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Melting snow filled the southern and lowest part of the basin to form the ancestral Lake Tahoe. The Sierra Nevada adjacent to Lake Tahoe were carved by scouring glaciers during the Ice Ages, which began a million or more years ago, and retreated ~15,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene.The glaciers carved canyons that are today iconic landmarks such as Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake, and Fallen Leaf Lake, among others.

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Lake Tahoe is the youngest of several extensional basins of the Walker Lane deformation zone that accommodates nearly 12 mm/yr of dextral shear between the Sierra Nevada-Great Valley Block and North America.

Three principal faults form the Lake Tahoe basin: the West Tahoe Fault, aligned between Meyers and Tahoe City, and which is the local segment of the Sierra Nevada Fault, extending on shore north and south of these localities; the Stateline/North Tahoe Fault, starting in the middle of the lake and creating the relief that forms Stateline, NV; and the Incline Village Fault, which runs parallel to the Stateline/North Tahoe Fault offshore and into Incline Village.

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America,) trails only the five Great Lakes as the largest by volume in the United States.

Its depth is 1,645 ft (501 m), making it the second deepest in the United States after Crater Lake in Oregon (1,945 ft (593 m)).

The north shore boasts three peaks at 10,000 feet: Mount Rose, Houghton and Relay peaks. Rose is a very popular hiking and backcountry skiing destination.

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