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Tulare Lake is a normally dry fresh-water lake that was formerly the largest in the Western United States. Except during heavy precipitation it was part of a large endorheic basin, at the south end of the San Joaquin Valleymarker but not connected to the San Joaquin River. During wet years it was the terminus of the western hemisphere's southernmost chinook salmon run. It was written about by Mark Twain. It is approximately 10 miles south of the site of the Mussel Slough Tragedymarker. The lake was named for tule, a giant species of bulrush that, once plentiful, lined the marshes and sloughs of its shores.

The lake and its surviving wetlands lie in the southern portion of California's San Joaquin Valley, about forty miles south of Fresnomarker. Yokuts tribesmen built sedge-boats and fished in this lake before the arrival of American settlers. The lake and its large marshes were once an important fishery: in 1888, in one three-month period, 73,500 pounds of fish were shipped through Hanfordmarker to San Franciscomarker. It was also the source of a regional favorite, Pacific pond turtles, which were relished as Terrapin Soup in San Francisco and elsewhere. It was also a significant stop for hundreds of thousands of birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway. In the wake of the Civil War, the bordering marshes were drained, and in the twentieth century the lake was drained; it is now a shallow basin of fertile earth within the most productive agricultural region of the United States.

The land was reclaimed from the lake over a few decades as the Kaweah, Kern, Kings and Tulemarker rivers were diverted upstream and canals were built to drain the lake. In fact, aggressive groundwater pumping since the draining of the lake has resulted in a significant lowering of the water table, causing subsidence of the land.

Once touted as the largest freshwater lake west of the Great Lakesmarker, in 1849, the lake measured , and in 1879, , as its size fluctuated due to varying levels of rainfall and snowfall. However, by the end of the nineteenth century the lake all but completely disappeared. Because the lake's basin remains, the lake occasionally reappears during floods following unusually high levels of precipitation, as it did in 1997.

The expression "out in the tules," referring to the sedge that lined the lakeshore, is still common in the dialect of old Californian families and means "beyond far away."

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