Learning about the Eastern Sierra Nevada and Great Basin Area

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Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake is the northwest remnant of the ancient Lake Lahontan. It is a salt lake (no drains) fed by the Truckee River from the south at an elevation of about 4300 feet. The lake continues north for 26 miles and runs from 4 to 11 miles east to west. It gets to 350 feet deep just north of the Pyramid island. It occupies a depression near the northern end of the Walker Lane fault zone.

Anaho is a tufa encrusted island that was declared a national wildlife refuge in 1913 by President Woodrow Wilson. Its elevation is 4377 feet and was 248 acres in 1913 but about 750 acres now due to a lower lake level. Near Anaho is a small pyramid shaped tufa island that gave Freemont the idea for naming the lake when he arrived from the north along the eastern edge of the Fox Range in 1844. The Newlands Reclamation Project in 1905 diverted water towards Fallon for hay fields and other agricultural uses. This dried up Lake Winnemucca and lowered Pyramid Lake levels by 100 feet.

Mountains and deserts all around

The Virginia Mountains with Tule Peak at 8722 feet opposite Pelican point is to the east of the lake. The Lake Range with Tohakum Peak at 8182 feet is to the northeast. The 26 mile long Fox Range to the north features the granitic Pah Rum at 7806 feet. To the south is the Pah Rah Range with Pah Rah Mountain at 8240 feet, then Virginia Peak at 8367 feet and Pond Peak at the south end of the range at 8035 feet.

The Fox range to the north of Pyramid Lake sits between the Smoke Creek Desert to the west and the Black Rock Desert to the east.

These mountains peak nearly five thousand feet above lake level and are only about ten miles from the shore on average.


The Pyramid Lake area is rather sparse on roads. A paved state route runs along the west side of the lake through Sutcliffe. Other than that, the roads turn to trails in the sand that can trap a vehicle rather easily. The roads on the north end of the lake may be closed at Warrior Point because of vandalism to the geysers and hots springs at the Needle Rocks and Enchanted Beach.

State route 447 follows the Truckee river to the lake area from the south and then heads north through Nixon where it leaves the Truckee at its entrance to the lake. 447 then runs along the west side of the Lake Range and along the border of the now dry Winnemucca Lake to Empire and Gerlach.

Route 445 runs down the west side of the lake then through the Mullen Gap and Pass between the Virginia Mountains and the Pah Rah Range. The road then followsWarm Springs or Palomino Valley to Spanish Springs and then to Sparks and Reno.

Gerlach is the end of the road for route 447, at least as far as paved roads go. It sits at the juncture of the Fox and Granite mountain ranges and the Smoke and Black Rock deserts. Gerlach is about thirty miles from the north shore of Pyramid Lake but any direct roads between the lake and the town are more imagination than reality. Travel in the northern reaches of Washoe County require special equipment and vehicles for safety.


Tufa: a rock made of calcium carbonate deposited from solution as water evaporates. Photo album

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Last updated 05/10/2003