Mud Slough – Nixon, Nevada - Atlas Obscura

Mud Slough

Nixon, Nevada

As fallout from an irrigation project, a formerly cottonwood-lined stream is now a sandy, desolate, post-apocalyptic channel lined with weathered stumps and tumbleweeds. 

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The Truckee River flows out of Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra Nevada of California, and ends at Pyramid Lake in Nevada. For much of its length, it is paralleled by Interstate 80 with Reno, Nevada at about the halfway point. Before Euro-American settlers arrived in the mid-19th century, an overflow channel split off the Truckee before Pyramid Lake to fill a shallow lake, Winnemucca Lake, in the next valley to the east. It apparently supported a thriving waterfowl population.

The water in the Truckee, however, was soon diverted for other purposes by the settlers. Most notably, the Newlands Irrigation Project built just after the turn of the last century diverted part of the Truckee into Lahontan Reservoir, newly constructed on the Carson River to the south. That diversion spelled the end of Winnemucca Lake. By the 1930s it had dried up completely, as it remains today.

Mud Slough is the now-dry distributary channel that once fed Winnemucca Lake. Old weathered cottonwood stumps line it—the trees presumably salvaged for firewood at some point—but it’s now hard to imagine water flowed this way a hundred years ago. “Mud” is now a misnomer! There are even sand dunes, unusual in Nevada. The main vegetation now is tumbleweed, itself an obnoxious invader species. And the howling of the desert wind has replaced the calls of birds. 

Know Before You Go

Mud Slough is reached by unimproved dirt roads on which high clearance is required and 4-wheel-drive strongly recommended. It can be accessed either from the north or south off Nevada SR 447; coming in from the south (or going out that way), however, crosses the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation and so requires a day-use permit from the tribe.

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