Lake Tahoe is known for harboring dark secrets in its depths. But on Oct. 1, one of those mysteries will be revealed to the public—the GPS coordinates of several sunken vessels in Emerald Bay.
Over a dozen boats from the early 1900s have been located in Emerald Bay, and in an effort to foster education and preservation, the California State Parks Department is opening the Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail, an underwater pathway that leads to four of these historical sites.
“Our mission is to identify and interpret underwater resources,” California State Parks archaeologist Denise Jaffe said. “We wanted to develop a project that highlights and celebrates our cultural heritage.”
To date, 12 small boat wrecks and two large barges have been identified in Emerald Bay. Four of these sites, ranging from 10 feet to 60 feet deep, will open to scuba divers as part of the underwater trail. These wrecks were chosen for their historical significance and their locations, which are removed from the busy boat traffic zone.
Of the four dive sites, one is a massive barge over 100 feet long, and two others are perfectly preserved watercraft believed to hail from the 1930’s and 1940s. However, one of the sunken boats that is designated as part of the trail is a wooden vessel that dates to as early as 1915.
“The boats look like they were made by local craftsmen,” Jaffe says. “They’re all beautiful and well-preserved.”
With an average water temperature of 44 degrees, the Lake is noted for preserving anything that sinks below its surface. Although many things contribute to these preservation factors, the icy water in particular makes it hard for bacteria to grow, so things simply don’t decompose. And since there are no waves or tide, artifacts remain as unblemished as the day they descended into Lake Tahoe’s depths.
Curiosity in the boat wreckages has surged. Tahoe Dive Center owner Matt Meunier has received numerous calls from people wanting to visit the dive sites, many from places as far away as Germany.
“It’s crazy that there is suddenly so much interest in diving in Lake Tahoe, “Meunier says. “But it’s a 38 trillion-gallon swimming pool with fantastic diving; there’s great landscapes, giant waves of minnows and rainbow trout.”
Currently, there are no dive shops in Tahoe. But Meunier plans to relocate his business from Carson City to Stateline at Lake Tahoe in spring of 2019.
“We are bringing the dive trail to life and giving people a chance to see the preserved history of Lake Tahoe,” he says.
Meunier added that autumn is one of the best seasons for diving because “a diver can see over 100 feet.” This is due in part to the fact that spring runoff has dissipated and summer boat traffic has ebbed, making the Lake’s clarity especially pronounced.
While most people consider diving a summer activity, it is a year-round sport and Tahoe Dive Center offers diving tours throughout the year. In the winter, dry suits are provided, and guests can layer up in fleece and wool socks just as if they were going skiing.
The dive tours are $175 for two dives and include tanks, weights, suits and a professional dive guide.
Jaffe said that while the sunken boats are indeed lovely, divers should be aware that they are fragile and should exercise caution when visiting the dive sites by maintaining buoyancy and keeping hands off.