Reno is always moving, like the waters of the Truckee River that run through it. From conception to expiration, the river lives a life of its own, flowing freely with ice water coursing through its veins. The river owes its existence to the small three-atom water molecule, as does all life on planet Earth.
Going back to our scaled-down solar system model, if the 180-foot diameter of downtown Reno’s Legacy Dome is the size of the sun, then Earth would be about 20 inches in diameter, and orbit 3.7 miles from the dome. This would make Earth the size of a large globe, with an orbit splashing across the Truckee River.
The Truckee River isn’t born in a trickling spring high in a remote mountain watershed, but at the base of a spillway in the northwest corner of Lake Tahoe. It is the sole outlet of the 6th most voluminous lake in the United States. Only the five Great Lakes hold more water than Lake Tahoe.
From its forested origin, the Truckee River flows northeast for 121 miles to its desert terminus of Pyramid Lake. Over the past week, we traveled the length of the Truckee, walking sections of the ambitious Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway that someday will span the entire extent of the river’s course.
The Truckee is not a lazy, brown, sediment-laden river, but a tumbling, crystal-clear stream full of mountain snow-melt. After just a few miles, it rushes past the world-renowned ski resorts of Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley. Continuing on, it wanders stealthily just east of Donner Lake, gains flow from the Donner Creek tributary, and winds through the historic town of Truckee, California.
After a tortuous run of about 40 miles, the river crisscrosses the California-Nevada state line like a downhill skier on a slalom course. Along this segment of river, water is diverted at Fleisch Dam into wooden flumes that carry it to the Steamboat Ditch for the irrigation of ranch land in Verdi and Reno.
In Reno, the river runs right through the middle of downtown. Here the river surges through a Class 2/3 white water park, sculpted by city engineers. Last month, we attended the Reno River Fest, an annual event celebrating the river’s recreational value and historical significance.
After Reno, the Truckee rambles through the adjacent city of Sparks, before entering the stark and austere Great Basin Desert. Under cloudless summer skies, it bores through the arid rocky landscape as a silvery blue ribbon fringed in riparian green. In this barren stretch, the river gurgles past the famous Mustang Ranch brothel and Tesla’s gargantuan Gigafactory.
Eventually, the Truckee enters Paiute Indian land, and ultimately settles into the azure depths of Pyramid Lake. Pyramid Lake is the largest and deepest remnant of ancient Lake Lahontan, an endorheic, closed drainage basin with no outlet. The lake maintains a salinity approximately 1/6 that of sea water by balancing evaporation with the fresh water inflow from the Truckee River.
From its bubbly birth at Lake Tahoe to its peaceful resting place in Pyramid Lake, the transparent waters of the Truckee River give life to planet Earth and our hometown of Reno, Nevada. Watching an old fly fisherman waded to his hips, and Lahontan cutthroat, rainbow, and brown trout suspended in the crystalline shallows, I am reminded of the final scene from a old Robert Redford movie: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”