Smoke Creek Desert

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Smoke Creek Desert
Smoke creek desert.jpg
Smoke Creek Desert
Country United States
State Nevada
District Washoe County
Location 60 Miles /100 Km North of Reno, Nevada Near Calif.-Nev. Border
 - elevation 3,852 ft (1,174 m)
 - coordinates 40°29′21″N 119°43′51″W / 40.4890693°N 119.7307546°W / 40.4890693; -119.7307546Coordinates: 40°29′21″N 119°43′51″W / 40.4890693°N 119.7307546°W / 40.4890693; -119.7307546
For public Federal lands (including the lake beds, also known as "Playas") are open to the public with regulatory restrictions. Some private lands are in the region and are closed to the public.
Timezone Pacific (UTC-8)
 - summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7)
16040203 [1][2]

The Smoke Creek Desert is an arid region of northwestern Nevada, USA that lies about 60 miles (97 km) to the north of Pyramid Lake, west of the Fox Range and east of the Smoke Creek Mountains. The southern end of the desert lies on the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, and a rail line lies at the eastern edge. The Smoke Creek Desert is southwest of the Black Rock Desert's South Playa and is between the Granite Range and the Fox Range.

Naming history[edit]

The original Smoke Creek Desert is shown on Col. Fremont's map of the area during his 1843-44 expedition as 'Mud Flats' (and is confusing as the Black Rock Desert was originally shown as the same lake, and the Black Rock Desert has been subsequently, on various maps, shown as "Mud Lake", "Valley of Mud" or "Valley of the Mud Lakes" on maps of the 1850s and 1860s.) The Smoke Creek Desert appeared on maps as "Mud Lake" up through maps as late as the 1920s though by that time its name had been standardized as "The Smoke Creek Desert". The other major name for the desert which has been shown on many maps starting in the early 1850s is "Alaki Lake". This is also the first found map reference on which the name "Smoke Creek Desert" appears, though Helen S. Carlson states that it has been found on a map from 1853.[3]

There is controversy as to the origin of the name "Smoke Creek". Some believe it to be named after the Smoke Creek, a creek which lies along the Western edge of the basin and flows Eastward from near the California-Nevada border into the Smoke Creek basin. It was along this route that the Lassen and Nobels Trails were explored from the Honey Lake Valley (Susanville, California area) Eastward, eventually following along the Smoke Creek to the basin now called "Smoke Creek Desert". Other history says that it was named variously for the appearance of the basin to fill in the colder months with steam from the hot springs, or show columns of 'smoke' (water vapor) from the individual hot springs as they rose into the cold clear air of the valley. Alternately it is said that the name comes from the dust and 'dust devils' which the wind would pick up during the hot summer months and make the basin appear as though it was filled with 'smoke'.


The Railroad line on the eastern edge was originally shown on a map of 1876[5][citation needed] as being on the right of way of the Southern Pacific Railroad, though on an 1877[6][citation needed] map is shown as being constructed by the Western Pacific Railroad Company.


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Smoke Creek Desert (847489)
  2. ^ "Smoke Creek Desert watershed: 16040203". Science in Your Watershed. Retrieved 2010-05-12.  (EPA List of Huc Codes: Nevada)
  3. ^ Carlson, Helen S., Nevada Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary, University of Nevada Press, January 1, 1974

External links[edit]