Chasing God’s Paintbrush at Pyramid Lake




It didn’t seem that long ago that I moved out west.  I remember a fraternity brother of mine, Steve, mentioning that I should go see Truckee and the beauty of Lake Tahoe.  Driving west to my new life I remember seeing fires often the mountains as we passed through Reno.  Jeff and I were sort of freaked out, but the locals didn’t seem to care.


I quickly fell in love with high alpine lakes.  The cold, clear water was in stark contrast to the muddy, eutrophied lakes back East.  My first few motorcycle trips in the Sierras visited these bodies of water.  They’re still my favorite place to go.  I remember looking on the map seeing Pyramid Lake just to the north east of Lake Tahoe in Nevada. Pyramid Lake had always been on my list of places to go, but I never quite got there.  California had seductive pull to her and the high desert of Nevada was foreign to me.

I took the truck up to Reno this weekend to hang out with Patrick.  Long drives either in the truck or on the motorcycle gives me a fair chunk of time to think, to reflect, and soak in the world. I’ve been thinking a lot these days about the concept of morality.  In college, there were always debates in the campus newspaper about absolute versus relative morality.  One side of the fence held to a strict dogma about what was right and wrong and the other side had a much more laissez faire attitude of “doing no evil.”

Spending my teenage years voluntarily in an evangelical church definitely put me on the absolute morality bandwagon.  Reading the college newspaper would always be a highlight of the week understanding what the latest points in the campus debate was.  As engineers, we were all very black and white individuals.  Life was a binary experience.  We all learn though, that life is anything but a binary experience.


I took a break from church after coming out as the whole thing was a very polarizing experience at the core of my being.  I needed to heal and recalibrate my life as I came to know that the evangelicals don’t have it all right.  Growing up I definitely had a relationship “with church” but I don’t think I really had a connection “with God.”  Life is teaching me that the two are very different.  God is the supernatural being with which many of us as humans try to know.  Church is the man-made institution by which a set of people connect with a productized God.  Each church’s god is a bit different. That god is a product bought and sold on the open religious market.  You’ll often hear people use the term “churchshopping.”  It’s a euphemism for finding the productized God that matches the closest to your own belief of who the actual God really is.

Recently I’ve just felt a tap on the shoulder to reengage in the conversation about God.  I know I don’t have a quarter of the answers I did when I was 20.  That’s a good thing.  Actually, it’s a great thing.  The engineer in me is learning to see gray.

Patrick and I headed up to Pyramid Lake in the late afternoon.  Everything about that body of water was different than Lake Tahoe.  There was very little vegetation.  The water appeared very dark.  And we saw very few people during a warm Saturday afternoon.

Nevada highway 445 lazily wanders its way out of Sparks North towards Pyramid Lake.  It’s a beautiful high desert drive perfect for a motorcyclist that wants to wander the open country at speed.  As I approached the lake, I’m reminded how much open space we have here in the United States.  Pyramid Lake is a part of the Paiute Indian Reservation.  Many of the recreational spots are reserved for tribal use only.  Yes, we were in the United States, but it wasn’t land available for the average American.  I was a visitor in someone else’s home.  In a lot of ways, it felt like being abroad.


Nevada 445 was recently paved making the ride smooth and wishing I had my motorcycle.  Clutch issues on the bike necessitated taking the truck this time.  I suspected a small leak in the slave cylinder, much like my trip up to Seattle in 2009.  I didn’t want to start a new trip with mechanical worries as being in the middle of a trip unsure of your bike isn’t fun.

The desert to me always had a minimalist feel to it.  Whenever I transition from lush landscapes to barren ones, part of me instantly misses the green, the foliage, the diversity.  Desert landscapes are full of brown.  As I acclimate to the area, I’m always surprised at the richness I find.

At first we were stuck with that “crappy afternoon light.”  I find it hard to do great photography in the late afternoon.  The desert didn’t help with its strong sun and harsh shadows.  We mostly explored the western shores of Pyramid Lake.  Nevada 445 hugs the shores of lake with great, predictable turns as the road rises and falls in altitude along the journey.

The drive seemed to fade into the background as we were both exploring the big body of water.  We were wondering how far the road actually went.  With so few people in the area, did the road actually circumnavigate the lake?  About halfway up the western shore of Pyramid Lake, the road turned to dirt.  We weren’t equipped with four-wheel-drive, so we headed back south.

I was surprised how few people we saw the whole day.  It must’ve been less than 20.  A few people were recreating near the shores, but far below the large number of boats, water skiers, and swimmers I had expected to find.  Instead of heading back to Sparks, we continued south.  The sun was finally dropping in altitude getting to the golden hours photographers love to experience.

The south side of the lake was much less mountainous than we experienced earlier in the day.  The road was wide open, requiring very little cornering.  This section of the road got much closer to the shoreline.  We stopped at one particular turn out and walked down to the beach.  The sun was finally warming up the skyline which was a stark contrast to just 90 minutes before.

The desert really came alive during the next 60 minutes.  Yellows became oranges.  Oranges became deep reds.  Purples filled the skies as blue conceded its reign for the coming night.  Experiences like these always challenge me to think beyond my own self.  The world we live in is truly beautiful.  As we were driving back my camera kept calling, “Stop here!  Stop here!”  We just went from one beautiful scene to the next.  I was reminded that there had to be presence beyond what we know as humans.  It was a beautiful time in a beautiful place.

As a photographer, one of the biggest things I’m learning is just to wait.  Typically when I’d photograph a sunrise or sunset I will just be there for the event: the sun coming up or dropping below the horizon.  Each time I go I’m reminded there are glorious moments well before and well after the actual sunrise or sunset.


A lot of me just wanted to stay there: even with the bugs.  When the sun was fully down, stars would then come out and light the sky – brilliantly.  But that’s another adventure for another time.



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3 responses to “Chasing God’s Paintbrush at Pyramid Lake”

  1. Mom Avatar

    Glad u waited ….beautiful!

  2. mom Avatar

    great blog ….and yes remember there are lots of great moments between the big ones ….Love the black and white and grays too!

  3. Carl J. Mosca Avatar

    Awesome shots!! Thank you for sharing Dan.

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