Strange days have found us
PYRAMID LAKE, Nev. – For people who have grown up around here, Pyramid Lake has sort of a mystical reputation, said Alexia Bratiotis of the Nevada Museum of Art.
“Yeah, fishermen have gone missing up there – just vanished,” added Amy Oppio. The two were chatting after a preview tour of the museum’s new Impressionist exhibit. Oppio has grown up hearing stories about the lake from her dad, who delivered fishing boats there – about an hour north of Reno.
During a canoe trip to the huge, desolate lake a week earlier, a Nevada Appeal team confirmed the lake’s strangeness. After a day exploring the strange rocks, algae, hot springs and caves, we slept on the sand near the pyramid-shaped rock the lake is named for. When we awoke the next morning our food cooler had vanished. We asked our camp neighbors but they denied any knowledge of the cooler’s whereabouts – and we believe them, mostly.
Disappearing coolers are not the only mystery at Pyramid Lake. Once part of the Lake Lahontan inland sea, thousands of years of evaporation have left ancient water lines high on the surrounding peaks.
Strange, bulging rock formations found near the shore – and miles away in the surrounding desert – suggest sea coral formations or miniature mushroom clouds. They are tufa – rock which grows. According to Rocky Mountain Tufa, the stuff is formed when water evaporates from lime-rich waters, leaving calcite crystals. Iron gives Pyramid Lake tufa an orange color.
Around Pyramid Cove, a popular camping spot on the lake, the tufa varies from branching formations to brain-looking bulges or even angular, jutting shapes.
New mineral crystals are currently forming on the west side of the pyramid rock where a hot spring flows at the water line. Place your hand on the pyramid to feel the radiant heat coming from within – especially at the white areas.
The only major water source for miles, Pyramid Lake attracts thousands of birds including geese, pelicans, gulls, owls, greebs and ducks. Exploring the pyramid rock, we found a goose nesting with seven eggs. On a nearby rock tower, a horned owl spooked and flew the coop. The morning orchestra of singing birds will wake you for a full day of exploring or fishing for cutthroat.
Because the area is part of the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, permits are required to camp, fish or put a boat in the water. They are available in the towns of Sutcliffe – with its popular marina – and Nixon – which has an interesting museum.
It’s strange to imagine the former Lake Lahontan that once filled the area. The location’s total lack of trees, the pervading odor of the ocean and its rocky desolation add to the peculiar mood.
After all our food vanished along with our cooler, we opted to swing up to Gerlach for some of Bruno Selmi’s famous ravioli. Driving fast across the Black Rock Desert with a map in front of your face (there’s nothing to hit on the wide open, flat expanse) will increase the intensity of a road trip to this bizarre area.
Head northwest from Gerlach to Planet X Pottery and down the well-graded gravel of Smoke Creek Road for a scenic route back to the lake. You’ll pass abandoned ranches and empty railroad sidings. The eerie rock formations at the north end of the lake are off-limits, but will add more mystique to your voyage even from a distance.
– Karl Horeis is a reporter with the Nevada Appeal newspaper in Carson City.