The Land Of Big Water
Pick your pleasure. In the summer, there’s ballooning, boating, biking, snorkeling, golf, hunting, and fishing. In the winter, choose skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating. And, of course, there’s that year-round sport: gambling! You’ll find there is always something to do in Lake Tahoe, which is why it’s the perfect place to buy a retirement or vacation home.
With a population of 65,000 and an elevation of about 6,223 feet, the greater Tahoe Basin claims to have 300-plus sunny days per year. Annual rainfall averages 8.3 inches; snowfall, an amazing 18 feet. Summers in Tahoe are delightful. The average high temperature in July is 79, and the nights are clear and cool. When summer changes to fall, you’ll find the trees and landscape as vividly colored as on any New England country road. In the winter, don’t forget your mittens. Average daytime temperature is 36, with a low of 16.
The Lake Tahoe Basin is believed to have formed thanks to the rise and fall of the land caused by shifting geological faults. The crystalline blue lake is 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, with 72 miles of shoreline. About 1,645 at its deepest point, it’s the 10th deepest lake on earth. It is split roughly down its middle between the states of California and Nevada.
The human history of the area dates back some 10,000 years, when the lake was the summer home of Washoe Indians. Westerners discovered the lake in 1844, when explorer/pioneer John C. Fremont first gazed down on the lake from a 10,651-foot peak. Fremont wrote, “...I ascended today the highest peak...from which we had a beautiful view of a mountain lake at our feet, about 15 miles in length, and so nearly surrounded by mountains that we could not discover an outlet.”
Fremont and his exhausted companions finally did discover an outlet. In Fremont’s enthusiasm to traverse that pass, he apparently didn’t think to name the lake. In 1852, the lake was dubbed Lake Bigler, named for a man who was not only California’s third governor, but also the leader of the rescue party that saved a group of now famous emigrants stranded in the area in 1846 – the Donner Party.
But the Bigler name really never caught on, and within a few years the lake was more commonly known by its Indian name, Tahoe, which is believed to mean “big water” or “high water” in the Washoe language.
By the 1890s, Lake Tahoe had become a popular vacation destination for wealthy families from San Francisco, Sacramento, and Virginia City. From the 1920s on, tourism continued to grow as the area became more accessible – with the paving of roads – and the development of lodges and hotels.
In 1960, Lake Tahoe entered the international spotlight when it hosted the Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley.
Squaw Valley is one of many upscale residential communities in the Tahoe Basin. Others are Incline Village on the north shore of the lake and Zephyr Cove and South Lake Tahoe on the south. Although there are beautiful homes for sale below $1,000,000, luxurious, lakefront, custom-built homes are being sold for multi-millions.
The Basin’s community calendar is packed year-round. In the summer, you’ll find weekly jazz concerts and photographic and fine art displays at the Tallac Historic Site. Tallac is also host of the annual Gatsby Festival, designed to bring back the feel of 1920s “Old Tahoe.” Lake Tahoe also sponsors an annual outdoor Shakespeare Festival. There is also a huge annual Labor Day event. Recent celebrations have included a sternwheeler race, a fishing derby, a food and wine festival, and the biggest Labor Day music pyrotechnical show in the West. Snowfest is an action-packed 10-day annual winter carnival.
And let us not forget the casinos on the Nevada side, which include Caesars Tahoe, Harrah’s Tahoe, and other familiar names. These casinos offer much more than just gaming. You can catch a show featuring a superstar or relax in a luxurious spa.
Lake Tahoe is a splendid, scenic wonderland but not terribly far from the big city. South Lake Tahoe is 50 miles from Reno, 98 from Sacramento, and 200 from San Francisco.