Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park in Nevada is a park in the middle of nowhere that not many people have actually heard of it. Of course, I make it my business to know about such parks, so when I was planning a huge National Park trip to neighboring Utah, I included Great Basin. Utah and parts of neighboring states has the greatest concentration of National Parks in the country. By traveling in a loop, you can visit Great Basin in Nevada, Zion and Bryce Canyon in Utah, Grand Canyon (North Rim) in Arizona, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands in Utah, and Mesa Verde in Colorado. I took this trip in the fall of 1998 over a two-week period. Two weeks was enough to see quite a bit in each park, but three weeks would have been much better. I flew into Salt Lake City and started the loop in a counterclockwise direction, hitting Great Basin first and the other parks in the order indicated above. I will talk about Great Basin National Park in this post, followed by the other parks in subsequent posts.

As with many national parks, the part accessible by road is only a small portion of the park. As you would expect, that part of the park has many things to see. Wheeler Peak, at 13,063 feet (3,982 m), is the second highest point in Nevada, and the road goes up to the 10,160 foot level. At that point, the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail begins ascending 2,900 feet (890 m) to the top on an 8.6 mile (14 km) round trip hike. The hike is a fairly steady climb. As is often the case on a mountain hike, there is a point where you think you are near the top, but it turns out to be just a brief leveling off. As you approach the “top,” the rest of the mountain appears, looming over you. My own name for that point on Wheeler Peak is You-gotta-be-kidding-me Ridge. Well, actually I did not use the word “kidding” at the time. Though it does take work to get to the top, the hike is relatively easy, not counting the normal gasping for breath. The payoff is the view of other mountains, lakes, valleys, and clouds. Because of the relative lack of surrounding scenery, the view is not as grand as at Yosemite or Glacier, but a plain old mountaintop view is still better than almost any other view. Being a bit younger at the time, I didn’t mind dragging my heavy tripod with me, and I took my favorite photo of myself at the top of Wheeler Peak.


The bad thing about being at the top of a mountain is that you need to walk back down. The inexperienced might think that the climb up is harder than the climb down, but I usually find it to be the opposite. While the climb up is difficult, the difficulty consists merely of tired legs and gasping for breath. The difficulty going down is the constant abuse of your knees and the danger of falling. The Wheeler Peak trail is very rocky. The rocks are somewhat smooth and about 6 inches to a foot in length. This makes for very treacherous footing and brutal abuse of the knees. My knees survived fine, but now with older knees I would use trekking poles on the downhill journey.

As great as the Wheeler Peak hike was, the highlight of the park for me was the Bristlecone Pine Trail. I am a tree lover and borderline tree-hugger. To stand next to a 3,000 year old tree was a highlight of my life and a privilege for which I will be forever grateful. There are even older trees in the Inyo National Forest in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California (Methuselah is almost 5,000 years old), but this was good enough for me. I was disappointed to learn on a recent trip to the Chicago Botanic Garden that bristlecone pines in the United States are no longer the oldest known trees in the world. There is a Norway spruce in Sweden that is 9,550 years old.

Near the Wheeler Peak and Bristlecone Pine Trails is the Alpine Lakes Loop. This is a nice hike past Stella and Teresa Lakes.

Finally, Great Basin National Park has a cave. Indeed, the original name of the park was Lehman Caves National Monument. I remember that I enjoyed the cave trip, as I always do, but truthfully I do not remember anything about the cave. If you have seen Mammoth Cave or Carlsbad Cavern, there is little need to see Lehman Cave. Of course, if you are there anyway, why not?

Though Great Basin National Park does not have the spectacular scenery of the nearby Utah parks, it is definitely worth a visit, especially for the bristlecone pines. Moreover, Wheeler Peak is probably one of the easiest 13,000 footers. The facilities near the park are rather limited, befitting a park that is in the middle of nowhere. The nearby town of Baker has one motel with seven units and a restaurant or two. It is (or at least was in 1998) refreshingly devoid of the circus-like atmosphere present in many National Park gateway towns.

My visit: September 1998

7 comments:

  1. Great Basin! Thanks for sharing, I'd love to get there someday. Sounds like a little bit of everything, mtns, caves, desert, bristlecone pines... worth the trek alone.

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  2. I've heard about Great Basin but it's nice to actually 'see' it. Thank you.

    Dani @ ONNO Organic Clothing

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  3. Glad to be of help, Dani. Now, if only I could get myself to write about the next park...

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  4. Always so interesting to visit your site.What a great info, thank you for sharing. this will help me so much in my learning

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  5. Very interesting posts in blog and fotos,best regard from Belgium

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  6. This is so amazing and aweosome park i really obsessed by this amazing and fantastic post .
    You may also like: Yosemite National Park usa .

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  7. Please help a grad student by filling out the following survey on National Parks: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/national_parks. Also, if you have any suggestions for distribution, please let me know! I am trying to get a varied number of responses in order to contribute to National Park research! Thanks!

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