You are about to discover, sunken treasures no human has ever seen before.
Land and rock features that have been submerged for thousands of years.
and the famous steamer Tahoe.
Unusual formations - locked away from view since Tahoe was created some 3
million years ago.
Come with us now as we explore..... the Sunken Treasures of Lake Tahoe.
Our story begins beneath the surface at Rubicon Point where sheer granite
cliffs drop into the deepest part of the lake.
As our camera slowly descended the steep incline, we noticed that the rocks
were quite angular and not as smoothly polished from erosion.
Occasionally, we found evidence like this of an underwater rock slide. Just
like on the surface, loose rock had slid down through this submerged rock
chute and had come to rest on an angular outcropping.
The camera focused on the rock face as it descended. But each time we
turned to look down, the granite cliff continued to plunge vertically toward
Except for the rock slides, this submerged geological formation had remained
unchanged from the beginning - when it was thrust up from the center of the
We felt like explorers upon an alien planet. Every eye watched the monitor in
as the two remote ROV's made their descent into an ancient land that was
filled with mystery.
At a depth of 532 feet, the ROV's were coming to the end of the tether. The
picture was so dark, stronger lights would be needed if we were to dive
The cliff still continued to plunge off vertically. At this extreme depth, we
were still less than a third of the way to the bottom.
Our next dive site was approximately two miles off shore from the town of
Dixie Captain Jim Biller brought our craft over one of the lakes many sea
mounds - an area of land that had been unexplainably elevated off the lake
Fishermen had reported this area to be a fertile spot for catching the lakes'
huge Mackinaw trout.
As we lowered over the side, we hoped to get a glimpse of the big fish.
The ROV settled through 170 feet of water. Suddenly, we made out our first
sighting of the sea mound.
The top of the mound was covered with heavy, green grass. This was the
first real sign of life we had encountered.
What appeared as trails through the grass were actually scars caused by
fisherman, accidentally dragging their boat anchors across the bottom.
There was no apparent reason why the grass was flourishing here - but not
growing in other shallow places on the lake. So we wondered......what made
this place different from the rest of the lake?
Suddenly, we a caught a glimpse of our first Mackinaw.......
It looked to be a 4-6 pounder. The big fish was wary....moving off slowly
from the ROV.
As the Mackinaw swam away to safer ground, we continued to explore the top
of the sea mound.
The depth gauge showed we were at 158 feet. At this depth, the mound was
just out of range for the average, recreational scuba diver.
As we glided across the underwater pasture, we caught site of two more
The big fish appeared as apparitions against the clear blue water. Like the
first, these two were exceedingly suspicious.
Curious as to what might be found at the edge of the plateau, Tim Romedy
turned the ROV and headed for what we hoped would be the South side.
No one had ever seen the side of these mounds. There had been some
controversy among geologists as to what might have caused them to rise off
the lake floor.
As we neared the edge, the top of the sea mound began to gently slope off
toward the bottom. Our depth gauge read 172 feet.
We passed over a curious looking formation with several layers. It looked
like different levels of sediment.
As the camera continued over the side, we were suddenly presented with an
awesome spectacle we had never imagined to encounter.
It was clear to see where the sand ended. The grass was growing atop of
what appeared to be, a solid mass of rock.
Experts had told us before the dive that the lake bed was almost perfectly
flat and sandy. The only differences we expected to find were the boulders
along the East Shore and the Rubicon Cliffs on the West side.
But what we had stumbled upon here....was beginning to look, like a real
There were long, horizontal striations that seemed to travel out across the
face. We were 185 feet below water and continuing our descent.
The ledge pitched over into a sea of blue water.
We were hypnotized by the splendor of this massive formation. The walls
were completely vertical, terminating in small ledges.
The rock here had been carved inward to a much higher degree - a strong sign
of possible wave erosion. But how could there be erosion so far under
Algae clung to the top of the over-hang. The crevasse revealed uncommonly
brilliant colors...colors we had not expected to find underwater at Lake
As we maneuvered in closer....
it appeared as if water had entirely undercut the formation.
Small caverns and eroded crevasses ran far back up inside the mound. This
was an extremely fascinating discovery.
Hidden just beneath the waves for thousands of years...the scenes you are
watching are surely...the first time human eyes have ever gazed upon this
beautiful architecture of nature.
The rock stood out like a blacked monolith - silhouetted against the bright
blue sunlighted surface. How many years had pleasure boats and water skiers
passed over head - never knowing that two miles out from shore, this
magnificent treasure lay hidden....just below the waterline.
As we continued our descent, the rock alternated back and forth from sheer
vertical cliffs into small hanging ledges. If this canyon was still above
water, it would have been set aside as a national preserve. At 212 feet under
water, we passed over a small, eroded formation. The reddish top was made
of harder material and the white center was clearly softer. This was a
significant sign that the lake level might have been at a lower elevation -
allowing water to carve this formation.
Had the sea mound once been an island out in the water? Or perhaps the edge
of an ancient shore line?
Was this the reason why grass was growing on top - and nowhere else on
Tahoe's flat sandy bottom?
We had far more questions than answers as we continued our descent.
At 362 feet, the walls began to slope outward and we started to see
accumulations of lake bottom sediment. At this particular location, we had
either reached another plateau or we were drawing near to the bottom of the
We had seen so much in just one small spot. With the lake being 22 miles
long and 14 miles across, our imaginations ran wild with anticipation.
What more lay waiting to be discovered....out there, in the silent halls of
Tahoe's misty blue water?
The next day, we set out to explore off the Southwest shoreline. Tree
stumps that had been carbon dated back 4,000 years in time, were reported
to be standing under water at depths of 40-60 feet.
This meant that since the last ice age, the trees had been growing on dry land
- at a place that was now under water.
It was speculated that Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Western region had
experienced a severe drought cycle that lasted between 350-400 years
enough time to have allowed the tree seeds to germinate and grow full term
upon dry land.
How low the waterline may have dropped was still not known....but it might
explain the wave erosion we had witnessed on the sea mound at 212 feet
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At a depth of 43 feet, we came upon the first upright tree stump.
It was difficult to imagine that this had once been a big, majestic forest.
That this upright stump had stood through winds, rain and pounding waves for
up to 4,000 years, without toppling over, was itself, a miracle.
Down at the base between the roots, a crayfish had set up permanent living
Nearby, other tree stumps soon came into view.
This tree had witnessed the passing of the ages.
Now it stood entirely alone in silence; the top less than two feet under
the water's surface.
Our next stop was at the crown jewel of the Sierra, Emerald Bay.
We had heard there was an old, submerged rowboat out in the bay. This was
intriguing because of the numerous stories about early-day pioneers who
were last seen rounding Rubicon Point, never to be seen again.
We traveled down the side of an old log.......
Suddenly, a strange shape emerged before the camera. It was an early,
vintage-looking kayak that someone had filled with rocks and sent to the
We continued our search - probing the bottom of the bay for anything
At a depth of 90 feet, we found it laying on the side of a gentle slope.
From the transom, it did appear to be an older design.
As we circled the boat, one of the crew remarked that it appeared in pretty
good condition, perhaps even salvageable.
On closer inspection of the star- board side, we found the mortal wound that
had sent it to the bottom.
Our final dive site was to be in Glenbrook Harbor.....an area rich in Western
In the late 1800's..... they had driven huge pilings into the sandy bottom.....and
thereupon built docks onto which passengers, freight and logs were loaded
for the trip to historic Virginia City.
The tops of the pilings had deteriorated over time. Some had been in the
water for more than a hundred twenty-five years.
Under the surface, it was quite a different story. The pilings were strong
and stout. They looked to be no more than ten years old.
The water was so pure and free of bacteria, that the pilings had remained as
perfectly preserved as the day they were driven into the sand.
Now in those days, the pioneer Bliss family who had developed the area,
constructed a steam passenger ship on the banks of the bay.
Long and sleek, steamship Tahoe was built for speed. From rudder to bow, the
proud vessel was 190 feet long. The steam engine with it's single black
smoke stack, powered two big propellers.
For years, the image of the Tahoe rounding the bend was a common site.
She had a lucrative contract with the U.S. Postal Service to haul mail
throughout the basin.
But in the mid 30's, the mail contract was awarded to another firm and the
Tahoe fell upon hard times.
The Bliss family, not wanting to see their ship picked apart by vandals or
sold for scrap, decided to send her to the bottom where no further harm could
befall the elegant lady. Late one night, they towed her out of Glenbrook
Harbor. The seacocks were opened. Water began to flood her
compartments.....and the steamer Tahoe, once known as the queen of Lake
Tahoe, slipped silently from sight to her watery grave.
Using sophisticated GPS tracking equipment linked to a satellite, the Echo V
anchored directly over the site that was believed to be her final resting
place at the mouth of Glenbrook Bay.
The ship's depth finder indicated it was 372 feet to the bottom.
Slowly, we descended away from our boat toward what we hoped would be
the wreck of the Steamer Tahoe.
At this depth, it was nearly pitch black. We activated the on-board quartz
lights to help find the bottom.
Suddenly, we were there. The bottom looked extremely flat. It was void of
Then just ahead, we saw her big, dark shadow.
The ship was gigantic. She lay flat upon the side of a rising slope. Her bow
was high and facing uphill toward the Glenbrook shore.
At 372 feet, there was just enough ambient light from overhead to silhouette
the hull. The stern lay downhill.
The steel bow line of the ship was severely bent. It had likely been caused
by accidentally running into a dock.
Cosmetically, the steamer Tahoe was in excellent condition. After 50 years
on the bottom, her name could still be plainly read.
In the center of the deck, the windlass was firmly attached.
Behind the windlass lay an open hatch which led to the forward chain and
The Tahoe's distinctive, single- funnel smoke stack was still in place -
though it had been dented by a salvager's grappling hook near the top.
Facing forward, the bow stretched uphill....providing a dynamic view of the
We continued our exploration of the Tahoe, moving aft toward the engine
The restrooms were on the other side of the bulkhead. The toilet seat was
left in the up position. One of the crew remarked that a man, was obviously
the last one to use the facilities.
The wash basin had the old-style faucet handles. The steamer was still in
remarkably good condition.
The stern of the ship was laying on the downhill side. Beneath the railing,
you could still read her name.
The grand lady of the lake had made her final port of call at the bottom of
We had barely scratched the surface of what still could be discovered.
Well documented stories of military and pre-war airplane crashes seemed to
pull irresistibly on our curiosity to explore.
What fascinating geological formations might still be lurking in the
shadow of an ancient cliff?
Perhaps, some things were destined to always be a memory. Sunken
Treasures, sealed for eternity, at the bottom of Lake Tahoe.
|This is an exerpt from Skyfire's Sunken Treasures of Lake Tahoe. The entire program is on video and available from Skyfirevideo.com, America's Video Storyteller|