Fall in Love with Great Basin National Park
There seems to be a dating app or website for every type of person. So why not make one for National Parks?
Until someone creates Tinder for travelers, I’m showcasing some of the lesser known parks here. Read their profile to see if these under-the-radar spots might be your National Park soulmate. This time, I’m talking to Great Basin. This bachelor is a real renaissance man. From climbing and hiking to astronomy, fishing and even ancient art, this Nevada park offers something for everyone.
Here’s why you should swipe right on Great Basin National Park.
Age: I earned National Park status in 1986, but I’m not exactly new to human visitors. In fact, Native Americans settled here about 10,000 years ago.
Location: You’ll find me in east-central Nevada, near the Utah border. When “they” say Great Basin, it’s in reference to the area between the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Mountains. Since you’re probably wondering, I’m about 290 miles north of Vegas.
Size: 77,180 acres of mountains, desert, forests, streams and even caves. I’m a little bit of everything.
Height: I’m on the tall side. In fact, I boast the second highest point in the state– Wheeler Peak (13,064 feet).
Claim to fame: I’m home to the oldest living organisms in the world: bristlecone pine trees. The 2.8 Bristlecone Pine Trail will take you past these relics, as well as Nevada’s only glacier at the base of Wheeler Peak.
History: Native peoples have called me home for thousands of years. Visit Upper Pictograph Cave for a window to my past. Painted on its walls are pictographs — a type of rock art — depicting people, animals, and abstract images. It’s believed these images were painted by the Fremont Indians, a farming and hunting group that lived in the Snake Valley from about 1000 to 1300 B.C.
Hobbies: I love the stars and still get mesmerized by the Milky Way. During the day, you can find me fishing. A favorite spot has to be Lehman Creek, where you can fish for (and maybe even catch) brown, brook and rainbow trout.
I’m really good at: Embracing my dark side. Just last year 2016, I earned the International Dark Sky Park designation. I wasn’t surprised as I’m considered to have one of the darkest skies in the lower 48. On a clear, moonless night, you’ll see thousands of stars, five of our solar system’s eight planets, star clusters, meteors, man-made satellites, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Milky Way with the naked eye. Yes, I said naked. 😉
Known for: One of my biggest attractions is underground. Sign up for a ranger-led tour of Lehman Caves. There’s two tours available: the hour-long Lodge Room Tour travels 0.4 miles, and is ideal for families with young children. The Grand Palace Tour runs approximately 90 and travels 0.6 miles. These puppies regularly sell out, so make your reservation ahead of time (Recreation.gov).
My perfect Friday night: Stargazing. I know, I know. I keep talking about the stars, but I can’t help it. They’re just so good here! For something more formalized, I enjoy listening to ranger talks (these happen every Saturday night in the summer). Or if I want to get real crazy, I’ll book a ride on the Nevada Northern Railway’s Star Train. Rangers lead these tours as well, and tickets sell like hotcakes!
On summer nights when the moon big and bright, I’m into joining a ranger for a full moon hike. These highly popular treks start just after sunset and traverse Great Basin under a moonlit sky. The program is free, but tickets are required.
Not to be presumptuous, but if you were to spend the night…: During the summer, feel free to pitch your tent at one of my five campsites. If you prefer creature comforts, book a room in nearby Ely, Nevada. Love trains? Spend the evening in a working railroad caboose.
How I like to spend Sunday Morning: Hiking. It’s best to hit the trails early in the day to avoid common afternoon thunderstorms. For the mack daddy of hikes, summit Wheeler Peak. This 8.6-mile trek quickly rises in elevation—from about 10,000 feet to over 13,000. You don’t need any special gear, but I advise you to be in decent shape. Start early, start early, start early! You don’t want to get trapped in one of my epic monsoon storms.
For something less intense, take the 2.8 mile Bristlecone trail, which guides you through my famed pine grove.
Favorite Season: When you think summer in Nevada, you probably envision days hot as a pepper. Not necessarily the case here. Temperatures are comfortable with highs around 85 F and lows 55 F at 6,825 ft above sea level. It’s the perfect time to visit.
Favorite quote: Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way? – Henry David Thoreau
Best place for a selfie: Mather Overlook, approximately eight miles up the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive (there’s a place for cars to pull off). It’s the perfect spot for a photo AND a picnic with a majestic backdrop.
Weird fact about me: Did you know I’m called the Great Basin because none of my water runs to an ocean, but instead drains inward?
Since you’re in the neighborhood… Spend some time in Ely and its surrounds! You can explore 27 area ghost towns; the Baker Archeological site with 15 excavated structures from a 13th Century Fremont village; and even hit up a mid-Century drug store that’s frozen in time (call ahead for a private tour).
Photos by Kelly Carroll and Jon Webb
like this post?
Join Samantha Brown’s mailing list to keep up with the latest.