CHAPTER C. THOMAS STARR KING AT LAKE TAHOE
In 1863 Thomas Starr King, perhaps the most noted and broadly honored divine ever known on the Pacific Coast, visited Lake Tahoe, and on his return to San Francisco preached a sermon, entitled: "Living Water from Lake Tahoe." Its descriptions are so felicitous that I am gratified to be able to quote them from Dr. King's volume of Sermons Christianity and Humanity, with the kind permission of the publishers, Houghton, Mifflin Company, Boston, Mass.
LIVING WATER FROM LAKE TAHOE
When one is climbing from the west, by the smooth and excellent road, the last slope of the Sierra ridge, he expects, from the summit of the pass, which is more than seven thousand feet above the sea, higher than the famous pass of the Splugen, or the little St. Bernard, to look off and down upon an immense expanse. He expects, or, if he had not learned beforehand, he would anticipate with eagerness, that he should be able to see mountain summits beneath him, and beyond these, valleys and ridges alternating till the hills subside into the eastern plains. How different the facts that await the eye from the western summit, and what a surprise! We find, on gaining what seems to be the ridge, that the Sierra range for more than a hundred miles has a double line of jagged pinnacles, twelve or fifteen miles apart, with a trench or trough between, along a portion of the way, that is nearly fifteen hundred feet deep if we measure from the pass which the stages traverse, which is nearly three thousand feet deep if the plummet is dropped from the highest points of the snowy spires. Down into this trench we look, and opposite upon the eastern wall and crests, as we ride out to the eastern edge of the western summit. In a stretch of forty miles the chasm of it bursts into view at once, half of which is a plain sprinkled with groves of pine, and the other half an expanse of level blue that mocks the azure into which its guardian towers soar. This is Lake Tahoe, an Indian name which signifies "High Water." We descend steadily by the winding mountain-road, more than three miles to the plain, by which we drive to the shore of the Lake; but it is truly Tahoe, "High Water." For we stand more than a mile, I believe more than six thousand feet above the sea, when we have gone down from the pass to its sparkling beach. It has about the same altitude as the Lake of Mount Cenis (6280 feet) in Switzerland, and there is only one sheet of water in Europe that can claim a greater elevation (Lake Po de Vanasque, 7271 feet). There are several, however, that surpass it in the great mountain-chains of the Andes and of Hindustan. The Andes support a lake at 12,000 feet above the sea, and one of the slopes of the Himalaya, in Thibet, encloses and upholds a cup of crystal water 15,600 feet above the level of the Indian Ocean, covering an area, too, of 250 square miles. I had supposed, however, that within the immense limits of the American Republic, or north of us on the continent, there is no sheet of water that competes with Tahoe in altitude and interest. But in Mariposa County of our State there are two lakes, both small, - one 8300 feet, and the other 11,000 feet, - on the Sierra above the line of the sea.
To a wearied frame and tired mind what refreshment there is in the neighborhood of this lake! The air is singularly searching and strengthening. The noble pines, not obstructed by underbrush, enrich the slightest breeze with aroma and music. Grand peaks rise around, on which the eye can admire the sternness of everlasting crags and the equal permanence of delicate and feathery snow. Then there is the sense of seclusion from the haunts and cares of men, of being upheld on the immense billow of the Sierra, at an elevation near the line of perpetual snow, yet finding the air genial, and the loneliness clothed with the charm of feeling the sense of the mystery of the mountain heights, the part of a chain that link the two polar seas, and of the mystery of the water poured into the granite bowl, whose rim is chased with the splendor of perpetual frost, and whose bounty, flowing into the Truckee stream, finds no outlet into the ocean, but sinks again into the land.
Everything is charming in the surroundings of the mountain Lake; but as soon as one walks to the beach of it, and surveys its expanse, it is the color, or rather the colors, spread out before the eye, which holds it with greatest fascination. I was able to stay eight days in all, amidst that calm and cheer, yet the hues of the water seemed to become more surprising with each hour. The Lake, according to recent measurement, is about twenty-one miles in length, by twelve or thirteen in breadth. There is no island visible to break its sweep, which seems to be much larger than the figures indicate. And the whole of the vast surface, the boundaries of which are taken in easily at once by the range of the eye, is a mass of pure splendor. When the day is calm, there is a ring of the Lake, extending more than a mile from shore, which is brilliantly green. Within this ring the vast center of the expanse is of a deep, yet soft and singularly tinted blue. Hues cannot be more sharply contrasted than are these permanent colors. They do not shade into each other; they lie as clearly defined as the course of glowing gems in the wall of the New Jerusalem. It is precisely as if we were looking upon an immense floor of lapis lazuli set within a ring of flaming emerald.