CHAPTER I. WHY "THE LAKE OF THE SKY"?
Lake Tahoe is the largest lake at its altitude - twenty-three miles long by thirteen broad, 6225 feet above the level of the sea - with but one exception in the world. Then, too, it closely resembles the sky in its pure and perfect color. One often experiences, on looking down upon it from one of its many surrounding mountains, a feeling of surprise, as if the sky and earth had somehow been reversed and he was looking down upon the sky instead of the earth.
And, further, Lake Tahoe so exquisitely mirrors the purity of the sky; its general atmosphere is so perfect, that one feels it is peculiarly akin to the sky.
Mark Twain walked to Lake Tahoe in the early sixties, from Carson City, carrying a couple of blankets and an ax. He suggests that his readers will find it advantageous to go on horseback. It was a hot summer day, not calculated to make one of his temperament susceptible to fine scenic impressions, yet this is what he says:
We plodded on, two or three hours longer, and at last the Lake burst upon us - a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft full three thousand feet higher still. It was a vast oval, and one would have to use up eighty or a hundred good miles in traveling around it. As it 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!
And there you have it! Articulate or inarticulate, something like this is what every one thinks when he first sees Tahoe, and the oftener he sees it, and the more he knows it the more grand and glorious it becomes. It is immaterial that there are lakes perched upon higher mountain shelves, and that one or two of them, at equal or superior altitudes, are larger in size. Tahoe ranks in the forefront both for altitude and size, and in beauty and picturesqueness, majesty and sublimity, there is no mountain body of water on this earth that is its equal.
Why such superlatives in which world-travelers generally - in fact, invariably - agree? There must be some reason for it. Nay, there are many. To thousands the chief charm of Lake Tahoe is in the exquisite, rare, and astonishing colors of its waters. They are an endless source of delight to all who see them, no matter how insensible they may be, ordinarily, to the effect of color. There is no shade of blue or green that cannot here be found and the absolutely clear and pellucid quality of the water enhances the beauty and perfection of the tone.
One minister of San Francisco thus speaks of the coloring:
When the day is calm there is a ring around the Lake extending from a hundred yards to a mile from the shore which is the most brilliant green; within this ring there is another zone of the deepest blue, and this gives place to royal purple in the distance; and the color of the Lake changes from day to day and from hour to hour. It is never twice the same - sometimes the blue is lapis lazuli, then it is jade, then it is purple, and when the breeze gently ruffles the surface it is silvery-gray. The Lake has as many moods as an April day or a lovely woman. But its normal appearance is that of a floor of lapis lazuli set with a ring of emerald.
The depth of the water, varying as it does from a few feet to nearly or over 2000 feet, together with the peculiarly variable bottom of the Lake, have much to do with these color effects. The lake bottom on a clear wind-quiet day can be clearly seen except in the lowest depths. Here and there are patches of fairly level area, covered either with rocky bowlders, moss-covered rocks, or vari-colored sands. Then, suddenly, the eye falls upon a ledge, on the yonder side of which the water suddenly becomes deep blue. That ledge may denote a submarine precipice, a hundred, five hundred, a thousand or more feet deep, and the changes caused by such sudden and awful depths are beyond verbal description.
Many of the softer color-effects are produced by the light colored sands that are washed down into the shallower waters by the mountain streams. These vary considerably, from almost white and cream, to deep yellow, brown and red. Then the mosses that grow on the massive bowlders, rounded, square and irregular, of every conceivable size, that are strewn over the lake bottom, together with the equally varied rocks of the shore-line, some of them towering hundreds of feet above the water - these have their share in the general enchantment and revelry of color.
Emerald Bay and Meek's Bay are justly world-famed for their triumphs of color glories, for here there seem to be those peculiar combinations of varied objects, and depths, from the shallowest to the deepest, with the variations of colored sands and rocks on the bottom, as well as queer-shaped and colored bowlders lying on the vari-colored sands, that are not found elsewhere. The waving of the water gives a mottled effect surpassing the most delicate and richly-shaded marbles and onyxes. Watered-silks of the most perfect manufacture are but childish and puerile attempts at reproduction, and finest Turkish shawls, Bokhara rugs or Arab sheiks' dearest-prized Prayer Carpets are but glimmering suggestions of what the Master Artist himself has here produced.