Great Basin National Park in Nevada may just be the most isolated in the lower 48 states. Located close to the Nevada-Utah border it is 240 miles west of Salt Lake City and 287 miles north of Las Vegas. Its remoteness from cities is most rewarding for a visit since it symbolizes the Old West more than any Park this writer has ever visited. Much of its appeal is the lack of development that surrounds most of our Parks.
Since the white man arrived the Great Basin area has been the scene of much mining activity as well as ranching which continues to this day.
And the area has ties to this writer's family as well. My Father-in-Law once raised cattle in the Snake Valley which lies just east of the Park in Utah. And two-thirds of a lifetime ago this writer climbed Wheeler Peak and explored some of the area decades before it became a National Park.
Wheeler Peak at 13,063 feet is the highest point in the Park and has the only glacier in the Great Basin. It dominates the Park which rises from desert floor to an Alpine landscape of forest, lakes and mountain peaks and is the second highest mountain in Nevada. The Park also includes Lehman Caves, one of the finest limestone formations of its type. The Caves became a National Monument in 1922 but the region surrounding the Caves only received National Park status in 1986.
Since first climbing Wheeler Peak we have been back to the Park several times. Each time we have toured the Caves. A Ranger takes groups on one of three tours of the Caves, each one longer and more thorough in exploration. These guided tours are available daily.
The faithful Journal tells how we spent one hiking day. "Decision was made to do the Alpine Look trail from Wheeler Peak Campground and trailhead. A lovely cool morning, cloudless with only some haze in the valley below. We took our Pickup for the twelve mile drive from Lower Lehman Creek Camp, where we were camped with our RV, to the upper campground, a climb from 7,300 feet to 9,900 feet. On the way we saw two spotted fawns.
"At the Trailhead one trail leads to the summit of Wheeler Peak; a second is three mile loop trail; and a third explores the Bristlecone forest. We took the loop trail that led us past Teresa Lake, then Stella Lake. It was a very enjoyable hike through meadows and aspen. We lunched by a small but noisy mountain stream.
"In the afternoon we went to the Visitors Center, saw a slide show of the Park and surrounding area attractions. Slides included photos of the Judge Clay Ranch, located in the Snake Valley, where my wife, Mary, often visited as a young girl."
Another day we took the Bristlecone Pine trail from the same trailhead. Bristlecone pines grow to an unbelieveable age. One tree at Great Basin was dated at 4,900 years. The two and one half mile trail takes one through a very excellent grove of these trees and is self guiding, although sometimes a ranger will lead a tour.
Great Basin Park has none of the amenities of most national parks. There are no lodges, hotels, or stores. Basic supplies are available at two small nearby communities, Baker in Nevada and Garrison over the State Border in Utah. A hundred miles to the east on Highway 6 is Delta, Utah with most services. Or to the west about the same distance from the Park, Ely, Nevada.
The Lower Lehman Campground is open all year as are the Cave Tours. The 12 mile road to Wheeler Peak Campground and trailhead at 9,900 feet is closed by snow, generally from November till May. However this type of information is available at Park Headquarters or on their website, www.jps.gov/grba/.
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