Great Basin National Park: From Top to Bottom

This past week’s trip to the Great Basin National Park was my second journey to this remote destination in eastern Nevada. I did write a blog based on my last trip, but I wanted to provide some more detail on this page. Just like last time, we set up camp at the Wheeler Peak Campground. The sites at Wheeler Peak are first-come first-served. You find your desired site, fill out a registration slip, and deposit cash in an envelope for your stay ($12 per night). The last time we were here, only cash was accepted, however, we noticed that they had a credit card form available. The view of Wheeler Peak from most sites is spectacular.

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Wheeler Peak from one of the several meadows in the campground
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Our campsite

The Wheeler Peak campground sits just below 10,000 feet, so be prepared to feel the effects of the altitude for a day or so.

There are several trails near the campground. They include the Wheeler Peak hike itself, the Bristlecone Pine trail, and an alpine lakes trail. The few days we spent in the park were marked by occasional rain and late morning/afternoon thunder and lightning storms. We were limited on the high elevation hikes due to these storms. We were able to get up to the Bristlecone Pine grove. These trees are the oldest living things on earth, with the oldest at nearly 5,000 years old. Once they die, they can stand for thousands of years. The hike to the grove is 3 miles (round-trip) with an elevation gain of 650 feet (all above 10,000).

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A sign at the beginning of the grove loop
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The Bristlecone Pine grove. They survive in the harshest of environments
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A stream at the beginning of the trail

Great Basin National Park protects a small segment of the actual Great Basin region. The region is the large area of the nation between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. The park itself sits at a high elevation, from approximately 7,000 feet at the visitor’s center to 13,000 at Wheeler Peak.

The lower elevation features other trails, additional campgrounds, and Lehman Caves. According to the National Park Service, the cave was discovered by Absalom Lehman in 1885. Although evidence suggests others were in the cave prior to Lehman, he was the first promoter of the finding. He publicized the caves and charged people $1 to explore on their own. According to the ranger on our tour, his motto to visitors was “if you can break it, you can take it”. Evidence of this damaging management can be seen throughout the cave today.

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A broken stalactite

The cave has also been the destination of party goers during the days of prohibition. Corks and broken bottles were removed by the park service. One room in particular still shows evidence of the early visitors, with graffiti on the ceiling and walls from cave adventurers of the 1800’s and early 1900’s. These marks look fresh, as the cave environment protects the burn marks from the candles used to make the writing.

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Lehman Caves even made it to Hollywood in the “Wizard of Mars”. The caves served as a backdrop in the Martian landscape. The film can be seen on YouTube, although I do not recommend it at all.

Wizard of Mars

Today, the only way you may enter the cave is with a tour provided by the National Park Service. We did the Grand Palace tour, which was estimated at .5 miles and lasted 90 minutes. Here are a few images from the tour.

Tours book early, so it is recommended that you go to recreation.gov to book prior to your trip.

Here are a few resources to help plan your trip to Great Basin National Park:

 

I hope that you have enjoyed this overview of Great Basin National Park. Although it is a remote destination, it is worth the time in getting there!!

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