbit, so called because of his
broad furry feet which keep it from sinking into the soft snow in
winter. Both rabbits are very rare, and probably both turn white in
winter. I have seen specimens of the snowshoe rabbit taken in winter
that are pure white.
On the wildest and most desolate peaks and rock piles is found the
cony or pika or "rock rabbit" as it is variously called. It is small,
only six inches or so in length, tailless but with large round ears
and soft grayish fur like a rabbit's.
The jumping mouse is interesting. It may be seen sometimes at evening
in swampy areas and meadows. It is yellowish above, whitish below,
with an extremely long tail. It travels by long leaps, takes readily
to the water and is an expert swimmer. The meadow mice are bluish grey
and are found in swampy places. The wood mice are pure white below,
brown above and are found everywhere.
Quite a number of badgers are to be found in the Tahoe region, and
they must find abundance of good food, for the specimens I have seen
were rolling in fat, and as broad backed as a fourteen inch board.
Several times, also, have I seen porcupines, one of them, weighing
fully twenty-five pounds, on the slopes of Mt. Watson, waddling
along as if he were a small bear. They live on the tender bark of the
mountain and tamarack pines, sometimes girdling the trees and causing
them to die. They are slow-gaited creatures, easily caught by dogs,
but with their needle spines, and the sharp, quick-slapping action of
their tails, by means of which they can thrust, insert, inject--which
is the better word?--a score or more of these spines into a dog's
face, they are antagonists whose prowess cannot be ignored.
Very few people would think of the porcupine as an animal destructive
to forest trees, yet one of the Tahoe Forest rangers reports that in
the spring of 1913 fifty young trees, averaging thirty feet high, were
killed or ruined by porcupines stripping them of their bark.
Sometimes as many as ninety per cent. of the young trees growing on
a burned-over area are thus destroyed. They travel and feed at night,
hence the ordinary observer would never know their habits.
The bushy-tailed woodrat proves itself a nuisance about the houses
where it is as omnivorous an eater as is its far-removed cousin, the
house rat. The gopher is one of the mammals whose mark is more often
seen than the creature itself. It lives like the mole in underground
burrows, coming to the surface only to push up the dirt that it has
THE SQUAW VALLEY MINING EXCITEMENT
The Tahoe region was once thrilled through and through by a real
mining excitement that belonged to itself alone. It had felt the
wonderful activity that resulted from the discovery of the Comstock
lode in Virginia City. It had seen its southern border crowded with
miners and prospectors hurrying to the new field, and later had heard
the blasting and picking, the shoveling and dumping of rocks while the
road from Placerville was being constructed.
It had seen another road built up from Carson over the King's Canyon
grade, and lumber mills established at Glenbrook in order to supply
the mines with timbers for their tunnels and excavations, as the
valuable ore and its attendant waste-rocks were hauled to the surface.
But now it was to have an excitement and a stampede all its own. An
energetic prospector from Georgetown, El Dorado County, named Knox,
discovered a big ledge of quartz in Squaw Valley. It was similar rock
to that in which the Comstock silver was found in large quantities.
Though the assays of the floating-rock did not yield a large amount of
the precious metals, they showed a little--as high as $3.50 per ton.
This was enough. There were bound to be higher grade ores deeper down.
The finder filed his necessary "locations," and doubtless aided by
copious draughts of "red-eye" saw, in swift imagination, his claim
develop into a mine as rich as those that had made the millionaires
of Virginia City. Anyhow the rumor spread like a prairie fire, and men
came rushing in from Georgetown, Placerville, Last Chance, Kentucky
Flat, Michigan Bluff, Hayden Hill, Dutch Flat, Baker Divide, Yankee
Jim, Mayflower, Paradise, Yuba, Deadwood, Jackass Gulch and all the
other camps whose locators and residents had not been as fortunate
financially as they were linguistically.
Knox started a "city" which he named Knoxville, the remains of
which are still to be seen in the shape of ruined log-cabins, stone
chimneys, foundations of hewed logs, a graveyard, etc., on the left
hand side of the railway coming from Truckee, and about six miles from
One has but to let his imagination run riot for a few moments to see
this now deserted camp a scene of the greatest activity. The many
shafts and tunnels, dump-piles and prospect-holes show how busy a spot
it must have been. The hills about teemed with men. At night the
log store--still standing--and the saloons--tents, shacks and log
houses--were crowded with those who sought in the flowing bowl some
surcease from the burden of their arduous labors.
Now and again a shooting took place, a man actually "died with his
boots on," as in the case of one King, a bad man from Texas who had a
record, and whose sudden end was little, if any, lamented. He had had
a falling out with the store-keeper, Tracey, and had threatened to
kill him on sight. The former bade him keep away from his store, but
King laughed at the prohibition, and with the blind daring that often
counts as courage with such men--for he assumed that the store-keeper
would not dare to shoot--he came down the following day, intending
himself to do all the shooting there was to be done. But he reckoned
mistakenly. Tracey saw him coming, came to the door, bade him Halt!
and on his sneering refusal, shot the bad man dead.
In September, 1913, I paid a visit to Knoxville. Just above the town,
on the eastern slope of the mountain, were several tunnels and great
dump-piles, clearly showing the vast amount of work that had been
done. The quartz ledge that caused the excitement was distinctly in
evidence, indeed, when the Tahoe Railway roadbed was being graded,
this quartz ledge was blasted into, and the director of operations
sent a number of specimens for assay, the rock looked so favorable.
Here and there were the remains of old log-cabins, with their outside
stone chimneys. In some cases young tamaracks, fifteen and twenty feet
high, had grown up within the areas once confined by the walls. These
ruins extended all the way down to Deer Creek, showing the large
number of inhabitants the town once possessed.
I saw the graveyard by the side of the river, where King's body was
the first to be buried, and I stood in the doorway of the store from
which the shot that killed him was fired.
In imagination, I saw the whole life of the camp, as I have seen
mining-camps after a stampede in Nevada. The shacks, rows of tents,
and the rudely scattered and varied dwellings that the ingenuity and
skill of men hastily extemporized. Most of the log-houses are now
gone, their charred remnants telling of the indifferent carelessness
of campers, prospectors or Indians.
The main street was in a pretty little meadowed vale, lined on either
side with trees, and close to the Truckee, which here rushes and
dashes and roars and sparkles among the bowlders and rocks that
bestrew its bed.
When it was found the ore did not "pan out," the excitement died
down even more rapidly than it arose, and in 1863-4 the camp was
It has been charged that the Squaw Valley claims were "salted" with
ore brought from Virginia City. I am inclined to doubt this, and many
of the old timers deny it. They assert that Knox was "on the square"
and that he firmly believed he had paying ore. It is possible there
may have been the salting of an individual claim or so after the camp
started, but the originators of the camp started it in good faith,
as they themselves were the greatest losers when the "bottom" of the
excitement dropped out.
About a mile further up the river is still to be seen the site of the
rival town of Claraville, founded at the same time as Knoxville.
There is little left here, though the assay office, built up against
a massive square rock still stands. It is of hewed timbers rudely
dovetailed together at the corners.
It would scarcely be worth while to recount even this short history
of the long dead,--almost stillborn--Squaw Valley camp were it not for
the many men it brought to Lake Tahoe who have left their impress and
their names upon its most salient canyons, streams, peaks and other
landmarks. Many of these have been referred to elsewhere.
One of the first to arrive was William Pomin, the brother of the
present captain of the steamer _Tahoe_. His wife gave birth to
the first white child born on Lake Tahoe, and she was named after the
Lake. She now lives in San Francisco. When she was no more than two or
three months old, her mother took her on mule-back, sixty miles over
the trail to Forest Hill, _in one day_. Pomin removed to the
north shore of the Lake when Squaw Valley "busted," and was one of
the founders of Tahoe City, building and conducting one of the first
Another of these old timers was J.W. McKinney, from whom McKinney's
was named. He came from the mining-camp of Georgetown over the trail,
and engaged himself in selling town lots at Knoxville. He and Knox had
worked together in the El Dorado excitement.
He originally came over the plains in the gold-alluring days of '49.
When his party reached the land of the Indians, these aborigines were
too wise to make open attacks. They hit upon the dastardly method of
shooting arrows into the bellies of the oxen, so that the pioneers
would be compelled to abandon them. One night McKinney was on guard
duty. He was required to patrol back and forth and meet another
sentinel at a certain tree. There they would stop and chat for a few
moments before resuming their solitary march. Just before day-break,
after a few words, they separated. On answering the breakfast call
McKinney found he was alone, and on going back to investigate, found
his companion lying dead with an arrow through his heart. The moccasin
tracks of an Indian clearly revealed who was the murderer, and a
little study showed that the Indian had swam the river, waited until
the sentinel passed close by him, and had then sent the arrow true to
its fatal mark.
The next night the Indians shot an arrow into an ox. In the morning it
was unable to travel, but McKinney and his friends had determined
to do something to put a stop to these attacks. Taking the ox in the
shadow of a knoll, they shot it, and eight men then hid in the shelter
of some brush where the carcass was clearly in view.
When the train pulled out it seemed as if they had abandoned the ox.
It was scarcely out of sight when the watchers saw eight Indians come
sneaking up. Each man took the Indian allotted to him, but by some
error two men shot at the same Indian, so that when the guns were
fired and seven men fell dead the other escaped. On one of them was
found seven twenty-dollar gold pieces wrapped up in a dirty rag, which
had doubtless cost some poor emigrant or miner his life. Some of the
party wished to leave this gold with the dead Indian, but McKinney
said his scruples would not allow him to do any such thing, and the
gold found its way into his pocket.
Though a man of practically no education--it is even said by those who
claim to have known him well that he could neither read nor write,
but this seems improbable--he was a man of such keen powers of
observation, retentive memory, ability in conversation and strong
personality, that he was able to associate on an equality with men
of most superior attainments. John Muir was a frequent visitor to
his home, especially in the winter time when all tourists and resort
guests had gone away. John McGee, another well-known lover of the
winter mountains, was also a welcome guest, who fully appreciated the
manly vigor and sterling character of the transplanted Missourian.
John Ward, from whom Ward Creek and Ward Peak (8,665 feet) are named,
was another Squaw Valley mining excitement stampeder. He came in the
early days of the rush, and as soon as the camp died down, located on
the mouth of the creek that now bears his name.
The next creek to the south--Blackwood's,--is named after still
another Squaw Valley stampeder. For years he lived at the mouth of
this creek and gained his livelihood as a fisherman.
The same explanation accounts for Dick Madden Creek.
Barker who has peak, pass and valley named after him, came from
Georgetown to Knoxville, and like so many other of his unfortunate
mining brethren from over the divide, started a dairy on the west side
of the pass which bears his name. The valley, however, was so high and
cold that more than half the year the cream would not rise, so he gave
up dairying and went elsewhere.
These are but a few of many who might be mentioned, whose names
are linked with the Tahoe region, and who came to it in the hope of
"making their everlasting fortunes" when Squaw Valley "started up."
THE FREMONT HOWITZER AND LAKE TAHOE
Hundreds of thousands of Americans doubtless have read "How a Woman's
Wit Saved California to the Union," yet few indeed know how intimately
that fascinating piece of history is linked with Lake Tahoe.
Here is the story of the link:
When Fremont started out on his Second Exploration (fairly well dealt
with in another chapter), he stopped at the Kansas frontier to equip.
When he finally started, the party (108) was armed generally with
Hall's carbines, which, says Fremont:
with a brass twelve-pound howitzer, had been furnished to me
from the United States arsenal at St. Louis, agreeably to the
command of Colonel S.W. Kearny, commanding the third
military division. Three men were especially detailed for the
management of this, under the charge of Louis Zindel, a native
of Germany, who had been nineteen years a non-commissioned
officer of the artillery in the Prussian army, and regularly
instructed in the duties of his profession.
As soon as the news that he had added a cannon to his equipment
reached Washington, the Secretary of War, James M. Porter, sent a
message after him, post haste, countermanding the expedition on the
ground that he had prepared himself with a military equipment, which
the pacific nature of his journey did not require. It was specially
charged as a heinous offense that he had procured a small mountain
howitzer from the arsenal at St. Louis, in addition to his other
But Fremont had already started. He was not far on his way, and the
message could have reached him easily. It was not destined to do so,
however, until after his return. The message came to the hands of his
girl-wife, Jessie Benton Fremont, the daughter of Missouri's great
senator, Thomas H. Benton, and she knew, as Charles A. Moody has well
this order, obeyed, would indefinitely postpone the
expedition--probably wreck it entirely. She did not forward
it. Consulting no one, since there was no one at hand to
consult, she sent a swift messenger to her husband with word
to break camp and move forward at once--"he could not have
the reason for haste, but there was reason enough." And he,
knowing well and well trusting the sanity and breadth of
that girl-brain, hastened forward, unquestioning, while she
promptly informed the officer whose order she had vetoed,
what she had done, and why. So far as human wit may penetrate,
obedience to that backward summons would have meant, three
years later, the winning of California by another nation--and
what _that_ loss would have signified to the United
States none can know fully, but any may partly guess who
realizes a part of what California has meant for us.
In commenting later upon this countermand of the Expedition Fremont
It is not probable that I would have been recalled from the
Missouri frontier to Washington to explain why I had taken an
arm that simply served to increase the means of defense for
a small party very certain to encounter Indian hostility, and
which involved very trifling expense. The administration in
Washington was apparently afraid of the English situation in
Unconscious, therefore, of his wife's action,--which might easily have
ruined his career--Fremont pushed on. The howitzer accompanied him
into Oregon, back through into Nevada, and is clearly seen in the
picture of Pyramid Lake drawn by Mr. Preuss (which appears in the
original report), showing it after it had traveled in the neighborhood
of four thousand miles.
The last time it was fired as far as the Fremont Expedition is
concerned was on Christmas Eve, in 1843. The party was camped on
Christmas Lake, now known as Warner Lake, Oregon, and the following
morning the gun crew wakened Fremont with a salute, fired in honor of
the day. A month later, two hundred and fifty miles south, it was to
be abandoned in the mountains near West Walker River, on account of
the deep snow which made it impossible for the weary horses to drag it
On the 28th of January Fremont thus writes:
To-night we did not succeed in getting the howitzer into camp.
This was the most laborious day we had yet passed through, the
steep ascents and deep snows exhausting both men and animals.
Possibly now the thought began to take possession of him that the
weapon must be left behind. For long weary days it had been a constant
companion. It had been dragged over the plains, mountains and canyons.
It was made to ford rivers, plunge through quicksands and wallow
through bog, mire, mud, marsh and snow. Again and again it delayed
them when coming over sandy roads, but tenaciously Fremont held on to
it. Now deep snow forbade its being dragged further. Haste over the
high mountains of the Sierra Nevada was imperative, for such peaks
and passes are no lady's playground when the forces of winter begin to
linger there, yet one can well imagine the regret and distress felt by
the Pathfinder at being compelled to abandon this cannon, to which he
had so desperately clung on all the wearisome miles his company had
On the 29th he writes:
The principal stream still running through an impracticable
canyon, we ascended a very steep hill, which proved afterwards
the last and fatal obstacle to our little howitzer, which was
finally abandoned at this place. [This place appears to be
about eight or ten miles up the river from Coleville, and
on the right or east side of the river.] We passed through
a small meadow a few miles below, crossing the river, which
depth, swift current, and rock, made it difficult to ford
[this brings him to the west bank for the first time, but the
cannon did not get this far, and therefore was left on the
east side of the river. This is to be noted on account of
the fact that it was found on the other side of the river in
another canyon], and after a few more miles of very difficult
trail, issued into a larger prairie bottom, at the farther end
of which we camped, in a position rendered strong by rocks and
The reader must not forget that the notes in brackets [ ] are
interjections in Fremont's narrative by Mr. Smith, (see the chapter on
Fremont's discovery of Lake Tahoe).
The other division of the party did not come in to-night, but
camped in the upper meadow, and arrived the next morning. They
had not succeeded in getting the howitzer beyond the place
mentioned, and where it had been left by Mr. Preuss, in
obedience to my orders; and, in anticipation of the snow-banks
and snow-fields ahead, foreseeing the inevitable detention to
which it would subject us, I reluctantly determined to leave
it there for a time. It was of the kind invented by the
French for the mountain part of their war in Algiers; and the
distance it had come with us proved how well it was adapted
to its purpose. We left it, to the great sorrow of the whole
party, who were grieved to part with a companion which had
made the whole
distance from St. Louis, and commanded respect for us on some
critical occasions, and which might be needed for the same
[It is the impression of those of the old settlers on Walker
River, of whom we have inquired regarding the subject, that
the cannon was found early in the 60's near the head of Lost
Canyon. This canyon comes into Little Antelope Valley--a
branch of Antelope Valley--from the south. This impression
evidently was accepted by the government geological surveyors,
for they twisted the name of the creek coming down this canyon
to "Lost Cannon Creek", and called a peak, which looks down
into this canyon, Lost Cannon Peak. The origin of the name of
this canyon lies in the fact that an emigrant party, on its
way to the Sonora Pass, and in an endeavor probably to avoid
the rough river canyon down which Fremont came, essayed this
pass instead of the meadows above. It is a canyon which,
at first, promises an easy pass but finally becomes almost
impassable. The party in question found it necessary to
abandon several of their wagons before they could get over.
They, or another party, buried one of their men there, also
some blacksmith tools. My endeavors to ascertain what party
this was have thus far not been successful. Mr. Timothy B.
Smith, who went to Walker River in 1859, says that the wagons
were there at that time. The cannon is supposed to have been
found with or near these wagons. Mr. Richard Watkins, of
Coleville, who went into that section in 1861, or soon after,
informs me that wagons were also found in one of the canyons
leading to the Sonora Pass from Pickle Meadow. The cannon,
according to Mr. Watkins, was found with these wagons. At any
rate, it seems likely that the cannon was not found at the
place where Fremont left it, but had been picked up by some
emigrant party, who, in turn, were compelled to abandon it
with several of their wagons.]
For several years the cannon remained where its emigrant finders
removed it, then at the breaking out of the Civil War, "Dan de
Quille," William Wright, the author of _The Big Bonanza_, the
fellow reporter of Mark Twain on one of the Virginia City newspapers,
called the attention of certain belligerent adherents of the south to
it, and they determined to secure it. But the loyal sons of the Union
were also alert and Captain A.W. Pray, who was then in the Nevada
mining metropolis, succeeded in getting and maintaining possession of
it. As he moved to Glenbrook, on Lake Tahoe, that year, he took the
cannon with him. Being mounted on a carriage with fairly high wheels,
these latter were taken and converted into a hay-wagon, with which,
for several years, he hauled hay from the Glenbrook meadows to his
barn in town. The cannon itself was mounted on a heavy wooden block to
which it was affixed with iron bands, securely held in place by bolts
and nuts. For years it was used at Glenbrook on all patriotic and
special occasions. Fremont never came back to claim it. The government
made no claim upon it. So while Captain Pray regarded it as his own
it was commonly understood and generally accepted that it was town
property, to be used by all alike on occasions of public rejoicing.
After Captain Fray's death, however, the cannon was sold by his widow
to the Native Sons of Nevada, and the news of the sale soon spread
abroad and caused no little commotion. To say that the people were
astonished is to put it mildly. They were in a state of consternation.
Fremont's cannon sold and going to be removed? Impossible! No! it was
so! The purchasers were coming to remove it the next day.
Were they? That remained to be seen!
That night in the darkness, three or four determined men quietly and
stealthily removed the nuts from the bolts, and, leaving the block
of wood, quietly carried the cannon and hid it in a car of scrap-iron
that was to be transported the next day from Glenbrook to Tahoe City.
When the day dawned and the purchasers arrived, the cannon was not
to be found, and no one, apparently, knew what had become of it.
Solicitations, arguments, threats had no effect. The cannon was gone.
That was all there was to it, and Mrs. Pray and the Nevada purchasers
had to accept that--to them--disagreeable fact.
But the cannon was not lost. It was only gone on before. For several
years it remained hidden under the blacksmith shop at Tahoe City,
its presence known only to the few conspirators--one of whom was my
informant. About five years ago it was resurrected and ever since then
its brazen throat has bellowed the salutation of the Fourth of July
to the loyal inhabitants of Tahoe. It now stands on the slight hill
overlooking the Lake at Tahoe City, a short distance east of the
THE MOUNT ROSE OBSERVATORY
While Californians rightly and justly claim Tahoe as their own, it
must not be forgotten that Nevadans have an equal claim. In the Nevada
State University, situated at Reno, there is a magnificent band
of young men, working and teaching as professors, who regard
all opportunities as sacred trusts, and who are making for their
university a wonderful record of scientific achievement for universal
Located on the Nevada side of the Tahoe region line, at the northeast
end of the Lake, is Mount Rose. It is one of the most salient and
important of the peaks that surround Tahoe, its elevation being
10,800 feet. The professor of Latin in the Nevada University, James E.
Church, Jr., a strenuous nature-lover, a mountain-climber, gifted with
robust physical and mental health, making the ascent of Mt. Whitney in
March, 1905, was suddenly seized with the idea that a meteorological
observatory could be established on Mt. Rose, and records of
temperature, wind, snow or rain-fall taken throughout the winter
months. The summit of Mt. Rose by road is approximately twenty miles
in a southwesterly direction from Reno, and Professor Church and his
associates deemed it near enough for week-end visits. The courage,
energy and robust manliness required to carry the work along can be
appreciated only by those who have gone over the ground in winter, and
forms another chapter of quiet and unknown heroism in the interest of
science written by so many of our younger western professors who are
not content with mere academic attainment and distinction.
The idea of obtaining winter temperatures on the mountains of the
Pacific Coast was first suggested by Professor McAdie, head of the
Weather Bureau in San Francisco. He responded to the request for
instruments, and through his recommendation, thermometers, rain-gauge,
etc., were speedily forthcoming from the Weather Bureau. On June 24,
1905, with "Billy" and "Randy," family ponies, loaded with a newly
designed thermometer-shelter, constructed so as to withstand winter
gales and yet allow the easy exit of snow, the first advance on Mt.
Rose was made.
From that day the work has been carried on with a vigor and enthusiasm
that are thrilling in their inspiration. An improved instrument was
added that recorded temperatures on a self-registering roll, all
fluctuations, and the highest and lowest temperatures, wind-pressures,
all variations in humidity, temperature, and air pressure as well as
the directions and the velocity of the wind for periods of seventy
days and more. This instrument was the achievement of Professor S.P.
Fergusson, for many years a pioneer worker in mountain meteorology
at Blue Hill Observatory and an associate of Professor Church at the
Mount Rose Observatory, which has now become a part of the University
After two winters' work it was discovered, on making comparisons with
the records at the Central Weather Station at Reno, 6268 feet
below, that frost forecast could probably be made on Mt. Rose from
twenty-four to forty-eight hours in advance of the appearance of the
frost in the lower levels, provided the weather current was traveling
in its normal course eastward from the coast.
[Footnote 1: Since this was written Professor McAdie has been
appointed to the chair of Meteorology at Harvard University.]
Second only in importance was the discovery and photographic
recording of evidence of the value of timber high up on mountains, and
especially on the lips of canyons, for holding the snow until late in
This latter phase of the Observatory's work has developed into a most
novel and valuable contribution to practical forestry and conservation
of water, under Dr. Church's clear and logical direction. At
Contact Pass, 9000 feet elevation, and at the base of the mountain,
supplementary stations have been established, where measurements of
snow depth and density, the evaporation of snow, and temperatures
within the snow have been taken. Lake Tahoe, with its seventy miles of
coast line also affords ready access throughout the winter, by means
of motor boat, snow-shoes and explorer's camp, to forests of various
types and densities where snow measurements of the highest importance
have been made.
Delicate instruments of measurement and weight, etc., have been
invented by Dr. Church and his associates to meet the needs as they
have arisen, and continuous observations for several years seem to
justify the following general conclusions. These are quoted from
a bulletin by Dr. Church, issued by the International Irrigation
The conservation of snow is dependent on mountains and forests
and is most complete where these two factors are combined. The
mountain range is not only the recipient of more snow than
the plain or the valley at its base, but in consequence of
the lower temperature prevailing on its slopes the snow there
melts more slowly.
However, mountains, because of their elevation, are exposed
to the sweep of violent winds which not only blow the snow in
considerable quantities to lower levels, where the temperature
is higher, but also dissipate and evaporate the snow to a
wasteful degree. The southern slopes, also, are so tilted as
to be more completely exposed to the direct rays of the sun,
and in the Sierra Nevada and probably elsewhere are subjected
to the persistent action of the prevailing southwest wind.
On the other hand, the mountain mass, by breaking the force of
the wind, causes much of the drifting snow to pile up on
its lee slope and at the base of its cliffs, where it finds
comparative shelter from the wind and sun.
Forests, also, conserve the snow. In wind-swept regions, they
break the force of the wind, catching the snow and holding it
in position even on the windward slopes of the mountains. On
the lower slopes, where the wind is less violent, the forests
catch the falling snow directly in proportion to their
openness, but conserve it after it has fallen directly in
proportion to their density. This phenomenon is due to the
crowns of the trees, which catch the falling snow and expose
it to rapid evaporation in the open air but likewise shut out
the sun and wind from the snow that has succeeded in passing
through the forest crowns to the ground. Both mountains
and forests, therefore, are to a certain extent wasters of
snow--the mountains because they are partially exposed to
sun and wind; the trees, because they catch a portion of
the falling snow on their branches and expose it to rapid
disintegration. However, the mountains by their mass and
elevation conserve immeasurably more snow than they waste, and
forested areas conserve far more snow than unforested. If the
unforested mountain slopes can be covered with timber, much
of the waste now occurring on them can be prevented, and by
thinning the denser forests the source of waste in them also
can be checked.
The experiences met with by the voluntary band of observers to secure
the data needed in their work are romantic in the extreme. An average
winter trip requires from a day and a half to two days and a half
from Reno. From the base of the mountain the ascent must be made on
snow-shoes. When work first began there was no building on the summit,
and no shelter station on the way. Imagine these brave fellows, daring
the storms and blizzards and fierce temperatures of winter calmly
ascending these rugged and steep slopes, in the face of every kind of
winter threat, merely to make scientific observations. In March, 1906,
Professor Johnson and Dr. Rudolph spent the night at timber-line in
a pit dug in the snow to obtain protection from a gale, at the
temperature of 5 deg. Fahr. _below_ zero, and fought their way to
the summit. But so withering was the gale at that altitude even at
mid-day, that a precipitate retreat was made to avoid freezing. The
faces of the climbers showed plainly the punishment received. Three
days later Dr. Church attempted to rescue the record just as the storm
was passing. He made his way in an impenetrable fog to 10,000 feet,
when the snow and ice-crystals deposited by the storm in a state of
unstable equilibrium on crust and trees were hurled by a sudden
gale high into the air in a blinding blizzard. During his retreat he
wandered into the wildest part of the mountain before he escaped from
the skirts of the storm.
Other experiences read like chapters from Peary's or Nansen's records
in the Frozen North, and they are just as heroic and thrilling. Yet
in face of all these physical difficulties, which only the most superb
courage and enthusiasm could overcome, Dr. Church writes that, to
the spirit, the mountain reveals itself, at midnight and at noon,
at twilight and at dawn, in storm and in calm, in frost-plume and in
verdure, as a wonderland so remote from the ordinary experiences of
life that the traveler unconsciously deems that he is entering another
In the last days of October, 1913, I was privileged to make the trip
from Reno in the company of Dr. Church, and two others. We were just
ahead of winter's storms, however, though Old Boreas raved somewhat
wildly on the summit and covered it with snow a few hours after
our descent. The experience was one long to be remembered, and the
personal touch of the heroic spirit afforded by the trip will be a
LAKE TAHOE IN WINTER
BY DR. J.E. CHURCH, JR., OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA
[Footnote 1: By courtesy of _Sunset_ magazine.]
Lake Tahoe is an ideal winter resort for the red-blooded. For the
Viking and the near Viking; for the man and the woman who, for the
very exhilaration of it, seek the bracing air and the snow-clad
forests, Lake Tahoe is as charming in winter as in summer, and far
grander. There is the same water--in morning placid, in afternoon
foam-flecked, on days of storm tempestuous. The Lake never freezes;
not even a film of ice fringes its edge. Sunny skies and warm
noons and the Lake's own restlessness prevent. Emerald Bay alone is
sometimes closed with ice, but more often it is as open as the outer
Lake. Even the pebbles glisten on the beach as far back as the wash of
the waves extends.
But beyond the reach of the waves a deep mantle of white clads the
forests and caps the distant peaks. The refuse of the forests, the
dusty roads, and the inequalities of the ground are all buried deep.
A smooth, gently undulating surface of dazzling white has taken their
The forest trees are laden with snow--each frond bears its pyramid and
each needle its plume of white. The fresh green of the foliage and the
ruddy brown of the bark are accentuated rather than subdued by their
white setting. But as the eye travels the long vista of ascending and
retreating forest, the green and the brown of the near-by trees fade
gradually away until the forest becomes a fluffy mantle of white
upon the distant mountain side. Above and beyond the forest's utmost
reaches rise the mountain crags and peaks, every angle rounded into
gentle contours beneath its burden of snow.
[Illustration: The Fergusson Metrograph on the summit of Mt. Rose,
wrecked by snow "feathers," some of which were six feet long.]
[Illustration: Refuge Hut and Headquarters for Snow Studies on
Mt. Rose, 9000 Feet]
[Illustration: Skiing from Tallac to Fallen Leaf Lodge]
[Illustration: Snow Surveyor on the Mountains Above Glen Alpine
Along the margin of the Lake appear the habitations and works of
men deeply buried and snow-hooded until they recall the scenes in
Whittier's _Snow Bound_.
The lover of the Lake and its bird life will miss the gulls but will
find compensation in the presence of the wild fowl--the ducks and the
geese--that have returned to their winter haunts.
Lake Tahoe is remarkably adapted as a winter resort for three prime
reasons: first, it is easily accessible; second, no place in
the Sierra Nevada, excepting not even Yosemite, offers so many
attractions; third, it is the natural and easy gateway in winter to
the remote fastnesses of the northern Sierra.
Among the attractions preeminently associated with Lake Tahoe in
winter are boating and cruising, snow-shoeing and exploring, camping
for those whose souls are of sterner stuff, hunting, mountain
climbing, photography, and the enjoyment of winter landscape. Fishing
during the winter months is prohibited by law.
If one asks where to go, a bewildering group of trips and pleasures
appears. But there come forth speedily from out the number a few of
unsurpassed allurement. These are a _ski_ trip from Tallac to
Fallen Leaf Lake to see the breakers and the spray driven by a rising
gale against the rock-bound shore, and, when the lake has grown
quieter, a boat ride to Fallen Leaf Lodge beneath the frowning
parapets of Mount Tallac. Next a _ski_ trip up the Glen to the
buried hostelry at Glen Alpine, where one enters by way of a dormer
window but is received to a cheerful fire and with royal hospitality.
Then under the skillful guidance of the keeper, a day's climb up the
southern face of Mount Tallac for an unrivalled panoramic view from
its summit and a speedy but safe glissade back to the hostelry far,
And if the legs be not too stiff from the glissade, a climb over
the southern wall of the Glen to Desolation Valley and Pyramid Peak,
whence can be seen the long gorge of the Rubicon. The thousand lakes
that dot this region present no barrier to one's progress, for they
are frozen over and lie buried deep beneath the snow that falls here
in an abundance hardly exceeded elsewhere in the Tahoe region.
A close rival of these is the climb from Rubicon Park up the stately
range in its rear to visit the mountain hemlock, the graceful queen
of the high mountain, and to gaze across the chasm at the twin crags
And peer of them all, though requiring but little exertion, is a trip
to Brockway to enjoy the unrivalled view of the "Land's End" of the
Lake and catch the colors of the pansies that are still in bloom in a
niche of the old sea wall. If one possess the artist's mood, he will
add thereto a boat ride round State Line Point in the lazy swell of
the evening sea beneath the silent pine-clad cliffs, while the moon,
as beautiful as any summer moon, rides overhead. Only the carpet of
snow and the film of ice that gathers from the spray upon the boat
keeps one alive to the reality that the season is winter.
Finally a rowing trip along the western shore of the Lake with stops
at pleasure _en route_. One can have weather to suit his taste,
for the waters on this shore are safe in storm, and the barometer and
the sky will give full warning long before the weather attains the
danger point. The man who loves the breath of the storm and the glow
of excitement will loose his boat from Tallac when the clouds swing
down the canyon and speed forth borne, as it were, on the wings of the
waves toward the distant foot of the Lake--past the black water wall
where the waves of Emerald Bay sweep into Tahoe, through the frothy
waters where the wind shifts and whips around Rubicon Point, over the
white caps of Meek's Bay until by skillful maneuvering the jutting
cape is weathered and quieter water is found in McKinney Bay. Full
time there is, with the wind astern, to reach the river's mouth at
Tahoe City, but the voyager who loves the woodland will tarry for
a night in the dense fir forest of Blackwood, while his boat rides
safely moored to the limb of a prostrate tree.
Regarding the eastern side of the Lake, the bald shore and jutting
headlands, the fewness of the landing places, and the sweep of the
waves make cruising in these waters a matter of supreme skill and
farsightedness. Let the Viking learn with broad-beamed boat the
mastery of the western shore before he turns his boat's prow to the
For the man of milder tastes the motorboat will suffice or the mail
steamer, which plies the waters of Lake Tahoe twice a week.
In tobogganing, the hills and open meadows at Tahoe City and at
Glenbrook will furnish royal sport for the devotee. Skating and
ice-yachting must be sought in regions where the snow is less deep and
the cold more intense.
_Skiing_ is the chief method of locomotion in winter at the Lake
and the novice soon becomes expert in the milder forms of the sport.
_Ski_ trails thread the forests at Tahoe City and radiate from
The open inns at Tahoe City and Glenbrook, and The Grove near Tallac
and the resorts on Fallen Leaf Lake insure the traveler's comfort,
while the hospitality of the caretakers at all of the resorts is
proverbial. The question of when and how to go is naturally a leading
one. During the months of November to April, two sledging services are