Reno's best kept secret
Pyramid Lake is a desert oasis hidden just north of Reno.
Michael D. Mueller
View of the Pyramid at from Sutcliffe,
Photo by Michael D. Mueller
Now that spring is in the air, many people are beginning to think of watersports and cooling off. Maybe it's time to think of some new alternatives to the same old swimming hole.
Most people in and around the Truckee Meadows are familiar with
Lake Tahoe. Some U.S. presidents have even visited there from time
to time. But many residents of the Reno-Sparks area aren’t
familiar with the other end of the Truckee River watershed: Pyramid
Pyramid Lake, and Walker Lake in central Nevada are all that is
left of an inland sea called Lake Lahontan that covered much of the
Great Basin some 12,000 years ago.
Pyramid Lake is located about 45 miles North of Reno on the Pyramid highway north of Spanish Springs. Besides being of the same distance as Lake Tahoe is from Reno and sharing a common tributary, the Truckee River, Pyramid Lake and Lake Tahoe share many qualities and have some differences.
Pyramid Lake is quite large as desert lakes go, some 28 miles long and 12 miles across at its widest. Pyramid is owned by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Northern Nevada, and special permits and fees are required for boating and camping.
There are two towns on the lake: Nixon, which is the tribal seat,
lies at the south end of the lake at the delta of the Truckee River,
and Sutcliffe, which lies about halfway up the western shore of the
lake. Sutcliffe offers jet ski and boat rentals, a grocery store
and a bar.
"I go out there all the time," said Julie Rice, and Education
Major and senior at UNR. "My son and I go to Pyramid Lake all
For Rice, it's too difficult to find space at Lake Tahoe.
time we get ready and make it to Sand Harbor at Tahoe all the parking
spaces are gone and the beach is closed," she said. "That never
happens at Pyramid and the water's warm enough to swim in all summer."
Because of its alkali basin, Pyramid Lake is one of the few lakes
that is mosquito-free.
Being an Indian Reservation also enables Pyramid Lake to be
one of the only places left where owners of the two-stroke engine
personal watercraft can still operate in this area.
Author with a 9-pound
Cutthroat trout caught at Pyramid Lake in 1989.
Photo by Michael T. O'Hair
The world record Lahontan Cutthroat Trout was caught at Pyramid
Lake, some 41 pounds and almost 3 ½ feet in length. This
fish is also listed on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Threatened
Fishing season typically lasts from Oct. 1 to July
1 but varies with drought conditions. Charters are available upon
Pyramid Lake is also home to a prehistoric fish, the Cui-ui,
a leftover from millions of years ago and on the endangered species
Another fascinating species, the Horn Billed Pelican, can
also be found in and around the lake. The lake's only real island,
Anahoe, is a refuge to these majestic birds and located at the East
side of the lake.
"I found the pelicans really fascinating," said James
Drennan, a senior English Literature major at UNR. "I went to
Pyramid Lake for the first time about three weeks ago. We saw a huge
flock of pelicans at the Sutcliffe marina. Their wingspans must be
at least seven feet, and watching them take off is a sight to remember."
Pyramid Lake got its name from the 685-foot three–sided pyramid
that sits on the shore of the Eastern side of the lake, right across
from Sutcliffe. This huge monolith can be seen from anywhere on the
huge lake and is made up of a rock called Tufa, a sharp and intricate
crystalline growth that results from reaction with the alkali and
the sunshine with algae.
Hot Spring with some of the Needles in
the background. Only tribal members are allowed in the area.
Photo by Michael D. Mueller
Another of Pyramid Lake’s treasures is the Hot Spring located
at the Needles, an exotic landscape of towering Tufa pinnacles located
on the North shore of the Lake. The water from the spring runs through
a series of hot to cold pools on its way to the lakeshore and has
been touted for its medicinal and healing properties. Because of
vandalism the Needles are off-limits to all but Tribal
members. Visiting these springs is only possible by boat and shore
access is also prohibited.
Pyramid Lake is one of the best-kept secrets of the Reno/Sparks
area. Although it is a desert lake and you must supply your own shade,
this lake is so vast that the typical overcrowding that plagues so
many lakes in the summer is never a problem there.
of its shoreline are sand beaches and camping is allowed anywhere
as long as you purchase a permit. Campfires are also allowed, something
you won’t find in many mountain campsites.
The large volume of the lake, with depths of approximately 750 feet,
enables it to stay relatively cool and refreshing during the hot
summer months. So if you enjoy swimming, water skiing, wake boarding,
boating, fishing, or just seeing one of the natural wonders that
this beautiful state has to offer, Pyramid Lake worth a visit.
"Everyone should visit Pyramid Lake at least once, it's an incredible