Geology of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada
Other References:
Facts and Conservation here
Geology and Natural History of Lake Tahoe at
Geological History at Geology at TahoeThisWeeek Timeline Geologic Information about California at the USGS The Lake Tahoe clearinghouse for geographic (GIS) data
Brief History:
400-365 million years ago (MYA) volcanic eruptions created mountains and granite was formed from molten rock that solidified below the surface).

155-300 million yrs. ago the North American continental plate drifted away from the super-continent of Pangea and moved westward. It collided with a Pacific Island chain in an area which is now the Sierra Nevada.

163-143 MYA compression caused uplifting of the Sierra Nevada to about 3/4 of present height.

The primary force creating the lake was uplifting along fault lines which created the Sierra Nevada and Carson ranges with Lake Tahoe in between from 4-25 million years ago.
A series of volcanic eruptions added to the landscape 5-25 million years ago.

The outlet and level of the lake has changed many times. 1-2 million years ago Mt. Pluto and other volcanos to the north blocked the outlet near Truckee. A new outlet was cut just east of Mt. Pluto.

More recently (2 million to 20,000 yrs. ago) glaciers blocked the outlet. The lake has been up to 800 ft. above its present level in the past. The current outlet at Tahoe City goes into the Truckee River which flows through Reno to Pyramid Lake where it evaporates.

lake tahoe faults There three faults which can cause earthquakes today.
The West Tahoe Fault last moved 4,500 years ago causing a large part of the west shore shelf to move down into the lake and creating a 300 ft high tsunami.
Actually earthquake-caused large waves in a lake or closed body of water is called seiche (pronounced say’sh).
Some of the debris from the slide in the middle of the lake are 65 ft high.

It is due to strike again with up to a level 7.3 earthquake, this time it is estimated that the seiche (tsunami) waves will be 30 ft. high and it will slosh from shore to shore for hours.
In the event of an earthquake move away from windows and doors that face the lake.

The most recent earthquake in the Tahoe region was about 575 years ago, on the Incline Fault, which becomes active about every 10,000 to 15,000 years.
There have been more recent earthquakes north and east of the lake.

tahoe earthquake landslide debris

How Lake Tahoe Was Formed by Sarrina Cazarez
Lake Tahoe overdue for an earthquake | NBC News
A tsunami at Lake Tahoe? - KRNV, Reno, NV
Tahoe Fault Raises Red Flag -
Simulation video

Volcanic Peaks: Mt. Rose (10,778'), Mt. Pluto (8,617'), Mt. Watson (8,424'), Martis Peak (8,742'), Squaw Peak (8,900'), Mt. Tallac. (9,735')

Throats of ancient volcanos remaining after the outer layers were eroded: Cave Rock, Eagle Rock, Castle Peak, Mt. Lincoln.

Up-thrown peaks: Freel Pk. (10,881'), Monument Pk. (10,067'), Mt. Tallac (9,735') * Pyramid Pk. (9,983')

* Mt. Tallac is listed as a volcano in one source and an uplifted peak in another.

Sierra Peaks Regional Data

Pass - RoadElevation
Truckee River - Hwy 89N
Tahoe Outlet
McKinney-Rubicon Rd.
jeep trail
Spooner Summit - Hwy 50E 7,146'
Brockway Summit - Hwy 267 7,199'
Donner Summit - Hwy 80 7,239'
Daggett Pass - Hwy 207 7,334'
Echo Summit- Hwy 50W 7,382'
Luther Pass - Hwy 89S 7,735'
Barker Pass
Blackwood canyon Rd.
Mt. Rose Summit- Hwy 431 8,933'
How Lake Tahoe Was Formed | Cochise College
Geography & History Overview and Facts about Lake Tahoe at the U.S. Geological Survey
How Lake Tahoe Was Formed by Sarrina Cazarez
Return to West Shore Info.