Great Basin National Park

We took a trip to said park over Memorial Day weekend.  The park is one of the least visited in the country, so most people don’t know where it is: it’s just on the Nevada side of the Utah/Nevada border, a.k.a. No Man’s Land.  The only town nearby is so small that is doesn’t even have a stop sign, much less a stoplight.  Most of the surrounding area is dry dry desert, but the Snake Range of mountains — which comprises the park — is unusually high, catching banks of rainclouds and allowing for snowpack reservoirs of water.  So it’s unusually lush, what the rangers call a “mountain island.”

 Great Basin 2009 Pole Creek

It’s still pretty deserty.  You can see in the above photo the contrast between desert (on the left) and mountain forest (on the right).  There’s a tiny creek that flows through the right hand side, allowing for the little scrap of forest.

Great Basin National Park is famous for Lehman Caves, a group of limestone rooms similar to Timpanogos Caves.  Apparently the caves served as a jazz club/speakeasy in the ’20s. Eleanor looks rather surprised to hear of it.  We took our cave tour with a biker gang from Salt Lake.  They were rather funny and polite, and had wicked cool leather jackets.

Great Basin 2009 Lehman Caves

Wheeler Peak is the highest peak in the park.  I supposed I would have been more impressed with it if I didn’t see peaks like this every day in Salt Lake.

Great Basin 2009 Mt. Wheeler

BUT — Wheeler Peak also hosts several groves of ancient bristlecone pines.  Really ancient.  Recent research calculated the age of one tree to be around 4,950 years old.  It’s the oldest known living tree in the world.

That’s right, 4,950 years old.  Think about that for a second.  That means that tree was a sapling when, like, Moses brought the Ten Commandments down to the Israelites.  Or when the Brother of Jared was contemplating how to light up his boat.  Old with a capital O.

Unfortunately, the trail leading to the grove was still covered in snow.  We gave up when the drifts got up to our knees.

Great Basin 2009 Snow

Wildflowers were in abundance in the park — Brian gave me a local wildflower guide for Mother’s Day, and we had fun looking up all the little blossoms we found.  We were able to identify nearly 20 different flowers.  The hillsides were carpeted with this variety of sunflower — the picture here just doesn’t do it justice; imagine the yellow flowers going on for miles, up and over slopes, and you’ll get the idea.  Gorgeous.

Great Basin 2009 Wildflowers

Jeffrey and Eleanor were good little troopers on the trip (William stayed with Grandma back at home.  Bless that grandma!).  Even though the campgrounds were at full capacity, the trails still seemed almost deserted.  We didn’t see any other children in the park at all.  When the kids finished the requirements for the Junior Ranger program, the park rangers were really excited; I don’t think they get to see very many kids.

Great Basin 2009 South Route trail

The kids made for slow hiking, (we estimated that our hiking speed was 3/4 of a mile per hour) but they were very good natured about it, even when slogging uphill.  Our only complaint is that we didn’t expect the cold temperatures.  Our campground was at 7,000 feet, so the nights were rather brrrrrr.  On the plus side, there were no gnats or mosquitoes.  So there you go.

The sad part of the trip is that we hoped to do some stargazing — the park is a protected Dark Sky Area, and has ranger-led astronomy programs — but the skies were overcast every night we were there (and there was a new moon, what a waste!).  I suppose this means we’ll just have to go back in late summer another year!

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