Posted on November 15, 2012
Lake Tahoe is incredible. I have lived near here my entire life and it still takes my breath away to look at this glorious jewel of the Sierras.
According to the United States Geological Survey, “Lake Tahoe is located along the border of California and Nevada. About one-third of the basin is in Nevada and two-thirds is in California. The basin is bounded by the Sierra Nevada to the west and the Carson Range to the east. The Lake Tahoe Basin was formed by geologic block (normal) faulting about 2 to 3 million years ago. The down-dropping of the Lake Tahoe Basin and the uplifting of the adjacent mountains resulted in dramatic topographic relief in the region. Mountain peaks rise to more than 10,000 ft (3,048 m) above sea level. The surface of Lake Tahoe has an average elevation of about 6,225 ft (1,897 m).
Lake Tahoe was occupied by the Washoe Tribe for many centuries. The Washoe Indians were hunting and fishing in the area long before General John C. Fremont encountered it in 1844 during his exploration of the Far West. Since then, public appreciation of Lake Tahoe has grown. Efforts were made during the 1912, 1913, and 1918 congressional sessions to designate the basin as a national park but were unsuccessful.”
The name Tahoe has an interesting and disputed history. According to tales and Mark Twain-style facts, the lake has been called a variety of names my map-makers and early settlers such as Lake Fremont, Mountain Lake and even officially named Lake Bigler after California’s third governor, John Bigler.
I prefer some of the tales that are outlined by http://www.rubiconbay.net/name.htm as follows:
“John Charles Fremont, in 1844, had heard “Tah-ve” from the friendly Washoe Indians defined as “snow.” Henry DeGroot, who listened attentively to the Washoes and Paiutes, interpreted “Tah-oo-e” as meaning “much water” and “Tah-oo” as simply “water.” Other spellings of the word were given as “Taa-joe,” “Ta-ho,” “Ta-jo,” and even “Pah-hoe.” To complicate matters further a Nevada newsman voiced the opinion that “Ta-au” in Washoe dialect was pronounced “Was-soo” and sometimes even “Da-au” with the word meaning “lake.”
Clear water, deep water, big water, snow water, and fish lake were additional fist shaking translations argued back and forth with every interpretation actually the opinion of some white man.
One of the more logical explanations of how the word Tahoe came to be applied to the lake is that Spanish explorers preceded Fremont in the discovery of this body of water, possibly in the early 1800’s and noting its obvious resemblance to a deep chasm filled with water gave it the Spanish name, “Tajo,” pronounced “Ta-ho.”
As “Tajo” is variously translated “cleft,” incision” and “cut,” in addition to chasm, it is conjectured that “Tajo” could have entered the Washoe Indian vocabulary as easily as other Spanish words have entered native languages.
Pronunciation of the word Tahoe has also been the source of heated debate for nearly a century. Pioneer Lakers pronounce “Ta-hoe” as “Tay-hoe,” and the true mark of the early lake resident is the inflection he or she gives the word. One venerable gentleman, who had lived 80 years in the Tahoe region, insisted that tey always used to say “Tay-ho” and “Tellec.” Another old-timer with a background of seven and on-half decades at the lake indicated that “Tay-ho” was the accepted pronunciation until the steamer Tahoe was launched in 1896, at which time the pronunciation was changed to “Ta-hoe.”
Editor R. E. Wood, writing in the Tahoe Tattler during the summer of 1881, added and element of confusion to the accepted version of Tahoe’s early day pronunciation. He chided his readers, “Only the Washoe Indians say ‘Tay-hoe,’ the white men say, and correctly so, ‘Ta-hoe’.”
The generally accepted interpretation of Tahoe today is “Big Water” and, in spite of the eminent Mark Twain’s views, Tahoe symbolizes the epitome of magnificence found in those high country reaches of the world wherever blue sky, towering mountain peaks and snow water combine.
This holds true today with the name Tahoe, although it took a full 75 years from the passing of the statute legalizing Lake Bigler, before the California Legislature solemnly convened and rescinded the act.
The new statute read, “The lake known as Bigler shall hereinafter be known as Lake Tahoe.” A spirited issue had at last been laid to rest.”
For us here in the Sierras, winter hasn’t fully arrived yet even though we do currently have a touch of snow. The ski resorts are making snow and will open this weekend. Take one last look at some Indian Summer shots of “Big Water” and let me know what you think.