Walker Lake Interpretive Association

History

Walker Lake, NV

HISTORY AND GEOLOGY
OF WALKER LAKE

Walker Lake lies within the Great Basin Desert, located on U.S. Highway 95, 130 miles south of Reno, Nevada.  In the early history of our Earth, during the Prepaleozoic Era, before 586 million years, the Great Basin was formed when the ocean floor of an ancient seabed uplifted and the effects of plate tectonics fused the land. With no outlet, it became an inland sea.  During the Pleistocene epoch, (Ice Age) Lake Lahontan covered most of what was to become the Great Basin Desert, which reached through 8,665 square miles of Western and Northwestern Nevada and part of California.  Its maximum depth was around 900 feet. The climate during this time was wetter and much cooler. (Grayson 1993)         

As the massive ice sheet receded northward, the land dried and became warmer. This caused Lake Lahontan to recede, leaving a number of isolated dry lakes in closed valleys.  Three major rivers continued to drain east of the Sierra Nevada, the Truckee River, Carson River, and Walker River, which is the terminus for Walker Lake. Today, Walker Lake and Pyramid Lake are what is left of this bygone era.  They stand as a testimonial giving us a glimpse of Lake Lahontan and this glacial epoch period. Look high above in the rocks around Walker Lake to the watermarks etched above the present lake levels to be taken back through the ages of time. (Fiero 1986)

 


 

SEA SERPENT LEGEND 

Over 200 million years ago, in the Late Triassic period, the sixty-foot long Ichthyosaur lived on the floor of the ancient sea that was to become Walker Lake.  Meaning “fish-lizard” this marine reptile is the official state fossil for Nevada. Forty of these giant creatures became stranded in the mud flats in central Nevada. Their final resting place was discovered in 1928 during the geological exploration for mining near the town of Berlin, Nevada.  In 1957 the location became Ichthyosaurus State Park. (Rowland 1999) 

Reports of sea serpents in Walker Lake have been around probably as long as the lake has been inhabited.  The Walker River Paiute Tribe has a legend handed down by the “Older People” that there were two sea serpents living in the lake who were once human beings, a male and a female.  Children were told not to talk lightly or make fun of them. Reports from white settlers as early as 1868 describe the legendary creature with “a head similar to a crocodile, four feet near the neck, an enormous tail and covered in scales”. (Walker River Paiute Tribe 1975)  Could the famous “Cecil” the Sea Serpent be one of the few surviving Ichthyosauri finding solace in the deep blue waters?     


HUMAN HISTORY OF WALKER LAKE        

Humans began to occupy the area at least 11,000 years ago. (Grayson 1993)  During this time the area abound Walker Lake was very lush and provided the inhabitants with most of the essentials needed for existence. Agai Pah, or Trout Lake was the name for Walker Lake because the trout were so plentiful. The people who inhabited the area called themselves the “Agai Ticcatta”, which means ‘trout eaters”. The Agai Ticcatta were a hunter gatherer society whose source of food included seeds, berries, rice grass, desert plants, pine nuts, ducks, fish and a variety of animals. It is noted that their diet was more varied than that of modern day United States. Houses were made with tule or grass and provided much warmth in the winter.  The people would gather to catch the trout as they ran up the river in the spring.  After the fish were caught it was time for festivals, which included gambling, dancing and games. (Walker River Paiute Tribe 1975)

Pine nuts were a staple in the food source and the harvest was an important occasion accompanied by days of ceremony and celebration. (Walker River Paiute Tribe 1975)


MEDICINE ROCK            

The Medicine Rock is covered with writings.  The Agai Ticcatta would leave offerings and pray for good health. (Walker River Paiute Tribe 1975)

Life was plentiful and abundant for Trout Lake and the Agai Ticcatta’s until by the early 1820s fur trappers and traders began moving into the Great Basin.  Jedediah Smith was the first trapper to cross the Sierras and discover Trout Lake, followed by Peter Skene Ogden who was the first white man to spend much time in the western Great Basin.  In 1843, trapper Joseph Reddeford Walker passed by Trout Lake traveling through the Great Basin to California.  In 1844 Captain John Charles Fremont led a United States government exploring expedition and reached what he named “Pyramid Lake”.  In 1845 Fremont made an expedition across the Sierras and met at Trout Lake with lithographer Edward M. Kern. In 1845 Fremont named Trout Lake and the Walker River after the trapper Joseph Walker. (Walker River Paiute Tribe 1975) 

The discovery of gold in California brought white settlers to the region. In November of 1859, two reservations were proposed for the Northern Paiute, one at Pyramid Lake and the other at Walker Lake. In 1859 the first white people moved to the valleys west of Walker Lake. (Walker River Paiute Tribe 1975) 

 With large numbers of settlers moving in to the area and using the land, life and existence around Walker Lake was about to undergo significant changes.  The first irrigation ditch was constructed at the northern end of the reservation in 1866.  Diversion of the Walker River for agricultural purposes over the years has diminished the flow of water to Walker Lake.  Walker Lake receives 83 percent of its water input from the Walker River, followed by 11 percent from participation, and 6 percent from ground water and runoff.  Between 1882 and 1994, the level of the lake has dropped 150 feet.  As the lake level drops, salt levels increase.  When the total dissolved salts reach a critical level, the lake will not be capable of supporting its wildlife habitat (Horton 1995) 

 


 

TUFA ROCKS 

        Tufa, Walker Lake, NV       

Strange rock formations found around Walker Lake are the tufa, “rock which grows”. 
Formed when water evaporates from lime-rich waters, leaving calcite crystals. 


REFERENCES 

Fiero, Bill, 1986. Geology of the Great Basin. University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada. 

Grayson, Donald K, 1993. The Desert’s Past A Natural Prehistory of the Great Basin. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London. 

Horton, Gary A.,1995. Walker River Chronology A Chronological History of the Walker River. Nevada: A Historical Perspective of the State’s Socioeconomic, Resource, Environmental, and Casion Gaming Development. Business and Economic Research Associates.

 Walker River Paiute Tribe, 1975. Walker River Paiutes A Tribal History. University of Utah Printing Service, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Stephen M. Rowland, 1999. The Ichthyosaur Nevada’s State Fossil. Rocks and Minerals.

 WEBSITES and E-MAIL CONTACT

Nevada Division of State Parks-Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park Website, http://parks.nv.gov//bi.htm

Nevada Division of State Parks-Official Home Page http://parks.nv.gov/

Nevada Fact Sheet water.uses.gov/pubs/fs/FS-028-961

Rowland, Stephen M., 1999. The Ichthyosaur Nevada’s State Fossil. Rocks and Minerals. Steve Rowland


Walker Lake Interpretive Association is a Non-Profit Organization Incorporated in the State of Nevada.
WLIA is a registered 501 C3 non-profit organization with the United States Internal Revenue Service.

Your donations are tax deductible.

Walker Lake Interpretive Association
 
Phone: (775) 945-9088
 
Photography and Text by Bonnie Rannald, all rights reserved
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