Learning about the region’s rich geology and natural history | NevadaAppeal.com

Learning about the region’s rich geology and natural history

Richard Moreno
For the Appeal
Jack Hursh/For the Nevada Appeal Tufa formations at the south end of dry Winnemucca Lake (near Pyramid Lake) are among the many fascinating geological attractions found in the Reno-Lake Tahoe area.
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“The Reno area is particularly good for the study of geology, especially earthquakes and faulting, volcanic rocks, precious-metal ore deposits, geothermal activity, and the effects of glacial erosion and deposition.”

– Introduction to “Geologic and Natural History Tours in the Reno Area, Expanded Edition”

When it comes to rocks and landforms, it turns out that the Reno area is a geological wonderland. In fact, “Geologic and Natural History Tours in the Reno Area,” produced by the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, describes the rich variety of geological and natural attractions found in the region.

Written by Joseph V. Tingley, Kris Ann Pizarro, Christopher Ross, Becky Weimer Purkey, and Larry Garside, this spiral-bound publication is a gold mine for anyone who has ever looked at a Northern Nevada land formation, lake, mountain range, or wash and wondered what it is and why it’s there.

The book, which is an updated and expanded edition of a much smaller work originally published in 1996, is well designed, with an informative geologic and cultural history of the region followed by chapters divided into four geographic trips.

Within each of those tours, the authors offer detailed histories, geologic overviews and a listing of natural attractions and parks.

For instance, in “Trip 1: Around the Truckee Meadows,” the chapter starts with a description of the area to be covered. In this case, Reno to Verdi, with a detailed map and useful mileage information between the various places that are described.

Enhancing the text in each chapter are color and black and white photos that show the various geological formations, cliff faces, rocks and mineral deposits that can be found along the route. Additionally, chapters have color maps, graphics and special photo plates.

Each chapter also contains informative sidebars devoted to some noteworthy aspect of the trip. For example, the first chapter contains a history of the irrigation ditches that run through the Truckee Meadows and notes where they can still be found.

Trip 2 is devoted to the Virginia City, Carson City and Washoe Valley area and includes geologic information about the Virginia Range, a feature on the importance of the piñon pine tree to the American Indians, a lengthy section on mine dumps and what their color and shape represent and informative history on the Comstock Lode, Sutro Tunnel and historic buildings in Virginia City and Dayton.

Additionally, the chapter describes the reason for the sand dunes at Washoe Lake and the geology of Slide Mountain, which overlooks Washoe Valley.

The third trip focuses on Lake Tahoe, Carson City and the Carson Valley. It provides an overview of Lake Tahoe’s history and development, including the forces that shaped the marvelous lake as well as an explanation for the Genoa fault zone, which defines the eastern base of the Carson Range.

The final trip is devoted to the journey from Reno through the Truckee River Canyon (east) to Pyramid Lake. This chapter details the history of the city of Sparks, the history of prehistoric Lake Lahontan, the presence of diatomite in the Truckee Canyon and an overview of Pyramid Lake including its natural history.

Of particular interest is the section spotlighting tufa rock, which can be found all around Pyramid Lake.

This whitish stone is calcium carbonate, which forms in warmer water that is filled with calcium deposits.

Around Pyramid, the tufa takes on a variety of unusual shapes and forms including concentric layers, reef-like creations and coralline rock.

The book closes with a useful glossary of geologic terms and definitions – definitely invaluable for the non-geologists (like me).

“Geologic and Natural History Tours in the Reno Area” is available in local bookstores or from the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology at the University of Nevada, Reno campus. The book retails for $24.95.

• Richard Moreno is the author of “Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada” and “The Roadside History of Nevada” which are available at local bookstores.