NIXON — Vandals have brought “terrible blight and destruction” to some of the world’s greatest historical treasures at Pyramid Lake, says Dr. Eugene Hattori, curator of anthropology at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City.
“These criminals and thieves have caused unbelievable damage to our tribe and heritage,” said Elwood Lowery, chairman of the 3,800-member Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Tribe, who makes his headquarters here on reservation land adjacent to the lake, about a 90-minute drive northeast of Carson City via highways 395, 80 and 447.
“They’ve violated our sanctity ... they are vandals and looters,” echoed Ben Aleck, director of the Pyramid Lake Museum at the southern end of the 27-mile-long, 9-mile-wide lake.
And famed explorer and Army officer John C. Fremont, who, on Jan. 10, 1844, became the first white man to visit and then name the lake, also would decry the despoiling of this great American treasure were he alive in 2013.
The lake’s stone monuments, statues and petroglyphs are under siege by hooligans, graffiti artists, paintballers and the “vandals, thieves and criminals” described by Hattori, Lowery and Aleck.
“This has been going on for a very long time... people are breaking of parts of the petroglyphs and statues with battery-powered chisels and chain saws,” said a tribal policeman patrolling the lake.
“And gangsters have sprayed gang symbols and black paint on the statue of the Great Stone Mother,” said a tribal fireman, referring to the massive, nature-carved image of a woman who, according to Paiute legend, wept so long and profusely for her missing children that she filled the lake with her tears before turning into stone.
The Pyramid Lake Tribe, whose land became an official U.S. Indian reservation in 1869, was forced two years ago to close the road that hugs its eastern shore and is the only access to the Stone Mother, the famous stone Pyramid that rises out of the lake, Anaho Island and the petroglyph site, said tribal chief Lowery.
“The road will remain closed until we figure out a plan to permanently protect the sacred sites. We hope to do this soon ... possibly within the next six months ... when our Tribal Council comes up with a policy such as only allowing escorted tours of photographers, historians, scientists and others whom we know would cause no damage,” he said.
“Our tribal police, game wardens, boat patrols and Indian cattlemen are now protecting the lake night and day to keep out unauthorized individuals, and at present we are permitting only tribal members participating in prayers and religious ceremonies to visit the sites,” he added.
Because of the road closure, the petroglyphs cannot be seen, and the Stone Mother, the Pyramid and the other sites on the east may be viewed solely from the distant western side.
Hattori emphasized the importance of the petroglyphs, which are complex hand drawings dating back between 10,000 and 18,500 years that were incised or carved with crude tools into outcroppings of limestone boulders.
“We call the people who made these carvings ‘paleo-Indians,’ and we believe they migrated to Nevada and Western America from Southeast China in kayaks via the Bering Sea Land Bridge,” said Hattori.
Hattori, who wrote a paper about the petroglyphs with two other scientists that was published recently in the Journal of Archeological Science, said the carvings “must be protected at all costs.”
“Some of the vandals have removed parts of the petroglyphs with diamond saws and have decorated their fireplaces and backyards with the carvings. This must be stopped at once. The petroglyphs are a national and international treasure,” he said.