Camping at Pyramid Lake in Nevada

Peter chafes at absurd rules, and one of these is the rules that we can’t buy or shoot off fireworks for the fourth of July in our Californian town, despite the fact that budget cuts have also cancelled the annual downtown festival where we had a public display. So, one recent weekend, he drove all the way to Nevada to look for “illegal” fireworks he could buy. As we found out, fireworks are also illegal in Nevada–but you _can_ buy them on Native American tribal lands. And so, he ventured north from Reno into Paiute territory, found his fireworks, as well as gorgeous high desert country with a huge lake. To sweeten the temptation to stay, his fireworks purchase came with a permit to shoot off the fireworks at one of a number of beaches on the lake.

It sounded like a grand adventure! We shot off a few of the smaller “safe and sane” fireworks at home on the fourth of July, but the next weekend, we packed up our car with camping gear, fishing gear, and our new inflatable boat (since there are no boat rentals at the lake) and headed east to the land of the free and the brave, that is, er, of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. We needed special permits to use their resources, but these were modestly priced: $9 to camp for a night, $10 for each one-day adult fishing permits, $5 for a one-day child fishing permit, and a $10 boating permit, which may not have been necessary for our little floating dingy.

There aren’t really any formal camp sites: you just pick a spot you like, pitch your tent, and if necessary, dig a fire pit. Bathroom facilities consist of a public toilet on the road between beaches, and there are some garbage cans on the trail into each beach. We went to the Indian Head Rock beach, marked by a huge rock. There we were really sorry Peter hadn’t opted for the 4-wheel-drive option on his truck, especially when we got stuck in the sand once or twice. We had to settle for parking on the last stretch of hard-packed sand near some other friendly campers, and carrying our stuff onto a section of the beach that we liked.

Both Peter and Neil tell me they’ve never camped in strong winds, so I must have camping-in-the wind karma. The beach was buffeted with strong gusts whooshing through all day long. It wasn’t like the 40-mph wind bursts my modest Sears tent had to endure atop a canyon wall last June, but I wasn’t looking forward to another night of  gusts blow-drying me all night long. The trick to wind camping is to either have a low-profile tent, which I don’t have, or to remove the rain fly, so the wind can blow through the mesh in the top and encounters less resistance. It still requires double-staking and a strong tent that won’t tear.

As I was setting up our tents (Neil has a smaller one, which was just short enough to work, albeit also without a fly), Peter was inflating our boat by the lake, and figuring how to attach the propeller to the battery. Once he had it ready, we put on our life vests, packed ourselves in the boat with our fishing gear (which was a tight fit together with the cooler I’d optimistically added in case of catching fish. As it turned out, the waters on the lake were so choppy due to the wind, that it was nearly impossible to tie on a lure, much less the sinkers we needed in the middle of the day. The waves sloshed on to me and Kelly in the front of the boat, which was fun enough for us. About half way towards the other shore (where Peter had heard the best fishing was to be had), Peter read the battery, which said it needed recharging. Suddenly, Indian Head Rock seemed very, very far away. He turned the boat around and we returned to our campsite, where the winds, despite the fact that I’d weighed my tent down as much as possible inside, and staked it solidly, had blown over.

So instead, we lounged in our camp chairs, splashed in the water, and made a half-hearted attempt to fish from the shore until the sun set. Thereupon, we pulled out all our dangerous, banned-in-California-and-Nevada fireworks, and proceeded to set them off. It was a lot of fun, but it’s still hard to understand why officials consider these so dangerous. Most of our fireworks were fountains, just slightly larger than the “safe-and-sane” kind, and sadly, not particularly impressive. The best show came from mortar fireworks, which shot high into the sky. These seemed like less of a fire hazard, since from their high distance, the sparks are cold by the time they land. They have long fuses, so all you have to do is set the in a tube, light them, and stand back. In any case, our fellow campers enjoyed the show, and some of the ones further down the beach set off a firework which was still available in the Smokeshops called “Yellowjacket.”

Our neighbors brought us watermelon, and we sat around and snacked and told each other campfire stories until 10:30, when the winds seemed to have died down enough for me to put the rain fly back on my tent. As the more experienced wind camper, I bunked down on the floor, because low resistance is everything when it comes to surviving the wind. Peter took the cot I’d set up mostly to support the tent, and ended up having a hard night as the wind pushed into him all night long.

In the morning, Peter took Neil and Kelly back out on the lake for one more attempt at fishing. Kelly caught something with her Disney Princess fishing rod, but it snapped the line before she could pull it in. I suspect it was one of the lake’s renowned cutthroat trout, which were out of season, so we would have had to let it go anyway.

Instead of cooking eggs and bacon on our new propane stove, we decided to pack up and have breakfast at a restaurant near Reno. It was a beautiful vacation though, and I love Native territory. So maybe we’ll be back when trout is back in season, or when we want to enjoy fireworks. And hopefully, the winds won’t blow as hard.

 

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