50-Plus Pyramid Lake Service and Fun, Nevada

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14088A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Restore tufas to their natural state by removing graffiti and perform other service work as needed
  • Explore the culture and history of the Paiute tribe
  • Fish, swim, and hike during time off


  • Instruction for the service project
  • Hotel and hot shower at the end of the day


DatesMay 18–24, 2014
StaffClaudia Hilligoss

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Share your community spirit and your love of the great outdoors on a service-oriented vacation involving work projects in cooperation with the Paiute Tribe at Pyramid Lake in the Reno, Nevada area. Each day will offer a balance of activities, either service or recreational -- including swimming (weather permitting), fishing, hiking, and exploring the culture and history of the Paiutes. At the end of each day, we will return to the comfort of our hotel for a hot shower. We will have plenty of time for rest and relaxation since we will not be required to perform the group chores that are the norm on many Sierra Club national outings.

While most visitors come to this region to enjoy the glitter, gold, and bright lights of the Reno casinos, this trip offers an opportunity to take the road less travelled and experience the stark beauty of the Great Basin Desert, the largest U.S. desert. Because Lake Pyramid area is an arid climate, May is one of the best months of the year to visit -- depending on your preferences -- with warm days, cool nights, and small chance of rain.

Our fun will begin at our hotel in Sparks, Nevada. This location was selected because of its proximity to Pyramid Lake and lack of a casino.  

The Project

Pyramid Lake is the site of the world’s most spectacular tufa deposits composed of calcium carbonate. The tufa rocks formed sometime between    26,000 and 13,000 years ago when Pyramid Lake was part of Lake Lahontan, which is now dry. Unfortunately, the tufas have been vandalized with graffiti. Under the supervision of Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe’s Reservation Staff, this will be the third year for the Sierra Club to partner with the Paiutes. The first work project held by the Sierra Club at Pyramid Lake was to help remove some of the paint off the tufas, thereby restoring the rocks to their natural state. We may be asked to continue paint removal or perhaps perform a variety of other tasks, such as painting and removing litter from the National Scenic Byway, which follows the lake’s south shoreline.


The trip will begin on day one with an informal gathering at 5:00 p.m. at the hotel. Check-in time is 3:00 p.m. If you arrive early, you can unpack, take a leisurely walk, or explore the area. By arriving early you will have additional time to acclimate to the altitude at 3,796 feet.

A typical day will begin with eating breakfast and making a sack lunch. We will then travel around 1/2 hour to our work site and trailhead. At the end of each day’s activity, we will return to the hotel for a social gathering, then dinner and optional evening activities.

We will alternate days two through six with three days of working, one day of hiking, and a day off so participants to explore the area on their own. This off day will allow those who are interested an opportunity to fish Pyramid Lake. As a world-class fishery, the lake is the site of the world-record Lahonton Cutthroat Trout (41 pounds) and the only place in the world where the ancient Cui-ui fish can be found. If you have never fished here before, you are in for a visual treat and some exceptional fishing fun. However, you will be responsible for providing your own equipment and obtaining a tribal fishing permit.  Some may want to bring along a kayak while ohers may just spend the day relaxing at the hotel or admiring the spectacular Reno clouds. 

We will also visit the Pyramid Lake Paiute Museum and Visitor Center and the Bureau of Land Management’s Palomino Valley Ranch to briefly view Nevada's Wild Horses.  

All activities and service projects are subject to change depending on a variety of factors, including trail conditions, permits, weather, and availability of staff and speakers.



Getting There

Due to insurance regulations, all transportation to the lodge, trailheads, and the work site is the responsibility of each trip member. Leaders are unable to arrange carpools for participants. Those arriving by air or being dropped off at the lodge should plan to rent a car or make their own arrangements to carpool with other trip participants. If you wish to carpool, the leader will provide a participant roster before the trip.

Accommodations and Food

Because Pyramid Lake is mostly undeveloped, we will stay in surburban Reno/Sparks.  Our hotel is located about five miles northeast of the Reno International Airport. A complimentary shuttle from and to the airport is offered by the hotel. The hotel is located about 30-40 miles from our work sites at Pyramid Lake. Participants will share a double-occupancy room -- either a king-size bedroom for couples, or a room with two queens. Rooms will have refrigerators and microwave ovens. The hotel also offers a pool, hot tub, fitness center, internet, and full-service restaurant.

The first trip meal will be dinner on Sunday evening and the last meal will be breakfast on Saturday morning. Participants will pay for their own dinners at nearby restaurants. The hotel offers a full, complimentary breakfast each morning. Participants will prepare their own sack lunch each morning.  The trip leaders will provide an assortment of sandwich breads, meats, cheeses, and spreads. There will be plenty of food; however, those who have dietary restrictions of personal preferences may provide some food items of their own.  While the lunches will include vegetarian options, we cannot promise that local restaurants will be able to accommodate strict vegans. 

Trip Difficulty

Work will be moderately strenuous due in large part to working in an arid climate. Hydration is the most important tool in preventing sickness -- everyone is advised to bring at least three one-quart water containers.

This service trip is suitable for all levels of fitness because everyone is encouraged to work at his or her own pace. However, if you haven't been exercising regularly, now is a good time to start. Safety is the primary concern on all of our service trips.

Equipment and Clothing

A detailed equipment list will be sent to all registered participants. Participants will need hiking boots, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts for the work project.

The leader will send a departure bulletin with reminders about equipment and pre-outing preparation before the trip begins. You should expect evening temperatures in the low 40s and days in the mid-70s, as well as an occasional afternoon thundershower. Please, no electronic devices.



  • USGS Nixon Quad. Leaders will provide maps and detailed directions in pre-trip and on-trip communications.


  • Storer, Tracy I., Sierra Nevada Natural History.
  • Blackwell, Laird R., Wildflowers of the Tahoe Sierra.
  • White, Mark, Afoot and Afield:  Reno-Tahoe: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide.



Your leaders are volunteers. We have a long-term dedication to the Sierra Club, conservation, and enjoyment of the outdoors.  We'll be practicing Leave No Trace wilderness principles throughout the trip in order to minimize our impact on the environment. 

The Reno-Tahoe area is a readily accessible recreation mecca, appealing to retirees as well as to winter and summer recreational users. As more and more people come to the area, they contribute to a growing environmental problem. We'll discuss the ecological implications of the area's popularity.

While on the trip, please don't hesitate to ask your leaders about any conservation concerns that you may have. We look forward to having you share conservation challenges and successes from your home.

Since any traveling leaves a carbon footprint, check out the information that the Sierra Club offers about carbon offsets at: http://www.sierraclub.org/outings

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Claudia Hilligoss has been a Sierra Club volunteer participating and leading a variety of trips in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and in the Midwest since joining the club in 1992. Some of her favorite activities are hiking, cross-country skiing, gardening, photography and art. She enjoys staying abreast of environmental issues and participating in events in support of the environmental community. In the past she served as a local group chair in Northern Kentucky, Fundraising Committee of the Cumberland Chapter, Clair Tappaan Lodge Committee. Currently she serves on the National Outings Committee. Her love of nature was sparked as a child exploring the prairie, streams, and lakes of the Midwest. After living and working in the Sierra Nevada mountains for many years, she recently returned to her native state of Indiana to be near family.

Assistant Leader:

Barbara Balen has worked in the field of cultural resources management for over 30 years. During her career as the Calaveras District Archaeologist for the Stanislaus National Forest, Barbara worked extensively with land managers to survey, locate, and protect both Native American and historic archaeological sites on public land. Barbara has found working with the Sierra Me-Wuk Indians to protect the cultural landscapes of the Sierra to be some of the most rewarding and meaningful work of her career. Barbara has traveled extensively throughout Europe, and Latin America. She enjoys nature, culture, and gardening.

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