Remnant "sea" or lake erosional features such as beaches, seastacks, bars, and spits seem curious anomalies throughout the Great Basin. They are remains from huge Pleistocene lakes filled in an era of melting glaciers and a wetter climate. The Great Salt Lake is a remnant of Lake Bonneville, while Pyramid Lake and Carson Sink (the western terminus of the Humboldt River) are remnants of ancient Lake Lahontan. Government geologist G. K. Gilbert and surveyor Howard Stansbury first mapped and interpreted many of these features.
The modest Humboldt River (less than .9 million acre feet and 17,000 square miles of watershed) meanders and arcs its way across north-central Nevada. It is the only stream of notable distance or consequence originating in the Great Basin. (Of course, if you are looking for water in an arid land any seep or stream is of consequence!) It provided a route for the California Trail to the gold fields after 1849 but had been used by 1841 as a California branch of the Overland Trail. In 1826 famed Trapper Jedediah Smith traced the southern route through the Great Basin to Los Angeles and found his way back across the heart of the Great Basin in 1827. He disproved the existence of the mythic Rio Buenaventura that was said to flow to the sea and which had appeared on many previous maps. Thus the "basin" concept began to take form in the public mind. Trapper Peter Skene Ogden explored the Basin from the north in 1828, but Joseph R. Walker retraced Smith's route within a year, going on to central California and publicizing the Humboldt trace.