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Pyramid Lake

Geologists, birdwatchers, and naturalists enjoy a strange lake in Nevada’s Great Basin.

Pyramid Lake in Nevada, image
Photo caption
A tower of calcium-rich tufa rises from Pyramid Lake in Nevada.

You won’t find any high-rise casinos or beach bars at Nevada’s Pyramid Lake, 35 miles north of Reno. The lake lies at the end of the Truckee River, which tumbles from Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada down into the Great Basin. Alkaline and treeless, 26-mile-long Pyramid Lake is the austere yin to Tahoe’s lavish yang.


Visitors come to see a garage-size rock formation known as Stone Mother and to peer at the lake’s namesake rock pyramid jutting from the water. With luck, they can also hook a few tackle-busting cutthroat trout, descendants of behemoths that once lurked in Lake Lahontan, an inland sea that during the last ice age covered much of what’s now Nevada. The modern lake sits on one-fourth of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe’s 745-square-mile reservation, set aside for the tribe’s use in 1859.

The Pyramid Lake Museum and Cultural Center in Nixon highlights the area’s natural and cultural history with displays of Paiute cradleboards, traditional baskets, and other artifacts. “We get geologists, bird-watchers, naturalists—people who enjoy the high desert,” said Ben Aleck, the museum’s collections manager. A ranger station in Sutcliffe sells camping, boating, and fishing permits ($9 per angler; permits are also available online). (775) 574-1088,

Photography by Danita Delimont/Alamy


This article was first published in July 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.