Friday, November 10, 2006

Beautiful Views at Washoe Lake

Washoe Lake State Park

With unobstructed views of Slide Mountain and the surrounding Washoe Valley, Washoe Lake State Park is one of the best places to experience Northern Nevada’s basin and range environment.

On warm days, the lake, which is about four miles long and two miles wide, becomes a haven for water sports enthusiasts. Windsurfing is extremely popular at Washoe Lake as well as Little Washoe Lake, a smaller, sister body of water to the north that is part of the park.

Windsurfers find that due the strong winds that whip down from the mountains to the west provide excellent conditions for riding the lake’s waves.

High above Washoe Lake is Slide Mountain. The native Paiutes called it a name that roughly translates as “mountain that falls down on itself.” About once every century—the last time was in 1983—Slide Mountain releases a wave of mud and rocks.

In fact, in the mid-19th century, humorist Mark Twain wrote about a fictitious legal battle between two ranchers—one wanted his house returned to him after a slide had deposited it on top of his neighbor’s dwelling.

From the park, the 9,600-foot mountain is a beautiful sight with its pine-covered slopes and distinctive half-face topped with snow.

Human settlement at the lake can be traced to migrant bands of native Washo Indians, who often spent winters in the lowlands of the valley and summers at Lake Tahoe. Many used the willows and cattails from Washoe Lake marshes to make baskets and other items.

In 1859—the same year that silver was discovered in nearby Virginia City—Mormon settlers established a community at Franktown on the west side of the valley. Within a short time, two mills opened in the valley to process the ore and the towns of Washoe City, Ophir, and Lakeview had come into existence to supply the mines.

In the 1870s, the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, which extended from Reno to Virginia City, was built through the area and provided a means for transporting goods to and from Washoe Valley.

Washoe State Park was created in 1977 to preserve the valley’s unique natural assets and provide a place for water sport enthusiasts. The park encompasses 8,053 acres and sits at an elevation of about 5,000 feet.

At the Main Area Campground in the center of the park (accessed from Lake Boulevard), Washoe Lake State Park has 49 campsites available on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is also an RV dump station, boat ramps, flush toilets, showers, drinking water, hiking trails, and picnic tables.

The park can accommodate tents or self-contained RVs (up to 45 feet in length) and has 10 RV pull-throughs. There are, however, no hookups for the RVs.

A one-third mile trail from the Main Area Campground winds through sand dunes and leads to the lake. Smaller, undeveloped trails lead around the lake.

A recent addition to the park is a wooden viewing platform and interpretive displays adjacent to the wetlands at the south edge of the park.

The viewing area offers a wonderful overview of the lake and magnificent views of Slide Mountain and the other mountains encircling the valley. You’ll also find a coin-operated telescope on the platform, which allows you to scan the marsh looking for wildlife.

The displays point out that the marsh at the south end of the lake is popular with a variety of waterfowl, which you can occasionally spot, including cranes and herons.

Washoe Lake State Park is located 10 miles north of Carson City and 15 miles south of Reno via U.S. 395 north and the East Lake Boulevard exit. It is open all year.

Admission to the park is $3 per person; $11 per night for a campsite.
For park information, call 775-687-4319.

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