Las Vegas, Nevada - Pyramid Lake is one of the largest lakes in the Great Basin, the terminus of the Truckee River flowing from Lake Tahoe into northern Nevada. This desert oasis, with a surface area of nearly two hundred square miles, is a unique geological feature and was home to the Paiute for thousands of years before the arrival of explorer John C. Frémont in 1844.
For the Paiute, it was a spiritual center that provided life-sustaining resources, such as the cui-ui, a fish unique to the lake and now endangered. For the ranchers and farmers who settled on tribal lands, the waters that flowed into it were necessary to raise cattle and crops. In At Pyramid Lake, Bernard Mergen tells how these competing interests have interacted with the lake and with each other, from the Paiute War of 1860 to the present. The lake's very existence was threatened by dams and water diversion; it was saved by tribal claims, favorable court decisions, improved water laws, and the rise of environmentalism. In this cultural history, Mergen, who as a young child spent summers at the lake, combines his own remembrances with other source material, including novels, poetry, newspaper and magazine journalism, unpublished manuscripts, and personal conversations, to paint a fascinating portrait of one of Nevada's natural wonders.
Bernard Mergen is professor emeritus of American studies at George Washington University. His previous books include Weather Matters: An American Cultural History Since 1900 and Snow in America. A native of Reno, Nevada, and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno, he lives in Franklin, West Virginia.