Pine Nuts: Let’s call it ‘Lake Tahoe’ |

Pine Nuts: Let’s call it ‘Lake Tahoe’

Lake Tahoe was formed two million and three years ago. I know this because a trustworthy Washoe elder told me Tahoe was formed two million years ago, and he told me that three years ago.

But how was it formed you might ask. Well Mother Nature nearly burst her constitution in ramming tectonic plates together, igniting volcanic fireworks, and carving out Emerald Bay with a glacier. Fact is, if that glacier had pooped-out and quit a hundred feet earlier, Emerald Bay would today be Emerald Lake.

Our jewel of the Sierra has had a few nom de guerres before taking on Tahoe. The first, bequeathed by our original inhabitants, our Native American Washoe, Paiute and Shoshone, was ‘Da ow aga,’ or Lake of the Sky. The first European-American to put a name to this heartbreakingly beautiful lake was explorer John Fremont back in 1844, who, for lack of imagination, called it, “Mountain Lake,” which would never do. One of Fremont’s map makers called it, “Lake Bonpland,” after a French botanist, but nobody outside of France could remember that name so it was forgotten.

The “100 drinks legislature” of early California tried to name our lake, “Tula Tulia,” but it died in committee. Then along came John Bigler, third governor of California, who had rescued some snowbound Echo Summit unfortunates back in 1852 and was rewarded with the placing of his name on top of “Da ow aga Mountain Lake Bonpland Tula Tulia.” Yes, in 1854 our lake officially became “Lake Bigler,” which some said would be a perfectly good name, were the lake full of beer. Other doubters suspected Bigler had copperhead tendencies. One detractor asked, “How can you name a lake with no bottom after a man who is all bottom?”

In 1945 it was decided to dump Bigler and go with the original Native American name of “Da ow aga,” which no elected European-American official could spell or pronounce correctly, and so we ended up with “Tahoe.”

Then in 1861 along came Mark Twain, who called it, “…the fairest picture the whole earth affords … the air that angels breathe. Lake Tahoe will restore an Egyptian mummy to his pristine vigor. I don’t mean the oldest and driest of mummies, but the fresher ones. The eye suffers but one grief, that it must close sometimes in sleep. It is a veritable habitation with the gods. No, if Lake Tahoe does not cure whatever ails you, I’ll bury you at my own expense.”

By the way, Mark Twain gets credit for the first prescribed burn in the Tahoe basin, and it might be safe to say he started the TRPA before there was a TRPA, though it might have been called back then, the “Timber Ranch Planning Agency.”

In truth, our Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has done more to preserve the quality of our beloved lake than anyone could have imagined when founded back in 1969 to preserve, restore, and enhance our unique natural and human environment.

I hope to be around next year to celebrate the 50th birthday of our TRPA and propose a deserving toast. Should I be so lucky to live that long, and be in attendance for that auspicious occasion, please do tap me on the shoulder and shout “Hello!” into my ear … I’ll be the 183-year-old guy in the white suit.

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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