Great Basin National Park surprised and astounded me. Never before have I found so much diversity in one National Park. With only 153,094 visitors in 2018, Great Basin National Park is a hidden treasure and is definitely worth visiting!
Driving Down Snake Creek Road at Great Basin National Park
Visiting on May 31, 2019, we began our day driving down the Snake Creek dirt road, passing primitive campsites, discovering an abandoned Miner’s homestead, and meandering amongst wildflowers, ancient pine trees, and quiet creek beds. The skies were cloudy and the weather was perfectly pleasant. As we ascended further up the mountain road, dark clouds quickly moved in and we heard thunder. Within a few minutes, the spring storm system hovered above us and our car got pelted with rain and small balls of hail bouncing in every direction. Abandoning our need to see the end of the Snake Creek Road, we drove back down out of the park and headed towards the Lehman entrance of Great Basin National Park to have a picnic lunch.
The weather changed constantly at Great Basin National Park
As our elevation changed, so did the weather. The further we descended, the clearer it got. The clouds began to part and the rain stopped. We had the picnic site entirely to ourselves. Wiping off water droplets from the picnic table, we enjoyed a picnic lunch, rain free and wondered on this magnificent National Park. There was beauty everywhere we looked. Coming from the loneliest Highway in America, I pondered about how this desert oasis mountain range even came into existence? After our lunch, we headed up Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive to see Mather Point. We arrived and saw three bikers getting ready for a drive. They said, “You just missed the snow!!!” Snow? When we got pelted with hail-filled rain, they experienced a tiny blizzard.
Mather Point at Great Basin National Park
Wheeler Point road was closed at Mather point due to snow and ice on the road further up. Oh how I wished I could continue to the top of the mountain pass so that I could hike amongst some of the oldest trees on earth in the Bristlecone forest, hike the alpine look where mountain peaks would be reflected by small lakes, as well as see a rocky glacier once alive with moving ice, now left with broken fragments of the past. I will have to return when the snow melts. Storm clouds moved in again and a gentle rain began trickling down on us. Having driven up as far as we could, we headed back down to go into the belly of the mountain.
Lehman Cave at Great Basin National Park
Our Lehman Cave tour guide was extremely knowledgeable. Being a scientist at heart, she answered the toughest questions and even found life in the cave ( a tiny springtail). Lehman Cave transported us into a different world with stalactites clinging to the cave ceiling, stalagmites reaching for the sky, natural columns in every direction, small pools of mountain water reflecting the unearthly scene, as well as unique rock shields that would even make Captain America jealous. I’ve been in several caves before, but this one was the most intimate and formation-filled cave I had been in. While we couldn’t touch the formations, everything was up close and personal.
It felt like the Bryce Canyon of cave systems, reminding me of the hoodoos that I had once walked amongst. As we got deeper into the cave, we saw new bacterial growth, learned about newly discovered species found nowhere else in the world, and even saw packrat guano believed to be from thousands of years ago. At one point, we discovered soot signatures over a hundred years old from early candle-led tours, now a historically protected treasure.
Bristlecone Pine Tree
Upon exiting the cave, I was surprised once again. I shielded my eyes from the bright sun only to discover that the storm clouds had left and we were greeted with blue skies and puffy white clouds. I removed my jacket as it was now fairly warm. The tour guide showed us a young bristlecone pine tree in the parking lot, we chatted with other rangers, and then headed towards the dirt road leading to the Baker Creek hiking trail.
Baker Creek Hiking Trails at Great Basin National Park
On our way to the South Fork Baker Creek Hiking Trail, we were greeted by a passing Marmot who kept peeking up at us through the rocks. This wasn’t the first wildlife we had encountered. Birds tweeted all around us and butterflies fluttered anxiously from flower to flower. As we drove to the end of the road, we parked and were greeted by a forest wall. There were two hiking paths to choose. We chose the path to the left.
Within seconds of starting the Baker Creek Hike, I was surrounded by tall evergreens mixed with quaking Aspens. I heard the roar of a cascading creek system just ahead. The water levels were full. I stopped on the wooden bridge for some slow water photographs, entranced by the melodic sounds.
After photographing the creek beds, I continued exploring. Enamored with some white-barked Aspen trees against the green evergreens, I stopped to take some more photographs. Minutes later, I heard the rumble of thunder.
Without time to even think, the rain started again and then the slushy hail began. Grabbing my gear, I rushed back towards the car with my father-in-law, doing my best to protect my lens and filter. We threw our stuff in the car and then waited for the rest of my family, who had hiked on ahead of us. Surely they would come. A few minutes later I saw them emerging from the forest, running like wild gazelles towards the car.
Our trip now complete, we began the long drive back towards home. This National Park left me exhausted, enchanted, and filled with the desire to return. As one of the least populated National Park in the 48 contiguous states, I am glad that I went. I look forward to returning in August so that I can witness and photograph the Milky Way in the one of the darkest skies in America, camp in private seclusion, and watch the sunrise over majestic mountain peaks.
Thanks for reading and sharing my adventures with me!
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