58 mi / 93 km
Reno-Tahoe Int (RNO)
This relatively short scenic drive of just over 58 miles takes you through the arid deserts of northwestern Nevada to discover one of the great natural wonders of The Sagebrush State. Cue Pyramid Lake. It's a dash of iridescent blue saltwater that spreads between the western flanks of the Sierra Nevada and the lunar-like ridges of Tohakum Peak.
The lake can only be accessed on wild desert roadways, which makes the drive there an adventure in itself. Start by cruising up the 447 from Wadsworth. As soon as you're out of town, the desert claims the horizon, sweeping on for miles and miles until it meets walls of painted mountains on both sides.
You'll drive across what looks like the surface of Mars for 20 minutes or so before you get to the Pyramid Lake Museum and Visitors Center.
It's the perfect intro to the region, chronicling the cultures and histories of the Paiute Indians who first inhabited the lakesides, while also showcasing the ecological importance of the waters – they're home to strange fish known as cui-ui, and supports one of the largest pelican colonies in America.
Past that is where Pyramid Lake itself comes into view. Prepare to be wowed by a shimmering mass of sky-blue water framed by brown-paper mountains.
Believe it or not, you're actually looking at the largest and last remaining part of Lake Lahontan, a pre-historic lake that dominated vast parts of Nevada back in the last Ice Age.
In 1860, this region was stricken by unfortunate clashes between the Paiute tribe and Euro-American settlers in what was called the 'Paiute War'. Tensions escalated when Chief Numaga's warriors attacked a settlers trading post. The United States Army retaliated, leading to the Battle of Pyramid Lake.
Despite the Paiute warriors' bravery, they were ultimately defeated, resulting in the confinement of the Paiute people to reservations and significant changes in the region's dynamics. The conflict represents a chapter in the complex history between Native American tribes and European settlers in the American West.
As the lake fades into your rear-view mirror, there's a final stop for panoramic views over the lake and the challenging but equally spectacular 'Monkey Condos trail'. It's a montage of toppling hoodoos and bluffs that's best accessible with a 4WD.
Beyond its stunning landscapes, Pyramid Lake has a rich history woven into its shores. From the legends of Stone Mother to the pioneering aviators who made their mark on its waters, the lake holds stories that stir the imagination and connect us to the past.
As the road winds alongside Pyramid Lake, you'll find yourself immersed in a landscape that has inspired awe and wonder for centuries. The serenity of the lake, the vastness of the surrounding desert, and the rich cultural heritage make this journey a truly memorable one.
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