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Pyramid Lake is an endorheic salt lake, approximately , in the Great Basin in the northwestern part of the U.S. state of Nevadamarker. One of the largest lakes in the United Statesmarker, it is located in southern Washoe Countymarker northeast of Renomarker, along the east side of the Virginia Mountains with a surface elevation of about .


Geography of Pyramid Lake
The Pyramid.

Pyramid Lake is fed by the Truckee River after leaving Lake Tahoemarker upstream and enters the lake from its southern end. There is no outlet, with water leaving only by evaporation, or sub-surface seepage. The lake has about 10% of the area of the Great Salt Lakemarker, but it has about 25% more volume. The salinity is approximately 1/6th that of sea water. Although clear Lake Tahoe forms headwaters that eventually drain to Pyramid Lake, the Truckee River delivers more turbid waters to Pyramid Lake after traversing the steep Sierra terrain and collecting moderately high silt-loaded surface runoff.

The lake is the largest remnant of ancient Lake Lahontan that covered much of northwestern Nevada at the end of the last ice age. Pyramid Lake was the deepest point in Lake Lahontan, reaching an estimated 890 feet due to its low elevation level relative to the surrounding basins. In the 19th century the vicinity of the lake was inhabited by the Paiute. The lake is now completely within the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation. It was first mapped in 1844 by John C. Frémont, the American discoverer of the lake who also gave it its English title.

Major fish species include the cui-ui lakesucker, which is endemic to Pyramid Lake, the Tui chub and Lahontan cutthroat trout (the world record cutthroat trout was caught in Pyramid Lake). The former is endangered, and the latter is threatened. Both species were of critical importance to the Paiute people in pre-contact times. As they are both obligate freshwater spawners, they rely on sufficient inflow to allow them to run up the Truckee River to spawn, otherwise their eggs will not hatch. Diversion of the Truckee for irrigation since the early 20th century has reduced inflow such that it is rarely sufficient for spawning in modern times. Due to the construction of Derby Dammarker in 1903 made to divert water to croplands in Fallon, an adjacent town, the Lahontan cutthroat trout (the "salmon-trout" as described by Frémont) became extinct in Pyramid Lake and its tributaries due to the immediate lowered water level, increased water salinity, and lack of fish-ladders on the dam (for upstream spawning runs), and were replaced with Lahontan cutthroat trout from hatcheries. Fish populations are now sustained by several tribally-run fish hatcheries.

The name of the lake comes from the impressive tufa formations nearby. The largest such formation, Anaho Island, is home to a large colony of American White Pelicans and is highly restricted for ecological reasons. Access to the Needles, another spectacular tufa formation at the northern end of the lake has also been restricted due to recent vandalism.

Pyramid Lake is virtually a character in the classic novel of the Great Basin, The City of Trembling Leaves, by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. The region was also rendered beautifully in the semi-abstract landscapes of Robert Caples, Clark's friend and the model for the character Lawrence Black in the novel.

Pyramid Lake as seen from the Pah Rah Range

Water quality

Because of the endangered species present and because the Lake Tahoemarker Basin comprises the headwaters of the Truckee River, Pyramid Lake has been the focus of several water quality investigations, the most detailed starting in the mid-1980s. Under direction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a comprehensive dynamic water quality computer model, the DSSAM Model was developedto analyze impacts of a variety of land use and wastewater management decisions throughout the 3120 square mile Truckee River Basin. Analytes addressed included nitrogen, reactive phosphate, total dissolved solids, dissolved oxygen and nine other parameters. Based upon use of the model, some decisions have been influenced to enhance Pyramid Lake water quality and aid the viability of Pyramid Lake biota.

See also


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