Somewhere in the middle of nowhere is Great Basin National Park. One of the most remote national parks in the system, Great Basin is located on the Nevada-Utah border. It takes some effort to reach this place, because it’s not near much of anything.
You’ll travel on lonely, desolate stretches of road for miles through a never-ending sea of sagebrush. Once there, however, you’ll discover the many treasures of Great Basin, from its lakes and forests to its towering peaks and limestone caverns.
This rugged landscape of 77,000 acres boasts 13 peaks above 11,000 feet. Freezing temps and snow are facts of life at these elevations. Trees make their homes in hollows or cavities, and those that can be found in the higher echelons are hardy souls. The bristlecone pines, for example, are known for their endurance and longevity. They are the oldest living things on earth.
To see this stalwart species up close, hike the trail to Bristlecone Grove. As you walk the looped path, note the pines’ smooth, yet gnarled trunks and contorted forms. There are interpretive signs explaining that the trees survive because their wood is very resinous and dense, making them resistant to insects, fungi and rot. And they need very little nutrients. Instead of decaying, the pines become worn and polished by the elements. After their death, they may remain standing for thousands of years.
The signs give the age of the trees, by providing a birth date and sometimes the year of their death. One for example, said, “Born 1300 B.C. Died 1700 A.D.”
If you head farther up the mountain, you’ll get a glimpse of another of Great Basin’s notables – Wheeler Peak Glacier. This is the only glacier in Nevada and one of the southernmost glaciers in the country. However, don’t expect an immense ice edifice like those you might associate with Antarctica. This one’s basically a block of ice covered by piles of loose rocks.
An eternity ago, Wheeler Peak Glacier was a behemoth. Climate change has caused it to erode and gradually, it is disappearing. Today, people often refer to it as a “rock glacier.”
You can also hike up to Wheeler Peak, the second tallest mountain in Nevada at 13,063 feet. Or if that’s not your thing, opt to take the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, which leads to the face of the peak.
Use the drive to also access a variety of trails, including the popular Alpine Lakes Loop. The latter takes you past two lakes, Stella and Teresa, with views of Wheeler Peak as a backdrop.
Another good hike is Baker Creek Loop, where you can experience several different ecologies. An expansive meadow with splendid views is one of the highlights, along with the wild turkeys!
Great Basin also has an underground world. Take a guided tour of Lehman Caves to see the array of formations, such as stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws and rare, clamshell-like shields.
The park receives less than 200,000 visitors a year – a far cry from the millions that flock to Yellowstone and Yosemite. If you want solitude, this is the place.