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Lake Tahoe 2009 - Day 2

July 30

We decided to take a nice easy drive around the lake, and see what was there. The route around the lake is about 70 miles or so. The reason to do the leisurely drive was twofold: 1) It lets us see if there were any spots we wanted to come back to later, and 2) it gave us another day to acclimate to the altitude (Lake Tahoe is at 6000 feet or so).

One of our first stops was the Visitor Center. Actually it was a pretty lucky stop, as we more or less randomly chose to head down the east side of the lake first, and that happened to be where the Visitor Center was.

A little further down the east side is a view point, where I got this shot:

The water really is that clear. According to some stuff I read at the vista point is that back in the time of Mark Twain, the water clarity of the lake was over 100 feet. They test that by lowering a white plate into the water, and recording how far down it goes before they can’t see it anymore. So back then, you could see over 100 feet straight down into the water! These days, primarily due to human contamination with pesticides, fertilizers, etc, the water clarity is down to around 70 feet, though with increased awareness, and more careful monitoring, they’re hoping to reverse that trend.

A little further down the road, and a short hop up a side road was Spooner Lake:

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Spooner Lake itself is a small lake, beautiful for it’s location but otherwise unremarkable. But according to a helpful volunteer at the Visitor Center, there were supposed to be carvings from Basque Shepherds on the aspen trees in the area. These carvings were called arborglyphs. Apparently these arborglyphs conveyed everything from whom and where the shepherd was grazing the sheep, to erotic messages and pictures, to Basque mythology. Unfortunately, aspen trees at best live to be about 100 years old, so a lot of these arborglyphs have been lost. Also unfortunately, we did not find any of the actual Basque arborglyphs. There were however, modern interpretations.

Continuing on around the lake, we passed through the South Lake Tahoe area. Nothing too remarkable seemed to pop out while we were passing through. It seemed very commercial, more like a beach resort area.

Continuing on around, we got to Emerald Bay.

Emerald Bay is an interesting little spot, it’s an odd protrusion from the main lake itself, and contains Lake Tahoe’s only island, Fannette Island.

Apparently Fannette Island was, for a time, home to a hermit. Here is one version of the story. The only reason I bring this up is because while we were walking around the vista point, a young boy (I’m guessing maybe 8-9 years old), walked up to me while I was looking about and asked me if I was the hermit that lived on the island. He said that he thought I kinda looked like I might be the hermit. I’m not sure what prompted that, or if I should have been offended or not. I did tell him that, sorry no, I was not the hermit, and he seemed a bit disappointed at that.

Continuing around the lake, there were few other vista areas until we got back through the North Tahoe area and we were back where we had started.

From here we went up to Donner Pass. The whole story behind Donner Pass tends to get lost behind the whole cannibalism thing, which was really such a minor aspect of the whole episode. The whole Donner expedition really suffered from just the “perfect storm” (pun intended) of issues that resulted in the expedition being stranded at the pass.

There was the decision to essentially try a new route that was supposed to shave a couple of hundred miles off the trip but instead added 3 weeks to their travel time and used up all of their supplies. They had sent someone ahead to Sutter Fort near Sacramento for supplies, and when that person returned, they told them the road ahead was very rough and difficult. So they decided to stop and rest for a week, which was the next mistake. Winter came very early and hard to the area with one of the worst storms ever recorded for the Sierras, blanketing the area in snow, and forcing the group to stop near what is now Donner Lake. The rest of the story is really about their struggle for survival in snows that eventually were 22 feet deep! Out of food, and dying from starvation, some of the people involved eventually resorted to cannibalizing some of the corpses to survive. Of the 91 members who set out, in the end only 49 survived.

To give you an idea of how deep the snow was, this picture by Pam shows the memorial to the Donner party. From the ground to the top of the pillar is 22’ (note that’s not to the top of the statues, just to top of the main pillar)
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(I’ll add the pic when I get it from Pam…in the mean time here’s a link to a picture of the statue.)
Donner Memorial State Park

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