South Lake Tahoe Real Estate

South Lake Tahoe is the Gem of the Sierra, the awesome Lake in the Sky.

In 1872, Mark Twain remarked in his book Roughing It, “As it [the lake] lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”

Hard to argue: Highway 50 circles around the eastern side of Lake Tahoe after entering from the south over Echo Summit, or arriving from the northeast over the rim of mountains that separates the lake from the Carson City, Nevada, area.  While many parts of Highway 50 through the Sierra Nevada are beautiful, the Lake Tahoe portion is arguably the most breathtaking. 

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According to linguistic historians, the name “Tahoe” is clearly derived from the from Washoe Indian word “dá'aw” or “lake.”  While there may be little dispute as to the word origin, there have been many name changes and some contentious debate as to what to call this body of water.

When John C. Fremont “discovered” the lake on February 14, 1844, he wrote: "We had a beautiful view of a mountain lake at our feet, about fifteen miles in length, and so entirely surrounded by mountains that we could not discover an outlet." The earliest references to the lake refer to it as “Mountain Lake.” Later Fremont named it Lake Bonpland in honor of Aime Bonpland, the French botanist who had accompanied Humboldt on his great South American journey, and it is so labeled on Fremont Expedition member Charles Preuss' map of 1848.

Lake Bonpland would probably have become fixed as the official name were it not for the friends of John Bigler, governor of California from 1852 to 1856.  The Friends of Bigler succeeded in imposing the name Lake Bigler in 1854. During the American Civil War of 1861 - 1865, the Union sentiment objected strenuously to this name because Bigler was an outspoken secessionist sympathizer, and a movement was started to restore the Washoe Indian name to the lake.  The sentiment was that the Washoe name was spelled “Tahoe” and meant “big water.” Most likely it was explorer Henry de Groot, who had explored the region in 1859, who suggested using the native name of the lake. In 1862, the name Lake Tahoe first appeared on maps.

However, this was not the end of the story. An act of the Democratic California legislature (who were friends of Bigler and more sympathetic toward the south), approved February 10, 1870, declared that the lake "shall be known as Lake Bigler, and the same is hereby declared to be the official name of said lake, and the only name to be regarded as legal in official documents, deeds, conveyances, leases and other instruments of writing to be placed on State or county records, or used in reports made by State, county or municipal officers"

Surveys sponsored by the legislature, such as the Whitney Survey, used the name “Lake Bigler.” Other surveys and maps used “Lake Tahoe” almost exclusively.  The vast majority of people knew it only as Lake Tahoe.

The "official" name was so completely forgotten that it came as a shock to most Californians, when, in 1945, the legislature solemnly enacted that the lake "designated as Lake Bigler by chapter 58 of the Statutes of 1869-70, is hereby designated and shall be known as Lake Tahoe"

From the south, Highway 50 passes through villages that cling to the lake, such as Bijou, and crosses over the stateline at South Lake Tahoe.   There casinos hug the state boundary and provide an adult playground.  Along the route, now exclusively in Nevada, other recreational activities abounded.

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One of the more fascinating spots on the highway is Cave Rock, about halfway around the eastern side of Lake Tahoe. This large rock formation is easily visible from almost any point on the lake. Once a part of the neck of a volcanic vent that existed on the site about five million years ago, Cave Rock is now named for the caves high up on its side. When Lake Tahoe was first formed, roughly three million years ago, lake level was initially hundreds of feet higher than it is now and these caves were carved out of the rock by wave action.

Cave Rock is considered a sacred site to the Washoe Indians whose ancestors spent their summers at Lake Tahoe and once performed religious ceremonies inside the largest of the caves. Much to the dismay of the Washoe tribe the first tunnel for Highway 50 was blasted through the rock in 1931.  Prior to 1931 the original single lane roadway went around the outside of the rock. The stone foundation for the road, laid at great expense in 1865, can still be seen clinging to the side of the rock. The second, easternmost tunnel was added in 1957.

One of the reasons the Washoe considered Cave Rock sacred was what they called "The Lady of the Lake". The "Lady" appears in the rock formation as the profile of a woman's face gazing out toward the lake from just below the old highway foundation. 

As Edward Scott wrote in his 1957 book The Saga of Lake Tahoe: “For some three-quarters of a century, all that stood between the drivers of vehicles and eternity on the Cave Rock curve of the lake shore road was a jackstraw structure of support timbers and planking. Horse and mule teams hauling heavily-loaded wagons creaked over the wooden bridge at funereal speeds, and after the turn of the century, gasoline bumers coughed across with their dusted, goggled drivers carefully working throttle and brake. Female passengers were cautioned to keep their eyes on the sky above and never look down." Postcards and descriptions of Highway 50 prior to the 1930s often remarked on this interesting road construction.

Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the United States and the tenth deepest in the world, with a maximum depth measured at 1,645 feet. Crater Lake in Oregon is the deepest lake (1,949 feet) in the United States.

Lake Tahoe is about 22 miles long and l2 mi wide and has 72 miles of shoreline. The floor of the Lake Tahoe Basin is at an elevation of about 4,580 feet, which is lower than the surface of the Carson Valley to the east.  With an average surface elevation of 6,225 feet above sea level, Lake Tahoe is the highest lake of its size in the United States.

The water in Lake Tahoe could cover a flat area the size of California fourteen inches deep. This amount of water is enough to supply everyone in the United States with fifty gallons of water per day for five years. The amount of water that evaporates from the surface of Lake Tahoe every year could supply a city the size of Los Angeles for five years.

As anyone who has taken a dip in the lake can attest, the water temperature is cold.  The surface temperatures range from about 40° F during February and March to 65 to 70oF during August and September. Below a depth of 600 to 700 feet, the water temperature remains a constant 39oF.

Lake Tahoe has a water clarity of about 100 feet deep – that means that object can be seen clearly at a depth of 100 feet.  An ongoing concern is that the water clarity has diminished more rapidly in recent years.

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Carol Butler

Carol Butler
American River Canyon Realty

aka, A Town

and High Country Real Estate 

Company, LLC

Broker Logo

Carol Butler

Title: Broker/Owner, RSPS, CRS, GRI
DRE#: 01104470

American River Canyon Realty aka, A Town and High 

Country Real Estate Co, LLC

Office: 530-306-9040
Fax: 530-659-0247

PO Box 99, Twin Bridges, CA 95735

2254 Lake Tahoe Blvd, So Lake

Tahoe, CA 95735

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