Day 10-12: Great Basin National Park

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Bristlecone Pine in Great Basin National Park

(Writing this months late, as usual)

And now, our final new coin art park of the trip – Great Basin National Park, the America the Beautiful coin park featured for the state of Nevada.

Let’s just start out by saying that Great Basin is in the middle of nowhere. It’s over an hour driving to the closest city with a decent selection of motels, so you either have to drive a lot, camp inside the park (first come, first serve) or find one somewhere to stay in the incredibly small city of Baker, NV.

We decided to try our luck at camping, which ended up being easier than we expected since there were some vacancies at all the campground options in the park. We decided to go with the Wheeler Peak campground for its proximity to the Bristlecone and Alpine Lakes trails; however, being at high elevation it was also at least 10 degrees cooler up there than the bottom of the mountain. We found it to be uncomfortably cold at the campsite, so if we were to do it again at the same time of year we would probably consider staying at lower elevation. On the bright side, they allowed campfires in Great Basin.

Anyway, we drove around several times looking for the perfect site, and eventually selected one because there was a deer in the stream which seemed fun (though, we scared him away pretty quickly and he never came back).

We set up our tent and then decided to go scout the park. It was overcast and our sunset mission was unsuccessful but we had some fun chasing rainbows around as we drove up and down the one main road in the park.

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Chasing Double Rainbows
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Rain Plume in the Basin

One fun part about Great Basin National Park — the entire park scenic road has about 2 pullouts, so if you want to stop anywhere to take a picture you have to pause in middle of the road and hope you don’t upset anyone. On the other hand, the park was very empty and it was easy to stop in the middle of the road for 5-10 minutes at a time and not see any cars. It was refreshing to be somewhere so peaceful and empty, especially after our recent drives through some of the busier national parks.

Great Basin National Park boasts a variety of different features in the park, from the mountainous peaks and 5000-year old bristlecone pine trees, to alpine lakes, basin views and caves, not to mention some of the darkest skies in the country. We tried to do a little of everything during our 3 days in the park.

Our first morning in the park we woke up for sunrise, opting to drive the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive in the heated car rather than hike in the cold before sunrise. We found a nice sunrise over the basin and morning glow on Wheeler Peak.

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Morning Sunlight on Wheeler Peak

After that we decided to hike the 2.7-mile Alpine Lakes Loop Trail. We spent awhile at Stella Lake waiting for the sun to peek out from behind the clouds, but decided it was hopeless to wait at the second lake (also, we were cold). After the hike we bundled up in the tent and tried to nap/stay warm until our afternoon tour of Lehman Caves.

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Morning Hike to Stella Lake
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Cold Front over Teresa Lake

We’ve previously visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park (and have both visited caves on our own as kids) so we weren’t expecting too much, but it ended up being pretty cool. The walkways throughout were narrower than Carlsbad, so it was cooler to navigate than the giant caverns of Carlsbad. Also, there was a lot of interesting history of the structures in Lehman Caves, such as them being used as venues for entertainment and meetings. There were several rooms where many of the stalactites had been snapped off as souvenirs (back when the caves were discovered) and also some old graffiti. Lehman Caves are also known for having a large amount of shield formations. Also, cave bacon.

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Lehman Caves
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cave bacon. yum.

After the cave tour we decided to do the 2.8 mile Bristlecone Trail for sunset. We nearly got scared off the mountain by some scary looking rain clouds and chilly winds, but we managed to get some nice sunset photos up in the trees.

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Sunset in the Bristlecones
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Bristlecone sunset
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Milky Way over Wheeler Peak
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Sunrise at Teresa Lake

After the Bristlecones, we went back to make dinner at the campsite and see if the clouds cleared up for star photography. We had some difficultly starting a fire, but eventually we were able to kill some time by making s’mores and playing with star trails at the campsite. Then, we hit the road to go see if we could find the milky way over Wheeler Peak (success).The following morning I woke up for sunrise but Travis wouldn’t budge, so I took a solo hike to Teresa Lake in the cold for some morning light on the mountains. Then we fought with the tent to get it back in its bag, packed up the rest of the camping gear and headed onwards to California.

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