Tahoe Snapshot History



A flood of editorial deadlines has kept me office-bound for much of the summer, but I did get out and about a few times so I’ve posted a short essay to share a bit of what’s been going on at Lake Tahoe. The region has been enduring periods of smoke and haze for nearly a month due to two large California fires that ignited in early August.

The Tahoe Basin and western Nevada communities of Carson City and Reno are all located downwind of both the American and the Rim (Yosemite) wildfires. Fortunately, the American fire is now 100% contained and full containment for the Rim blaze is projected by Sept. 20. At this point air quality in the Tahoe Basin has improved dramatically.  

After one of the driest January to May seasons on record, the area picked up several inches of much needed rain in June. But July would turn out to be the warmest since the beginning of measurements in 1888, and it started out with a scorching heat wave at the beginning of the month. The weeklong roasting quickly dried out biofuels in the forest and helped set the stage for the wildfires of August. (Thanks to the NWS staff in Reno for the graphics.) 

The American fire was located west of Lake Tahoe and south of Interstate 80. At the time of this photo smoke was drifting north and staying west of the Tahoe Basin. This view is from the top of Cave Rock looking toward the West Shore. I explored Cave Rock for the first time this summer and will be posting a Nugget in the near future. It’s an amazing place! 

Water vapor satellite image from Aug. 21 depicts a closed low pressure system drifting off the California coast. During summer months these counter-clockwise circulations are usually moisture-starved, but they can generate thunderstorm activity, particularly over the Sierra Nevada as seen here. Note monsoonal moisture surging into the Great Basin along 110 degrees longitude.

Tahoe obscured. There were many days in August where visibility was very poor due to smoke. Unfortunately, I led my annual historic bus tour for the North Lake Tahoe Historical Society down along the East Shore on Aug. 23 and we couldn’t see a thing. With more than 20 years leading ecotourism field trips in the region, I’ve been snowed on, rained on, wind-blown and chilled to the bone. This was the first time I was smoked out and it was by far the worst condition of them all.

The smoke did make for some beautiful sunsets and sunrises at times.

While hiking at Squaw Valley in August, I came upon some leftover snowpack carved by a stream. Snow pile above the tunnel was about 12 feet deep. While crouching 15 feet into this mini cavern I was aware that just a few days before a snowboarder was killed by a collapsing snow tunnel at Mt. Baker. Fortunately, this feature had less mass but since I was alone any issue could have been troublesome. 

Each August the Sierra Boat Company in Carnelian Bay hosts the Concours d’ Elegance wooden boat show. This is Hornet II. Originally built with a mahogany deck, her art deco aircraft-aluminum deck was built in preparation for the Lake Tahoe Championship races in 1939. Equipped with a 600-horsepower engine, it blew away the competition.

Another look at Hornet II. Over nearly 20 years of racing (1935-1953), she won more races on Lake Tahoe than any other boat. Powered by different high-performance engines, this stunning watercraft was owned by Henry J. Kaiser, a Tahoe homeowner and industrialist, who became known as the father of modern American ship building. Kaiser’s Tahoe estate was featured prominently in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film, The Godfather II. The development is now called Fleur du Lac on Tahoe’s west shore near Homewood.

On Sept. 1, Garwoods Grill & Pier hosted their first annual fireworks display right here on the beach in Carnelian Bay. It was a fund raiser for the local high school and by far the best fireworks experience for me. Close to home and close to the pyrotechnics too. Can’t wait until next year!