All About Pyramid Lake

Northern Nevada is known for many things: the nice people; its proximity to Lake Tahoe; the small-town feel in a growing city. The Truckee River flowing through Reno and Sparks is often a pleasant surprise to visitors (and some residents!). Even more unknown than the river, however, is what lies at its end: Pyramid Lake.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Ron Reiring. Pyramid Lake in 2008 looking southeast.

The Truckee River flows out of Lake Tahoe and, after 121 miles of mountains, Reno/Sparks, and the desert, enters Pyramid Lake at its southern end. Pyramid Lake sits entirely within the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Reservation, and is one of the tribe’s most valuable assets.

Pyramid Lake was mapped and named by the same fellow who first mapped the Truckee River: John C. Fremont. (Fremont originally dubbed the Truckee the “Salmon Trout River” after witnessing the large Lahontan cutthroat trout swimming in the river. The river was re-named later that year by an emigrant party led by Paiute member Chief Truckee.) Pyramid is unique in that it’s an endorheic lake; water flows in, but no water flows out. Only sub-surface seepage and evaporation allow water’s escape.

The lake’s name comes from the prominent pyramidal limestone columns located inside and near the water. “Pyramid Island” is the most well-known of these columns.

Pyramid Lake has only 10% of the area of its bigger sister, the Great Salt Lake in Utah, but it holds 25% more volume.

Extent of prehistoric Lake Lahontan. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Pyramid is a remnant of Lake Lahontan, which existed during the Ice Age. At its peak, Lake Lahontan extended over 8,500 square miles and was ~900 feet deep.

The Derby Diversion Dam, completed in 1905, sits on the Truckee River outside of Sparks and diverts water into the Truckee Canal. The canal feeds the Lahontan Reservoir and the water is used for irrigation. The construction of the dam threatened Pyramid Lake’s existence (and in fact dried up Winnemucca Lake); by the mid 1970s, Pyramid’s depth had lowered by 80 feet and the native Lahontan cutthroat trout became nearly extinct.

Key wildlife in and around the lake includes cui-ui fish, Lahontan cutthroat trout, and the American White Pelican.

In addition to serving as a home to Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe members, the lake also serves as a great option for recreation and fishing.

The Pyramid Lake Museum in Nixon provides a thorough history of the lake and examples of fish and wildlife.