Hands on History: Students embark on Tahoe time machine mission

Sky Richarde
Special to the Bonanza
Courtesy Jim Markle

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — I recently had the privilege to sit down and talk with four students from the Tahoe Expedition Academy. We discussed the good work that they have done in collaboration with the Tahoe Rim Trail Association and the Incline Village and Crystal Bay Historical Society.

Our conversation centered on this year’s National Winter Trails Day event. The project they have been working on for the past two years, which they presented at the event, allowed local community members, as well as visitors to the area, to participate in “Hands on History” experiences that enriched their understanding and appreciation of Tahoe’s past.

Fourth- and fifth-grade students from the academy have put together two “Time Machine” vaults, which have been placed at Spooner Lake and just above Tahoe Meadows.

The students’ objective is to celebrate Lake Tahoe’s history. One vault focuses on the story of the Washoe People (the Spooner Lake Vault) and one considers the pre-twentieth century, “Tahoe Timber Industry.”

Jacob Saunders and Rain Larrabee, both in sixth grade now, acted as guides during the snowshoe hike in January. I was expecting to get a few snippets of information about their project, a few non-committal comments about what was involved. I’m happy to say that they more than blew my expectations away.

Sitting before me were two boys who were enthusiastic about history and life in general. They were proud of the project they had worked so hard on, and happy to talk with me about it. All I had to do was sit back and listen as they shared with me stories about how to properly determine the age of glass by its color — because of how the sun affects its physical properties over the years.

The boys instructed me to notice the old gnarled trees in the Tahoe Meadows as well as around the lake; rejects of the timber industry, the specimens not being straight enough. They talked about hunting for obsidian on Glass Mountain in the Inyo National Forest and discovering artifacts along the historic Flume Trail.

When I asked the boys what they would say to someone who wanted to know more about their school and what they do, Jacob said, “You get to experience things for yourself instead of reading about other people’s experiences. It’s awesome!”

This statement really struck me. It’s one thing to “learn” about history from an armchair and quite a different thing to compliment that with an authentic experience.

For these kids, understanding has come from talking with professional archeologists and Washoe Elders about tradition, visiting sacred sites, attempting to re-create a reed canoe, or working on making projectile points with traditional primitive tools.

It was with this philosophy of “learning by doing” that Tahoe Expedition Academy’s Fourth and Fifth Grade class created the “Time Machine” vaults.

On National Winter Trails Day, during the “Hands on History” Snowshoe Trek, people were invited to try out what these kids are doing all the time. Getting to experience history first hand.

The twenty plus snowshoe hikers were guided through the Tahoe Meadows by DC Larrabee, co-head of School and co-founder of the Tahoe Expedition Academy, his son Rain Larrabee, and Jacob Saunders.

As they trudged and broke track through the forest, the two boys educated the participants about the Tahoe Timber Industry. They pointed out the old trees that were never cut because of their flaws.

Also noteworthy were the tall decomposing stumps of trees that were cut when the snow was so deep that, at times, lumberjacks’ incisions were up to eight feet above the ground.

Weaving through the Lodgepole pine, up and down ridgelines, the explorers finally arrived at their destination, the “Tahoe Timber Industry” “Time Machine” vault.

At their destination, participants were engaged by an archeological surface dig; they used flags and a grid pattern to pinpoint the exact location of the artifacts. Everyone was able to share in the joy of discovering the story of our shared past.

Michaela Racich and Tashi Ferris created and assembled much of what is in the vault. Both in fifth grade now, they helped collect artifacts for both vaults, and they also performed research and created written abstracts that are included within the vaults. Their “products” are based on careful study.

Just as Jacob and Rain were eager to share their stories with me, Michaela and Tashi were excited to reflect upon their intellectual and practical achievements.

The German Philosopher, George Hegel (1770-1831) once said, “We learn from history, that we do not learn from history.”

After talking with the kids from the Academy, I’ve never felt so “inclined” to prove that saying wrong.

If you are interested in the Academy’s historical “Time Machine” vaults, and participating in the unique opportunity they provide, contact the school directly at 530-546-5253.

The Historical Society will be hosting a second “Hands on History” Hike on April 20. RSVP is required, as participant space is limited. To RSVP, contact Sky Richarde at 775-376-3616 or email

Sky Richarde is a member of the Incline Village and Crystal Bay Historical Society.

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