Monday, June 3, 2013

Great Basin National Park

Tour the US: Nevada

Wheeler Peak is one of the hikes in the park.
Vast stretches of open sage brush desert bordered by steep, pine covered mountains. This is the landscape that spans before anyone who ventures out of Las Vegas to explore the northern and eastern parts of Nevada. This area is part of the Great Basin, a region of the United States named for the fact that precipitation stays in the Great Basin rather than flowing to the ocean. Great Basin National Park was established to preserve several notable features of the region and to introduce visitors to some of its wonders.



--Cave Tours

Active formation in Lehman Cave. NPS Photo
The most popular attraction is Lehman Cave, which is one of the most highly decorated caves viewable to the public. Inside the mysterious caverns visitors discover unique formations such as “cave shields.” The cave can be seen by Ranger-led tour with a limit of 20 people. Tickets can be purchased at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center, though on busy summer weekends it is a good idea to make a reservation by phone. Please consider the fact that the cave is dark, narrow, and requires bending and climbing several short stair-cases when planning your visit. You may be asked to take special precautions with gear and clothing to protect local bats from White Nose Syndrome.

Bristlecone Pine. NPS Photo


There is much to see above ground as well. At a little over 13,000 feet (4,000 meters), Wheeler Peak is the second highest point in Nevada. The trail to the peak starts at 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) and winds through pine woods and flowery meadows before making a final steep climb over talus to reach the top. Visitors should bring plenty of water and take care to avoid elevation sickness. For a more leisurely hike, a great option is the trail to the Bristlecone Pines. The oldest tree ever documented was found in this grove. After it's removal in the 1960s, researchers were surprised to discover it was nearly 5,000 years old! Many ancient and gnarled bristlecones remain in this grove as silent sentinels of time.


Milky Way over Great Basin. NPS Photo
The park boasts some of the darkest night skies in the US. Campers are treated to awe-inspiring views of the vast milky way, as well as shooting stars and even the occasional International Space Station fly-over. Special Astronomy Programs are offered several times a week so visitors can learn to identify planets and constellations, and then view them through telescopes.

--Limited Time or Mobility?

The Great Basin Visitor Center in the town of Baker is a new, updated facility featuring exhibits explaining the geology, history, and flora/fauna of the region. An introductory video can be viewed here or at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. Stop for ice-cream at the cafe, or have a picnic in the fresh air. After that, visitors can take the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive for expansive views of Snake Valley. Keep an eye out for wildlife—deer, jack-rabbits, snakes, and birds are common.

Deer grazing in an alpine meadow.


The park is very quiet and peaceful in the off-seasons. During fall, the aspen groves turn bright yellow and dramatic autumn colors decorate the park. Winter is when the region receives most of its precipitation, in the form of snow. The park is open to exploration by snow-shoe or cross-country skiing. Spring is a great time to see wildflowers, though higher elevation hiking trails may still be snow covered.

View across Snake Valley.


Location: Baker, NV
Entrance Fee: Free! (additional fees for camping and cave tours)
Season: Park open year-round. Visitor Centers open daily with limited hours and facilities in winter (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years). *Note: The park operates on Pacific Time. Visitors coming from Utah will need to change from Mountain Time.
Accommodations: Camping available in the park or on surrounding public lands. No hook-ups in park. Several small motels are located in Baker.
Closest International Airports: Las Vegas, NV; Salt Lake City, UT
Be aware that this is a remote location. If you plan well, this is part of its charm. While limited services are available, it is a good idea to stock up on supplies before arriving. There is no cell phone coverage and limited Wi-Fi connection.

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