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The Lake of the Sky by George Wharton James

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line of flour trailing off through the woods. "Ah, now I'll
find him!" And just calling to her sister that she would be
back soon, she darted off.

It was dark when she came back weeping. She threw herself on
the ground outside the _campoodie_ and poured out her
story. She had found the old man lying there fast asleep,
gorged with fish. The remnants of his feast lay all about him.
She had not dared to waken him or speak to him, but coming
home, had made up her mind to run away and not work for the
mean old man any more.

To this the sister agreed, and at daybreak they were scurrying
off through the forest.

All day they traveled and when night came they were still in
the wilds far from any Indian camp.

Worn out, they lay down under a great pine and looked up at
the stars.

"Oh," said the older girl, "see that fine Star-man up there!
I'd like to marry him!"

"Oh, no!" said the younger, "he belongs to me. I'd like to
marry him!"

They lay there telling what each would do could she only marry
the Star-man, until they fell asleep.
When they awoke in the morning, lo, they found themselves
up in the sky, and the elder girl had a baby already--a
star-baby! At first the girls were very good to the star-baby
but it cried a great deal. One day the younger girl was very
cross and put it outside of the _campoodie_. The poor
baby cried all the more until the elder sister took pity on
it, but when she had fed it and it still cried, the younger
sister became very angry and told her sister to put that
"brat" outside. The sister was tired too, so she put the poor
baby outside.

When the baby could not make them come to him, he got up and
went to find his grandfather, the Moon. He told him how mean
his mother and aunt were to him. The old Moon was very angry.
He took the star-baby by the hand and went tramping back
through the sky to find the cruel mother and her sister.

Now, the girls had been getting rather tired of their
sky-_campoodie_ and they longed for their home on the
earth. They used to go to a hole in the sky and look down on
the earth, wishing they were there again. Indeed, at the time
the star-baby went off to find his grandfather, the Moon, they
were at the hole in the sky, amusing themselves by looking
through and indulging in vain regrets that they were no longer

"Oh, sister," suddenly said the elder, "there goes our old
grandfather! Poor old man! I wish we were with him! See, he's
carrying big bags of wild wheat-flour and acorns!"

Just then the old Moon came tramping up, and the whole sky
trembled. The people on earth said it was thundering. He
grabbed the two girls by their hair and shaking them till they
were almost dead, he hurled them down through the hole.

Down, down, they went, straight down to where their old
grandfather was walking along, little suspecting what was
coming. They both hit him and, coming as they did with such
force, they made a deep hole in the earth in which they were
almost buried.

That hole is over by Gardnerville. In that hole Indians can
always find plenty of wild-grub--wild-wheat, wild potato, wild
acorn--plenty there. Snow very deep. No
difference. Always plenty wild grub there. I see that hole. I
believe that story!


Long, long ago, away over in Paiuti-land there were some young
boys and girls playing. They played all sorts of games, but
they liked hand-ball best. And as they played, they sang songs
of gladness.

There was one old woman, their grandmother, who would not play
with them. She had a little baby, her youngest grandchild,
whom she was trying to quiet, but the little one cried and
cried continuously.

By-and-by the old woman heard a noise outside. She was
frightened and called to the young folks. "Some one's coming!
You better stop! Better hide! Maybe Evil One, devil, coming!"

But the young folks paid no attention to her warning. They
kept on playing harder than ever. The old woman covered the
baby with a big basket and hid her own face in her shawl.

Then the Evil One came in. All the young folks turned to see
who was coming in and as soon as they looked upon his face
they fell dead. Only the old woman and the baby were left; for
the Evil One did not see them.

When he was gone, the old woman snatched up the baby and
hurried off down to the river. As she was hurrying along she
met an old man.

"Where are you going?" said he. Then the old woman saw that it
was the Evil One himself. She was afraid but she did not want
him to know it. She kept the baby covered in the basket and
answered, "I'm going to the river to get wild potatoes!"

"Where are all the girls?" asked the Evil One.

"Oh, they are all over behind the big mountain, playing ball!"

The Evil One went off to find them, because he thought there
were still some left, and the old woman quickly dug a big hole
and hid herself and the baby away in it.

When the Evil One found that the old woman had told him a lie,
he was very angry. He came back and
hunted all day long till sundown for her that he might kill
her. But he could not find any trace of her. He finally went
home and then the old woman took the baby and hid on the top
of a big rock, over near where Sheridan now is.

In the morning the Evil One came back to hunt further, but
without success.

"I guess that the old woman is dead," said he, "or maybe she's
gone across the river." But the Evil One loses his power if he
touches water, so he dare not cross the river to follow her.

The old woman watched him from the top of the rock. Many times
she feared lest he should find her, and she covered the baby
more closely.

At last when he had given up the hunt, she saw him take a
great basket and set it down in the road. Into this basket
he put great bunches of elderberry roots, and as he put each
bunch in, he gave it a name--Washoe, Digger, Paiuti, and so
on. Then he put the lid on tightly and went off through the

The old woman watched till the Evil One had gone. Creeping
quietly down, she came with the child--she was a little girl
now, not a wee baby any more--and sat down near the basket.

Presently there was a murmuring in the basket. "Oh,
grandmother, what's that noise?" said the little girl.

"Never mind," said the grandmother, "don't you touch the

But the little girl kept teasing, "Oh, grandmother, what's in

And the old woman would say, "Don't you touch it!"

The old woman turned her back just one minute and the little
girl slipped up and raised the lid ever so little. There was
a great whirring noise; the lid flew off and out came all
the Indians. Off through the air they flew--Washoes to Washoe
land; Diggers to Digger land; Paiutis to Nevada--each Indian
to his own home.

The story given above is the one told by Jackson, but his wife,
Susan, tells the same story with these essential differences. In her
narrative there is no Evil One. The old woman scolded the young people
for playing, but they are not all killed. It is the old woman herself
who took a Paiuti water-bottle and after filling it with water, took
wild seeds and placed them in the bottle, naming them the different
Indian tribes. The seeds swelled in the water until they were as big
as eggs and out of these the Indians hatched like chickens, and began
to fight. It is the noise of the fighting that the baby hears.

As in Jackson's story the baby lets them out, but it is the wind that
carries them off to their various homes.


The Indians were having a "big time" in a great log cabin.
All the birds were there too, for in those days the Indians,
birds, and animals could talk to each other.

They were dancing all around the room and all were merry as
could be. They had a huge wooden drum and, as they passed
this, the dancers kicked it to make music.

Now, among the birds who were there was a big blue-jay. He was
a very saucy fellow, just full of mean tricks. When he came to
the drum, he kicked it so hard that he broke it all to pieces.
Of course this caused a great commotion. Every one was so
provoked by his rudeness that they threw him out of the door.

It was raining hard and the impudence was soon washed out of
Mr. Blue-Jay. He begged at the door in vain, and at last he
huddled up on the branch of a tree, thinking himself greatly

As he sat there, suddenly, far off, he saw a strange light.
Now the Blue-Jay has an infinite amount of curiosity, so away
he flew to investigate, quite forgetting his troubles.

It was fire which the Indian god had brought down to earth.
The Jay got a piece and soon came flying back to the great
cabin where the dance was still going on.

When he called now at the door, saying that he had something
wonderful to show them, they knew that he was telling the
truth. They let him come in, crowding about him to see this
wonderful thing. They did not know what
to make of this strange new thing. Lest anything should happen
to it, they dug a hole and buried the fire most carefully.

Tired out with the night's dancing the Indians all went off
to rest, leaving the birds to watch the precious fire. But
the birds were tired too, and it was not long before they were
fast asleep. All except the owl. He was wide awake and he,
being very wise, knew that the fire must be put in a safer
place. He went out and calling the yellow snake, the rat, and
the little "hummer" bird, he explained what he wanted them to
do. The snake was to worm his way in under the logs and wait
there till the hummer-bird brought him the fire. The rat was
to go in and chew all the birds' wings so that they should
not be able to catch the little hummer. They were all so fast
asleep that the rat was able to do this very easily.

All went just as they planned. The snake took the fire and
hid a little spark of it in every buckeye tree. And there the
Indians found it when they needed it. For rubbing a piece of
cedar and buckeye together, they very quickly make the spark,
and produce fire.


The following legend was published some years ago in _Sunset
Magazine_. It was written by Miss Nonette V. McGlashan, who heard
it from a Washoe squaw. The story was told with strange gestures and
weird pathos:

The ong was a big bird, bigger than the houses of the white
man. Its body was like the eagle's, and its wings were longer
than the tallest pines. Its face was that of an Indian, but
covered with hard scales, and its feet were webbed. Its nest
was deep down in the bottom of the Lake, out in the center,
and out of the nest rushed all the waters which fill the Lake.
There are no rivers to feed the Lake, only the waters from the
ong's nest. All the waters flow back near the bottom, in great
under-currents, and after passing through the meshes of the
nest are sent forth again. Every plant and bird and animal
that gets into these under-currents, and sometimes the great
trout that are swept into the net-like
nest are there held fast to furnish food for the ong.

He ate everything, he liked everything, but best of all he
liked the taste of human flesh. No one ever heard or saw
anything of such poor mortals as were drowned in these waters,
for their bodies were carried to the ong's nest and no morsel
ever escaped him. Sometimes he would fly about the shores in
quest of some child or woman or hunter, yet he was a great
coward and was never known to attack any one in camp, or when
two or more were together. No arrow could pierce his feathers,
nor could the strongest spear do more than glance from the
scales on his face and legs, yet his coward's heart made him
afraid for his toes had no claws, and his mouth no beak.

Late one fall, the Washoes were making their final hunt before
going to the valleys and leaving the Lake locked in its winter
snows. The chief's daughter was sixteen years old, and before
leaving the Lake he must select the greatest hero in the tribe
for her husband, for such had been the custom of the Washoe
chiefs ever since the tribe came out of the Northland.
Fairer than ever maiden had been was this daughter, and every
unmarried brave and warrior in the tribe wished that he had
performed deeds of greater prowess, that he might be certain
of winning the prize. That last night at the Lake, around the
big council fire, each was to recount to the chief the noblest
achievement of his life, and when all were heard the chief
would choose, and the women join the circle and the wedding
take place. For many years the warriors had looked forward to
this event, and the tribe had become famed because of acts
of reckless daring performed by those who hoped to wed the
chief's daughter.

It was the morning of the final day and much game and great
stores of dried trout were packed ready for the journey. All
were preparing for the wedding festivities, and the fact that
no one knew who would be the bridegroom, among all that band
of warriors, lent intensest excitement to the event. All were
joyous and happy except the maiden and the handsome young
brave to whom she had given her heart. In spite of custom or
tradition her love had long since gone out to one whose feet
had been too young to press the war-path when last the tribe
gave battle to their hereditary foes, the
Paiutis. He never had done deed of valor, nor could he even
claim the right to sit with the warriors around the council
fire. All day long he had been sitting alone on the jutting
cliffs which overhang the water, far away from the laughter
and shouts of the camp, eagerly, prayerfully watching the
great Lake. Surely the Great Spirit would hear his prayer, yet
he had been here for days and weeks in unavailing prayer and

The afternoon was well-nigh spent and the heart of the young
brave had grown cold as stone. In his bitter despair he sprang
to his feet to defy the Great Spirit in whom he had trusted,
but ere he could utter the words his very soul stood still
for joy. Slowly rising from the center of the Lake, he saw the
ong. Circling high in the heavens, the monster swept now here,
now there, in search of prey. The young brave stood erect and
waited. When the ong was nearest he moved about slightly to
attract its notice. He had not long to wait. With a mighty
swoop, the bird dashed to earth, and as it arose, the young
brave was seen to be clasped fast in its talons. A great cry
of horror arose from the camp, but it was the sweetest note
the young brave had ever heard. The bird flew straight up into
the sky until Lake and forest and mountains seemed small and
dim. When it reached a great height it would drop its prey
into the Lake and let the current draw it to its nest.
Such was its custom, and for this the brave had prepared
by unwinding from his waist a long buckskin cord and tying
himself firmly to the ong's leg. The clumsy feet could not
grasp him so tightly as to prevent his movements. At last
the great feet opened wide, but the Indian did not fall. In a
mighty rage, the ong tried in vain to grasp him in his teeth,
but the strong web between the bird's toes sheltered him.
Again and again the bird tried to use his horrid teeth, and
each time his huge body would fall through the air in such
twistings and contortions that those who watched below stared
in bewilderment. But what the watchers could not see was that
every time the huge mouth opened to snap him, the young brave
hurled a handful of poisoned arrowheads into the mouth and
down the big throat, their sharp points cutting deep into the
unprotected flesh. The bird
tried to dislodge him by rubbing his feet together, but the
thong held firm. Now it plunged headlong into the Lake, but
its feet were so tied that it could not swim, and though it
lashed the waters into foam with its great wings, and though
the man was nearly drowned and wholly exhausted, the poison
caused the frightened bird such agony that it suddenly arose
and tried to escape by flying toward the center of the Lake.
The contest had lasted long and the darkness crept over the
Lake, and into the darkness the bird vanished.

The women had been long in their huts ere the council fire
was kindled and the warriors gravely seated themselves in its
circle. No such trifling event as the loss of a young brave
could be allowed to interfere with so important an event, and
from most of their minds he had vanished. It was not so very
unusual for the ong to claim a victim, and, besides, the youth
had been warned by his elders that he should not go hunting
alone as had been his habit of late.

But while the warriors were working themselves up into a fine
frenzy of eloquence in trying to remind the old chief of their
bygone deeds of daring, an Indian maiden was paddling a canoe
swiftly and silently toward the middle of the Lake. Nona,
the chief's daughter understood no more than the rest why her
lover had not been dropped into the Lake, nor why the ong had
acted so queerly, but she knew that she could die with her
lover. She took her own frail canoe because it was so light
and easy to row, though it was made for her when a girl, and
would scarcely support her weight now. It mattered nothing to
her if the water splashed over the sides; it mattered nothing
how she reached her lover. She kept saying his name over
softly to herself, "Tahoe! My darling Tahoe!"

When the council was finished, the women went to her hut to
bid her come and hear the decision her father was about to
render. The consternation caused by her disappearance lasted
until the rosy dawn tinged the Washoe peaks and disclosed to
the astounded tribe the body of the ong floating on the
waters above its nest, and beside it an empty canoe. In the
foreground, and gently approaching the shore was the strangest
craft that ever floated on water! It was
one of the great ong's wings, and the sail was the tip of the
other wing! Standing upon it, clasped in each other's arms,
were the young brave, Tahoe, and the daughter of the chief.
In the shouts of the tribe, shouts in which warriors and women
and children mingled their voices with that of the chief,
Tahoe was proclaimed the hero of heroes! The decision was
rendered, but the ong's nest remains, and the drowned never
rise in Lake Tahoe.



We have already seen that Fremont, the discoverer of Lake Tahoe, first
called it Lake Bonpland, after Humboldt's scientific co-traveler.
That name, however, never came in general use. When the great westward
emigration began it seemed naturally to be called by its Indian name,

In _Innocents Abroad_ Mark Twain thus petulantly and humorously
expresses his dislike of the name, Tahoe, and sarcastically defines
its meaning.

"Sorrow and misfortune overtake the legislature that still
from year to year permits Tahoe to retain its unmusical
cognomen! Tahoe! It suggests no crystal waters, no picturesque
shores, no sublimity. Tahoe for a sea in the clouds; a sea
that has character, and asserts it in solemn calms, at times,
at times in savage storms; a sea, whose royal seclusion is
guarded by a cordon of sentinel peaks that lift their frosty
fronts nine thousand feet above the level world; a sea
whose every aspect is impressive, whose belongings are all
beautiful, whose lonely majesty types the Deity!

"Tahoe means grasshoppers. It means grasshopper soup. It
is Indian, and suggestive of Indians. They say it is
Pi-ute--possibly it is Digger. I am satisfied it was named
by the Diggers--those degraded savages who roast their dead
relatives, then mix the human grease and ashes of bones with
tar, and 'gaum' it thick all over their heads and foreheads
and ears, and go caterwauling about the hills and call it
_mourning_. _These_ are the gentry that named the

"People say that Tahoe means 'Silver Lake'--'Limpid
Water'--'Falling Leaf.' Bosh! It means grasshopper soup, the
favorite dish of the Digger tribe--and of the Pi-utes as well.
It isn't worth while, in these practical times, for people to
talk about Indian poetry--there never was any in them--except
in the Fenimore Cooper Indians. But _they_ are an extinct
tribe that never existed. I know the Noble Red Man. I have
camped with the Indians; I have been on the warpath with them,
taken part in the chase with them--for grasshoppers; helped
them steal cattle; I
have roamed with them, scalped them, had them for breakfast. I
would gladly eat the whole race if I had a chance.

"But I am growing unreliable."

With all due deference to the wisdom--as well as the humor--of Mark
Twain as applied to Lake Tahoe, I emphatically disagree with him as to
the Indians of the Tahoe region, and also as to the name of the Lake.
Tahoe is quite as good-sounding a name as Como, Lucerne, Katrine or
Lomond. A name, so long as it is euphonious, is pleasing or not, more
because of its associations than anything else. The genuine Indian,
as he was prior to the coming of the white man, was uncorrupted,
uncivilized, unvitiated, undemoralized, undiseased in body, mind and
soul, a nature-observer, nature-lover and nature-worshiper. He was
full of poetic conceptions and fired with a vivid imagination that
created stories to account for the existence of unusual, peculiar or
exceptional natural objects, that, in brilliancy of conception, daring
invention, striking ingenuity and vigor of detail _surpass_, or
at least equal, the best imaginative work of Kipling or _Mark Twain
himself_. It seems to me that his--the Indian's--name for this
Lake--Tahoe--is both euphonious and full of poetic and scientific
suggestion. It is poetic in that it expresses in a word the unequaled
height and purity of so large a body of water, and scientific in that
it is truthful and accurate.

But Fremont, the discoverer, evidently did not ask or seek to know its
Indian name. As stated elsewhere he erroneously conceived it to be the
headquarters of one of the forks of the American river, flowing into
the Sacramento, and he so depicts it on his map, giving to it the two
names "Mountain Lake" or "Lake Bonpland." But neither of these names
was acceptable and they practically dropped out of sight.

When the first actual determination of Tahoe's outlet through the
Truckee River was made is not definitely known, but its approximate
location was well enough established in 1853 to enable the official
map-maker of the new State of California to depict it with reasonable
accuracy, and, for some reason, to name it Lake Bigler, after John
Bigler, the third Governor of California.

Citizens are still living both in Nevada and California who well
remember when the Lake held this name, and the majority of people
undoubtedly used it until 1862. Officially, also, it was known as Lake
Bigler in 1862, for in the Nevada _Statutes_ there is recorded
an Act approved December 19, 1862, authorizing certain parties to
construct a railroad "to be known as the _Lake Bigler and Virginia
Railroad Co_., to commence at a point on the Kingsbury-McDonald
road known as the Kingsbury and McDonald Toll House, thence along the
southern and eastern shores of _Lake Bigler_, and in most direct
practical route, to the divide between Virginia City and Washoe Valley
on east side Washoe Lake, over and through the most practical pass
to Virginia City," and a further right to construct branch road from
Virginia to Carson City, Nevada.

In 1861, however, while Downey was Governor of California (he having
been elected Lieut. Governor, and taking the office on the resignation
of Governor Latham in January 1860), an attempt was made to change the
name from Bigler to the fanciful one of Tula Tulia, but fortunately it
failed and the old name remained in general use.

But in 1862 another effort was made in an entirely different direction
and this time with success. It was brought about through the work
of William Henry Knight, still living in Los Angeles, who has kindly
furnished the following account:

In the year 1859 I was the youngest member of an overland company
which crossed the plains and mountains from St. Joseph, Mo., to
California. Our train was in three divisions and consisted of
about twenty persons, and forty horses and mules.

One morning in the middle of August we left our camp at the
eastern base of the double summit of the Sierra Nevadas and
began our ascent. Mounted on my faithful steed, Old Pete, I
pushed on in advance of the caravan, in order to get the first
view of the already famous mountain lake, then known as Lake
Bigler. The road wound through the defile and around the
southern border of the Lake on the margin of which we camped
for two days.

As I approached the summit I turned from the main road and
followed a trail to the right which led to the top of a
bare rock overlooking the valley beyond and furnishing an
unobstructed view.

Thus my first view of that beautiful sheet of water was from a
projecting cliff 1000 feet above its surface, and it embraced
not only the entire outline of the Lake with its charming bays
and rocky headlands but also the magnificent forests of giant
pines and firs in which it was embosomed, and the dozen or
more lofty mountain peaks thrusting their white summits into
the sky at altitudes varying from 8000 to 11,000 feet above
sea level.

The view was, indeed, the most wonderful combination of
towering mountains, widespreading valley, gleaming lakes,
umbrageous forests, rugged buttresses of granite, flashing
streams, tumbling waterfalls, and overarching sky of deepest
cerulean hue--all blended into one perfect mosaic of the
beautiful, the picturesque, and the majestic, that mortal eye
ever rested upon.

No imagination can conceive the beauty, sublimity and
inspiration of that scene, especially to one who had for weary
months been traversing dusty, treeless and barren plains. The
contrast was overwhelming. Tears filled my eyes as I gazed
upon the fairy scene. I recall the entrancing picture to-day,
in all its splendid detail, so vividly was it photographed
upon my brain.

Since that hour I have crossed the continent ten times, over
various railway routes, visited most of the States of the
Union, and seven foreign countries, heard the testimony of
others whose travels have been world-wide, and I doubt if
another scene of equal enchantment exists on the face of the

In 1861, two years after my visit to Tahoe, I gathered the
data for compiling the first general map of the Pacific
States, which embraced the region from British Columbia to
Mexico, and from the Rocky Mountains to the coast. It was
ready for the engraver in February, 1862. I had instructed
the draughtsman, V. Wackenreuder, afterward connected with
the State Geological Survey, to omit the name of Lake Bigler,
which was on contemporary maps.

I invited John S. Hittell, editor of the _Alta
California_, a leading San Francisco daily, and Dr.
Henry DeGroot, writer on the _Evening Bulletin_ and
correspondent of the able _Sacramento Union_, to come
round to Bancroft's publishing house and inspect the map.

Dr. DeGroot had just returned from a visit to the Comstock
silver mines in the Washoe district of Western Nevada. He
suddenly turned to me and said: "Why, Knight, you have left
off the name of Lake Bigler." I remarked that many people had
expressed dissatisfaction with that name, bestowed in honor of
a Governor of California who had not distinguished himself by
any signal achievement, and I thought that now would be a good
time to select an appropriate name and fix it forever on that
beautiful sheet of water.

The suggestion met with favor, and several names were
proposed--Washington, Lincoln, then war President, Fremont, an
early explorer, and other historic names. I asked Dr. DeGroot
if he knew what the native Indians called the Lake.

He drew a memorandum from his pocket and read over a list of
Indian names local to that region, and exclaimed: "Here it is;
they call it 'Tahoe,' meaning 'big water,' or 'high water,' or
'water in a high place.' The word rhymes with Washoe."

I did not quite like the name at first mention, but its
significance was so striking that I asked if they--Hittell
and DeGroot--would favor its adoption and back it up with the
support of their newspapers, and they agreed to do so.

They advocated the adoption of the new name in their
respective journals, the country papers almost unanimously
fell into line, I inserted it on the map which bore my
name--William Henry Knight--as compiler, and which was
published by the Bancroft house in 1862.

I immediately wrote to the Land Office at Washington,
reported what I had done, and the sentiment that prevailed in
California, and requested the Federal official to substitute
the name of Tahoe for Bigler on the next annual map to be
issued by his office, and in all the printed matter of the
Department of the Interior thereafter. This was done.

But a curious thing happened. Nevada was under a territorial
government appointed by the Democratic administration of
President Buchanan. The Territorial Legislature was in session
when the subject was agitated by the California newspapers. A
young statesman of that body, thirsting for fame, rose to
his feet and in vociferous tones and with frenzied gestures,
denounced this high-handed action of California in changing
the name of that Lake without consulting the sister
commonwealth of Nevada, as, according to the map, half of
that noble sheet of water was in Nevada, and such action would
require joint jurisdiction. But his impassioned words were
wasted on the desert air of the Sagebrush State. He could not
muster enough votes to enact his indignation into a law,
and the calm surface of Lake Tahoe was unruffled by the
tempestuous commotion raging in legislative halls at Carson

It was thus that the beautiful, euphonious, and significant
name of "Tahoe" was first placed on my own map, and
subsequently appeared on all other maps of the State, because
it was universally accepted as a fitting substitute for the
former name of "Bigler." A traveled writer refers to the Lake
and the name selected in these terms:

"Thus it was that we went to Lake Tahoe, the beautiful 'Big
Water' of the Washoe Indians--Tahoe with the indigo shade of
its waters emphasized by its snow-capped setting. The very
first glance lifts one's soul above the petty cares of the
lower valleys, and one feels the significance of the Indian
title--'Big Water'--not referring to size alone, but to the
greatness of influence, just as the all-pervading Power is the
'Big Spirit.'"

One would naturally think that there had been changes enough. But
no! In spite of the fact that the Federal government had accepted the
change to Tahoe, and that the popular usage had signified the general
approval of the name, the Hon. W.A. King, of Nevada County, during the
Governorship of Haight, in California, introduced into the assembly
a bill declaring that Lake Bigler should be "the official name of
the said lake and the only name to be regarded as legal in official
documents, deeds, conveyances, leases and other instruments of writing
to be placed on state or county records, or used in reports made by
state, county or municipal officers."

Historian Hittell thus comments on this: "The bill, which appears to
have been well modulated to the taste and feelings of the legislature,
went through with great success. It passed the Assembly on February
1, the Senate on February 7; and on February 10 it was approved by
the Governor. It remains a monument, if not to Bigler, at least to the
legislature that passed it; while the name of the Lake will doubtless
continue to be _Tahoe_ and its sometime former designation of
_Bigler_ be forgotten."

Now if Mark Twain really objected to the name Tahoe why did he not
join the Biglerites and insist upon the preservation of that name?

On the Centennial Map of 1876 it was named "Lake Bigler or Lake
Tahoe," showing that some one evidently was aware that, officially, it
was still _Lake Bigler_.

And so, in fact, it is to this date, as far as _official_ action
can make it so, and it is interesting to conjecture what the results
might be were some malicious person, or some "legal-minded stickler
for rigid adherence to the law," to bring suit against those whose
deeds, titles, leases, or other documents declare it to be Lake Tahoe.



In certain numbers (November and December 1883 and January 1884) of
the _Overland Monthly_, Professor John Le Conte, of the State
University, Berkeley, California, presented the results of his
physical studies of Lake Tahoe in three elaborate chapters. From these
the following quotations of general interest are taken:

Hundreds of Alpine lakes of various sizes, with their clear,
deep, cold, emerald or azure waters, are embosomed among the
crags of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The most extensive, as
well as the most celebrated, of these bodies of fresh water is
Lake Tahoe.

This Lake, ... occupies an elevated valley at a point where
the Sierra Nevada divides into two ranges. It is, as it were,
ingulfed between two lofty and nearly parallel ridges, one
lying to the east and the other to the west. As the crest of
the principal range of the Sierra runs near the western margin
of this Lake, this valley is thrown on the eastern slope of
this great mountain system.

The boundary line between the States of California and Nevada
makes an angle of about 131 degrees in this Lake, near its
southern extremity, precisely at the intersection of the 39th
parallel of north latitude with the 120th meridian west from
Greenwich. Inasmuch as, north of this angle, this boundary
line follows the 120th meridian, which traverses the Lake
longitudinally from two to four miles from its eastern
shore-line, it follows that more than two-thirds of its area
falls within the jurisdiction of California, the remaining
third being within the boundary of Nevada. It is only within a
comparatively recent period that the geographical coordinates
of this Lake have been accurately determined.

Its greatest dimension deviates but slightly from a medium
line. Its maximum length is about 21.6 miles, and its greatest
width is about 12 miles. In consequence of the irregularity of
its outline, it is difficult to estimate its exact area; but
it cannot deviate much from 192 to 195 square miles.

The railroad surveys indicate that the elevation of the
surface of its waters above the level of the ocean is about
6247 feet.

Its drainage basin, including in this its own area, is
estimated to be about five hundred square miles. Probably more
than a hundred affluents of various capacities, deriving their
waters from the amphitheater of snow-clad mountains which
rise on all sides from 3000 to 4000 feet above its surface,
contribute their quota to supply this Lake. The largest of
these affluents is the Upper Truckee River, which falls into
its southern extremity.

The only outlet to the Lake is the Truckee River, which
carries the surplus waters from a point on its northwestern
shore out through a magnificent mountain gorge, thence
northeast, through the arid plains of Nevada, into Pyramid
Lake. This river in its tortuous course runs a distance of
over one hundred miles, and for about seventy miles (from
Truckee to Wadsworth) the Central Pacific Railroad follows its
windings. According to the railroad surveys, this river makes
the following descent:

_Distance Fall per Mile_
Lake Tahoe to Truckee 15 Miles 401 Ft. 28.64 Ft
Truckee to Boca 8 " 313 " 39.12 "
Boca to State Line 11 " 395 " 35.91 "
State Line to Verdi 5 " 211 " 42.21 "
Verdi to Reno 11 " 420 " 38.18 "
Reno to Vista 8 " 103 " 12.87 "
Vista to Clark's 12 " 141 " 11.75 "
Clark's to Wadsworth 15 " 186 " 12.40 "
Wadsworth to Pyramid Lake 18[1] " 187[1] " 10.39 "
______ _______ _______
Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake 103 " 2357 " 23.11 "

[Footnote 1: The elevation of Pyramid Lake above the sea-level
has never, as far as we know, been accurately determined.
Henry Gannet, in his _Lists of Elevation_ (4th ed.,
Washington, 1877, p. 143), gives its altitude above the sea as
4890 feet; and credits this number to the _Pacific Railroad
Reports_. But as this exact number appears in Fremont's
_Report of Exploring Expedition to Oregon and North
California in the Years 1843-44_. (Doc. No. 166, p. 217),
it is probable that the first rude and necessarily imperfect
estimate has been copied by subsequent authorities. This
number is evidently more than 800 feet too great; for the
railroad station at Wadsworth (about eighteen or twenty miles
from the lake), where the line of the railroad leaves the
banks of the Truckee River, is only 4077 feet above the
sea-level. So that these numbers would make Pyramid Lake 813
feet above the level of its affluent at Wadsworth; which,
of course, is impossible. Under this state of facts, I have
assumed the elevation of this lake to be 3890 feet.]

During the summer of 1873, the writer embraced the opportunity
afforded by a six weeks' sojourn on the shores of the Lake to
undertake some physical studies in relation to this largest of
the "gems of the Sierra." Furnished with a good sounding-line
and a self-registering thermometer, he was enabled to secure
some interesting and trustworthy physical results.

(1.) _Depth_. It is well known that considerable
diversity of opinion has prevailed in relation to the
actual depth of Lake Tahoe. Sensational newsmongers have
unhesitatingly asserted that, in some portions, it is
absolutely fathomless. It is needless to say that actual
soundings served to dispel or to rectify this popular
impression. The soundings indicated that there is a deep
subaqueous channel traversing the whole Lake in its greatest
dimension, or south and north. Beginning at the southern end,
near the Lake House, and advancing along the long axis of the
Lake directly north towards the Hot Springs at the northern
end--a distance of about eighteen miles--we have the following

_Station Depth in Feet Depth in Meters_

1 ............... 900 274.32

2 ............... 1385 422.14

3 ............... 1495 455.67

4 ............... 1500 457.19

5 ............... 1506 459.02

6 ............... 1540 469.38

7 ............... 1504 458.41

8 ............... 1600 487.67

9 ............... 1640 499.86

10 ............... 1645 501.39

These figures show that this lake exceeds in depth the deepest
of the Swiss lakes (the Lake of Geneva), which has a maximum
depth of 334 meters. On the Italian side of the Alps, however,
Lakes Maggiore and Como are said to have depths respectively
of 796.43 and 586.73 meters. These two lakes are so little
elevated above the sea that their bottoms are depressed 587
and 374 meters below the level of the Mediterranean.

(2.) _Relation of Temperature to Depth_. By means of
a self-registering thermometer (Six's) secured to the
sounding-line, a great number of observations were made on the
temperature of the water of the Lake at various depths and
in different portions of the same. These experiments were
executed between the 11th and 18th of August, 1873. The same
general results were obtained in all parts of the Lake. The
following table contains the abstract of the average results,
after correcting the thermometric indications by comparison
with a standard thermometer:

Obs. in Feet in Meters F. deg. in C._

1 ...... 0-Surface 0-Surface 67 19.44

2 ...... 50 15.24 63 17.22

3 ...... 100 30.48 55 12.78

4 ...... 150 45.72 50 10.00

5 ...... 200 60.96 48 8.89

6 ...... 250 76.20 47 8.33

7 ...... 300 91.44 46 7.78

8 ...... 330 (Bottom) 100.58 45.5 7.50

9 ...... 400 121.92 45 7.22

10 ...... 480 (Bottom) 146.30 44.5 6.94

11 ...... 500 152.40 44 6.67

12 ...... 600 182.88 43 6.11

13 ...... 772 (Bottom) 235.30 41 5.00

14 ...... 1506 (Bottom) 459.02 39.2 4.00

It will be seen from the foregoing numbers that the
temperature of the water decreases with increasing depth to
about 700 or 800 feet (213 or 244 meters), and below this
depth it remains sensibly the same down to 1506 feet (459
meters). This constant temperature which prevails at all
depths below say 250 meters is about 4 degrees Cent. (39.2
Fah.). This is precisely what might have been expected; for it
is a well established physical property of fresh water,
that it attains its maximum density at the above-indicated
temperature. In other words, a mass of fresh water at the
temperature of 4 deg. Cent. has a greater weight under a
given volume (that is, a cubic unit of it is heavier at this
temperature) than it is at any temperature either higher or
lower. Hence, when the ice-cold water of the snow-fed streams
of spring and summer reaches the Lake, it naturally tends to
sink as soon as its temperature rises to 4 deg. Cent.; and,
conversely, when winter sets in, as soon as the summer-heated
surface water is cooled to 4 deg., it tends to sink. Any
further rise of temperature of the surface water during the
warm season, or fall of temperature during the cold season,
alike produces expansion, and thus causes it to float on
the heavier water below; so that water at 4 deg. Cent.,
perpetually remains at the bottom, while the varying
temperature of the seasons and the penetration of the solar
heat only influence a surface stratum of about 250 meters in
thickness. It is evident that the continual outflow of water
from its shallow outlet cannot disturb the mass of liquid
occupying the deeper portions of the Lake. It thus results
that the temperature of the surface stratum of such bodies of
fresh water for a certain depth fluctuates with the climate
and with the seasons; but at the bottom of deep lakes it
undergoes little or no change throughout the year, and
approaches to that which corresponds to the maximum density of
fresh water.

(3.) _Why the Water does not freeze in Winter_. Residents
on the shore of Lake Tahoe testify that, with the exception
of shallow and detached portions, the water of the Lake never
freezes in the coldest winters. During the winter months, the
temperature of atmosphere about this Lake must fall as low,
probably, as 0 degrees Fah. (-17.78 deg. Cent.). According to
the observations of Dr. George M. Bourne, the
minimum temperature recorded during the winter of 1873-74 was
6 deg. Fah. (-14.44 deg. Cent.). As it is evident that during
the winter season the temperature of the air must frequently
remain for days, and perhaps weeks, far below the freezing
point of water, the fact that the water of the Lake does not
congeal has been regarded as an anomalous phenomenon. Some
persons imagine that this may be due to the existence of
subaqueous hot springs in the bed of the Lake--an opinion
which may seem to be fortified by the fact that hot springs do
occur at the northern extremity of the Lake. But there is
no evidence that the temperature of any considerable body of
water in the Lake is sensibly increased by such springs. Even
in the immediate vicinity of the hot springs (which have in
summer a maximum temperature of 55 deg. C. or 131 F.), the
supply of warm water is so limited that it exercises no
appreciable influence on the temperature of that portion of
the Lake. This is further corroborated by the fact that no
local fogs hang over this or any other portion of the Lake
during the winter which would most certainly be the case if
any considerable body of hot water found its way into the

The true explanation of the phenomenon may, doubtless, be
found in the high specific heat of water, the great depth of
the Lake, and in the agitation of its waters by the strong
winds of winter. In relation to the influence of depth, it
is sufficient to remark that, before the conditions preceding
congelation can obtain, the whole mass of water--embracing a
stratum of 250 meters in thickness--must be cooled down to
4 deg. Cent.; for this must occur before the vertical
circulation is arrested and the colder water floats on the
surface. In consequence of the great specific heat of
water, to cool such a mass of the liquid through an average
temperature of 8 deg. Cent, requires a long time, and the cold
weather is over before it is accomplished. In the shallower
portions, the surface of the water may reach the temperature
of congelation, but the agitations due to the action of
strong winds soon breaks up the thin pellicle of ice, which is
quickly melted by the heat generated by the mechanical action
of the waves. Nevertheless, in shallow and detached portions
of the Lake, which are sheltered from the action of winds and
waves--as in Emerald Bay--ice several inches in thickness is
sometimes formed.

[Illustration: Lily Lake]

[Illustration: Cave Rock, Lake Tahoe]

[Illustration: Pyramid Peak and Lake of the Woods]

[Illustration: Clouds Over the Mountain, Lake Tahoe]

(4.) _Why Bodies of the Drowned do not Rise_. A number of
persons have been drowned in Lake Tahoe--some fourteen
between 1860 and 1874--and it is the uniform testimony of the
residents, that in no case, where the accident occurred in
deep water, were the bodies ever recovered. This striking fact
has caused wonder-seekers to propound the most extraordinary
theories to account for it. Thus one of them says, "The water
of the Lake is purity itself, but on account of the highly
rarified state of the air it is not very buoyant, and swimmers
find some little fatigue; or, in other words, they are
compelled to keep swimming all the time they are in the water;
and objects which float easily in other water sink here like
lead." Again he says, "Not a thing ever floats on the surface
of this Lake, save and except the boats which ply upon it."

It is scarcely necessary to remark that it is impossible that
the diminution of atmospheric pressure, due to an elevation
of 6250 feet (1905 meters) above the sea-level, could sensibly
affect the density of the water. In fact, the coefficient of
compressibility of this liquid is so small that the withdrawal
of the above indicated amount of pressure (about one-fifth
of an atmosphere) would not lower its density more than one
hundred-thousandth part! The truth is, that the specific
gravity is not lower than that of any other fresh water of
equal purity and corresponding temperature. It is not less
buoyant nor more difficult to swim in than any other fresh
water; and consequently the fact that the bodies of the
drowned do not rise to the surface cannot be accounted for by
ascribing marvelous properties to its waters.

The distribution of temperature with depth affords a natural
and satisfactory explanation of the phenomenon, and renders
entirely superfluous any assumption of extraordinary lightness
in the water. The true reason why the bodies of the drowned
do not rise to the surface is evidently owing to the fact that
when they sink into water which is only 4 deg. Cent. (7.2
deg. Fah.) above the freezing temperature, the gases usually
generated by decomposition are not produced in the intestines;
in other words, at this low temperature the
bodies do not become inflated, and therefore do not rise to
the surface. The same phenomenon would doubtless occur in
any other body of fresh water under similar physical

[Footnote 2: It should be noted that since 1874 there have been
remarkably few deaths from drowning in Lake Tahoe, and that the major
cases of those referred to by Dr. LeConte were of workmen and others
who were generally under the influence of intoxicants.]

(5.) _Transparency of the Water_. All visitors to this
beautiful Lake are struck with the extraordinary transparency
of the water. At a depth of 15 to 20 meters (49.21 to 65.62
feet), every object on the bottom--on a calm sunny day--is
seen with the greatest distinctness. On the 6th of September,
1873, the writer executed a series of experiments with the
view of testing the transparency of the water. A number of
other experiments were made August 28 and 29, under
less favorable conditions. By securing a white object of
considerable size--a horizontally adjusted dinner-plate
about 9.5 inches in diameter--to the sounding-line, it
was ascertained that (at noon) it was plainly visible at a
vertical depth of 33 meters, or 108.27 English feet. It must
be recollected that the light reaching the eye from such
submerged objects must have traversed a thickness of water
equal to at least twice the measured depth; in the above
case, it must have been at least 66 meters, or 216.54 feet.
Furthermore, when it is considered that the amount of
light regularly reflected from such a surface as that of a
dinner-plate, under large angles of incidence in relation
to the surface, is known to be a very small fraction of
the incident beam (probably not exceeding three or four per
cent.), it is evident that solar light must penetrate to
vastly greater depths in these pellucid waters.

Moreover, it is quite certain that if the experiments
in relation to the depths corresponding to the limit of
visibility of the submerged white disk had been executed in
winter instead of summer, much larger numbers would have been
obtained. For it is now well ascertained, by means of the
researches of Dr. F.A. Forel of Lausanne, that the waters of
Alpine lakes are decidedly more transparent in winter than in
summer. Indeed, it is reasonable that when the affluents of
such lakes are locked in the icy fetters of winter, much less
suspended matter is carried into them than in summer, when all
the sub-glacial streams are in active operation.

Professor Le Conte goes into this subject (as he later does into the
subject of the color of Lake Tahoe) somewhat exhaustively in a purely
scientific manner and in too great length for the purposes of this
chapter, hence the scientific or curious reader is referred to the
original articles for further information and discussion.

_Color of the Waters of Lake Tahoe_. One of the most
striking features of this charming mountain Lake is the
beautiful hues presented by its pellucid waters. On a calm,
clear, sunny day, wherever the depth is not less than from
fifty to sixty meters, to an observer floating above its
surface, the water assumes various shades of blue; from a
brilliant Cyan blue (greenish-blue) to the most magnificent
ultramarine blue or deep indigo blue. The shades of blue
increasing in darkness in the order of the colors of the
solar spectrum, are as follows: Cyan-blue (greenish blue),
Prussian-blue, Cobalt-blue, genuine ultramarine-blue, and
artificial ultramarine-blue (violet blue). While traversing
one portion of the Lake in a steamer, a lady endowed with a
remarkable natural appreciation and discrimination of shades
of color declared that the exact tint of the water at this
point was "Marie-Louise blue."

The waters of this Lake exhibit the most brilliant blueness
in the deep portions, which are remote from the fouling
influences of the sediment-bearing affluents, and the washings
of the shores. On a bright and calm day, when viewed in the
distance, it had the ultramarine hue; but when looked fair
down upon, it was of almost inky blackness--a solid dark
blue qualified by a trace of purple or violet. Under these
favorable conditions, the appearance presented was not unlike
that of the liquid in a vast natural dyeing-vat.

A clouded state of the sky, as was to be expected, produced
the well-known effects due to the diminished intensity of
light; the shades of blue became darker, and, in extreme
cases, almost black-blue. According to our observations,
the obscurations of the sky by the interposition of clouds
produced no other modifications of tints than those due to
a diminution of luminosity.

In places where the depth is comparatively small and the
bottom is visibly white, the water assumes various shades
of green; from a delicate apple-green to the most exquisite
emerald-green. Near the southern and western shores of the
Lake, the white, sandy bottom brings out the green tints very
strikingly. In the charming _cul-de-sac_ called "Emerald
Bay," it is remarkably conspicuous and exquisitely beautiful.
In places where the stratum of water covering white portions
of the bottom is only a few meters in thickness, the green hue
is not perceptible, unless viewed from such a distance that
the rays of light emitted obliquely from the white surface
have traversed a considerable thickness of the liquid before
reaching the eye of the observer.

The experiments with the submerged white dinner-plate,
in testing the transparency of the water, incidentally
manifested, to some extent, the influence of depth on the
color of the water. The white disk presented a bluish-green
tint at the depth of from nine to twelve meters; at about
fifteen meters it assumed a greenish-blue hue, and the blue
element increased in distinctness with augmenting depth,
until the disk became invisible or undistinguishable in the
surrounding mass of blue waters. The water intervening between
the white disk and the observer did not present the brilliant
and vivid green tint which characterized that which is seen in
the shallow portions of the Lake, where the bottom is white.
But this is not surprising, when we consider the small amount
of diffused light which can reach the eye from so limited a
surface of diffusion.

In studying the chromatic tints of these waters, a hollow
pasteboard cylinder, five or six centimeters in diameter, and
sixty or seventy centimeters in length, was sometimes employed
for the purpose of excluding the surface reflection and the
disturbances due to the small ripples on the water. When
quietly floating in a small row-boat, one end of this
exploring tube was plunged under the water, and the eye of
the observer at the other extremity received the rays of light
emanating from the deeper portions of the liquid. The light
thus reaching the eye presented essentially the same
variety of tints in the various portions of the Lake as those
which have been previously indicated.

Hence it appears that under various condition--such as depth,
purity, state of sky and color of bottom--the waters of this
Lake manifest nearly all the chromatic tints presented in
the solar spectrum between greenish-yellow and the darkest
ultramarine-blue, bordering upon black-blue.

It is well known that the waters of oceans and seas exhibit
similar gradations of chromatic hues in certain regions.
Navigators have been struck with the variety and richness of
tints presented, in certain portions, by the waters of the
Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and
especially those of the Caribbean Sea. In some regions of the
oceans and seas, the green hues, and particularly those tinged
with yellow, are observed in comparatively deep waters, or, at
least, where the depths are sufficiently great to prevent
the bottom from being visible. But this phenomenon seems to
require the presence of a considerable amount of suspended
matter in the water. In no portion of Lake Tahoe did I observe
any of the green tints, except where the light-colored bottom
was visible. This was, probably, owing to the circumstance
that no considerable quantity of suspended matter existed in
any of the waters observed.

_Rhythmical Variations of Level in Lakes: or
"Seiches."_--As might be expected, the waters of Lake
Tahoe are subject to fluctuations of level, depending upon
the variable supplies furnished by its numerous affluents. In
mid-winter, when these streams are bound in icy fetters, the
level falls; while in the months of May and June, when the
snows of the amphitheater of mountain-slopes are melting most
rapidly, the level of the Lake rises, and a maximum amount
of water escapes through its outlet. According to the
observations of Capt. John McKinney, made at his residence
on the western shore of this Lake, the average seasonal
fluctuation of level is about 0.61 of a meter; but in extreme
seasons it sometimes amounts to 1.37 meters. The Lake of
Geneva, in like manner, is liable to fluctuations of level
amounting to from 1.95 to 2.60 meters, from the melting of the
Alpine snows.

But besides these variations of level due to the variable
quantities of water discharged into them by their affluents,
many lakes of moderate dimensions are liable to rhythmical
oscillations of level of short duration, which are, obviously,
but produced by fluctuations in the supply of water. It is to
this kind of species of variation of level that our attention
will be directed in the sequel.

This interesting phenomenon was first recognized in the Lake
of Geneva; but was subsequently found to be common to all
the Swiss lakes, as well as to those of Scotland. It is,
therefore, a general phenomenon, which may be observed in all
lakes of moderate dimensions. The inhabitants of the shores
of the Lake of Geneva have long designated this rhythmical
oscillation of the level of the water by the term of
_Seiche_; and this designation has been adopted by
scientific writers.

These _Seiches_ were first signalized in the Lake of
Geneva in 1730, by Fatio de Duillier, who ascribed them to the
checking of the flow of the waters of the Rhone on the shoal
near Geneva by the force of the wind at mid-day. Addison
and Jallabert, in 1742, supposed them to be caused by sudden
increments in the discharge of the affluents, due to the
augmentation in the amount of snow melted after mid-day; or
to the sudden increase in the flow of the Arve, checking
the outflow of water by the Rhone. Bertrand supposed that
electrified clouds might locally attract and elevate the
waters of the lake, and thus produce oscillations of level.
H.B. de Saussure, in 1799, attributed the phenomenon to rapid
local variations of atmospheric pressure on different parts
of the lake. J.P.E. Vaucher, in 1802 and 1804, adopted de
Saussure's explanation, and confirmed it by many excellent
observations. He, moreover, established that _Seiches_,
more or less considerable, occur in all the Swiss lakes; and
that they take place at all seasons of the year, and at all
times of the day; but, in general, more frequently in spring
and autumn. As regards the cause of the phenomenon, Vaucher
shows how rapid local alterations of atmospheric pressure
would produce oscillations in the level of the lake, and
compares them to the vibrations of a liquid in a recurved tube
or siphon. Finally, Arago maintained that _Seiches_ may
arise from various causes, and traced the analogy between them
and certain remarkable oscillations
of the sea, including those arising from earthquakes.

But physical science is indebted to Professor F.A. Forel, of
Lausanne, for the most complete and exhaustive investigation
in relation to the phenomena of _Seiches_. This
accomplished physicist began his researches in 1869, and has
continued them up to the present time. He has been able to
demonstrate that these rhythmical oscillations occur in nearly
all the Swiss Lakes (he studied the phenomena in nine of
them), and that they follow in all cases the same general
laws. Those of the Lake of Geneva have received the most
elaborate and prolonged investigation. In March, 1876, Forel
established a self-registering tide-gauge (_limni-metre
enregistreur_) on the northern shore of this lake, at
Morges; and, with the cooeperation of P. Plantamour, another
one was installed in June, 1877, at Secheron, near the city
of Geneva, at the southern extremity. Since these dates,
these two instruments have, respectively, been registering
oscillations of the level of the water of the Lake of Geneva;
and they are so sensitive as to indicate the waves generated
by a steamer navigating the lake at a distance of ten or
fifteen kilometers.

From a most searching investigation of all the phenomena
presented by the _Seiches_ in the Swiss Lakes, Forel
deduces the conclusion that they are really movements of
steady uninodal oscillations (balanced undulations), in which
the whole mass of water in the lake rhythmically swings
from shore to shore. And, moreover, he shows that the water
oscillates according to the two principal dimensions of the
lake; thus, giving rise to longitudinal _Seiches_
and transverse _Seiches_. They occur in series of
tautochronous oscillations of decreasing amplitude; the first
wave produced by the action of a given cause having a maximum

_Causes_. The disturbances of hydrostatic equilibrium
which generate _Seiches_ may be produced by a variety of
causes. Among these, the following may be cited: (a) Sudden
local variations of atmospheric pressure on different parts of
the lake. (b) A descending wind, striking the surface of the
lake over a limited area, (c) Thunder-storms, hail-storms, and
water-spouts; and especially when the accompanying winds act
vertically. (d) The fall of a large avalanche, or of a
land-slide into the lake. (e) And lastly, earthquakes.

Observations show that the most frequent and evident of
these causes are variations of atmospheric pressure and local
storms. With regard to earthquake shocks as a cause of such
fluctuations of level, it is a singular and significant fact
that since Forel has established the delicate self-registering
apparatus on the shores of the Lake of Geneva, no less than
twelve earthquake shocks have been experienced in this portion
of Switzerland, and they have had no sensible influence on
these sensitive instruments. In fact, a little consideration
in relation to the character of such shocks renders it highly
improbable that such brief tremors of the earth's crust
could have been any agency in the generation of rhythmical
oscillations of the whole mass of water in the lake. Indeed,
it is very questionable whether any earthquake waves are ever
produced in the ocean, except when the sea-bottom undergoes a
permanent vertical displacement.

_Lake Tahoe_. From inquiries made of the inhabitants of
the shores of Lake Tahoe, I was not able to discover that any
rhythmical oscillations of the level of its waters have ever
been noticed. Some residents declared that they had observed
sudden fluctuations of level, which, from their suddenness,
they were disposed to ascribe to disturbances of the bottom of
the Lake due to volcanic agencies, although they were
unable to coordinate such oscillations with any earthquake
manifestations on the adjacent shores.

It is evident, however, that until arrangements are
consummated for recording systematic observations on the
variations of the level of this Lake, we cannot expect
that its _Seiches_ will be detected. Of course,
self-registering gauges would give the most satisfactory
results; but any graduated gauge, systematically observed,
would soon furnish evidence of the phenomenon. For the
longitudinal _Seiches_, "Hot Springs," at the northern
extremity of the Lake, or "Lake House," at the southern end,
would be eligible stations for gauges; and for the transverse
_Seiches_, Glenbrook, on the eastern shore, or Capt.
McKinney's on the western margin, would afford good stations.
As far as I am aware, true _Seiches_ have never been
observed in any of the American lakes. This fact is the more
remarkable from the circumstance that long-continued and
careful observations have been made on the fluctuations of
level of several of the large Canadian lakes, with the view of
testing the possible existence of lunar tides. Perhaps these
lakes may be too large to manifest the uninodal rhythmical
oscillations which have been so successfully studied by Forel
in the smaller lakes of Switzerland.[3]

Be this as it may, there can be no doubt that Lake Tahoe is a
body of water in all respects adapted for the manifestation of
this species of oscillation; and that, like the Swiss lakes,
it is subject to _Seiches_. Indeed, the far greater
simplicity in the configuration of the basin of Lake Tahoe
than that of the Lake of Geneva must render the phenomena much
less complicated in the former than in the latter.

Professor LeConte then gives his computations as to the probable
duration of the oscillations on Lake Tahoe, should they occur there.

[Footnote 3: It is proper to add that _Fluctuations of level in the
North American lakes_ have been noticed by various observers, from
the time of the Jesuit Fathers of the period of Marquette, in 1673,
down to the present epoch. Among those who have discussed this problem
may be mentioned in chronological order: Fra Marquette in 1673, Baron
La Hontan 1689, Charlevoix 1721, Carver 1766, Weld 1796, Major S.A.
Storrow 1817, Capt. Henry Whiting 1819, H.R. Schoolcraft 1820, Gen.
Dearborn 1826-29.]



Lindgren, the geologist, affirms that after the Sierra Nevada range
was thrust up, high into the heavens, vast and long continued
erosion "planed down this range to a surface of comparatively gentle
topography." He claims that it must originally have been of great
height. Traces of this eroded range (Cretaceous) "still remain in
a number of flat-topped hills and ridges that rise above the later
tertiary surface. There is reason to believe that this planed-down
mountain range had a symmetrical structure, for somewhat to the east
of the present divide is a well-marked old crest line extending from
the Grizzly Peak Mountains on the north, in Plumas County, at least
as far south as Pyramid Peak, in Eldorado County. At sometime in
the later part of the Cretaceous period the first breaks took place,
changing the structure of the range from symmetrical to monoclinal and
outlining the present form of the Sierra Nevada."

This great disturbance he thinks, "was of a two-fold character,
consisting of the lifting up of a large area including at least a
part of the present Great Basin [Nevada and Utah] and a simultaneous
breaking and settling of the higher portions of the arch. Along the
eastern margin a system of fractures was thus outlined which toward
the close of the Tertiary was to be still further emphasized. The main
break probably extended from a point south of Mono Lake to Antelope
Valley and from Markleeville northward toward Sierra Valley. A large
part of the crust block to the west of this dislocation also sank
down. This sunken area is now indicated by Lake Tahoe and by its
northward continuation, Sierra Valley, separated from each other only
by masses of Tertiary lavas.... It is worthy of note that within the
area of the range no volcanic eruptions accompanied this subsidence."

He continues: "As a consequence of this uplift the erosive power of
the streams was rejuvenated, the Cretaceous surface of gentle outline
was dissected, and the rivers began to cut back behind the old divide,
carrying their heads nearly to the present crest line that separates
the slope of the Sierra from the depression of Lake Tahoe."

These rivers are the great gold bearing streams that caused the mining
excitement of 1849. They all head near the Tahoe region, and include
the Yuba, Feather, American, Mokelumne, Calaveras, Cataract, and

Here, then, were two crest lines--the old Cretaceous line of which the
Crystal Range immediately overlooking Desolation Valley on the west,
with Pyramid and Agassiz Peaks as its salient points,--and the new
Tertiary crest line, reaching somewhat irregularly from Honey Lake
in the north to Mono Lake in the south. At the north of Lake Tahoe,
"southwest of Reno, a large andesitic volcano poured forth lavas which
extend between the Truckee River Canyon and the Washoe Valley. In the
region extending northward from Lake Tahoe to Sierra Valley enormous
andesitic eruptions took place, and the products of these volcanoes
are now piled up as high mountains, among which Mount Pluto nearly
attains 9000 feet."

These are the volcanic lavas which united the two crests forming the
eastern and western borders of the Tahoe basin or depression, and
through which the Truckee River had in some way to find passage ere it
could discharge its waters into Pyramid Lake, resting in the bosom of
the Great Basin.

Here, then, we have the crude Tahoe basin ready for the reception
of water. This came from the snow and rainfall on its large and
mountainous drainage area, a hundred greater and lesser streams
directly and indirectly discharging their flow into its tremendous

Its later topography has been materially modified by glacial action,
and this is fully discussed by Professor Joseph Le Conte in the
following chapter.

It should not be forgotten, however, that while Mt. Pluto was being
formed, other vast volcanic outpourings were taking place. Well back
to the west of the Tahoe region great volcanoes poured out rhyolite,
a massive rock of light gray to pink color and of fine grain, which
shows small crystals of quartz and sanidine in a streaky and glossy
ground mass. On the summits nearer to Tahoe the volcanic outflows were
of andesite, a rough and porous rock of dark gray to dark brown color.
Lindgren says: "By far the greater part of the andesite occurs in the
form of a tuffaceous breccia in numerous superimposed flows. These
breccias must have issued from fissures near the summit of the range
and were, either before their eruption or at the time of issue, mixed
with enormous quantities of water, forming mud flows sufficiently
fluid to spread down the slope for distances of fifty or sixty
miles. The derivation of the water and the exact mode of eruption are
difficult to determine.... Towards the summits the breccias gradually
lose their stratified character and become more firmly cemented. Over
large areas in the Truckee quadrangle the andesite masses consist of
breccias containing numerous dykes and necks of massive andesite....

"The andesite volcanoes were mainly located along the crest of the
Sierra, in fact, almost continuously from Thompson Peak, west of Honey
Lake, down to latitude 38 deg. degrees 10'. Farther south the eruptions
diminished greatly in intensity.... Along the first summit of the
range west of Tahoe the greatest number of vents are found. Beginning
at Webber Lake on the north, they include Mount Lola, Castle Peak,
Mount Lincoln, Tinker Knob, Mount Mildred and Twin Peak. The andesite
masses here in places attain a thickness of 2000 feet. An interval
followed in the northern part of the Pyramid Peak quadrangle where no
important volcanoes were located, but they appear again in full force
in Alpine County. Round Top, attaining an elevation of 10,430 feet,
and the adjacent peaks, were the sources of the enormous flows which
covered a large part of Eldorado County. Still another volcanic
complex with many eruptive vents is that situated in the western part
of Alpine County, near Markleeville, which culminates in Highland Peak
and Raymond Peak, the former almost reaching 11,000 feet. The total
thickness of the volcanic flows in this locality is as much as 4000

It is to these breccias we owe the volcanic appearances in the Truckee
River Canyon, a few miles before reaching the Lake. There are several
layers of the andesites breccias at the head of Bear Creek Canyon,
above Deer Park Springs.

"None of the craters," says Lindgren, "of these volcanoes are
preserved, and at the time of their greatest activity they may have
reached a height of several thousand feet above the present summits."



We have already seen in the preceding chapter how the great basin,
in which Lake Tahoe rests, was turned out in the rough from Nature's
workshop. It must now be smoothed down, its angularities removed, its
sharpest features eliminated, and soft and fertile banks prepared upon
which trees, shrubs, plants and flowers might spring forth to give
beauty to an otherwise naked and barren scene.

It is almost impossible for one to picture the Tahoe basin at this
time. There may have been water in it, or there may not. All the
great mountain peaks, most of them, perhaps, much higher by several
thousands of feet than at present, were rude, rough, jagged masses,
fresh from the factory of God. There was not a tree, not a shrub, not
a flower, not a blade of grass. No bird sang its cheering song, or
delighted the eye with its gorgeous plumage; not even a frog croaked,
a cicada rattled, or a serpent hissed. All was barren desolation,
fearful silence and ghastly newness.

What were the forces that produced so marvelous a change?

Snowflakes,--"flowers of the air",--as John Muir so poetically calls
them. They accomplished the work. Falling alone they could have done
nothing, but coming down in vast numbers, day after day, they piled
up and became a power. Snow forms glaciers, and glaciers are mighty
forces that create things.

[Illustration: Gilmore Lake, Pyramid Peak and the Crystal Range,
in winter, from summit of Mount Tallac]

[Illustration: Desolation Valley, Looking Toward Mosquito Pass]

[Illustration: Heather Lake, near Glen Alpine]

[Illustration: Susie Lake, near Glen Alpine Springs]

Let us, if possible, stand and watch the Master Workman
doing the work that is to make this region our source of present
day joy. We will make the ascent and stand on the summit
of Pyramid Peak. This is now 10,020 feet above sea level,
rising almost sheer above Desolation Valley immediately at our feet.

The first thing that arrests the visitor's attention is the peculiar
shape of the peak upon which he stands, and of the whole of the
Crystal Range. Both east and west it is a great precipice, with a
razor-like edge, which seems to have been especially designed for
the purpose of arresting the clouds and snow blown over the mountain,
ranges of the High Sierras, and preventing their contents falling upon
the waste and thirsty, almost desert-areas of western Nevada, which
lie a few miles further east.

Whence do the rains and snow-storms come?

One hundred and fifty miles, a trifle more or less, to the westward
is the vast bosom of the Pacific Ocean. Its warm current is constantly
kissed by the fervid sun and its water allured, in the shape of mist
and fog, to ascend into the heavens above. Here it is gently wafted by
the steady ocean breezes over the land to the east. In the summer the
wind currents now and again swing the clouds thus formed northward,
and Oregon and Washington receive rain from the operation of the sun
upon the Pacific Ocean of the south. In June and July, however, the
Tahoe region sees occasional rains which clear the atmosphere, freshen
the flowers and trees, and give an added charm to everything. But in
the fall and winter the winds send the clouds more directly eastward,
and in crossing the Sierran summits the mist and fog become colder and
colder, until, when the clouds are arrested by the stern barriers
of the Crystal Range, and necessity compels them to discharge their
burden, they scatter snow so profusely that one who sees this region
only in the summer has no conception of its winter appearance. The
snow does not fall as in ordinary storms, but, in these altitudes, the
very heavens seem to press down, ladened with snow, and it falls in
sheets to a depth of five, ten, twenty, thirty and even more feet,
_on the level_.

Look now, however, at the western edge of the Crystal Range. It has
no "slopes." It is composed of a series of absolute precipices, on the
edge of one of which we stand. These precipices, and the razor edge,
are fortified and buttressed by arms which reach out westward and form
rude crescents, called by the French geologists _cirques_, for
here the snow lodges, and is packed to great density and solidity with
all the force, fervor and fury of the mountain winds.

But the snow does not fall alone on the western _cirques_. It
discharges with such prodigality, and the wind demands its release
with such precipitancy, that it lodges in equally vast masses on the
eastern slopes of the Crystal Range. For, while the eastern side
of this range is steep enough to be termed in general parlance
"precipitous," it has a decided slope when compared with the sheer
drop of the western side. Here the configuration and arrangement of
the rock-masses also have created a number of _cirques_, where
remnants of the winter's snow masses are yet to be seen. These snow
masses are baby glaciers, or snow being slowly manufactured into
glaciers, or, as some authorities think, _the remnants of the vast
glaciers that once covered this whole region_ with their heavy and
slowly-moving icy cap.

On the Tallac Range the snow fell heavily toward Desolation Valley,
but also on the steep and precipitous slopes that faced the north.
So also with the Angora Range. Its western exposure, however, is of
a fairly gentle slope, so that the snow was blown over to the eastern
side, where there are several precipitous _cirques_ of stupendous
size for the preservation of the accumulated and accumulating snow.

Now let us, in imagination, ascend in a balloon over this region and
hover there, seeking to reconstruct, by mental images, the appearance
it must have assumed and the action that took place in the ages long

Snow, thirty, fifty, one hundred or more feet deep lay, on the level,
and on the mountain slopes or in precipitous _cirques_ twice,
thrice, or ten times those depths. Snow thus packed together soon
changes its character. From the light airy flake, it becomes, in
masses, what the geologists term _neve_. This is a granular
snow, intermediate between snow and ice. A little lower down this
_neve_ is converted into true glacial ice-beds, which grow
longer, broader, deeper and thicker as the _neve_ presses down
from above.

Lay minds conceive of these great ice-beds of transformed snow as
inert, immovable bodies. They think the snow lies upon the surface of
the rocks or earth. The scientific observer knows better. By the very
inertia of its own vast and almost inconceivable weight the glacier is
compelled to move. Imagine the millions of millions of tons of ice of
these sloping masses, pressing down upon the hundreds of thousands of
tons of ice that lie below. Slowly the mass begins to move. But
all parts of it do not move with equal velocity. The center travels
quicker than the margins, and the velocity of the surface is greater
than that of the bottom. Naturally the velocity increases with the
slope, and when the ice begins to soften in the summer time its rate
of motion is increased.

But not only does the ice move. There have been other forces set in
motion as well as that of the ice. The fierce attacks of the storms,
the insidious forces of frost, of expansion and contraction, of
lightning, etc., have shattered and loosened vast masses of the
mountain summits. Some of these have weathered into toppling masses,
which required only a heavy wind or slight contractions to send them
from their uncertain bases onto the snow or ice beneath. And the other
causes mentioned all had their influences in breaking up the peaks
and ridges and depositing great jagged bowlders of rock in the
slowly-moving glaciers.

Little by little these masses of rock worked their way down lower into
the ice-bed. Sometime they must reach the bottom, yet, though
they rest upon granite, and granite would cleave to granite, the
irresistible pressure from above forces the ice and rock masses
forward. Thus the sharp-edged blocks of granite become the
_blades_ in the tools that are to help cut out the contours of
a world's surface. In other words the mass of glacial ice is the
grooving or smoothing _plane_, and the granite blocks, aided
by the ice, become the many and diverse blades in this vast and
irresistible tool. Some cut deep and square, others with flutings and
bevelings, or curves, but each helps in the great work of planing off,
in some way, the rocky masses over which they move. Hence it will
be seen that the grooving and marking, the fluting and beveling, the
planing and smoothing processes of the ice are materially aided and
abetted by the very hardness and weight of the granite and other rocks
it carries with it.

Now let Joseph LeConte take up the theme and give us of the rich
treasure-store of his knowledge and observation. In the _American
Journal of Science and Arts_, Third Series, for 1875, he discussed
the very field we are now interested in, and his fascinating and
illuminating explanations render the subject perfectly clear. Said he:

Last summer I had again an opportunity of examining the
pathways of some of the ancient glaciers of the Sierra. One
of the grandest of these is what I call the _Lake Valley
Glacier_.[1] Taking its rise in snow fountains among the
high peaks in the neighborhood of Silver Mountain, this great
glacier flowed northward down Lake Valley, and, gathering
tributaries from the summit ridges on either side of the valley,
but especially from the higher western summits, it filled the
basin of Lake Tahoe, forming a great "mer de glace," 50 miles
long, 15 miles wide, and at least 2000 feet deep, and finally
escaped northeastward to the plains. The outlets of this great
"mer de glace" are yet imperfectly known. A part of the ice
certainly escaped by Truckee Canyon (the present outlet of the
Lake); a part probably went over the northeastern margin of
the basin. My studies during the summer were confined to some
of the larger tributaries of this great glacier.

[Footnote 1: This is the name given by Dr. LeConte to the Basin in
which Lake Tahoe rests and including the meadow lands above Tallac.]

[Illustration: Pyramid Peak and Lake of the Woods, near Lake Tahoe,

[Illustration: Snow Bank, Desolation Valley, near Lake Tahoe]

[Illustration: Grass Lake, near Glen Alpine Springs]

_Truckee Canyon and Donner Lake Glaciers_. I have said
that one of the outlets of the great "mer de glace" was by
the Truckee River Canyon. The stage road to Lake Tahoe runs in
this canyon for fifteen miles. In most parts of the canyon the
rocks are volcanic and crumbling, and therefore ill adapted
to retain glacial marks; yet in some places where the rock
is harder these marks are unmistakable. On my way to and from
Lake Tahoe, I observed that the Truckee Canyon glacier
was joined at the town of Truckee by a short but powerful
tributary, which, taking its rise in an immense rocky
amphitheater surrounding the head of Donner Lake, flowed
eastward. Donner Lake, which occupies the lower portion of
this amphitheater, was evidently formed by the down-flowing
of the ice from the steep slopes of the upper portion near the
_summit_. The stage road from Truckee to the summit runs
along the base of a _moraine_ close by the margin of
the lake on one side, while on the other side, along
the apparently almost perpendicular rocky face of the
amphitheater, 1000 feet above the surface of the lake, the
Central Pacific Railroad winds its fearful way to the same
place. In the upper portion of this amphitheater large patches
of snow still remain unmelted during the summer.

My examination of these two glaciers, however, was very
cursory. I hasten on, therefore, to others which I traced more

Lake Tahoe lies countersunk on the very top of the Sierra.
This great range is here divided into two summit ridges,
between which lies a trough 50 miles long, 20 miles wide, and
3000 to 3500 feet deep. This trough is Lake Valley. Its lower
half is filled with the waters of Lake Tahoe.
The area of this Lake is about 250 square miles, its depth
1640 feet, and its altitude 6200 feet. It is certain that
during the fullness of glacial times this trough was a great
"mer de glace," receiving tributaries from all directions
except the north. But as the Glacial Period waned--as the
great "mer de glace" dwindled and melted away, and the lake
basin became occupied by water instead, the tributaries still
remained as separate glaciers flowing into the Lake. The
tracks of these lingering small glaciers are far more easily
traced and their records more easily read, than those of the
greater but more ancient glacier of which they were once but
the tributaries.

Of the two summit ridges mentioned above the western is the
higher. It bears the most snow _now_, and in glacial
times gave origin to the grandest glaciers. Again: the peaks
on both these summits rise higher and higher as we go toward
the upper or southern end of the Lake. Hence the largest
glaciers ran into the Lake at its _southwestern end_.
And, since the mountain slopes here are toward the northeast
and therefore the shadiest and coolest, here also the glaciers
have had the greatest vitality and lived the longest, and
have, therefore, left the plainest records. Doubtless, careful
examination would discover the pathways of glaciers running
into the Lake from the eastern summit also; but I failed to
detect any very clear traces of such, either on the eastern or
on the northern portion of the western side of the Lake; while
between the southwestern end and Sugar Pine Point, a distance
of only eight or ten miles, I saw distinctly the pathways of
five or six. North of Sugar Pine Point there are also several.
_They are all marked by moraine ridges running down from
the summits and projecting as points into the Lake_.
The pathways of three of these glaciers I studied somewhat
carefully, and after a few preliminary remarks, will describe
in some detail.

Mountains are the culminating points of the scenic grandeur
and beauty of the earth. They are so, because they are also
the culminating points of all geological agencies--igneous
agencies in mountain _formation_, aqueous agencies in
mountain _sculpture_. Now, I have already said that the
mountain peaks which stand above the Lake on
every side are highest at the southwestern end, where they
rise to the altitude of 3000 feet above the lake surface, or
between 9000 and 10,000 feet above the sea. Here, therefore,
ran in the greatest glaciers; here we find the profoundest
glacial sculpturings; and here also are clustered all the
finest beauties of this the most beautiful of mountain lakes.
I need only name Mount Tallac, Fallen Leaf Lake, Cascade Lake,
and Emerald Bay, all within three or four miles of each other
and of the Tallac House. These three exquisite little lakes
(for Emerald Bay is also almost a lake), nestled closely
against the loftiest peaks of the western summit ridge, are
all perfect examples of glacial lakes.

South of Lake Tahoe, Lake Valley extends for fifteen miles as
a plain, gently rising southward. At its lower end it is but
a few feet above the lake surface, covered with glacial drift
modified by water, and diversified, especially on its western
side, by debris ridges, the moraines of glaciers which
continued to flow into the valley or into the Lake long after
the main glacier, of which they were once tributaries, had
dried up. On approaching the south end of the Lake by steamer,
I had observed these long ridges, divined their meaning, and
determined on a closer acquaintance. While staying at the
Tallac House I repeatedly visited them and explored the
canyons down which their materials were brought. I proceed to
describe them.

_Fallen Leaf Lake Glacier_. Fallen Leaf Lake lies on the plain
of Lake Valley, about one and a half miles from Lake Tahoe, its
surface but a few feet above the level of the latter Lake[2];
but its bottom far, probably several hundred feet, below that
level. It is about three to three and one-half miles long and
one and one-fourth miles wide. From its upper end runs a canyon
bordered on either side by the highest peaks in this region. The
rocky walls of this canyon terminate on the east side at the
head of the lake, but on the west side, a little farther down.
The lake is bordered on each side by an admirably marked debris
ridge (moraine) three hundred feet high, four miles long, and
one and one-half to two miles apart. These moraines may be
traced back to the termination of the rocky ridges which bound
the canyon. On one side the moraine lies wholly on the plain; on
the other side its upper part lies against the slope of Mount
Tallac. Near the lower end of the lake a somewhat obscure branch
ridge comes off from each main ridge, and curving around it
forms an imperfect terminal moraine through which the outlet of
the lake breaks its way.

[Footnote 2: Professor Price informs me there is a difference of
eighty feet between the level of Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake.]

On ascending the canyon the glaciation is very conspicuous,
and becomes more and more beautiful at every step. From Glen
Alpine Springs upward it is the most perfect I have ever seen.
In some places the white rocky bottom of the canyon, for many
miles in extent, is smooth and polished and gently undulating,
like the surface of a glassy but billowy sea. The glaciation
is distinct also up the sides of the canyon 1000 feet above
its floor.

There can be no doubt, therefore, that a glacier once came
down this canyon filling it 1000 feet deep, scooped out Fallen
Leaf Lake just where it struck the plain and changed its angle
of slope, and pushed its snout four miles out on the level
plain, nearly to the present shores of Lake Tahoe, dropping
its debris on either side and thus forming a bed for itself.
In its subsequent retreat it seems to have rested its
snout some time at the lower end of Fallen Leaf Lake, and
accumulated there an imperfect terminal moraine.

_Cascade Lake Glacier_. Cascade Lake, like Fallen Leaf
Lake, is about one and one-half miles from Lake Tahoe, but,
unlike Fallen Leaf Lake, its discharge creek has considerable
fall, and the lake surface is, therefore, probably 100 feet
above the level of the greater lake. On either side of this
creek, from the very border of Lake Tahoe, runs a moraine
ridge up to the lake, and thence along each side of the lake
up to the rocky points which terminate the true mountain
canyon above the head of the lake. I have never anywhere seen
more perfectly defined moraines. I climbed over the larger
western moraine and found that it is partly merged into the
eastern moraine of Emerald Bay to form a medial at least
300 feet high, and of great breadth. From the surface of the
little lake the curving branches of the main moraine, meeting
below the lake to form a terminal moraine, are very distinct.
At the head of the lake there
is a perpendicular cliff over which the river precipitates
itself, forming a very pretty cascade of 100 feet or more. On
ascending the canyon above the head of the lake, for several
miles, I found, everywhere, over the lip of the precipice,
over the whole floor of the canyon, and up the sides 1000 feet
or more, the most perfect glaciation.

There cannot, therefore, be the slightest doubt that this also
is the pathway of a glacier which once ran into Lake
Tahoe. After coming down its steep rocky bed, this glacier
precipitated itself over the cliff, scooped out the lake at
its foot, and then ran on until it bathed its snout in the
waters of Lake Tahoe, and probably formed icebergs there. In
its subsequent retreat it seems to have dropped more debris in
its path and formed a more perfect terminal moraine than did
Fallen Leaf Glacier.

_Emerald Bay Glacier_. All that I have said of Fallen
Leaf Lake and Cascade Lake apply, almost word for word, to
Emerald Bay. This beautiful bay, almost a lake, has also been
formed by a glacier. It also is bounded on either side by
moraines, which run down to and even project into Lake Tahoe,
and may be traced up to the rocky points which form the mouth
of the canyon at the head of the bay. Its eastern moraine, as
already stated, is partly merged into the western moraine
of Cascade Lake, to form a huge medial moraine. Its western
moraine lies partly against a rocky ridge which runs down to
Lake Tahoe to form Rubicon Point. At the head of the bay, as
at the head of Cascade Lake, there is a cliff about 100 feet
high, over which the river precipitates itself and forms a
beautiful cascade. Over the lip of this cliff, and in the bed
of the canyon above, and up the sides of the cliff-like walls,
1000 feet or more, the most perfect glaciation is found. The
only difference between this glacier and the two preceding is,
that it ran more deeply into the main lake and the deposits
dropped in its retreat did not rise high enough to cut off
its little rock basin from that lake, but exists now only as a
_shallow bar_ at the mouth of the bay. This bar consists
of _true moraine matter_, i.e., intermingled bowlders
and sand, which may be examined through the exquisitely
transparent water almost as perfectly as if no water were
All that I have described separately and in detail, and
much more, may be taken in at one view from the top of Mount
Tallac. From this peak nearly the whole course of these three
glaciers, their fountain amphitheaters, their canyon beds, and
their lakes enclosed between their moraine arms, may be seen
at once. The view from this peak is certainly one of the
finest that I have ever seen. Less grand and diversified in
mountain forms than many from peaks above the Yosemite, it
has added beauty of extensive water surface, and the added
interest of several glacial pathways in a limited space. The
observer sits on the very edge of the fountain amphitheaters
still holding large masses of snow; immediately below, almost
at his feet, lie glistening, gem-like, in dark rocky setting,
the three exquisite little lakes; on either side of these,
embracing and protecting them, stretch out the moraine arms,
reaching toward and directing the eye to the great Lake,
which lies, map-like, with all its sinuous outlines perfectly
distinct, even to its extreme northern end, twenty-five to
thirty miles away. As the eye sweeps again up the canyon-beds,
little lakes, glacier scooped rock basins, filled with
ice-cold water, flash in the sunlight on every side. Twelve or
fifteen of these may be seen.

From appropriate positions on the surface of Lake Tahoe, also,
all the moraine ridges are beautifully seen at once, but the
glacial lakes and the canyon-beds, of course, cannot be seen.

There are several questions of a general nature suggested by
my examination of these three glacial pathways, which I have
thought best to consider separately.

_a. Evidences of the existence of the Great Lake Valley
Glacier_. On the south shore of Lake Tahoe, and especially
at the northern or lower end of Fallen Leaf Lake, I found
many pebbles and some large bowlders of a beautiful striped
agate-like slate. The stripes consisted of alternate bands
of black and translucent white, the latter weathering into
milk-white, or yellowish, or reddish. It was perfectly evident
that these fragments were brought down from the canyon above
Fallen Leaf Lake. On ascending this canyon I easily found the
parent rock of these pebbles and bowlders.
the It is a powerful outcropping ledge of beautifully striped
siliceous slate, full of fissures and joints, and easily
broken into blocks of all sizes, crossing the canyon about
a half mile above the lake. This rock is so peculiar and so
easily identified that its fragments become an admirable index
of the extent of the glacial transportation. I have, myself,
traced these pebbles only a little way along the western
shores of the great Lake, as my observations were principally
confined to this part; but I learn from my brother, Professor
John LeConte, and from Mr. John Muir, both of whom have
examined the pebbles I have brought home, that precisely
similar fragments are found in great abundance all along the
western shore from Sugar Pine Point northward, and especially
on the extreme northwestern shore nearly thirty miles from
their source. I have visited the eastern shore of the Lake
somewhat more extensively than the western, and nowhere did I
see similar pebbles. Mr. Muir, who has walked around the Lake,
tells me that they do not occur on the eastern shore. We have,
then, in the distribution of these pebbles, demonstrative
evidence of the fact that Fallen Leaf Lake glacier was once a
tributary of a much greater glacier which filled Lake Tahoe.

The only other agency to which we could attribute this
transportation is that of shore ice and icebergs, which
probably did once exist on Lake Tahoe; but the limitation of
the pebbles to the western, and especially the northwestern
shores, is in exact accordance with the laws of glacial
transportation, but contrary to those of floating ice
transportation--for lake ice is carried only by winds, and
would, therefore, deposit equally on all shores.

Again: I think I find additional evidence of a Lake Tahoe
"mer de glace" in the contrasted character of the northern and
southern shores of this Lake.

All the little glacial lakes described above are deep at the
upper end and shallow at the lower end. Further, all of them
have a sand beach and a sand flat at the upper end, and great
bowlders thickly scattered in the shallow water, and along the
shore at the lower end. These facts are easily explained,
if we remember that while the glacial _scooping_ was
principally at the upper end, the glacial
_droppings_ were principally at the lower end. And
further: that while the _glacial_ deposit was principally
at the lower end, the _river_ deposit, since the glacial
epoch, has been wholly at the upper end.

Now the great Lake, also, has a similar structure. It also has
a beautiful sand and gravel beach all along its upper shore,
and a sand flat extending above it; while at its lower, or
northern end, thickly strewed in the shallow water, and along
the shore line, and some distance above the shore line, are
found in great abundance _bowlders of enormous size_.
May we not conclude that similar effects have been produced by
similar causes--that these huge bowlders were dropped by the
great glacier at its lower end? Similar bowlders are also
found along the northern portion of the eastern shore, because
the principal flow of the ice-current was from the southwest,
and in the fulness of glacial times the principal exit was
over the northeastern lip of the basin.

_b. Origin of Lake Tahoe_. That Lake Tahoe was once
wholly occupied by ice, I think, is certain; but that it
was scooped out by the Lake Valley glacier is perhaps more
doubtful. All other Sierra lakes which I have seen certainly
owe their origin to glacial agency. Neither do I think we
should be staggered by the size or enormous depth of this
Lake. Yet, from its position, it may be a plication-hollow,
or a trough produced by the formation of two parallel mountain
ridges, and afterward modified by glacial agency, instead of a
pure glacial-scooped rock-basin. In other words, Lake Valley,
with its two summit ridges, _may be regarded as a phenomenon
belonging to the order of mountain-formation and not to the
order of mountain sculpture_. I believe an examination of
the rocks of the two summit ridges would probably settle
this. In the absence of more light than I now have, I will not
hazard an opinion.[3]

[Footnote 3: This question practically has been settled by Mr.
Lindgren, and his conclusions are given in an earlier chapter.]

_c. Passage of slate into granite_. From the commencement
of the rocky canyon at the head of Fallen Leaf Lake, and up
for about two miles, the canyon walls and bed are composed
of _slate_. The slate, however, becomes more and more
metamorphic as we go up, until it passes into what
much resembles _trap_. In some places it looks like
_diorite_ and in others like _porphyry_. I saw no
evidence, however, of any outburst. This latter rock passes
somewhat more rapidly into _granite_ at Glen Alpine
Springs. From this point the canyon bed and lower walls are
granite, but the highest peaks are still a dark, splintery,
metamorphic slate. The glacial erosion has here cut through
the slate and bitten deep into the underlying granite. The
passage from slate through porphyritic diorite into granite
may, I think, be best explained by the increasing degree of
metamorphism, and at the same time a change of the original
sediments at this point; granite being the last term of
metamorphism of pure clays, or clayey sandstones, while bedded
diorites are similarly formed from ferruginous and calcareous
slates. Just at the junction of the harder and tougher granite
with the softer and more jointed slates, occur, as might
be expected, cascades in the river. It is probable that the
cascades at the head of Cascade Lake and Emerald Bay mark,
also, the junction of the granite with the slate--only
the junction here is covered with debris. Just at the same
junction, in Fallen Leaf Lake Canyon (Glen Alpine Basin),
burst out the waters of Glen Alpine Springs, highly charged
with bicarbonates of iron and soda.

_d. Glacial Deltas_. I have stated that the moraines of

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