Tanya Hanson: “I measure all lakes by Tahoe…” -Mark Twain



“I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords,” said Mark Twain upon his first sight of the “big water” on a summer day in 1863. Although he lived in Virginia City, Nevada and wrote for the Territorial Enterprise, he’d decided to try harvesting timber from the lake’s luxuriant wooded shores for the Comstock Lode mines. mark-twain

“It was a vast oval,” he later wrote in Innocents Abroad,  “…80 or 100 miles in traveling around it.”  

Actually, the drive around the Tahoe shoreline  is 71 miles, 42 belonging to California, 29 to Nevada. and so spectacular it should be on everybody’s Bucket List. The breathtaking clarity of the lake water exceeds depth of 75 feet! Although this is down from 100 feet in the late 1960’s, it has held stable since 2001. In fact, Mark Twain blamed the clear water for his failures at fishing, saying if he could see fish 80 feet down, they surely could see him as well and refuse to be caught.

The lake holds enough water , 39 trillion gallons, to cover entire California fourteen inches deep. The amount of water evaporating every 24 hours could supply Los Angeles with its daily demand for water!

And some people get to live here! Today Lake Tahoe is a mix of residents and tourists, but the first humans here were the Washoe. For centuries, the tribe migrated here from Nevada’s Carson Valley every summer  to seek cooler temperatures and abundant fish and game, and hold religious ceremonies at the  lake sacred to them.  They named the lake, Da-ow-a-ga, meaning “edge of the lake.” The basketry of the Washoe women is especially famed today.  

In 1844,  John C. Fremont and Kit Carson recorded the first non-native “sightings.” Mispronouncing the Washoe name, they called the lake “Tahoe.” It was officially named Tahoe in 1945 after names such as Lake Bonpland and Bigler (after California’s third governor) failed to stick. Although Kit Carson went on in 1848 to carve the nearby Carson Pass known then as the Mormon-Emigrant Trail, the Tahoe area was virtually ignored until the discovery of silver in Virginia City in 1859.

tahoe-loggingThus began the heartbreaking deforestation of this lush land from 1860-1880’s, as timber was relentlessly cut to build the mines of the Comstock and the boomtowns, trestles and snowsheds of the Central Pacific Railroad. A logging empire established on the east shore clear-cut the entire shoreline, and the natural resources are still recovering. I’m happy that Twain only spent a few half-hearted weeks working a timber claim.

In 1860, the lake had its first permanent resident. General William Phipps claimed 160 acres in today’s Sugar Pine Point and built a humble cabin.  general-phipps-cabinDuring his twelve years at the lake, he built a second cabin, a pier and a boathouse while successfully protecting his homestead from loggers. His homestead is preserved today, and does it ever have a room with a view.


On this same plot at Sugar Pine in 1903, banker Isias Hellman built a vacation cabin, ahem—a spectacular three-story mansion with Phipps’s same view. Sadly, sugar pines are scarce in the basin today, still recovering from the deforestation of more than a century ago. Florence Ehrman inherited her father’s estate in 1920, her heirs selling it to the State of California in 1965, which offers daily tours. tahoe-ehrman-mansion-2

Not far away at Emerald Bay sits Fannette Island, the lake’s only island, overlooked by Vikingsholm Castle. A castle?  Vikings?  taho-vikingsholmIndeed. In 1928, the bay so reminded Mrs. Lora J. Knight of Norwegian fjords that she instructed a Scandinavian architect to build her a vacation home without chopping down or injuring any of her land’s natural trees.  The resulting structure was built with the same methods and details of a Norse fortress circa 800 A.D. and includes sod roofs,  tahoe-grass-rooflike those in Scandinavia which fed livestock in the wintertime. For her guests, Mrs. Knight built a special “tea house” on Fannette Island.  Look to the top of the island in the photo to see it.tahoe-fannette-islane-emerald-bay

Now, I’ve seen such historic, iconic waters as Lake Champlain, Walden Pond, the Mississippi, the big Muddy, the Columbia, and others, but nothing, nowhere, does it for me the way Lake Tahoe does.  Since it’s one of my favorite places ever, and Twain is one of my favorite authors, I can’t help but quote him again because he said it best. “I have such a high admiration for it (Tahoe) and such a world of pleasant recollections of it, that it is very nearly impossible for me to speak of lakes and not mention it.”

How lucky were Ben Cartwright and the boys to live around here. Sadly, the ranch at the Incline area was closed to tourists in 2004 after a 37-year ride. ponderosa_ranch_incline_002

How about you? Have you ever visited Lake Tahoe? What other bodies of water are special to you? Do you fish? Have a mountain home? Go river rafting?

(P.s. All the travel brochures warn that it can snow any time at Lake Tahoe. Believe it. Here’s me in late May. )




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24 thoughts on “Tanya Hanson: “I measure all lakes by Tahoe…” -Mark Twain”

  1. Lovely pics, Tanya. What a breathtaking spot. Yes, the Cartwrights were lucky.

    What mountains we have here are old,gentle and rounded, but in some ways, the ocean makes up for it. Yes, Tahoe belongs on everyone’s bucket list.

  2. Tahoe is an amazing spot. We were fortunate to be there for a few days in January many years ago. Thanks for the “memories”. 🙂

    Now we live on a huge lake–and I don’t think I’d want to be anywhere else.

  3. Hi Jennie, thanks for stopping by. I guess gentle, rounded mountains are older than the sharp ones LOL. Tahoe basin was formed by the shifting of geologic faults.

    I’m a ocean girl also. So good to see you here!

  4. Such beautiful pictures, Tanya. I love this.

    I have a list of things to see and this blog adds to them frequently. I need to go on the Freedom Trail in Boston and now Lake Tahoe.

    I kinda want to live in a Norwegian fortress now, too, but no bucket list is that long. 🙂

  5. Tanya,

    I have lived and been through alot of places, especially in AZ. I have to say Lake Tahoe is now on my bucket list. The photos are beautiful. I think it is just lovely.

    Mark Twain is on of my favorite authors too. I have a movie about him, it is called “Mark Twain and Me” It is by the Disney company. If you have not seen it Tanya, it is a must see.

    Walk in peace and harmony,


  6. Hi Tanya,
    Loved the pics of Lake Tahoe. We honeymooned there and have been back half a dozen times. Definitely one of my most favorite places on earth. It’s glorious and rich with history, as you have pointed out. Loved to see Mark Twain’s actual desk in the office where he used to work and the underground mines. Sure wish the Ponderosa was still available to see .. we’ve been there twice and it was neat!!

  7. You just put Tahoe on my bucket list, too, Tanya. I’ve never been there–a shame, since it’s not that far from where I live.
    The history of that area is just amazing. Yeah, gotta see it!

  8. Hi Tanya,
    Lake Tahoe is one of my favorite places. I live south of there on 395, so we have to pass there on our way back into California. (Hwy50). The lake is beautiful all seasons of the year. But with snow it is more of a wonder. The trip around the lake is an adventure, too. Sorry to hear the Ponderosa has been closed. We did visit it a long time ago.

  9. Hi Tracy, memories are great, aren’t they? Doesyour lake freeze? I was surprised to learn that Tahoe’s waters are always in motion, so it never freezes!

    Hi Mary, the Viking castle there is both inconguous and fitting. I like how she preserved the woods. But the path down to the castle is like a mile long…workmen had to cart all that stone. Ah, what you can’t do with tons of money LOL. You will love both the Freedom Trail (another favorite) and Tahoe when the chance arises.

    Thanks for posting today, fillies. oxoxoxo

  10. Hello Melinda, I will definitely check out the movie. Arizona is another place I love…I need to spend more time there. Sedona is amazing.

    Hi Charlene, Tahoe has a lot of memories for me, too. We skiied there many times in our youth LOL. With our niece living near Reno now, we get up there more often and no one can get that close to the lake and not to see it.

    Thanks for stopping by today!

  11. hi Elizabeth, yes, a visit there is highly recommended. It’s almost too beautiful to take in. You’re gonna love it.

    Hi Mary, I know highway 50 very well. And snow is miraculous. I looked out the window that May day and said to hubby, It’s snowing. He just burst out laughing and thought I was kidding. Oh, wondrous!

    Thanks for posting today.

  12. Tanya, that lake is simply breathtaking. I’ve never been fortunate enough to see it in person although I’ve been close. It’s a spectacular area. I’m in complete awe of the beauty of lakes and mountains and would sure like to live with such a view on a daily basis. When my husband was alive we owned a cabin on Lake Kemp which is near Seymour, Texas. It was so relaxing and peaceful there and I have many fond memories of those times we spent on the lake.

  13. I love this area of the world, also. I also like Mono Lake — which is another beautiful lake close to the same area. Beautiful picts,Tanya.

    Hey, I like that last one, too. 🙂

  14. Hi Linda, oh wow, your own lake house. How cool is that. Everywhere around Tahoe is gorgeous and historic so being close is good!

    Hi Kay, yes, Mono lake is fantastic. Very surreal.

    Thanks for stopping by today! oxoxoxox

  15. Thanks for beautiful pictures, Tanya. There is nothing so beautiful to me as a mountain lake. Being raised in California, my parents took us skiing in the Tahoe area every year around Christmas. Unfortunately, we didn’t do more than drive by the lake so I didn’t get to enjoy it in all its spring and summer glory. I’ll definitely have to go back one of these days. Texas is a little short on mountain lakes.

  16. Hi Tanya, I lived in California most of my life but never made it to Tahoe. I wish I had . . . your pictures are gorgeous! My favorite body of water is the Pacific Ocean, specifically the stretch off Pismo Beach. I’m not into fishing, but I love watching the waves.

  17. Hi Karen, so glad you stopped by. I’ve skiied Tahoe, too, but not for quite a while. Mountain lakes are something, aren’t they? As for me, I do want to visit Texas someday…other than Dallas Ft W. Airport for a layover.

  18. Hi Vicki, the Central Coast is one of our favorite places to visit! We go winetasting every Fall, and always seem to end up in Pismo for clam chowder. I love that stretch of ocean! Thanks for posting.

  19. Hi Tanya, brings fond memories of our recent travels to the great lake Tahoe…More memories to make by the lake too. Talk soon. Your BSFF 🙂

  20. Wow this takes me back home…my mother wanted so much to have Lake Tahoe be her final resting place-she was so connected to it. Someday I’ll grant her last wish, when I am able…

    Thanks for the memories of Emerald Bay and Vikingsholm, among the many beautiful spots that make up Lake Tahoe~

    And let us not forget the Ponderosa Ranch, too! YEEE-HAW!

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