History & Natural History – Tahoe State Recreation Area

The Tahoe State Recreation Area offers lakeside views and recreational fun. Read below to learn about the area’s history before it became a popular destination, including the Comstock Lode and the Gate Keeper’s Museum.

Chinese Laborers’ Role in the Comstock Lode 

The richest silver deposit in American history was discovered under the eastern slope of Mount Davidson, located in Virginia City, Nevada. Like the Gold Rush (c.1840s), the Comstock Silver Strike (c.1870s) transformed the landscapes into a frontier for people from around the world to extract resources from. 

Chinese people were one of many groups who sought to attain newfound wealth from the silver strike. They instead were faced with anti-Chinese sentiment and legislation that limited their opportunities. However, their determination resulted in the Chinese population making up most of the Sierra Nevada’s timber industries’ workforce.

The rush for silver beget the rush for timber, and the Sierras became critical for supplying Comstock mines with bracing for shafts, fuel, and building material. A group of Chinese laborers from Carson City, Nevada, organized in the Tahoe Basin and subsequently became an influential force in the cordwood cutting and flume tending industry from 1870-1890.

The largest known concentration of Chinese in the Lake Tahoe basin was in Glenbrook, on the east shore of the lake. Archaeologists have discovered over 50 isolated sites where flume tenders and cordwood cutters worked and lived together in small enclaves, preserving as much of their traditions and culture as possible.

Please honor this rich heritage and help protect these sites. If you find artifacts, please leave them and report finds to the Heritage Resource Manager of the U.S. Forest Service, Lake Tahoe Basin (530) 573-2600.

Historical Sites and Museums 

Extraordinary exhibits can be found at the Gate Keeper’s Museum. The museum tells the story of Squaw Valley’s 1960s Olympic Winter Games with artifacts and pictures. There is also the Mariam Steinbeck Basket Museum that showcases more than 700 baskets woven by the Native peoples of western North America.

Built in 1908, the Weston Cabin is the oldest log structure remaining in the North Lake Tahoe Area and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Thanks to the preservation efforts of the North Lake Tahoe Historical Society, this spectacular cabin is open for the public to tour.

The Tahoe Maritime Museum is housed in a beautiful new building on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe and offers a variety of hands-on activities for children, guided tours, and incredible exhibits including historic classic wooden boats that display Tahoe’s rich maritime history.

Historical Boats in the Maritime Museum.

Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Maritime Museum.

Lake Tahoe’s Wildlife

The burgundy-colored chest of American Robins and striking Red-tailed Hawks are easily spotted against the backdrop of Tahoe’s blue skies. The sounds of the White-headed Woodpeckers can be heard in the dense canopies of Jeffery pine, Incense-cedar, and White fir. Resembling the color of Lake Tahoe, Stellar Blue-Jays have cobalt-blue wings and tails that can’t be missed.

You may also meet the mammals of Lake Tahoe, such as the Chickaree, Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel, Mule Deer, Racoon, and Mountain Beaver. Of course, these are only a few of the many critters that inhabit Lake Tahoe.

Fun fact: The Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel is often confused with the chipmunk because they both have a broad white stripe on their backs. But the Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel is much larger and its stripes do not extend up to the cheeks and face as they do on the chipmunk.

Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

Learn more about the Tahoe region’s wildlife, like the Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel pictured above, here.

Lake Tahoe’s Plant Life

There is a profusion of wildflowers during the spring and summer months in the Lake Tahoe. Some of the most common species are yarrow, lupine, phlox, and mule’s ears. Blooms of pink, purple, and yellow can be found blanketing logs, the forest floor, and even boulders. The Manzanita plant can also be found in abundance. Luckily, visitors don’t have to worry about poison oak because Lake Tahoe sits at nearly 6,000 feet in elevation.

Photo courtesy of The American Southwest.

Learn more about the wildflowers of the Tahoe Region, like the Common Yarrow pictured above, here.