Great Great Basin Part I
Great Basin, one of America’s newest national parks, is only a few hours from our home yet Jason and I had never been there and that was just not right! I therefore planned a weekend of camping, caving and climbing in that remote region to remedy this wrong. (Yes, I somehow became the camping event organizer again. Next time it’s definitely someone else’s turn.)
Great Basin turned out to be great indeed. It possesses a tougher kind of beauty; not the pristine forested prettiness that you’d expect from a national park but a hardier, rugged, determined sort of splendor. Within its borders, the sharp peaks of the South Snake Range burst from the surrounding sea of desert valleys with an almost 8,000-foot elevation change and, although much lusher than the arid lands from which they rise, these crests and summits show signs of a lasting struggle with their harsh environment. Dried browns and thirsty yellows mix with verdant greens on their hillsides creating a unique resolute landscape.
Thanks to my expert planning skills, I was able to procure our company, which consisted of my brother Drew’s family and the Bresees, a secluded group campsite. Although there was a little drama over another traveler taking our reserved spot, it all ended well. We had enough room and isolation to be as loud as we wanted.
Since we had little kids with us, we did but miniscule hiking collectively during our stay. We did all manage to hit the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail, a short 2.7 mile circle, but Drew and Isabelle didn’t manage to hit it far. The rest of us, however, enjoyed refreshing waters in the form of two crystal clear subalpine lakes, a little hail and some torrential rain as we walked. Did I mention that the weather in Great Basin is often unpredictable, especially in the afternoons? That becomes important in the second half of this story so don’t forget it.
Next, we were off on a ranger-led tour of the Lehman Caves, Great Basin’s claim to fame. Although not terribly impressive size-wise, the Lehman Caves (really just one cave) showcases many rare decorations, including cave shields, which look like two circular plates cemented down the middle, and bulbous stalactites. This intriguing cavern prompted many questions from me, which our good-natured guide kindly answered.
After our descent into the ground, the kids were too beat for the second hike we had planned but that didn’t stop Jason and me from trekking it on our own. We took the Bristlecone Pine Trail to a grove of the earth’s oldest living creatures. The mountain hillsides covered in these ancient plants were fantastic. These resourceful stubborn trees live not centuries but millennia and, even at the end of their lifespan, they refuse to give up. “Dying” can take centuries and their twisted stone-like corpses still stand for thousands of years once the last of life has left their dense trunks. After beholding the majesty of such resolve, Jason and I continued up the trail to observe a different kind of perseverance in the form of a rock glacier, Nevada’s last remnant of a colder age. Though small, the immense impact this glacier has had on the steep gravelly valley that cradles it was obvious.
That night, when Jason and I returned to camp following our hike, the whole gang roasted hotdogs and marshmallows and chitchatted around the fire until rain broke up our party. The boys, not ready to retire, revived the flames and conversations several times when they thought the deluge had passed but, in the end, the persistent precipitation got the better of them. Although pelting showers woke everyone numerous times during the night, by morning the eager desert had soaked up all remnants of the storm as if it had never happened.
And that brings me to the last day of our outing, the day Jason and I hiked the 13,063-foot summit of Wheeler Peak and got in a battle with Mother Nature that we will not soon forget. Next week I will cover that thrilling tale, which you surely will not soon forget either.