Good morning and welcome to our final blog of March 2008. Sunrise Santa Cruz has returned from a week hiatus feeling rested, rejuvenated and ready to roll. Having watched enough basketball this weekend to impress even the Dali Lama, who’s a major college hoops fan, I am ready to report on one of California’s most beautiful treasures. No, not the Staples Center in LA where Kobe Bryant performs his nightly magic, but I’m thinking about Blue Heaven, the ultimate Lake Show in the Sierras.
Yes, I’m talking about Lake Tahoe, a lovely four-hour journey east from Santa Cruz, which has 72 miles of shoreline, with two-thirds in California, one third in Nevada. It is approximately 22 miles at its longest point and 12 miles at its widest. It is fed by 63 streams, two hot springs and one babbling brook. The word Tahoe is thought to be derived from the Indian Washo word Da’ ow, which means “water in high place.” And here’s a little known fact. A second definition of da’ ow was later discovered to mean ‘if you build ski lifts they will come.’
The first recorded discovery of Lake Tahoe by white explorers not using sunblock was on February 14, 1844, when Charles Fremont and Charles Preuss spotted the lake from atop Red Lake Peak. Fremont named it “Mountain Lake” and then called it L. Bonpland in honor of a French botanist. Why, I don’t know. It was later named Lake Bigler after California’s third governor and renamed Tahoe by Chevrolet’s marketing department in 1945.
The Lake Tahoe Basin was formed by faulting, which is when fractures in the earth’s crust allows blocks of land to rise and sink over a period of several million years. Glaciation played a key role by providing some of the most dramatic shoreline features. A fault on the eastern margin created the “Johnny” Carson Range, while the Sierra Nevada rose out of the shallow sea on the western side. The movement of rock and earth created the high peaks of the Tahoe Basin, along with Lake Tahoe. The movements of Earth, Wind and Fire created “September,” “Sing A Song” and “Boogie Wonderland.”
Now here are some fun facts about the bluest lagoon this side of Brooke Shields. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and the second deepest lake behind Ricki in North America. On July 4, 1875, two men discovered the deepest point in the lake to be 1,645 feet by lowering a leaded champagne bottle on a fishing line from the side of their boat. Following the invention of sonar this was later documented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with the good folks from Dom Perignon. If Lake Tahoe were completely drained (like I feel after writing these blogs,) it would take 700 years and three hours to refill. Furthermore, if Lake Tahoe were emptied, it would submerge a flat area the size of California under 14.5″ of water. There would be enough water to supply everyone in the United States except for Oprah and the Olson twins with 50 gallons of water per day for five years. And believe it or not, the amount of water that evaporates from the surface of Lake Tahoe every year could supply a city the size of Los Angeles for 5 years, which just freaks the Pelligrino people out.
Unlike most heavenly bodies of water, Lake Tahoe does not eventually flow into the ocean. The Truckee River is its only outlet, which flows east into Reno and into Pyramid Lake in Nevada. Just a few years back, the lake was so clear that objects like car keys, wedding rings and Dove Bars could be seen up to depths of 120 feet. As the lovely Cathy Lee Crosby used so say, “That’s Incredible.” One reason the lake is so clear is that 40% of the precipitation falling into the Lake Tahoe basin lands directly on the lake, with the other 60% landing directly on the South shore casinos. Unlike myself, Lake Tahoe is going through a natural aging process, filling up with sediment like any other lake. Additional amounts are washing into the lake at an alarming rate as slopes are cleared for construction and roads are salted and sanded heavily so people can drive their gas guzzlers faster in the winter. Each of these sediment particles carries nutrients which stimulate algae growth that will eventually cloud the famous clarity of the lake. So when you drive to Tahoe, it’s always a sedimental journey.
Studies have also shown that the lake has warmed up due to global warming. Though still one of the cleanest, clearest lakes in the world, Lake Tahoe has been gradually losing cleanliness and clarity primarily due to the impact of man, and I’m not talking about Al Gore. We need to pay attention to this Lake in the Sky because much like “Dancing With the Stars,” it is a national treasure and except for my daughter’s eyes you just don’t see blue like that every day. As Geoffrey Schlader, director of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center at UC Davis says, changes in the lake could turn Tahoe’s fabled cobalt-blue water to a murky green in about a decade. “A permanently stratified Lake Tahoe becomes just like any other lake or pond. It is no longer the unique, effervescent jewel, the finest example of nature’s grandeur.” Well said, Geoffrey. And finally, much like this blogger, due to its depth and its continual motion, Lake Tahoe never freezes. And why rust never sleeps.
So that’s a piece of my Tahoe vacation. It was a little cooler in the higher elevation as I was forced to wear my warmer shorts. There’s more high country action on the way so keep your boots on. As a preview for all you WAC fans, the last shot of that wild-looking cloud is from Mount Rose in Reno. I’d like to welcome some new people to the site and tell them that coming up on Wednesday is a sunset that you’ll want to tell your family, friends, and therapists about. It’s a winner, much like number one seeds UCLA, North Carolina, Memphis and Kansas were this weekend. So enjoy the sky, Final Four fans and we’ll catch you for some March magic on Wednesday. Aloha.