The jutting promontory of Cave Rock on Highway 50 between Zephyr Cove and Glenbrook, Nevada, is a signature geologic feature that you see from nearly every vantage point on Lake Tahoe. This dramatic rocky extrusion towering more than 300 feet above the surface of Big Blue is the eroded remnant of an ancient volcano that spewed hot lava into the Tahoe basin three million years ago.
Washoe Indians called it “dE’Ekwadapoc” meaning gray rock, but by 1861 it bore the name Cave Rock for the shallow grottos hollowed out of the hardened magma by prehistoric high-water levels in the basin. (Lake Tahoe has been up to 800 feet higher than it is today.)
A centuries old Washoe Indian trail worked its way over the mountain slope above Cave Rock and a primitive wagon road was later constructed along this path. Even so, it was among the most challenging sections of Tahoe’s southern route for transport at that time.
In the early 1860s construction crews built the new Lake Bigler Toll Road around the bulging Cave Rock massif on a narrow man-made ledge along its west face. Stone buttresses were hand-chiseled and the rectangular-shaped granite stones were stacked to create a solid wall that could support a 100-foot long trestle and heavy wagons. Testament to the workmanship on this infrastructure project, automobiles and trucks would continue to use the same route until the first tunnel was blasted in 1931.