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Area History


The Sierra as we know it today began to be uplifted between 10 million and 20 million years ago during what is known as the volcanic episode. The first inhabitants of Lake Tahoe were the Washoe, and Tahoe was a summer camp for them. Lake Tahoe held a spiritual meaning for the tribe and many sacred ceremonies were held along the southern shores.

In 1844, John C. Fremont sighted the lake and was the first European to see the "Lake of the Sky." After that, interest in the lake's bounty increased with the 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode 20 miles east. Much of the basin's forest were cleared to meet the demand for timber and firewood in Virginia City's mines. The eventual decline of the Comstock Lode may have been the saving of the Tahoe forest, which had been nearly clear-cut.

The modern era really began in 1931, with the completion of the highway around the lake. The highway spelled an end to the age of steamships, and by the 1940's, put the narrow-gauge railway out of business as well. The 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley put Lake Tahoe firmly on the map.

Today, the lake continues to offer visitors a bit of many historic eras. While hotels and casinos and ski resorts draw millions of guests each year, the main attraction continues to be the quiet beauty of the Sierra Mountains and the timeless inspiration of the lake itself, little changed from the days of the Washoe Indians.

*Information provided by Lake Tahoe Visitor's Authority, South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce and the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.