San Francisco — Tahoe is an American Indian word (ta-hoo) meaning lake. Some early and appreciative visitor, no doubt a Native American, dubbed it ''the lake of the skies.'' Its maximum elevation is 6,229 feet; maximum depth 1,645 feet. Some peaks of the Sierra Nevada tower almost a mile above the vast lake.
Steep slopes around the shoreline prevent development on much of the land area; of three major areas that have been developed, the two largest are in California - at the north and south ends of the lake.
The Western Federal Regional Council notes that in 1956 ''there were almost no recreational facilities; the permanent population of the basin was 3,000; and visitors totaled only a few thousand.'' By 1979 there were campgrounds, boating facilities, and ski areas. Casinos had begun to multiply, and the permanent population was nearly 75,000. About 223,000 people visited the area on peak summer days.
Today the permanent population is at least 50,000 and on peak days - summer and winter - there are as many as 300,000 people in the basin. Vacation and permanent homes and shopping centers have been joined by motels and gambling casinos on the lake's shores. Traffic is a problem for local police; so is crime. Still, the mountain retreat has not lost all of its charm; its physical attributes still overwhelm the worst that man has done to the basin. But don't go if you haven't made a reservation!