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Cave Rock

Climbers, Courts, and a Washoe Indian Sacred Place

Michael Makley, Matthew Makley

Publication Year: 2010

Published by: University of Nevada Press

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

In the late 1990s my son, Matthew, and I became aware of a dispute over one of Lake Tahoe’s best-known landmarks: Cave Rock. The clash between Washoe Indians, who held the property sacred, and rock climbers, who used its world-class climbing routes, simmered and periodically boiled until it was resolved by the federal court system in 2007...

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pp. 1-8

Suddenly it was over. After twenty years filled with bitter disputes, regulatory schizophrenia, and litigation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had resolved the issue of Cave Rock. On August 27, 2007, the court upheld the U.S. district court’s ruling, and rock climbing at the sacred monolith ended. In an unlikely outcome, the Washoe Indians,...

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Chapter One: The Center

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pp. 9-16

Native land bases have steadily disappeared since the first European colonists set foot in the Americas. Armed with an ethos that held Native people to be “savage” or at best “uncivilized,” newcomers felt no compunction in appropriating their lands. By the time Euro- Americans arrived in Washoe country in the mid-1800s, a well-oiled colonial...

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Chapter Two: The Tunnels

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pp. 17-22

The two highway tunnels that penetrate the granite below the main, or upper, cave at Cave Rock played an important part in the dispute regarding climbing and Washoe spirituality at the site. Early in the controversy, portions of the area were closed to climbing because of the danger of rockfall onto the roadway below. While accepting that limited closure...

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Chapter Three: Real Powers

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pp. 23-28

In Carson City, Nevada, on a hot summer day in the 1880s, Dr. Simeon Lee treated an elderly Washoe man who had fallen face-down in a dusty street. Lee ruled the collapse a result of heat exhaustion. On his follow-up visit the next day, Lee found the man sitting between two women who were chanting rhythmically. Also in attendance was a boy...

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Chapter Four: The Innovator

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pp. 29-39

The fame and influence of Henry Rupert, the shaman most often publicly associated with Cave Rock, cross cultural boundaries. He is the only Washoe doctor to be the subject of a published ethnology. The resonance of his healing abilities became a primary consideration when the Forest Service was making a final determination at Cave Rock.1 When Rupert was a young...

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Chapter Five: Slayer

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pp. 40-48

The brief history of rock climbing at Cave Rock is replete with accomplishments featuring the development of challenging and spectacular routes. Even before the Washoe sacred site issue came to the fore, the site’s enthusiasts faced a problem that confronts all modern climbers: they value new climbs and first ascents, but each achievement reduces...

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Chapter Six: Hunter-Gatherers and Courts

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pp. 49-57

The Washoes had very little reason to hope for a favorable outcome if their attempt to halt climbing at Cave Rock was taken into the court system. Prior to the last decade of the twentieth century, no Native American sacred site claim had ever been upheld in a federal court. While Christian sites such as Catholic missions and the National Cathedral in...

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Chapter Seven: Common or Uncommon Ground

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pp. 58-68

In the late 1990s the Access Fund found itself in what its leaders saw as a no-win situation. In the fund’s 1997 online newsletter, Senior Policy Analyst Sam Davidson expressed concern that the rising incidence of conflicts between Indians and climbers at Cave Rock was damaging climbers’ standing in the eyes of the public. He portrayed the climbers...

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Chapter Eight: Adverse Effects

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pp. 69-75

When the participants were told they could leave at the conclusion of the last collaborative meeting, Cave Rock project manager Lisa O’Daly joked: “No! Lock the door. Make them talk.” She had mentioned in the course of the meeting her hope that participants would come up with “a great solution” that would satisfy both the climbers and the...

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Chapter Nine: Reactions

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pp. 76-79

Juan Palma’s decision and the release of the DEIS brought immediate responses; five letters arrived within the first two weeks. Three of the writers, one from the western slope of the Sierra and two from California’s Central Valley, supported climbing. Their only objection to the proposal concerned the removal of the paved floor; all three suggested it...

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Chapter Ten: Record of Decision

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pp. 80-85

Maribeth Gustafson, a nineteen-year career Forest Service employee, became supervisor of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit in July 2000. She came to Tahoe after serving as the assistant director for fire and aviation management in the Pacific Southwest Region. After graduating from San Diego State in 1980, she had served as a resource...

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Chapter Eleven: New Directions

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pp. 86-92

The Forest Service would not begin implementing the new management direction until forty-five days plus five working days after the decision was published in the local newspaper. Implementation would be postponed if the decision came under administrative appeal during that period. Two appeals were filed within that time frame—one by the...

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Chapter Twelve: Connections

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pp. 93-96

The steep trail up to Cave Rock levels out at a switchback and leads either into the cave or across the cave apron to a small stone patio overlooking the vast expanse of Lake Tahoe. A mid-February 2009 visit revealed that the graffiti, the paved floor, and the anchors in the rock remained. Several names and dates, timeworn but obtrusive, were...

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pp. 97-100

The Cave Rock DEIS, published in 1999, suggested that the Forest Service might not be able to find anyone willing to remove the metal anchors from the rock face because it would require specialized skills found exclusively in the climbing community. The section summarizing social effects said: “Members of that community may be reluctant to be...


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pp. 101-120


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pp. 121-126


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pp. 127-132

E-ISBN-13: 9780874178487
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874178272

Page Count: 160
Illustrations: 11 b/w photographs, 1 map
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Washoe Tribe of Nevada & California -- Trials, litigation, etc.
  • Washoe Indians -- Legal status, laws, etc.
  • Sacred space -- Law and legislation -- Nevada.
  • Cave Rock (Nev.).
  • Access Fund -- Trials, litigation, etc.
  • United States. Forest Service -- Trials, litigation, etc.
  • Rock climbing -- Law and legislation -- Nevada.
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