Have you ever dreamed of having a whole big lake all to yourself? This dream may be more difficult to accomplish than it seems, because lakeside destinations tend to draw big crowds during the summer season. Avoiding the big crowds is the main goal of a summertime lake excursion and fortunately there still are a few easy to access scenic desert lakes that do not attract much attention, mostly because they are located way out in the middle of nowhere. Walker Lake is one such place where plenty of elbow room can be found on any given day!
Walker Lake is located next to Hawthorne, Nevada on U.S. Highway 95 (Veterans Highway). This location is fairly close to the halfway point between Las Vegas and Carson City, so it is a good choice for an overnighter. There are plenty of historic sites and ghosts towns that are worth checking out along this long stretch of road, so doing the long drive on Highway 95 is an adventure in itself. The Walker Lake Recreation Area offers several campsites and picnic areas that are managed by the Bureau Of Land Management. Vacation lodging can be found in the community of Walker Lake right next to the water too.
Walker Lake is a mysterious place in more ways than one. Walker Lake originally took shape when the gigantic Lake Lahontan dried up eons ago. At one period in ancient history, Lake Lahontan actually covered most of Northern Nevada and the sedimentary rock strata is what provided the clues for the origin of Walker Lake. What puzzles scientists the most is that Walker Lake has completely dried up several times in the last few thousand years and many factors are to blame. The ice age and shifts in the Walker River were causes for water depletion in ancient times. Currently Walker Lake is drying up again in modern times and water diversion along the Walker River seems to be the cause. Lengthy drought conditions also are a factor. Several legislative actions have been enacted to save Walker Lake and some are in effect at this time. The mysterious long term cycle of Walker Lake disappearing, then reappearing a few thousand years later, may once again be underway, which is something to ponder over.
Conspiracy theorists and paranormal investigators are also drawn to the mysteries of Walker Lake. With so many top secret military research facilities located nearby, Walker Lake has become a conspiracy theory rumor mill. One legend infers that a long underground river goes from Walker Lake to the Pacific Coast and this secret waterway is used for submarine warfare. A NAVSEA installation is located next door to the lake, so this adds fuel to this conspiracy theory. UFO activity has been reported at this lake in the past and the extraterrestrial presence sure does keep the paranormal tourists busy. Oddly enough, there actually are people that come to this lake at night just to spot UFOs!
Walker Lake is the largest natural body of water in the Great Basin Desert, but the water depletion has resulted in higher salinity and mineral content levels. This means that many native fish can no longer survive in this lake and this has affected the entire Walker Lake Recreation Area ecosystem. Sport fishing is still an option when visiting Walker Lake, but the number of fish have decreased in recent years.
Boating is permitted at Walker Lake, but there are a few limitations. The southern end of Walker Lake is cordoned off by the neighboring Hawthorne U.S. Army Base for national security reasons. Where the Walker River feeds the lake in the north shore, no fishing is permitted in the estuary. Even though a visitor cannot go to the south shore or fish the north estuary, there is still plenty of room to roam, because this is a very big lake!
Boat launch ramps can be found in the community of Walker Lake and at the BLM Recreation Area. Because the shoreline is slowly receding, the old boat launch ramps are nearly useless. It takes a heavy duty four wheel drive vehicle to launch a large boat at the primitive muddy boat launch sites. Because of the high elevation, steady winds can kick up when weather systems pass through, so Walker Lake is a great sailboarding destination. Better still, there are usually few powerboats to contend with, so the sailboarders will likely have the entire lake to themselves.
Walker Lake has several picturesque beaches and one is called 20 Mile Beach. The primitive campsites and shaded picnic areas are located in the BLM Recreation Area next to the highway. Visitors tend to respect the “Pack It In – Pack It Out” primitive camping rules, so the entire shoreline is as pristine as can be. Walker Lake also is pet friendly, so this is a great place to let the dogs have their fun in the sun.
During my first visit to Walker Lake, I was on my way to Virginia City from Las Vegas while on vacation. As sunset approached, I decided to campout at Walker Lake, instead of spending the night in a motel room. After setting up the campsite and making dinner, the twilight hour seemed to occur much sooner in the evening than when it should have. It was then that I noticed how the high mountain peaks and tall cliffs along the shoreline actually block the sunlight from reaching the lake late in the day. The high cobalt blue sky was bright with red and orange colors, but shadowy darkness was all around near ground level. This created an eery visual effect that was interesting to experience.
As the glow of the setting sun quickly faded behind the mountains and tall cliffs, the western shoreline of Walker Lake quickly turned pitch black dark. This was when things really got spooky and there was a feeling of something weird was about to happen. Sure enough, one of the strangest desert sunsets that I have ever seen soon turned into sheer pandemonium. I kept hearing the sound of wings flapping in the air all around me, but I could not see what was making all the noise. The sound became more intense and I could actually now feel the breeze on my face from the wings of whatever was flying through the air close by.
I was clueless as to what the flying creatures were, till the headlights of a car driving on the highway shined over the campsite. I just started to laugh in awe, because I had never seen so many bats flying in every direction all at one time! There were literally thousands and thousands of little brown bats flying around and they all appeared as soon as darkness set in at Walker Lake! Apparently the pitch black darkness at sunset was like a dinner bell for all the bats that were roosting in the small caves in the mountains along the western shoreline. The little brown bats were eating every flying bug in sight, which actually is a blessing when camping out. The bats acted as nature’s pest control and I never even got so much as one mosquito bite while camping at Walker Lake that night. The millions of harmless little brown bats flying all around were great entertainment as well!
Camping out at Walker Lake sure did turn out to be an unforgettably cool experience, because of the millions of harmless little brown bats. The fresh mountain air, starlit sky and dead silence provided a peaceful sleep. Awaking the next day was just as peaceful as the night, because there were only a few other people camping out along the entire shoreline. The bright morning sunshine highlighted this picturesque setting in its full glory and it was easy to admire this amazingly beautiful place. Walker Lake truly is a gem in the vast Great Basin Desert that simply must be experienced at least once in a lifetime!
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