Felt kinda sad being on our own again. It was so much fun to have Arthur and Linda there too, but, here we go, off to Nevada.
As we departed from Sand Hollow State Park a day after Arthur & Linda, we felt like we were driving through an actual hurricane rather than leaving Hurricane, UT. We stayed an extra day to wait out the high wind warnings but that didn’t seem to help much. Heading north wasn’t bad but as soon as we headed west again, those cross winds were hitting the 34’ long, 12’ 10” high side of the RV and pushing us all over the road. Challenging. No real issues, just more gray hair (if thats possible).
Great Basin National Park, established on October 27, 1986 covering 77,180 acres, got its name from the vast area between the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California to the Wasatch Mountains in Utah where there is little drainage to the sea. Most of the rivers and streams here drain into shallow salt lakes, marshes and mud flats and eventually evaporate in the dry desert air. Its not just one basin, either. Here, many north-south basins hang between craggy mountain ranges all the way across the state.
It was a long ride to this fairly remote park on the eastern edge of central Nevada. Some of that drive was spent on Nevada’s Route 50, commonly referred to as the “Loneliest Road in America” which stretches 3,007 miles from Ocean City, Maryland to Sacramento, California. I’d always imagined Nevada as a totally flat, sandy desert. Seeing it from the driver’s seat of the RV let me know I was way off on that one. Wheeler Peak, at 13,063’ above sea level and one of three key features of Great Basin National Park, was visible from miles away and served as evidence that Nevada is far from flat and certainly not all sandy desert. (Although, the Casino/RV Park that we stayed at sure felt that way…what a dump! Made me think of the Bates Motel…)
We began our day with a visit to the second key feature of the park, Lehman Caves. While this limestone cave is not as large as Carlsbad Caverns nor Mammoth Caves, its smaller size allows visitors like us to get much closer to its many features. During the 90 minute Grand Palace tour, we saw (up close and personal) ornate stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, flowstone, draperies, pop-corn, rimstone pools and rare cave shields. This Ranger-led tour was fantastic due to his extensive knowledge about the geology of this place combined with his expert delivery. He even instigated a group discussion while visiting the Inscription Room where early visitors burned their names into the cave ceiling with candles. Of course, with many people in the group there were many different opinions regarding this now forbidden practice. It certainly was a fun opportunity to stir things up a bit (oh, that Siobhan…)!
From the cave we took the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive which gains 4,000’ in elevation in only 12 miles, up to the trailhead for the Bristlecone Trail. This trail leads to the third key feature of this park, a grove of bristlecone pines found right at treeline that are estimated to be among the oldest living things on the planet at between 3,000 and 5,000 years old. Combining this trail with parts of the Alpine Loop Trail brought us to Teresa and Stella Lakes, both shallow ice-gouged depressions filled with snowmelt. Getting there was a bit challenging as there was still a lot of snow cover at this elevation so knowing where the trail was got pretty interesting. Luckily, every once in a while, we would come across a few other people trying to find their way and together we would find our way back to the trail. Definitely worth it as this was such a beautiful place.
Just more proof that we can’t judge a book by its cover. We seriously contemplated skipping this place completely and turned out to be quite happy we didn’t.
Lastly, it seems that something out of the ordinary is needed to get ones attention after a long spell on the Loneliest Road in America – check out this sign!