Cave Rock

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Location: Located above the southeastern shore of Lake Tahoe in Douglas County, Nevada]

Official Listing: The site is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property and as an archaeological property.

Who Considers it Sacred? Native Americans

Significance: Cave Rock is the remaining core of a three million year-old volcano. Cave Rock is considered a place of origin for the creation of the surrounding landscape that became the home of the Washoe people. It is also a place where the shamans, like Henry Rupert, received power fro their healing practices.

Henry Rupert, who died in 1965, was a well-known Washoe shaman famous for his use of tradition, experimentation and innovation as outlined in the ethnological literature, “The Development of a Washoe Shaman,” written by Don Handelman in 1967. Cave Rock continues to have a living religious importance because of the power associated with it.

The Threat: Excessive tourism and rock climbing

Preservation Status: Cave Rock is popular with people who engage in the sport of rock climbing because of its year-round accessibility. The spot is particularly attractive to climbers as the rock face is very sheer, requiring the highest level of expert technical skills.

Members of the Washoe tribe object to the sport since the effects of rock climbing and climbing equipment result in physical alterations of the rock. For instance, over the years permanent steel bolts used in rock climbing have been installed on the rock face. The presence of climbers on the rock results in visible and audible distraction that disturbs the peace and interferes with traditional cultural practices.

The rock is on National Forest land and the Forest service has been working to develop a management plan that would provide recommendations for respectful use such as hiking and picnicking. In 2003, the plan concluded a climbing ban was necessary to restore the area’s cultural and historical property to the state it was in when used by Henry Rupert before his death, i.e., prior to 1965.

The Access Fund, a rock-climber group, has filed a lawsuit to counter this recommendation, believing that most of their members want to respect Native American concerns and that they will do so without absolute regulatory bans on climbing. They believe that because Cave Rock is on public land, the Forest Service should adopt a voluntary ban so that no one group is completely penalized. In turn, the Forest Service has asked members of the Access Fund to observe this closure in order to protect the area during high impact times.

The Access Fund believes that their members should support this request to show respect for the religious practices of the Washoe. Nonetheless, an appeal of this administrative decision is under way, as is the Access Fund’s lawsuit.

For More Information: Sacred Sites Newsletter Volume XV, Number 1, Fall 2004

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