The Backyard Traveler: Fish-raising and nature on display at Pyramid Lake

The cat guards the fish. Strange as it sounds, a cat-along with a handful of human workers-keeps watch over the thousands of tiny hatchlings raised at the Numana Fish Hatchery, located a few miles south of Pyramid Lake.

Since 1981, the hatchery, which is operated by the Pyramid Lake Indian Tribe, has been the breeding ground for Lahontan cutthroat trout, which are planted in Pyramid Lake.

Guided tours of the hatchery complex, which also has a small museum room and a nature walk, are available most weekdays and Saturdays (or by appointment).

The hatchery provides an opportunity to view the process of raising trout from eggs to small fish (they're about 9 inches long when they're placed in the lake).

The tour begins in a large, open room filled with a dozen or so elevated tanks. Inside the round, chest-high pools are thousands of squiggly, gray-back hatchling trout. In another part of the room are rows of incubating trays, which are used to hatch the fish eggs.

The hatchery staff must feed the tiny fish about every half hour during the day, so someone always seems to be hovering around the tanks.

Incongruously, a house cat strolls around the tanks. The cat doesn't try to hurt the fish but serves as a mouser to keep rodents out of the buildings.

The tour continues to an enclosed, outdoor series of long, narrow ponds filled with tiny fish. The trout are moved from the inside tanks to these external ponds as they grow larger.

In addition to the fish-raising operations, the hatchery has a modest museum room that contains displays describing Pyramid Lake's natural history and geology.

One exhibit has samples of tufa, the rock that forms the pyramid in Pyramid Lake as well as the many unusual stone formations found around the lake. Another display is filled with the baskets, cradleboards, and other crafts traditionally made by the local Paiutes.

The highlight of a visit to the hatchery, however, is the half-mile-long wetlands nature trail found along the Truckee River. Directional signs guide visitors to the trail, which is below the hatchery.

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At the start of the trail is a wooden, observation platform that looks out over a marsh of cattails and tall grasses. Birds hiding in the surrounding trees compete with crickets to see who can make the loudest noise.

From the platform, the marked, dirt trail leads into a grove of giant cottonwoods, winding around bushy sagebrush plants. In several places, where the ground is muddy, wooden walkways have been built.

Along the trail are the clear signs that cattle and other animals have been here before (watch where you step). Soon the trail comes to a fork. The right branch heads to the Truckee River, where, on the day of my visit, a handful of ducks and geese could be seen swimming about.

The other path passes a handful of trees that appear to have had their trunks chewed up by a beaver. Ahead, in a clearing is the unfinished skeleton of some kind of primitive, pole-like structure (eight poles in a circle).

From here, the trail continues to wind through the trees and ends at the river. It's relaxing to stand on the river's bank, listening to the water rush by. The birds, which earlier had been making angry, frenetic sounds because of my presence, settle into more melodic songs. It's so quiet and peaceful.

Then, the moment ends as I hear another car drive up. Drat.

The Numana Hatchery Visitors Center is located eight miles north of Wadsworth via State Route 447. Hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. Call 775-574-0290 for more information.

Richard Moreno is the author of The Backyard Traveler and The Backyard Traveler Returns, which are available at local bookstores.

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