CHAPTER E. JOHN VANCE CHENEY AT LAKE TAHOE
One of America's poets who long lived in California, and then, after an honorable and useful sojourn as Director of one of the important libraries of the East, returned to spend the remainder of his days - John Vance Cheney - in 1882, made the trip to Lake Tahoe by stage from Truckee, and, among other fine pieces of description, wrote the following which appeared in Lippincott's for August, 1883:
One more ascent has been made, one more turn rounded, and behold, from an open elevation, close upon its shore, Lake Tahoe in all its calm beauty bursts suddenly upon the sight. Nestled among the snowy summit-peaks of the Sierra Nevada, more than six thousand feet above sea-level, it lies in placid transparency. The surrounding heights are all the more pleasing to the eye because of their lingering winter-cover; and as we gaze upon the Lake, unruffled by the gentlest breeze, we marvel at the quiet, - almost supernatural, - radiancy of the scene. Lakes in other lands may present greater beauty of artificial setting, - beauty dependent largely upon picturesqueness, where vineyards and ivied ruins heighten the effect of natural environment, - but for nature pure and simple, for chaste beauty and native grandeur, one will hesitate before naming the rival of Lake Tahoe. This singularly impressive sheet of water, one of the highest in the world, gains an indescribable but easily-perceived charm by its remoteness, its high, serene, crystal isolation. Its lights and shades, its moods and passions, are changing, rapid, and free as the way of the wind.
A true child of nature, it varies ever, from hour to hour enchanting with new and strange fascination. The thousand voices of the lofty Sierra call to it, and it answers; all the colors of the rainbow gather upon it, receiving in their turn affectionate recognition. Man has meddled with it little more than with the sky; the primeval spell is upon it, the hush, the solitude of the old gods. The breath of powers invisible, awful, rouse it to the sublimity of untamable energy; again, hush it into deepest slumber. Night and day it is guarded, seemingly, by wonder-working forces known to man only through the uncertain medium of the imagination. The traveler who looks upon Lake Tahoe for a few hours only learns little of its rich variety. Like all things wild and shy, it must be approached slowly and with patience.
But our sketch must not include more than the hasty glimpses of a day. The stage conveyed us directly to the wharf, which we reached at ten o'clock, having accomplished our fourteen mile ride up the valley in about two and a half hours. As we boarded the little steamer awaiting us and looked over its side into the water below, the immediate shock of surprise cannot be well described. Every pebble at the bottom showed as distinctly as if held in the open hand. We had all seen clear water before, but, as a severe but unscholarly sufferer once said of his rheumatism, "never such as these." The day being perfect, no breeze stirring, and the Lake without a ripple, the gravelly bottom continued visible when we had steamed out to a point where the water reached a depth of eighty feet. Two gentlemen on board who had made a leisurely trip round the world and were now on their way home to England, remarked that they had seen but one sheet of water (a lake in Japan) of anything like equal transparency. It is presumed that they had not visited Green Lake, Colorado.
Our course lay along the California shore, toward its southern extremity, the steamer stopping at several points for exchange of mail. These stopping places are all summer-resorts, where the guests, snugly housed at the base of the mountain-range, divide the time between lounging or rambling under the shadow of the tall pines and angling for the famous Tahoe trout in the brightness of the open Lake. All looked inviting, but we were not wholly enchanted until, gliding past many a snowy peak, we suddenly changed course and put into Emerald Bay. This little bay, or rather lake in itself, about three miles in length, is the gem of the Tahoe scenery. Through its narrow entrance, formed by perpendicular cliffs some two thousand feet high, we moved on toward an island of rock and a succession of flashing waterfalls beyond.
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For a time the dazzling mountain-crests and glistening gorges absorbed attention. So high, white, silent! We longed to be upon the loftiest one, from the top of which can be seen thirteen charming little mountain-lakes, midair jewels, varying in feature according to the situation. Two of these lakes, widely dissimilar in character, are but two miles distant from Tallac House, a comfortable resort at the base of the noble peak from which it takes its name.
But not even the crystal summit ridges delighted us as did the changing waters in the path of the steamer. Following immediately upon the transparency preserved to a depth of some eighty feet, a blur passed over the surface. This changed by imperceptible degrees to a light green. The green, again, speedily deepened, shading into a light blue; and finally, in deepest water (where the Lake is all but fathomless), the color becomes so densely blue that we could not believe our eyes. Indigo itself was outdone. Description fails; the blue deep of Tahoe must be seen to be appreciated.
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