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August 23, 1863: Lake Tahoe

August 23, 2013

Tahoe 02

Lake Tahoe (vicinity of Camp 139); by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 139

We camped here over yesterday and today, to get barometrical observations and let our animals rest in the good pasture they find here. We are camped in a pretty grove near the Lake House and a few rods from the lake. It is a quiet Sunday, the first we have observed for four weeks….

Tahoe 01

Lake Tahoe; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Lake Tahoe, once called Lake Bigler and as such is on your maps, is the largest sheet of fresh water in the state. Recent measurements in connection with the boundary survey make it twenty-three miles long and ten wide, but it has always before passed for much more. It has been recently sounded; its greatest depth is 1,523 feet, and most of it is over 1,000 feet deep. It lies at an altitude of over six thousand feet, while around it rise mountains four thousand feet higher. Its Indian name, Tahoe, was dropped and it was called after Governor Bigler, a Democratic politician. He was once of some notoriety here, but since he has turned “Secesh” all the Union papers have raised the cry to have his name dropped, and the old Indian name has been revived and will probably prevail.

The purity of its waters, its great depth, its altitude, and the clear sky all combine to give the lake a bright but intensely blue color; it is bluer even than the Mediterranean, and nearly as picturesque as Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Its beautiful waters and the rugged mountains rising around it, spotted with snow which has perhaps lain for centuries, form an enchanting picture. It lacks many of the elements of beauty of the Swiss lakes; it lacks the grassy, green, sloping hills, the white-walled towns, the castles with their stories and histories, the chalets of the herders—in fact, it lacks all the elements that give their peculiar charm to the Swiss scenery—its beauty is its own, is truly Californian.

primrose monkeys

Mimulus primuloides; by randomtruth, on Flickr

The lake abounds in the largest trout in the world, a species of speckled trout that often weighs over twenty pounds and sometimes as much as thirty pounds! Smaller trout are abundant in the streams. An Indian brought some into camp. I gave him fifty cents for two, and they made us two good meals and were excellent fish. He had speared them in a stream near.

Specimens collected: Utricularia macrorhiza; Arnica chamissonis; Mimulus primuloides.

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