Contact UsStanford Sierra Conference Center
P.O. Box 10618
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96158 Physical Address:
130 Fallen Leaf Road
Fallen Leaf, CA 96150
In 2008, all purpose staff member Harrison Kass, asked his manager at Stanford Sierra Conference Center how deep Fallen Leaf Lake was. The response was “You don’t want to know.” Water can be terrifying, especially water as deep as Fallen Leaf Lake. At its deepest point the Lake is 418 feet in depth. A story of a building is roughly ten feet high. A forty story building could stand erect and hidden below the surface of Fallen Leaf.
John Kleppe, a Professor Emeritis at the University of Nevada, lives on Fallen Leaf Lake. Fishing is his passion and many of his days are spent on the water, rod in hand. For years his lure would snag on solid objects below the surface. Certainly it was not the bottom of the lake… but what? Mysteries have a way of getting under our skin and festering, and the mystery of Fallen Leaf’s depths grated on Kleppe. Finally, after years of snagged lines, Kleppe hired a diver, Phil Caterino, to investigate. On a fall day in 1997, the diver slipped below the water line. When he eventually surfaced, he held the petrified branch of a Jeffery Pine in his hand. The branch was still redolent of ancient sap. Caterino discovered a forest below the lake.
The forest below Fallen Leaf Lake dates back to the medieval era. From 850-1150 C.E. a prolonged drought ravaged the Sierra. A Millennium Drought drained the alpine lake, leaving a large portion of it barren long enough for one hundred foot trees to grow. Then after the water returned, with low oxygen levels in the lake and devoid of fungi and insects, the trees were left alone in their underwater crypt—preserved perfectly.
In 2009 Graham Kent, director of the Nevada Seismological Laboratory, plumbed the depths of Fallen Leaf to observe this underwater forest. Professor Kleppe wasn’t the only one to snag a line on these submerged trees; miles of fishing wire dangled from the branches. There were also chains of gelatinous single celled protists hanging from the trees. As the organisms divide they clump together creating golf ball-sized plump, white balls. These were ‘never before seen’ organisms found only in Fallen Leaf Lake. Like little jelly fish they catch the refracted light and glow faintly. Kent described the scene, “It was a bizarre Christmas-tree effect… I was just waiting for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to fly in.”
When you paddle out on Fallen Leaf Lake you assume that this landscape, this lake framed by dramatic, sheer peaks, is timeless. It is easy to forget that our earth, the water, is inconstant, that not very many years ago a forest grew in the space below your paddle.
(For more information about the underwater forest, click here.)Tags: Fallen Leaf Lake, Sierra Nevada natural history, underwater forest