From the higher summits how wonderfully they appear. Let the eye follow a fruitful branch of an apple, pear or peach. How the leaves, the stem, the fruit occur, in sure but irregular order. It is just so with the glacial lakes of the Sierras. They are the fruit of the streams that flow from the glacial fountains. They lie on rude and unexpected granite shelves,—as Le Conte Lake; under the shadow of towering peaks,—as Gilmore Lake; on bald glacier-gouged and polished tables,—as those of Desolation Valley; embosomed in deep woods,—as Fallen Leaf, Heather and Cascade; in the rocky recesses of sloping canyons,—as Susie, Lucile and the Angoras; hidden in secret recesses of giant granite walls,—as Eagle; or sprawling in the open,—as Loon, Spider, etc.
What a variety of sizes, shapes and characteristics they present. There are no two alike, yet they are nearly all one in their attractive beauty, in the purity of their waters, and in the glory, majesty, sublimity and beauty mirrored on their placid faces.
In poetic fashion, yet with scientific accuracy, John Muir thus describes their origin in his Mountains of California, a book every Tahoe lover should possess:
When a mountain lake is born,—when, like a young eye, it first opens to the light,—it is an irregular, expressionless crescent, inclosed in banks of rock and ice,—bare, glaciated rock on the lower side, the rugged snout of a glacier on the upper. In this condition it remains for many a year, until at length, toward the end of some auspicious cluster of seasons, the glacier recedes beyond the upper margin of the basin, leaving it open from shore to shore for the first time, thousands of years after its conception beneath the glacier that excavated its basin. The landscape, cold and bare, is reflected in its pure depths; the winds ruffle its glassy surface, and the sun thrills it with throbbing spangles, while its waves begin to lap and murmur around its leafless shores,—sun-spangles during the day and reflected stars at night its only flowers, the winds and the snow its only visitors. Meanwhile, the glacier continues to recede, and numerous rills, still younger than the lake itself, bring down glacier-mud, sand-grains, and pebbles, giving rise to margin-rings and plats of soil. To these fresh soil-beds come many a waiting plant. First, a hardy carex with arching leaves and a spike of brown flowers; then, as the seasons grow warmer, and the soil-beds deeper and wider, other sedges take their appointed places, and these are joined by blue gentians, daisies, dodecatheons, violets, honey-worts, and many a lowly moss. Shrubs also hasten in time to the new gardens,—kalmia with its glossy leaves and purple flowers, the arctic willow, making soft woven carpets, together with the healthy bryanthus and cassiope, the fairest and dearest of them all. Insects now enrich the air, frogs pipe cheerily in the shallows, soon followed by the ouzel, which is the first bird