Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Little Taste of High Country at Great Basin National Park

After leaving Torrey, UT just ahead of possible snow, we spent a couple of nights in Delta, UT, a small ranching town in a big open valley, where we hunkered down through some heavy winds and light rain.

Then we were off to Baker, NV, gateway to Great Basin National Park for three nights. Great Basin has been on our radar ever since we met Mike and Keyna in October 2012, started following their blog and read about their wonderful hikes that fall at this lightly visited National Park.

Baker, NV lies just off Nevada highway 50, dubbed the loneliest highway in America, and a handful of miles from Great Basin. The town is tiny, just 68 residents, and pretty ramshackle looking. Apparently business starts picking up in this seasonal town between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The place we stayed, Whispering Elms Motel and RV Park, was as rustic and unkempt as the town, but very peaceful at this time of year, with only the sound of birds chirping to cut the quiet. It's also the only full hookup game in town, but boasts a bar with some decent brews on tap. The Ruby Mountain IPA from Wells, NV was delicious.

Great Basin National Park as seen from Baker, NV.

Great Basin National Park is so far off the beaten path that it receives less than 100,000 visitors each year, making it an exceptionally pleasant park to explore! There are several beautiful dry campgrounds in the Park for a small nightly fee.

There is no entrance fee to the Park, but a highlight of the Park is a tour of Lehman Cave, which does have an entrance fee ($10/per adult, no America the Beautiful pass discount). We took the 90 minute Grand Palace tour and felt it was worth every penny.

There are 45 known limestone caves in Great Basin NP, Lehman Cave is the only one with tours, and others, if you happen to see them while exploring the park, may be closed during bat breeding season.

You get up close and personal with the fascinating limestone formations in Lehman Cave.

The Park is situated in the Snake Range which includes the highest peak fully in Nevada, Wheeler Peak at 13,063 feet. We considered hiking the 9 mile round trip trail to the summit, but we discovered the road was not open all the way to the trail head (at 10,000 feet) this early in the season. 

Since a 13,000 foot hike would have kicked our butts it was just as well the road was closed! For our first hike we chose the lovely South Fork Baker Creek trail which starts at 8,000 feet and goes to 9,680 feet. We were certainly huffing and puffing as we headed up the trail enjoying the gorgeous spring scene all around us, but after a couple of miles (probably around 9,000 feet) the snow was too deep to continue.

From the start the spring beauty took our breath away!

The aspen are just barely beginning to bud.

The snow melt water is icy cold as are the nights, creating lovely icicles over the creek.

A beautiful sub alpine meadow.

Not long after we passed the meadow the snow began to cover the trail,
soon becoming too laborious to continue.

After we turned around I decided to try walking on the virgin snow, instead of in existing packed footprints...
and promptly post holed to my knees!

The next day we took Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive to Mather Overlook, currently the furthest point you can drive, seasonal closure was still in effect beyond this point. Here, we got an incredible view of Jeff Davis and Wheeler Peaks.

Jeff Davis Peak at 12,771 is the center high point, and Wheeler Peak (13,063) looks smaller on the right of the jagged gully.
Unseen at the bottom of the gully is a small glacier, expected to disappear within 20 years.

We headed back down the road to the Lehman Creek trail head anticipating a seven mile RT hike with a 2,000 foot elevation gain. Though the trail follows the creek, most of the time we were only in earshot of it and I was a bit disappointed in the scenery compared to our hike the day before. After 2.3 miles we reached a pretty sage covered meadow with an excellent view of the peaks. After eating our lunch and enjoying the peaceful beauty of the meadow we decided to turn back and call it a day.

Only about a quarter mile or so of Lehman Creek trail is actually in sight of the creek.

This sage brush filled meadow was our turn around point.

Great Basin was a gorgeous stop for us and wonderful change of scenery too after being in desert climates since January. We'd like to visit again, perhaps in the fall, so we can hike more of the high elevation trails. Baker, NV, though tiny and kind of decrepit, was a very calm and peaceful place to stay at this time of year.

Today we're off to Ely, NV for a couple of nights, slowly making our way to Carson City where we'll the truck fixed from our little mishap in Escalante...


  1. We haven't made it there yet but would like to. I bet it would be lovely in the summer or early fall.

    1. Yes indeed. Our friends photos of the park in October were gorgeous!

  2. I am definitely adding Great Basin NP to our bucket list..."WOW!" factor for sure!
    The aspens are magnificent!
    Safe travels...

    1. This really was a gorgeous surprise out in the middle of nowhere! Definitely worth the time.

  3. The down side to spring hiking sure is the snow covered trails. It's too bad because the up side is the lack of people. I love that cave! You look so cute with snow up to your knees:) Like Gay, adding this to our future visits.

    1. Yeah, we could have powered on through that snow, but then ended up having to turn around and come back through it...not fun! I had fun playing in the snow!!!

  4. Looks like we're following a similar path. We just left Ely yesterday morning and were in Great Basin a few days ago. Wells last night. We actually went over to the Bonneville Salt flats yesterday - that was really interesting too. There's a 54 mile scenic backroad loop around Silver Island right near Bonneville Salt flats that was awesome. Nevada is much more beautiful than I imagined. Anyway, we're in Winnemucca now and heading for Oregon tomorrow. Good luck with the repairs.

    1. Great minds...! We'll be in OR in a couple of weeks.

  5. We love Great Basin National Park -- finally visited a couple of years ago in the fall, and it was gorgeous ( Wow, it's so different with the snow!! Great photos of your cave tour and hiking in the snow. It's definitely on our list of places to return to.

  6. Isn't it odd to see snow? We left Tucson and it was HOT, and it's been HOT elsewhere, but there are still places where it's still early spring. Oregon is going to revert to type this weekend and will cool off and be wet. Not sure how I feel about this.

  7. Have only traveled Hwy 50 a couple times but must have been asleep at the wheel to miss a national park - such a lovely one too! Love the meadows and the Aspens.

  8. Never been there. My goodness I could no longer keep up the list of things to do out west! Love that picture with you Lisa on a knee deep snow.