The Origins Of Lake Tahoe’s Most Popular Places
By: Alex Silgalis
As soon as you step outside in Lake Tahoe and start looking at all your surroundings, many of us stop and wonder what a particular place, mountain, lake or region is called. Some are obvious, like Lake Tahoe. But others not so much like a specific peak or meadow perhaps. Many of the popular landmarks have historical beginnings that are fun to learn about. Let’s delve into the origins for several of Lake Tahoe’s most interesting ones.
Zephyr Cove’s name is fitting from a meteorological perspective. Named after Zephyrus, the Greek God of the west wind, the eastern shore of the Lake is famously known for its strong west winds in the summer. This is due to the massive temperature gradient between the foothills of Nevada and the Lake Tahoe Basin. In fact, both Mark Twain and Dan DeQuille wrote about the “Washoe Zephyr” and just how fierce they were.
The only island in Lake Tahoe, this piece of land within Emerald Bay has been called many different names, including Coquette, Baranoff, Dead Man’s, Hermit’s, Emerald Isle, and now Fannette. The first one that stuck was Coquette, conceived by a group of young vacationers back in 1866. Coquette is a word referring to a flirtatious or seductive woman. Attracted to the island’s beauty, the group found the climb to the top of the small island impossible. The island’s current name is thought to be a misinterpretation of the island’s original name Coquette.
Strolling through the historic Camp Richardson, there’s a lot of history in this area all thanks to Ray Kinsley who was determined not to allow the area to become over-commercialized. He approached the USFS to take over the entire recreational area from Baldwin Beach and Taylor Creek through Camp Richardson to Pope Beach. This special place is named after Captain Alonzo L Richardson. Captain Richardson leased a large parcel from the Comstock and Lawrence families, setting up a stage service from Placerville to South Lake Tahoe back in 1921. He was also the first postmaster in this area.
Although less dramatic than the foreboding mountains surrounding them (i.e. Mt. Tallac), the Bayview trail accesses both the North and South Peaks while providing what might be the best views of Emerald Bay in all of Tahoe. Legend has it there was a particular barmaid of interest at the Tahoe Tavern. They say she was a healthy woman and the regulars named this pair of peaks after her.
Right smack dab in the center of South Lake Tahoe is a road named Ski Run Boulevard. You would assume it’s called that because it accesses Heavenly Ski Resort, but that’s not the case. The real reason is that the road WAS an actual ski run before it was a gateway. Back in 1947, before Heavenly Ski Resort was even named, Lee and Daisy Miller opened a small rope tow operation known as Bijou Skyway Park. One of their rope tows was physically on Ski Run Blvd, and although you no longer ski on Ski Run itself, you can still imagine people sliding down the slope.
Another interesting road that has a great story to tell is Pioneer Trail. The name is an ode to the original pioneering days and was one of the first wagon roads in Tahoe. Before it was called by its current name, it was known as Johnson Cut-Off, the Road to Washoe, or even the Bonanza Trail. This wagon road was how prospectors and supplies got to Virginia City.
When talking about origins of Lake Tahoe names, how could we not bring up the “beacon” of peaks on the southern shore – Mt. Tallac. Although it isn’t the tallest in the Lake Tahoe Basin, its prominence gives it stature above the rest. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that in the 1877 Wheeler Survey, they named it “Tallac.” And where does that word come from? It comes from the native Washoe “daláʔak” which means big mountain. If you visit in late spring through summer, you’ll notice a “cross” of snow to the left of the summit. The Washoe have multiple beliefs including that if the cross does fully melt out before next winter, there would be record snow. FYI: This happened prior to the jaw-dropping 2010-11 season.
There’s a neighborhood called it. There’s even a road by the same name. So, who is Al and why does it seem like everything is named after him in South Lake Tahoe? Almerin R. Sprague or “Al” for short built the “Al Tahoe Inn” in 1907. The three-story hotel along with an assortment of cabins and cottages were of modest luxury and simplicity so that families could enjoy the lake. He was also the 1st postmaster in the region. Even though he wasn’t the first to create a tourist destination, his imprint on the area is still felt today. For more unique places and attractions that are long gone but not forgotten, check out our article: Weird & Wonderful That Don’t Exist Anymore.
This is merely an introduction to some of the history behind the places and spots along Lake Tahoe’s shores. Not enough history for you? Be sure to check out the great article by Cam Schilling -> A brief history of Tahoe and its peoples.