Winnemucca Lake Petroglyphs

Round Trip Distance: 0 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 38311 - 3937 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 15 mins.
Trailhead: Highway 447
Fee: none
Attractions: petroglyphs

What are believed to be the oldest petroglyphs in North America are located on the west side of the now dry Winnemucca Lake on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation east of Reno, Nevada. This post is mainly to let people know where the petroglyphs are located so they can quit asking and to mention that the site is now posted with No Trespassing signs so if you aren't a Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal member you cannot see them for yourself. (Latest update: Pyramid Lake Paiute cultural sites are permanently closed to outsiders due to vandalism.)

The site is 38 miles north of Interstate 80's exit 46 at Fernley, Nevada which is 29 miles east of Reno.

A short distance after turning off of Highway 447 there is a 'No Trespassing' sign. If you drive a little further north to the next turnoff and approach the site from that direction there is another no trespassing sign as well.

The petroglyphs are carved into the tufa rocks on a small hill that overlooks the dry Winnemucca Lake bed.

With a pair of binoculars you can see a few images without trespassing but even with a 650 mm lens it is a challenge to get a descent photo from this distance.

We're guessing that the really nice petroglyphs that we have seen photos of must be on the other side of the hill.

Here are a few others that were visible from the sign.

There are a couple of other tufa outcrops on the east side of the highway as you drive along the lake that have a few petroglyphs but nothing like what is purported to be at the site that is now off limits. The tufa structures are composed of calcium carbonate and were formed when Winnemucca Lake was part of Lake Lahontan which was a large inland sea that filled the basins towards the end of the last ice age 26,000 to 13,000 years ago. As the water receded hunters were attracted to the higher ground in search of animals that would come to drink at the waters edge.

This aerial view of the petroglyph site shows the limits imposed by the No Trespassing signs. We reached out to one of the Pyramid Lake guide services to see if any tours are available or whether there is a tribal member that can be hired like there are at many other sites that are located on tribal lands throughout the southwest but haven't heard anything back as of yet. Until such a time we'll just have to wait. If you do find yourself in the area you might enjoy driving around Winnemucca and Pyramid lakes just to see the variety of tufa formations that are a marvel by themselves.