Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Great Basin National Park, Nevada - Hiking and Camping

Jake, Shawn, and I spent Labor Day weekend enjoying some of the highlights of Great Basin National Park,  a five hour drive southwest of Salt Lake City near the town of Baker, NV.  Great Basin National Park was established in 1986 and protects an area of land (about 77,000 acres) that is representative of the much larger Great Basin of North America.  This region, roughly located between the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and the Wasatch Mountains of Utah features repeating sections of desert basins separated by north-south running mountain ranges.  Water from precipitation in this region does not reach the ocean.  Instead, the water evaporates or sinks into underground aquifers.

The developed campgrounds at Great Basin National Park are very nice and generally quiet so we decided to focus on day hikes and spend three nights at Baker Creek Campground.

Jake and Shawn on Wheeler Peak

On Saturday, we took the summit trail to Wheeler Peak, the most prominent feature of the park at an elevation of 13,063 feet.  Much of the trail is exposed and well above treeline, so we were fortunate to have a clear, dry day with no risk of thunderstorms.

Wheeler Peak

Hiking to the summit of Wheeler Peak
High elevation flowers on Wheeler Peak
The view from Wheeler Peak
At the summit of Wheeler Peak

Because of it's distance from any large cities, Great Basin National Park has some of the darkest skies in the country.  This makes it an excellent place to observe the night sky.  The park hosted a star party on Saturday night at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center and there were several telescopes set up for the crowd to look through.  Some of the highlights were a double star, a spiral galaxy, and the remnants of a supernova. We also saw the International Space Station fly overhead.

On Sunday, we hiked to a bristlecone pine tree grove below Wheeler Peak.  These trees hang on to life for thousands of years in a hostile environment, growing at an incredibly slow rate.  Even after the trees finally die, their trunk and branches can remain standing for hundreds of years.

Bristlecone pine

Bristlecone pine

Bristlecone pine

The cirque below Wheeler Peak also contains Nevada's only glacier, an unexpected sight in the middle of a desert.

Jake hiking the the glacier

Wheeler Peak glacier in the background

Wheeler Peak glacier

On Monday we enjoyed a ranger guided tour through a portion of Lehman Caves before returning to Salt Lake.  The caves are just another unexpected surprise in a region that initially appears desolate and barren to a casual observer.  A little bit of elevation, resulting in increased precipitation, creates this amazing island of life in the middle of the Nevada desert.

Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves