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1 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 , a community of 1,900 members, defeated the Access Fund, a climbers ’ advocacy group sponsored by more than one hundred corporations, including giants such as Nike, Microsoft, Charles Schwab, North Face, and rei. The case set a precedent: for the first time, Native American concerns had closed a popular climbing site on federal property. Lake Tahoe, a pristine body of water that covers 191 square miles in the High Sierra, occupies the center of Washoe ancestral lands. Cave Rock, named De’ ek wadapush (Rock Standing Gray) in the Washoe language , dominates Tahoe’s eastern shoreline, rising in a 360-foot vertical sweep. The granite mass is the core remnant of a volcano that erupted some three million years ago. During the Pleistocene epoch, with the lake level 150 feet higher than today, wave action formed caves in the rock. The main cave, in the middle of the formation, is eighteen feet wide and ten feet high at its mouth, and extends horizontally thirty feet to its eightfoot -by-eight-foot back wall. At least one observer has compared it to the caves that gave birth to the deities of Mount Olympus.1 The granite massif of which the cave is a part comprises approximately two acres, including three hundred feet of shoreline. Early chroniclers described it as half a cathedral dome, and as a jagged promontory rising like a clenched fist. Viewed from the lakeshore below Mount Tallac to the southwest, the mass resembles a sphinx; from Meeks Bay, nine miles directly west across the lake, it appears to be a pyramid surrounding an open vault. The northern view features a fifty-foot silhouette of Introduction 2 cave rock   the “Lady of the Lake” below the main cave. An early photograph taken from the north shows a series of Indian faces profiled in the rock above the Lady.2 The Washoe people believe that the waters of Lake Tahoe “breathe life into the land, plants, fish, birds, animals, and people around it.” Historically , Cave Rock provided Washoe shamans, or doctors, with the most important source of power in the Tahoe basin. Tribal members continue to believe that proper use of Cave Rock is necessary to maintain the health and welfare of Washoes and non-Washoes alike.3 When the Washoes still exercised control over a large expanse of the Sierra from Susanville, California, to Bishop, California, families made a yearly trek to Lake Tahoe in the spring and lived on the lakeshore until late fall, when they returned to their villages in the valleys. Paths circumscribed the lake, but at Cave Rock the only thoroughfare was a narrow deer trail behind it. Traditionally, only Washoe shamans came near the cave, making periodic visits to cultivate power. The community ’s welfare depended on the success of its healers, and authorization to approach a place of power came from higher sources. Power and the places where it reposed held danger for those not specifically chosen or trained to handle it.4 Even as the dominant American majority imposed their culture on the Washoes, traditional practitioners continued to journey to the cave to practice their secret rites. Washoe doctors Welewkushkush; Dick Bagley; Blind Mike Dick; Beleliwe; and the latter’s protégé, the renowned Henry Rupert, also known as Moses, utilized the cave in the twentieth century. Today, many Washoes hold the site so sacrosanct that they will follow a winding, mostly two-lane highway seventy-two miles around the lake to reach nearby destinations rather than drive through the tunnels constructed in the twentieth century below the main cave.5 The members of John C. Frémont’s expedition in 1844 were the first Euro-Americans to see Lake Tahoe. In 1853 mountain man John Calhoun “Cock-eye” Johnson and a reporter from the Placerville Herald followed the Rubicon River gorge into the lake basin and met a band of Washoes on the shore. The Indians communicated to them that they were the first white people to reach that spot, which later was named Meeks Bay. The Americans saw Cave Rock across the lake and asked about it. That night...


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MARC Record
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