spence here: sorry for the delay in updating! what a whirlwind summer. back at the beginning of august, we said goodbye to our good friends and the party cabin and drove south to the shores of lake tahoe. finally, we got to see what all the fuss was about! lake tahoe felt like a summer camp for adults. we rolled into tahoe city and immediately dipped our hot feet into the cool, clear, green-ish blue waters of lake tahoe. paddleboarding, kayaking, speed boats, sail boats, jet skis, and the hum of humanity was a bit overwhelming, however. we read a bit about the history of the lake at the shores museum. i didn’t think all the people recreating were really meditating or blessing the healing waters, such as the native washoe people had for years before, but maybe they were.
we drove around the west side of the lake, heading south, pass little cabin communities, boat rentals, ice cream shops and the like. finally, we entered the desolation wilderness area of the lake and i felt more relaxed. there were plently of places one was supposed to pay to access the beaches, but we moved on to the vistor’s center, where it was not only free to visit, they had a wonderful path down to baldwin beach. After a bit of people-watching and lunch-munching, billy and i eased our way into the water, as it was so enticingly clear, blue and pleasing, albeit cold. it reminded me of lake michigan and i couldn’t resist flopping around in it like a seal, once getting used to it. information on the lake said one could see down through the depth of 75 feet. it really was beautiful and inspiring, but i couldn’t help wanting the hum of the speed boats to go away.
after a wonderful lunch of cold, crisp quinoa, yogurt salad, we drove on south. we ended up coming across a campground and access point for the tahoe rim trail. big meadows camp was wonderful–free dispersed camping with bear boxes, private sites and a picnic table. We contemplated our decision to not do the tahoe rim trail this year, and possibly come back in the spring or fall when the weather was a little cooler. We rested in the shade, thanked the universe for such a lovely day and thought about our plans for the next few weeks. Would we start hiking the next day? Mammoth lakes was our destination.
Billy Ray here.
Da-ow-‘ah-ga means “the shore of Lake Tahoe” in Wa’-she-shu. The Wa’-she-shu or Washoe people have lived near Da-ow (which was mispronounced by settlers as Tahoe) for over 10,000 years. It is the most sacred of places in their world. For thousands of years, each generation would come to the shores in spring with prayers of respect, rededication and thanks. They acknowledged the outlets of streams and their roles in life and water renewal. In the words of Washoe elder, Amy James, “Da-ow breathes life into the land, the plants, the fish, the animals and the people around it.”
At the depth of 1,600 feet,it is the third deepest lake in the country and, as Spence noted, its depths are clear down to 75 feet, although this is changing. It contains 39 trillion gallons of water, enough to cover the state of California with 14 inches of water. Sixty three streams run into Da-ow and only one river, the Truckee, runs out into Pyramid Lake, so unlike most lakes, the water never reaches the ocean.
It’s no wonder that Lake Da-ow gathers so many humans to its blue, crystal clear shores, but it is also sobering to see that the Lake, so clear and pure, has been affected by urbanization, roads, logging, air pollution and loss of meadows and marshes, which filter the water. For 10,000 years the Washoe lived in harmony with the lake, but in fewer than 200 years since the coming of white settlers, the integrity of the ecosystem has been compromised.
I would like to share this blessing written recently by a Washoe woman, JoAnn Martinez:
As we do and have done in the past, bless this water and this beautiful place where our people came to bless the lake. Continue to bless the streams that come into the lake.
We know the work they do – not just at the lake, but for all people downstream and all people who travel to see the lake.
We ask for the blessings of this lake to continue. May you never dry up or cease to flow or cause suffering downstream to the plants and the animals and the fish. All things we look to for survival and well being are fed by this water.
Our strength flows from the mountains like the life-giving water that feeds the lake and past discouragement and disappointments disappear. Thank you for the blessings of the past and for their continuance.
We ask that visitors will continue to meditate in this beautiful site and that they will hear the river’s song renewing their spirit as it flows to renew life below.
As we continued down towards Mammoth Lakes, where we planned to park while we hike the John Muir Trail, we stopped at nearby Walker River, which was home to healthy cutthroat trout which adapted to the desert climate. The local Paiute fished trout over 40 pounds in these clean, pure waters. Since the 1940s, dams nearly drove the trout extinct, which were the subsistence of these people. Today, the trout are dependent on hatcheries to stay alive.
We are learning repeatedly, as we approach the increasingly arid landscapes, that water is sacred, a lesson we will take with us after the hike to New Mexico. A plaque near the Walker River has engraved these words:
The ability to conserve life-giving water is the essence of survival in the desert. By applying this valuable desert insight, we can help ensure the future of lakes,
streams, groundwater, and wetlands, wherever we live…Water cycles occur on a global scale. Although 75% of the earth is covered in water, 99% of that is either salt water, frozen in glaciers or inaccessible ground water, leaving just 1% as usable fresh water. Fresh water cannot be created and can be lost through excessive use and pollution. Water resources are natural treasures that must be conserved for the benefit of generations of all living things to come. The water in your glass at dinner may have rained on dinosaurs, or flowed in the mighty Nile River. So, the nest time you get a drink of water or go for a swim, think of the stories a water drop could tell!