Another Cross on a Hill…

During our recent vacation to Lake Tahoe, hubby and I took a DUKW tour of the Lake…both on land and in water. You see, “duck” vehicles are the refurbished amphibious vehicles used on D-Day now used as tourist transport on major waterways.

Interestingly, the acronym isn’t any military jargon at all. “D” indicates a vehicle designed in 1942. “U” means utility, “K” indicates all-wheel drive, and “W” stands for two powered rear axles.  Since we’ve already taken road/water rides around Boston and into the Charles River, and throughout the hills of San Francisco with a drive straight into the bay, we couldn’t wait.

Well, Lake Tahoe fascinates just about everybody, from Ponderosa fans to skiers, hikers, boaters, photographers, residents and tourists of all ages. It’s one of my favorite places on earth. But the first folks to love this place were the Washoe Indians.

The tribe lent its term “tahlah-act” meaning “great mountain” to the tallest peak at the lake, today’s Mt. Tallac at 9,735 feet. Some say the pronunciation is “tayak.”

The Washoe considered the mountain to be sacred, and their legends live on today. Particularly about the cross.


The cross on Mt. Tallac’s northeastern face is visible when the snow begins to melt in the spring. Well, it was a warm summer day when we saw it, but the mountains were still clumped with snow. Folks skied at the surrounding resorts on the Fourth of July. That’s because the winter just past was Tahoe’s fourth-snowiest on record.

The minute I saw the cross on August 9, I knew I needed to post here about it. But the subject mirrors the topic of my filly sister Winnie Griggs’s post of August 22. I didn’t want her to think I was “biting off her” (This was a term my kids always used when one of them copied the other LOL). Should I wait and post my cross blog later on? Then I realized: it’s sacred, marvelous, symbolic, magnificent to know that there are two such hallowed crosses in the West. I decided not to postpone this post.

So. When you check out the cross, it’s actually a “couloir” or series of deep gorges just to the left of the summit.

Many legends abound about the cross. One Washoe belief held that if all the snow melted away, the world would end. Others forecast a season of drought. Still another said the cross disappearing meant the lake would dry up. The tale our DUCK guide shared was if the cross melted, Tahoe would experience a record winter of snow. And was he ever right! After the “cross” melted last year, the winter of 2010-2011 saw 643 inches of  snow. Annual expectation is 300-500. The deepest June snowpack on record was this year’s 71.25 inches on the 13th.

As a tribute to Mt. Tallac and the cross, the opening sequence of the seventh through eleventh and final season of the classic Western TV show Bonanza was filmed from the north section of Nevada Beach (across the lake on the east shore) so that Mount Tallac and its snow cross appeared prominently in the background. As the Ponderosa map burned, you could see the Cartwright men riding up to the cameras with the mountain and cross in the back ground.
This beautiful site draws you in no matter where you are in the area. The next day after the DUCK tour, we rode the Heavenly Valley ski gondola and saw Tallac’s breathtaking beauty from the observation deck at an elevation of 9,123. The 360 degree views, of the Lake, the mountains, Desolation Wilderness and Carson Valley are beyond breathtaking.

Has anybody else seen Mt. Tallac and the snow cross?





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28 thoughts on “Another Cross on a Hill…”

  1. Hi, Tanya. I love your cross story just as much as Winnie’s. I grew up in California and we used to go skiing every Christmas in Tahoe, but I never knew about the cross. I guess there was too much other snow during the winter months. I’d love to go back there one of these days. It truly is a gorgeous place with the lake and mountains and all those wonderful trees. We don’t have much of any of those in West Texas. Thanks for the beautiful pictures, including the one with the Bonanza men. 🙂

  2. Good Morning Tanya,
    I love the story about the cross. The photos you have shared today are gorgeous. This is a place I must go see

    Thanks for sharing and I love the cover of your new book

    Walk in harmony,

  3. Hi Tanya, I’m kicking myself … again. I lived in California most of my life. I lived all over the state, even the Bay Area, and I never made it to Lake Tahoe. I know I’d love it and never wants to leave 🙂

  4. HI Karen, so glad you liked the pictures. Tahoe is really a special place for me…it’s the first place we visited after my husband was on his feet again after battling cancer, so this visit, to see that cross over looking us, made it even more significant. Thanks for posting today, and yes, any reason to include Ben, Little Joe and Hoss…oxoxox

  5. Melinda, always good to see you here in Wildflower Junction. I’ve been to Lake Tahoe many times and this is the first time I’ve seen the cross and heard about the legends. Always good to learn new things, huh!

  6. How fascinating! I’ve never seen it but would sure like to. It’s simply beautiful and I can see why the Washoe consider the mountain sacred. Sure looks like it me too. A wonderful blog, Tanya.

  7. Hi Tanya – Looks like you and Tim had a great time. Tahoe is my favorite place. So beautiful there and so much to do!! And so much wonderful history up in that area.
    Great Blog!!

  8. So interesting. I’ll have to add the snow crosses to my list of things to see before I die.

    Now I have rode the ducks several times in Branson, MO. Years ago, they used to take you to this WWII military “vehicle” graveyard and tell you all about the rusty trucks and tanks nestled among the trees. I have pics somewhere. Then the driver would position the DUCK at the top of this overgrown tree-lined path and tell you to brace yourself. As you careened down this steep hill for 100′ or so with tree limbs slapping the sides of the DUCK, you wondered what you’d gotten yourself into! You couldn’t see what was coming!

    Then you hit Lake Taneycomo with a huge splash and then …. started floating. Initiates were always allowed to sit in the back because the water came over and pretty much drenched them! lol

    I don’t think the the descent to the water is quite as dramatic these days, but it was way cool back then.

  9. Hi Linda, I’m so glad you like this! Yesterday’s post from you set some high stakes! I can’t believe this last visit was the first time I learned of this cross. It really hit me. Thanks for stopping by, fellow weenie sister LOL. oxoxo

  10. Hi Elizabeth, yeah, this is definitely one for the bucket list. I’ve also added the Rocky mountain cross Winnie wrote about a few days ago. I’ve never had a weak faith but things like this really do reassure me of God’s presence. I know others would argue, it’s just a geographic feature, but still. Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Hi Charlene, I know Tahoe is special to you and Don, too, your honeymoon spot! I always find something new to see or know whenever I’m there. Thanks for posting today. oxox

  12. Hi Pam, I know just what you mean. Our first DUCK in Boston, we didn’t really know what to expect. You’re driving down Beacon Hill and the guide points out cool stuff like the Old North Church…then he’s telling you about the Salt and Pepper Bridge and you drive right in! I just love these things and hope to go on many more. This one was a special one though, with that cross. Thanks for stopping by today.

  13. Hi Tanya,

    I’ve never been to Lake Tahoe but your trip sounds wonderful. Unbelievable about the snow totals! Fascinating history about the cross and its relation to Bonanza. I did not know it was filmed up there.

    Hope everyone is having a great day 🙂


  14. Thanks for stopping by, Cher. Yeah, some private party bought the Ponderosa ranch in 2004 and closed it to public tours. Grrrrrr. Hope you can get up there sometime anyway…Tahoe is gorgeous.

  15. I loved my visit to Tahoe, but didn’t know about the cross. I also visited the Ponderosa just before it closed. Beautiful country.

  16. Connie, you’re gonna love it. The duck tour was fun, but there’s also a paddle wheeler tour (it’s a lot longer in duration) that’s also very enjoyable. Think of me when you get there! Thanks for the post today.

  17. I want to go to Lake Tahoe so badly someday. I need a bucket list. And the snow cross is wonderful. And I now want to watch every episode of Bonanza.

    I might be a bit suggestible today!!!!

    Great post.

  18. Hi Mary, yeah, I miss Bonanza too. It’s far and away my favorite TV western too…I should say classic one, since I also love Dr. Quinn. I’ve found DQ again on an obscure cable channel called The Gospel Channel.

    I too think the snow cross is just gorgeous. Could be a beautiful Christmas card. Thanks for the post, filly sister.

  19. Hi Tanya,

    Lake Tahoe looks amazing. I can’t say it’s ever been a place I wanted to go, but after seeing your pictures I’ve changed my mind.


  20. hi Kristen, it’s a place in a million, that’s for sure. We feel blessed that, with a niece living in the area, we can get there fairly often. Magnificent. One of those places where God lives, for sure. Thanks for stopping by today.

  21. Enjoyed both your and Winnie’s posts featuring
    the crosses. God blesses us in many ways, these
    crosses and your stories about them are two such blessings. Thanks!

    Pat C.

  22. Hi Tanya, If I’d known you were looking down at Carson Valley I would have waved to you. I’ve lived near Tahoe 21 years and never knew about the ‘ducks’, I’ll have to try that. You know, when you live near a special site it seems you never have the time to visit it. I’ve seen Tallac Mt. from the Tallac Historic site but it was always summer in a drought year. I’m planning to take the gondola to the top this fall. So glad you had a great time in Tahoe.

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