RENO, Nev. (AP) — A northern Nevada tribe is considering plans to protect sacred sites on its reservation after vandals spray-painted gang symbols and graffiti on a landmark feature.
The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe closed off public access to the prominent Pyramid and Great Stone Mother tufa rock formations on the lake's remote east shore after the latter's vandalism two years ago.
Tribal Chairman Elwood Lowery said extensive vandalism is prompting the tribal council to consider a permanent protection plan for all cultural sites on the reservation, about 30 miles northeast of Reno.
The plan might involve a permit and fee system, he said, and only allow escorted tours of photographers, historians, scientists and the public to the sites. In the meantime, only tribal members are allowed to visit the Pyramid and Great Stone Mother.
"Vandals have caused an incredible amount of damage to our heritage over the years," Elwood told The Associated Press. "We're denying access to the sites until we develop a program to protect the area. All options are on the table."
Explorer John Fremont gave the lake its name when he named the pyramid-shaped rock formation on the desert lake's east shore. He and his party camped near the Pyramid in January 1844 and were the first white men to visit the lake.
The Great Stone Mother, which resembles an Indian woman sitting down near a basket, figures prominently in Paiute legend. According to legend, she wept so long for her missing children that she filled the lake with her tears before turning into stone.
Eugene Hattori, curator of anthropology at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City, told the Nevada Appeal that petroglyphs on the reservation are a national and international treasure and also need to be protected. Some date back between 10,000 and 18,500 years, he said.
"Some of the vandals have removed parts of the petroglyphs with diamond saws and have decorated their fireplaces and backyards with the carvings," Hattori told the Appeal. "This must be stopped at once ... (The petroglyphs) must be protected at all costs."
Elwood said the tribe has stepped up patrols of cultural sites, but it's difficult for tribal police and rangers to cover such a huge area. The reservation encompasses 740 square miles.
The dirt road leading to the Pyramid and Great Stone Mother will remain closed to the public at least until the tribal council acts on a protection plan, which could take a few months, he added. Boaters are required to keep 1,000 feet away from the rock formations.
The tribe has even denied requests by professional photographers and out-of-state Native Americans to visit the site until the plan takes effect.
Pyramid Lake, which is about 15 miles long and 11 miles wide, is the terminus of the Truckee River, which begins its 100-plus-mile run at Lake Tahoe.