Anything 360 feet high, and 800 feet wide is hard not to notice. That kind of bulk might also get in the way of progress. Tahoe’s Cave Rock is that big, and was definitely impeding progress toward the completion of the Lincoln Highway, the first U.S. coast to coast road. The problem was solved by road building crews in 1931, as well as in 1957, using dynamite to blow a couple of holes right through that big rock, much to the consternation of the Washoe people.
The Washoe people had been using the caves in Cave Rock as their kind of church for a great many years before the arrival of Europeans. It was thought of as a place of power, where only trained Washoe medicine men were permitted to go. According to Washoe lore, Cave Rock was the gathering place for me’tsunge or water babies who would share medicinal knowledge and power with the medicine men.
A further insult to the integrity of the sacred place was the popularity of the recreational use of Cave Rock. Hiking, picnicking, fishing and stargazing drew many non-natives to Cave Rock. Then, a rock climbing phenomena took hold, leading to the creation of 46 different climbing routes, with bolts and other devices pounded in place by climbers. Some routes were inside the caves, with climbers cementing over important cave openings, and marking surfaces with graffiti.
Naturally, the Washoe fought long and hard for their sacred place. Though, it wasn’t until 2003 that the U.S. Forest Service banned all rock climbing, as well as off road vehicle use at Cave Rock. Naturally, appeals were filed by climbers representatives.
Then in 2007, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the climbing ban was constitutional because the Forest Service was protecting Cave Rock as an archaeological, cultural, and historical national resource, not just because it was sacred to the Washoe, as claimed by opponents. A win, no matter how it was worded.
Because no one is allowed to chip away at Cave Rock any more, what can it do for visitors now? We can drive through it, of course – both ways, from south to north, and back again. We can admire it; a geological stunner created by a volcano vent and carved out by glaciers three to five million years ago. We can launch a kayak, or we can launch a motor boat. We can look for the Lady of the Lake, Cave Rock’s jumble of stone sorting itself into the profile of a woman when approached by water. We can fish from the rocky shoals, or we can choose from three different picnic areas for a delicious outdoor meal in beautiful surroundings, and then, we can play and swim in Tahoe’s pristine waters — remembering, of course, your Mama’s dire warnings from long ago. Never go into the water until at least a half an hour after eating!