Prospective Olympians began arriving on the mountaintop in July to acclimate themselves to the thin air. Single athletes were housed and fed in trailers directly across Highway 50 from the track while most married athletes stayed in hotels near Lake Tahoe. Local businesses provided part-time jobs to many of the athletes. The Trials on top of the mountain attracted journalists from around the world.
The synthetic track surface was a distinctive pink, with eight lanes on the straightaway and six lanes on the curves. Hundreds of towering pines were left untouched inside the oval, creating a pristine setting for one of the most unusual - and furious - competitions in California history. Huge boulders surrounded the high jump pit.
The USOC conducted extensive testing on athletes at Echo Summit to learn more about the effects of high altitude on high-performance training. Ron Clarke, the great Australian distance runner, trained at Echo Summit for a couple of weeks in preparation for Mexico City.
Despite the beautiful setting, Echo Summit wasn't paradise. Black athletes were under tremendous pressure to participate in an Olympic boycott. Only the most single-minded athletes could ignore the headlines raging across the front pages. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were fresh wounds, and the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago took place less than two weeks before the Olympic Trials began.
Sprinters Tommie Smith and Lee Evans were the leaders of the "Olympic Project for Human Rights," a movement initiated by Harry Edwards, a sociology professor at San Jose State, where the top-ranked sprinters were students. Plans for an Olympic boycott by black athletes had been in the works since 1967 but had begun to wane by the time Echo Summit rolled around.
Nonetheless, the issues of the day didn't vanish into thin air.
"It was like a cinder pile burning for a year and a half," Smith said. "We felt pressure the whole time."
3M, the company that manufactured the Tartan track used at Echo Summit, developed a releasing agent that allowed organizers to pick up the surface without cutting the surface into sections. That was part of the agreement reached beforehand between local officials - the track must be shipped down Highway 50 and laid anew at South Tahoe Intermediate School.
Today at Echo Summit, the paved outline of a track can be seen in the parking lot serving Adventure Mountain, a winter recreational park. Echo Summit is also a trailhead for the Pacific Coast National Scenic Trail. In the years since 1968, Echo Summit was the site of a since-closed ski run, just as it was for a brief spell prior to 1968.
The only other sports sites to be designated California Historical Landmarks are the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Long Beach Marine Stadium, Squaw Valley Ski Area, and the Pioneer Ski Area in Johnsville.
Dick Fosbury, the high jumper who used his victory at Echo Summit as a springboard to the Olympic gold medal in Mexico City, treasures his time spent on the California mountaintop.
"It was a magical place," Fosbury said. "All of a sudden, you'd see a javelin come flying out of the trees. It was a fantasy. There were probably eight or 10 trees that were 60 feet tall on each side of the high jump area. There was a rock that was six or seven feet high, and spectators would sit on that rock and get an elevated view of the competition.
"I was a young man, taking it all in stride, like this happens to everyone who's on the Olympic team. But it only happened to us."