Central Sierra Tahoe Sierra Nature Tahoe Sightseeing


In June 2023 Nora and I visited spectacular Mount Shasta near the southern edge of the Cascade Range in northern California. Shasta is a monster of a compound stratovolcano formed over ~600,000 years by extruded lava and pyroclastic flows issuing from deep vents. The double-peaked, conical-shaped massif towers more than 10,000 feet above the Shasta-Trinity National Forest that surrounds it, with a summit elevation of 14,163 feet. The mountain’s upper slopes support five glaciers, including Whitney Glacier, the largest in California.

Mt. Shasta appears to be comprised of two volcanic cones, but there are four. Satellite cone Shastina (12,330 feet) – to the left in this photo – is about 10,000 years old, having developed after the most recent ice age. It last erupted 200 years ago. Geologically dormant, Mt. Shasta remains a potentially active volcano that last erupted in 1,250 AD per the Smithsonian Institute’s Global Volcanism Program, but this sleeping giant is currently quiescent. The USGS states that eruptions occur about every 600 to 800 years and future volcanic eruptions are inevitable. USGS rates its threat potential as “very high” and although we may not see this bad boy blow, humans in the future undoubtedly will.  

Weather on the mountain can be severe any time of year. It’s a rock with perpetual snow. Legendary California environmentalist John Muir was an intelligent person, but the man had a penchant for putting himself in harms way while he indulged in the wrath of Mother Nature. On April 30, 1875, during an ascent to the summit of Mt. Shasta a violent storm struck, pummeling him and his companion with hail, snow and wind, and only by luck and the grace of God did they survive for him to write the tale.

Spanish colonizers never made it this far north with their hated mission system, forced conversions and slavery, but the Americans did, and they proved more destructive to Native culture. Mt. Shasta has strong cultural and spiritual significance for regional Indians. Artifacts suggest Native Americans have resided in the area for ~9,000 years. The five tribes that live within view of the volcano revere it and have incorporated the mountain into their creation myths and timeless teaching stories.
Like every other California Indian tribe, arrival of Euro-Americans in the mid-19th century led to conflict and death for the First Peoples of the Klamath region. Unknown diseases introduced by Anglos, destruction of waterways due to gold mining and timber harvesting killed off vital salmon stocks, and eviction from traditional homelands nearly eliminated Indigenous inhabitants. Of the thousands of Indians that lived there pre-contact, by 1910 only about 100 remained. Sadly, First Nations not recognized by the U.S. government are called “ghost tribes.” Today surviving descendants work toward restored federal recognition and preservation of their customs and culture.
Today, spiritual tourism by non-Native visitors is big business as seekers from around the world pursue their quest for connection with “angels, aliens and mystical energy” allegedly associated with the imposing mountain. But if Indigenous people recognized the power of Shasta, perhaps there is some tangible otherworldliness after all. Lenticular clouds that frequently form over the isolated, uplifted terrain in spring and fall create impressive UFO-like apparitions, which back in the day were mistakenly associated with alien spacecraft. Some refer to Shasta as the new Roswell, New Mexico, where UFO conspiracy theories abound.
Mt. Shasta generates an imposing presence for residents and visitors for miles around it.
At 6,950 feet, Bunny Flat is the main trailhead and route to the summit of Mt. Shasta and where the scenic Everett Memorial Highway is closed for winter. A popular launching point for cross-country skiers and snowshoers, summer attracts hikers, campers and high-altitude wildlife enthusiasts.
Mount Shasta City makes for a good basecamp for those who prefer a motel to tent or RV camping. The cozy town offers a mellow vibe — unlike Tahoe — and decent restaurants. A short jaunt in the community park near Big Springs Meadow leads you to Spring Creek and the humble headwaters of the Sacramento and Shasta rivers.
Snowmelt from the flanks of Mt. Shasta spawns the headwaters of the Shasta River, the McCloud River and the mighty Sacramento River, lynchpin of the Central Valley Project that provides flood protection, hydroelectric power, agricultural irrigation and municipal water supplies to vast swaths of the Golden State. Age-dating at the spring indicates that this water fell at the 8,000-foot level of Mt. Shasta more than 50 years ago. Signs warn against drinking untested water, but Nora and I witnessed a local filling large containers for consumption. Can’t stop true believers.  
Nearby Castle Creek State Park showcases polished granite domes and dramatic spires more than 170 million years old, the current formations etched and carved by Pleistocene glaciation of the past 12,000 years.
Visitors at the Shasta Dam. During winter storms towering Mt. Shasta snatches snow and rain from moisture-rich clouds and slowly dispenses the water during spring and summer snowmelt. A classic hydrological cycle. Much of it feeds Shasta Lake. Note the die off in the forest.
View of The Three Shastas. Shasta Dam and its reservoir known as Shasta Lake are huge. It was a massive federal project of hydrological superlatives, but like all dams, came with tremendous negative ecological impact. After the wet winter of 2023 water levels have rebounded.
Phuket is the largest island in Thailand and a top tourist destination, but the name makes me chuckle. Apparently, I’m still a juvenile.
What’s in store…for 2024?  Damn! Where’s my Nevada map?

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Central Sierra Climate Change Tahoe Snowstorms Tahoe Weather Weather History

#292: Winter 2023: Facts, not Hyperbole

Now that the snow has settled from the monster winter of 2023, it’s time that we dismiss the sensational headlines and understand that it was not the record season for snow and water in the Tahoe Sierra that the media would have you believe. References to “record snow/precipitation” continue even though data indicate otherwise.

That’s not to say it wasn’t an epic season in California. Officially, 2023 ranks 5th for snowfall at Central Sierra Snow Laboratory near Donner Pass (since 1880), and 5th for snow and 3rd for cold at Tahoe City where weather bureau measurements began in 1909, the longest dataset in the Tahoe Basin.  

NOAA does not use snowfall data from ski areas in its official tallies, but in the Sierra high country incessant atmospheric rivers coupled with consistent below normal temperatures in 2023 translated into seemingly endless powder dumps.

A few California ski resorts set new maximum snowfall records for their locations, including Palisades Tahoe (Squaw Valley) with 723 inches at 8,000 feet elevation. Mammoth Mountain in the southern Sierra blew past its old record with 885 inches (74 feet). Mammoth is still open with top to bottom skiing so get out there if you still need more runs in your quiver.

In the Great Basin, at least 8 Utah resorts set new maximum snowfall totals. Alta Ski Area set a record with 903 inches (75 feet) by the time it closed at the end of April 2023. The region is famous for its light fluffy snow, but for those who got a taste of the bottomless “cold smoke powder” this winter will be bragging about for years to come. Utah hydrologists tallied 30 inches of snow water equivalent (SWE) in the snowpack statewide, also a record.   

In April 2023 I created a Power Point presentation for a client that briefly analyzes last winter’s impact in the Tahoe Sierra and its historical ranking for snow and precipitation. (Precipitation is the combination of rain and water equivalent of snow.) I extracted about 10 slides to illustrate this Tahoe Nugget.


The Northern Sierra is the most important region in California for water storage captured from runoff draining the normally wet watershed north of Highway 50 to Mount Shasta. The Northern Sierra 8-Station Index was established in 1922 to provide hydrologists with vital, real-time data regarding precipitation values throughout this vast region. Note that the precipitation value for 2023 is well shy of the top water years.

Tahoe City’s 316 inches (26.3 ft.) of snowfall in 2023 was good enough for 5th place, but needs another 220 inches ((18.3 ft.) to overtake the 1st place winter of 1952! Check out the July 1952 snowpack below.

I’ve used this slide for years. General Mariano Vallejo was an important Californio and ally of the United States in the Mexican American War (1846-48). Despite the fact that the Americans arrested and confined him to prison for no good reason. Vallejo is not talking about climate change in the modern sense, he’s commending the Americans for their industry and can-do spirit.

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Central Sierra


The Owens Valley along the Eastern Sierra Front is a magical place with world-class views. Bounded by the White-Inyo Mountains to the east and the Sierra Nevada on the west, each with peaks exceeding 14,000-feet, it is considered the deepest valley on the American continents with a 10,000-foot difference between summits to valley floor. The crests between the two towering ranges are only 20 miles apart, with the valley between. Like Lake Tahoe, Owens Valley is a graben, a down-dropped block of land between two vertical faults. Geologically active, an 1872 earthquake on the Lone Pine fault uplifted the Sierra 15 to 20 feet in massive thrusts.

Peering down upon Bishop, California, from a vantage point in the White-Inyo Mountains. Native Americans called the valley Payahuunadu, meaning “place of flowing water.” It used to be flush with water until a Los Angeles water and power utility deceitfully acquired nearly all water rights in the area. The movie Chinatown with actor Jack Nicholson touches on this topic.  

View south along Highway 395 heading to Walker Pass where the Sierra Range begins to peter out. In 1834 mountain man Joseph R. Walker first entered the southern end of Owens Valley via a pass he learned about from Native Americans, now called Walker Pass.

The Manzanar War Relocation Center opened in 1942 as one of 10 such encampments established to incarcerate Japanese immigrants ineligible for citizenship and Japanese American citizens during World War II.

The Alabama Hills are a formation of unusual, eroded rocks and hills located west of Lone Pine at the base of the massive Sierra Front. This National Scenic Area was named for the Confederate warship CSS Alabama by prospectors sympathetic to southern resistance in the American Civil War. Hundreds of movies have been filmed at this iconic western location and every Fall the Lone Pine Film History Museum hosts a festival to honor the industry. Legendary Western actors like John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Gary Cooper and many more rode horses in this spectacular terrain.

At 14,494 feet, Mount Whitney is the highest mountain peak in the lower 48 states. Although it towers two miles above Lone Pine, its profile is a bit muted by the proximity of other peaks and granite needles that exceed 14,000 feet.

I’m a big fan of Highway 395 road trips!

Although it’s hard not to smile at this graffiti in the Alabama Hills, I’m sure the Bureau of Land Management discourages the defacement of this remarkable and fragile ecosystem. Traveling companion Nora O’Neill leaves no trace; takes only pictures. Backcountry code.

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Nevada Characters


A popular stop on a scenic drive around Lake Tahoe is Logan Shoals Vista Point, near historic Glenbrook on Nevada’s beautiful east shore. This overlook is easily accessible by a short stroll off Highway 50, where locals, tourists and wedding photographers appreciate the stunning views. The shoals below were formed by sediment-loading from nearby Logan Creek, but the history behind the family name ascribed to this location is not well-known.

Interpretive plaques at Logan Shoals Vista Point rightly inform visitors about the Washoe Indians who summered at Lake Tahoe for thousands of years. Over millennia the tribe had respected the bounty of the land and water and treated it as such with minimal impact on the region. Starting in 1860, however, the Tahoe Sierra was ravaged in less than 50 years; exploited by gold seekers, timber barons, commercial fishing enterprises and resort entrepreneurs that also privatized much of the property in the second half of the 19th century. But who was Logan?

This story is about Tom Logan, a frontier Nevada lawman, but it was his parents, Carson Valley ranchers Robert and Mary Logan, who established the Logan House hotel at Lake Tahoe in the summer of 1864. The couple bought the choice square-mile parcel with timber and lake frontage in July 1863 for $1,500 — a relatively high price at the time. But with the new Bigler Toll Road passing right by his hostelry, Robert figured he’d make the money back in no time. They opened Logan House in the summer of 1864, just months before Nevada became a state in time to support Abraham Lincoln’s re-election.

Logan House was one of the first commercial teamster and tourist accommodations built at Lake Tahoe, but ultimately the business went bust and the Logan family moved to southern Nevada. I couldn’t find an image of the old hotel, but this is a view from the porch. Note that the building was much closer to the water than the Vista Point.

Thomas W. Logan was born in Franktown, Utah Territory, in 1861, the oldest of seven children. Franktown was an early settlement in Washoe Valley, southwest of present-day Reno. Mary Logan suffered from frail health and died at age 38, six months after giving birth. Robert Logan hired 23-year-old Hannah Hamblin to cook, clean and help raise the kids. Tom was 21 now, and he quickly fell in love with his attractive Mormon caretaker. They married and over the next 20 years had 8 children.

In 1898, at age 37, Tom Logan was sworn in as sheriff of Nye County, Nevada. Tom was a big man at 6’ 4” but well-educated by his father in matters of law and justice and no brute. Nye County is huge; more than 18,000 square miles. It took Sheriff – Tax Assessor Logan 8 days to cross it by horse and buggy. In this photo Big Tom is standing third from left.

In 1900, silver was discovered and Tonopah sprung up as “Queen of the Silver Camps.” Crime in Sheriff Logan’s district went from 22 criminal cases in 1901 to nearly 1,000 in 1904. To acquire more money for their children’s education but against wife Hannah’s moral principles, Tom bought a saloon. Famed gambler/lawman Wyatt Earp also owned a saloon in Tonopah at this time.

In 1902, Logan lost his law badge by 6 votes to miner James Cushing, but Tom was re-elected again in 1905. In early April 1906, Sheriff Logan paid a visit to prostitute May Biggs at a brothel. The two were apparently in a relationship. The following morning, an argument broke out between May and an unwanted loitering customer who attacked her. Dressed in only a nightshirt and unarmed, Logan pursued the culprit to the street where the lawman was shot 5 times without warning. Logan died 2 hours later.

Logan’s death while patronizing a brothel stained his honorable reputation, but the city held a massive funeral for the beloved lawman, complete with marching bands, fire trucks and crowds of mourners. Despite many eyewitness accounts of the brazen killing, the well-known murderer with a long rap sheet was acquitted in what was called “The McCarran Miracle,” named for his defense attorney and future four-term Nevada Senator Pat McCarran’s unwarranted and ferocious attack on Logan’s reputation.

In 2011, more than a century after the killing of Sheriff Tom Logan, the current sheriff of Nye County awarded Logan the department’s Purple Heart and Medal of Valor, thus vindicating and validating his years of distinguished service for the state of Nevada. And the Logan family name is no longer tarnished by a corrupt verdict from so long ago.

To learn more about Tom Logan, read Jackie Boor’s 2014 book “Logan: The Honorable Life and Scandalous Death of a Western Lawman.”

Looking west from Logan Shoals is this view of Cave Rock, an eroded volcanic throat from eons ago. Highway 50 has tunnels bored right through the geologic remnant. Cave Rock has its own fascinating history – see Tahoe Nugget 282.

View of Mt. Tallac and Desolation Wilderness from Cave Rock.

Classic Tahoe scenery from Logan Shoals Vista Point. Note the distant “cross of Mt. Tallac” under the tree branch. The cross forms each spring as the winter snowpack melts away.


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Tahoe Ski History


Tahoe Sierra ski resorts closed early for the 2020 season due to Coronavirus. But nobody told the Storm King and a prolonged cool and unsettled weather pattern has continued in the West, with appreciable snow still falling in the mountains on occasion. More snow is expected this weekend with 2 feet or more on the slopes. It’s only early April in the high country; normally a great month for winter sports with warmer, sunny days, granular corn snow and diminished avalanche danger in the backcountry. Despite a light winter with only about 65 percent of average precipitation so far, a substantial snowpack still covers the ground.

This spring, people who want to go downhill skiing or snowboarding will have to climb for it. Just like it was before rope tows and ski lifts were invented in the 1930s. Back in the day, everyone earned their turns with sweat and grit. The 1930s were the breakout decade for alpine skiing in the United States. The marketing and promotion of the sport focused on San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and Los Angeles. It rarely snows in those locations, but that’s where the people who were willing to indulge in winter sports lived — so the marketing came to them.

The following was excerpted from my book: Longboards to Olympics: A Century of Tahoe Winter Sports.

Before the invention of uphill conveyances like rope tows and chairlifts, the most popular form of skiing was jumping. You could build a jump in the dead of winter and then pack a lot of paying spectators into an unused football or baseball stadium. Most importantly from a sporting perspective, jumpers were judged and scored by form and distance. There were clear winners and losers. In the late 1920’s, locals in Truckee, California, were the first in the West to build a wooden scaffold jump, on the town’s winter sports grounds appropriately called Hilltop.

Note the motion picture camera box on a tripod. Truckee jumpers were often filmed for intermission clips in movie theaters in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Southern Pacific Railroad pitched snowbound Truckee for Hollywood film producers looking for winter scenery. SP also ran “Snowball Specials” from San Francisco to Truckee for weekend excursions.

The Auburn Ski Club had a lot of muscle in the Far West. One of the club’s founders was Wendell Robie (right), an avid outdoorsman, equestrian, businessman, and also mayor of Auburn, CA. Bill Berry (left) was a ski journalist who moved to Reno in 1928. Bill lived into his 90s and I knew him well. Besides covering ski races and meets, he worked as a stringer for a New York newspaper writing about the colorful Reno Divorce Era in the 1930s and 40s. Bill was also a rare reporter trusted by Frank Sinatra. This photo was taken during the dedication of a monument to the legendary skiing mailman, John “Snowshoe” Thompson at Boreal Mountain Resort. The skis they are holding were 100 years old.

Before 1932, California did not plow mountain roads during winter months. If you wanted to cross the Tahoe Sierra in your automobile, it was loaded onto a railroad flatcar in Sacramento and then unloaded in Reno, Nevada. Or vice versa. In January 1931 the Auburn Ski Club successfully petitioned the California State Assembly to fund highway snow removal. The ski club argued that by opening Interstate 40 (precursor to Interstate 80), it would spur the development of ski resorts along the highway that would generate money for the state’s coffers. Keeping the road clear is a monumental task: Placer County — which includes North Lake Tahoe — has the highest average annual snowfall of any county in the lower 48 states.

Once California began plowing Interstate 40 over the Central Sierra, skiers’ dreams came to pass and the 40 miles of snowbelt from Cisco to Soda Springs blossomed with Mom and Pop rope tow ski operations, restaurants and lodges. And the automobile replaced the train as the mode of travel to or through snow country.

In January 1934, the Auburn Ski Club hosted a ski jumping tournament on the U.C. Berkeley campus. 43,000 cubic feet of snow were hauled in by train. Jumpers landed on a narrow stretch of straw bedding covered with 6 inches of snow. Nearly 50,000 spectators showed up.

The first Berkeley event was so successful that another tournament was held in 1935. Volunteers erected a scaffold jump 85-feet high with a 170-foot long slide angled at a steep pitch. Skiers were traveling 60 mph when they hit the launch point. The best jumpers in America showed up, but it was Auburn Ski Club’s own U.S. ski champion Roy Mikkelsen (shown here) who won with a 139-foot leap. For the second year in a row, the Berkeley ski jumping tournament ended with a huge, free-for-all snowball fight.

In February 1939, the Auburn Ski Club organized a grand finale tournament over several weekends on Treasure Island in San Francisco. The city was hosting the Golden Gate International Exposition, a world’s fair that among other things celebrated the opening of San Francisco’s two major bridges. The S.F.-Oakland bay bridge opened in 1936 and the iconic Golden Gate the following year. For the ski jumps, a massive tower was engineered with portable steel sections 186-feet high. Man-made snow was used this time: 500 tons of ice were ground to particles and blown on the jump and straw-cushioned landing area.

Jumper’s view down the ramp. Warm temperatures made the snow thick and slushy on Treasure Island and several skiers suffered twists, sprains and fractures. At times blustery winds hampered jumping distances and one skier was blown off course, landing in the reserved seat section. Luckily, Al Henry, Jr. of Tahoe City was only “slightly shaken” from his mishap.

One weekend an intercollegiate ski jumping contest was held, sponsored by the University of Nevada – Reno ski team. Blustery winds were again a problem, but the biggest distraction for the young men was Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch, a performance which featured women wearing cowboy hats, gun belts, boots, and little else. From the jump tower, the college athletes had a birds-eye view of the provocative attraction. Sally’s burlesque entertainment was only one of several “flesh shows” in the Treasure Island Amusement Zone, also known as the “Gayway.”


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Tahoe Weather


Lake Tahoe succumbed to Coronavirus mitigation in a big way last weekend. Just before lucrative Spring Break week and as the juiciest storm of this sketchy winter season was rolling in, Vail Resorts decided to close their three popular ski areas in the region — Northstar, Heavenly Valley and Kirkwood — due to the virus and its potential health impacts on their employees and guests: Other resorts, big and small, corporate or privately-owned, briefly resisted the sudden and unprecedented move, but then quickly fell in domino fashion.

Cross-country and back-country alpine skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling are still robust outdoor activities to be enjoyed, especially in all the fresh snow falling this week, but they represent a minuscule fraction of the region’s important winter economy. As a final nail in the coffin, brew pubs, bars, wine tasting rooms, casinos and restaurant dining rooms are closing too. Wow! So that’s where we stand.

Let’s roll back the tape and review how this winter played out up to this point. Here’s a quick photo essay:

A Sept. 29 snowfall got the juices flowing for an early winter, but the next two months were warm and bone dry. In early November, Squaw Valley fired up its snow-guns although warm temperatures limited production. This is the base-area beginner area for little tykes. The weather-protected moving carpet conveyance whisks kids along as young as 3 up for their first lessons.

A parade of cold winter storms beginning Thanksgiving weekend did wonders for skiing and riding conditions at Tahoe resorts. Squaw Valley looking good for early season.

High pressure in January 2020 kept storms away, but let low-level stratus clouds form due to temperature inversions. In a mixing atmosphere it’s warmer at the surface and the air temperature cools with altitude. An inversion reverses that temperature profile and the colder air near the surface triggers the formation of ground or low-level clouds. This photo from Diamond Peak ski resort shows an inversion-cloud formation over western Nevada looking south.

Low-level inversion clouds in the Tahoe Basin on January 25, 2012. I took this image from the Mt. Rose Highway under a full moon. Looking west with Squaw Valley in distance on right.

After a record-setting February with virtually no rain or snow, on March 14 the National Weather Service warned that the biggest storm of the winter was heading to the Sierra. This was not a jet stream-driven cold front barreling through, it was a slow-moving system that was going to drift around for awhile giving it time to put down some decent snow and precipitation. In fact, it’s still overhead but weakening today. (March 19, 2020).

In three days, the Sierra snowpack improved markedly, but the regional watershed is still suffering a severe water deficit. There are more cold and wet storm systems expected in the first part of next week, but the pace will have to pick up to erase the hydrologic deficit and make this a proverbial “Miracle March.”

Associated Press photo from Heavenly Valley after the storm’s first snowfall had really improved skiing conditions in the Tahoe Sierra — with much more to come. Unfortunately, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, within days all resorts had closed for the season.

This graphic is courtesy of Jan Null, owner of Golden Gate Weather Services. A quick look confirms that parts of southern California got its fair share of precipitation this winter, but the most vital watershed and reservoir systems are all in the north state. The 55% bubble in the northern Sierra Nevada represents the 8 Station Sierra Index, the critical aggregate of 8 important precipitation gauges on the Sierra west slope. Conditions are even more desiccated in the southern Sierra.

View past the historic Thunderbird Lodge on the point looking towards Mt. Tallac and the beautiful, high-elevation Desolation Wilderness area, circa January 2020. There may be a nasty bug skulking around, but nothing can take away from the breathtaking beauty of a Lake Tahoe winter. Even a sketchy one.


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Tahoe Sightseeing


Hello Everyone. It’s been a year since my last Tahoe Nugget, but I intend to re-activate these little gems from Big Blue. I wanted to build a new website for the Nuggets using Word Press but alas — like for many of us — work and life usurped the little free time available so the format will remain the same for now.

In my assignments for a new column in Tahoe Weekly Magazine,
I have recently enjoyed many captivating hikes and bike rides in the region, of which I will be sharing with you over the summer. And, as always, it’s really the photographs that make these brief narratives shine.

To read the full version of these Out & About columns or any of the featured articles that I’ve written in the past year — Roots of Western Vigilantism, the Mexican-American War & Renegade Irish Battalion, or most recently an in-depth 5-part series on the building of the world’s first transcontinental railroad — they are all posted here.

On some days there’s precious little time to invest in a major outing in the Tahoe Basin, but if you’re near the state line on the North Shore take a stroll up to the old fire lookout above Crystal Bay, Nevada, for some jaw-dropping views of Big Blue.

Overlooking Crystal Bay, Nevada, during winter.

It’s a short quarter mile walk up a moderate grade to the overlook that offers expansive views down the length of Lake Tahoe. It’s a great jaunt for families because it’s not far or difficult and at the top there are modern bathrooms. There are also loop trails with informative plaques loaded with facts about the Tahoe forest. They describe the destructive logging practices of the second half of the 19th century when lumberjacks cut down most of the trees.

Informative plaques offer insight into the history.

Timber was milled into lumber at sites around Lake Tahoe before being flumed down to Nevada. The vast supply of Sierra wood was used in construction and to sustain Comstock mining operations. Today many of those statuesque pine giants are rotting beneath the touristy town of Virginia City, Nevada. Testament to how much timber was cut, if you gathered the 7 billion board feet of lumber and 10 million cords of fuel wood harvested from the Tahoe Sierra and laid it end to end, it would encircle Earth at the equator 53 times!

Looking west towards the Sierra Crest.

Lake Tahoe isn’t the only thing to see. Cirrus clouds of tiny ice particles refracted light waves to create a 22-degree halo around the sun. This one reminded me of the planet Saturn with its rings.

Originally built in 1936 at elevation 7,017 feet, the State Line Fire Lookout tower was dismantled in 2002 after technological advances in wildfire detection made human spotters too expensive and obsolete. The tower itself may be gone, but the nearly 360-degree views are incredible nonetheless.

Kings Beach (below) was named for Joe King — a card shark, bootlegger, and real estate developer. In 1958 Joe built a small store front for the Knudson family from Grass Valley so they could open the first Jimboy’s restaurant, a popular California taco franchise today.. Note how mountains along the North Shore are more subdued due to their volcanic origin. This photograph was purchased by Alaska Airlines for use in their in-flight magazine last year.

Looking out towards Brockway Point is the legendary Cal-Neva Hotel & Casino, owned by Frank Sinatra in the early 1960’s and currently going through renovations. A major seismic fault runs under the lake through this area, which created hot springs near the point. Campbell’s Hot Springs was one of the first resorts at North Lake Tahoe and by 1873 one of the most popular tourist stops at Big Blue.

Read the complete article here.


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Donner Party


On June 6, 2018, California State Parks celebrated the centennial anniversary of the Pioneer Monument that towers over Donner Memorial State Park. Erected after 20 years of effort in the early 1900s, this thought-provoking tribute to America’s westward pioneer families was dedicated in 1918.

Since then the monument has withstood a century of harsh Sierra winters. Year after year, the cast-bronze parents protecting their small children on top of the pedestal resolutely face west, determined to cross forbidding Donner Pass in their effort to reach California.

America’s storied yet controversial westward expansion movement in the mid-19th century is being re-written by scholars and historians focused on the cultural and environmental impacts of this historic migration. 

However, when it comes to the pioneer monument at Donner Memorial State Park, the focus on family is appropriate. A large portion of the overland emigrants traveling in wagon companies consisted of small or extended families. During the Donner Party entrapment in the winter of 1847, family units far surpassed single men in survival rates.

School teacher Charles F. McGlashan first moved to Truckee, California, in 1872 where natural curiosity led him to learn more about the Donner Party wagon train and what really happened that winter. He explored the encampment sites near Donner Lake and at Alder Creek Meadows north of Truckee. McGlashan interviewed many of the survivors and in 1879 published his book, History of the Donner Party: A Tragedy of the Sierra. McGlashan’s research was unprecedented at the time and his book is still considered a classic.

Charles McGlashan spoke to the California service organization Native Sons of the Golden West (NSGW) about raising the money for a monument to the Donner Party. The agreed and appointed Nevada City dentist Dr. Chester W. Chapman as chairman of their Donner Monument Committee in charge of fund raising. 

Dr. Chapman wanted to raise $30,000 or more for an appropriately-sized structure, but many, including San Francisco’s mayor James Phelan, felt that a simple engraved slab of polished granite would suffice. Chapman resisted all efforts to economize the project and his committee scheduled a ground-breaking ceremony with the placement of a cornerstone to strongly signal the forthcoming monument.

Dr. Chapman brought much-needed energy and organization skills to the endeavor, but he also asserted that it should be dedicated as the Pioneer Monument to honor all overland emigrants, not just the Donner group. Chapman’s idea to recognize all who crossed the plains spoke to the pride of those who wished to honor the memory of their forefathers, beyond just the Donner Party.

Completed in 1917, the base pedestal for the pioneer statue was constructed of rock and gravel from around Donner Lake. It was McGlashan’s measurements of tall tree stumps cut during the winter of 1847 that dictated the 22.5-foot height of the pedestal for the monument, representing the depth of snow that winter. 

An analysis by this writer of the peak snow depth at Donner Lake in 1847 suggests a maximum depth of about 17 feet but reducing the number by 5 feet or so would have made no difference to the starving emigrants. See my book The Donner Party: Weathering the Storm.