Tahoe Nugget #107:
Emerald Bay Revisited
March 17, 2007
Emerald Bay is one of Lake Tahoe's most popular spots for shutterbugs and it's easy to see why. The scenic bay boasts Tahoe's only island and the shallow water there sparkles in shades of translucent blue and
green. It was originally called "Eagle Bay" for the bald-headed and golden eagles that are often seen there. At the head of Emerald Bay, Eagle Creek launches over a 100-foot high cliff in a spray of water known as
Emerald Bay is one of three, relatively small basins formed by Ice Age glaciers at the southwest end of Lake Tahoe — the other two are nearby Fallen Leaf Lake and Cascade Lake. As
mountain-born glaciers surged downhill, they plucked and pushed rock ahead like a bulldozer to scour out the basins and piled up debris deposits called moraines. These three mini basins are each bounded on either
side by moraines, which project into Lake Tahoe.
When the ice retreated, the remaining rock deposits dammed the Fallen Leaf and Cascade basins creating lakes, but at Emerald Bay, the ice pushed far enough to
penetrate into Lake Tahoe and formed a bay. When the ice melted, the deposits left behind did not cut this basin off from Lake Tahoe, although when Tahoe's water levels lower during drought, the shallow bar at the
mouth of Emerald Bay can sometimes prevent the large tourist paddle wheel boats from entering the bay.
Between Emerald Bay and Cascade Lake to the east is a spectacular medial ridge, which separates the
side-by-side basins. Today Highway 89 runs along this high ridge line, which provides spectacular views of Emerald Bay and Cascade Lake on either side.
The granite tea house built on the summit of the island
is a legacy of Lora Knight, a wealthy widow who had it constructed along with her "Vikingsholm Castle," which was built on the beach in 1929 and is now considered "one of the finest examples of Scandinavian
architecture in the western hemisphere."
Photo #1: Early morning at Emerald Bay. Note moraines that don't quite pinch off the basin. Carson Range in distance.
Photo #2: Close up of Fannette Island,
with the illusion of floating in space.
Photo #3: Vikingsholm Castle — open to the public in summer. Accessible by short but steep hike or boat.