Archive for August 17th, 2005

eastern Nevada
Visited: August 17, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 228 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Diverse landscape that includes an example of America’s High Desert, the Great Basin, an ornate cave system, the Lehman Caves, the world’s oldest living thing, the bristlecone Pine, and the alpine wilderness of the 13,063-foot high Wheeler Peak.

Great Basin NPBEAUTY (10/10)
Maybe it was the gnarled, knotty, That Can’t Possibly Be Alive-coolness of the bristlecone pine trees. Maybe it was the majestic flight of two juvenile golden eagles. Maybe it was the unbelievable mirage lake created by Wheeler Peak’s cloud cover. Maybe it was the 10,000-foot high aquamarine glacial lakes. Maybe it was the hike across a snowfield into a towering natural mountain amphitheater. Maybe it was the newborn fawns frolicking through groves of quaking aspens.

At some time we accepted what our senses were screaming, “This is one of the most beautiful places we have ever been.” Our rational, travel section reading selves did not want to relent. No one talks about this Park. Few people visit here. It is in Nevada. Had we gone mad? No, we had just stumbled onto one of America’s hidden scenic gems and for two days, it was our quiet, personal paradise.

The Park’s glacial streams have presumably sustained life since their creation. Rock art sites give proof that ancient humans have lived here for thousands of years. A bristlecone pine along Wheeler Peak’s slope has been living there for nearly 5,000 years. It is the oldest living thing on Earth. Even dead bristlecone pines are extraordinarily resilient. A few fallen trees have been aged at over 9,000 years; the dead wood almost impervious to time’s erosive powers.

CROWDS (8/10)
Its isolation makes Great Basin NP one of our least visited National Parks. We had spent the prior week with swarms of Californians at Yosemite NP, Mono Lake, Mammoth, Lake Tahoe and Reno. In comparison, Great Basin NP was our own private Park, laden with wonders every bit as spectacular as those in the Sierra Nevadas.

Our fellow travelers seemed to share the same sense of appreciation for Great Basin. We all looked at each other with mischievous grins and the thought: can you believe we have this whole place to ourselves?

Alpine LakeEASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
Great Basin NP is located in the central portion of Nevada’s eastern border near the town of Baker, Nev. U.S. Route 50, a/k/a America’s Loneliest Road, passes near the Park’s entrance. We purchased gasoline in Ely, located 70 miles to the west. We are unsure if Baker had a gas station. The nearest town to the east is Delta, Utah, 106 miles away over salt flats.

Las Vegas, Nevada is 290 miles to the south, Reno is 385 miles directly west, Salt Lake City, Utah is 230 miles to the northeast. The western United States is large.

Once you get to Great Basin NP, the attractions are remarkably accessible. Where else can you take a three-mile round trip hike to the oldest living things on Earth, a five-mile round tripper to a glacier and a do-able day hike to the top of a 13,000+ foot mountain?

The Park offers a wheelchair accessible First Room tour of the Lehman Caves.

The Park’s thin book selection consists mainly of Great Basin-related titles and nature guidebooks. If you travel to the Park, be sure to bring ample food; there are few dining choices in the surrounding areas. The Park’s water, on the other hand, is plentiful and tasty. In fact, the campground’s pumped water, from the glacier, won a Best Water in the National Park Service taste test. We concurred, applauded those judges’ decision and filled every available container with the elixir.

COSTS (2/5)
Park entry is free. Tours of Lehman Caves are not; they run $10 for 90 minutes, $8 for 60 minutes. The National Parks Pass gives you no cave tour discount.

During the summer, 12-15 guided tours of Lehman Caves are scheduled per day. Ranger-led hikes to the bristlecone pine forest leave daily at 10:00 a.m. Helpful Rangers staff both the Lehman Caves VC and the new Great Basin Baker VC. Campfire talks occur during summer weekend nights at both the Upper Lehman Creek and Wheeler Peak campgrounds.

We did not tour the Lehman Caves but we did explore the nice Project ’66-era cave museum. The new Great Basin VC is open but does not yet include permanent Park-related displays. We give the Cave tours the benefit of the doubt because of the wonderful Ranger-led campfire talk we attended. The talk revolved around all things water: the importance of water conservation, our country’s rapidly disappearing aquifers, glacial formation, recent local flooding and even riparian ecosystems. We are so glad that we ate fast and hurried down to the campfire circle.

FUN (9/10)
If you think Denver’s mile-high altitude makes breathing difficult, then Great Basin NP might not be the place for you. Most of the day hike trails BEGIN at 10,000 feet above sea level. We struggled but had a blast walking through climates and ecosystems that are generally inaccessible. An eight-mile round trip hike to Nevada’s second highest mountain; that is just amazing.

Snowfield StrollWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
To most, Nevada is simply a gambling mecca. Few ever leave the smoky confines of Vegas, Reno, Laughlin, Primm, Pahrump, Henderson and Carson City. Who can blame them? Heck, we’ve been to ‘em all.

Still, there is a reason U.S. Route 50 is America’s Loneliest Road: most of Nevada is a rugged, barren, hot and inhospitable place. We found Great Basin NP to be a high desert oasis every bit the equal to the more luck-based Silver State destinations. We cleared our lungs with Great Basin NP’s alpine air, drank its pure glacial waters, hiked up its dramatic peaks, gazed into its crystal night skies and basked in its perfect isolation.

TOTAL 53/80


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