Sam Bauman: Our wonderful Great Basin National Park
In days gone by I was a frequent visitor to the Great Basin National Park, in the east-central part of the state. I camped and hiked and enjoyed its 77,000 acres. The park was established in 1986 and is probably the least-visited of the nation’s national parks.
I rarely wondered about how it came to be and who deserved credit for it. I simply enjoyed the vastness of it, and hiked up Wheeler Mountain (never made it to the top) and inspected the pebbled glacier which in these days of climate change may disappear. It is (or was) the only glacier in Nevada.
The park derives its name from the Great Basin — which is the dry region of mountains — between the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Mountains.
The park was established in 1986. It is reached by U.S. Routes 6 and 50, Nevada State Route 487 to the small town of Baker, the closest settlement. The park is north of Las Vegas and protects 77,180 acres. It is noted for its groves of ancient bristlecone pines,; and for the Lehman Caves at the base of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak.
I didn’t know who had helped bring it about until I got a copy of the Sierra Club’s Toiyabe Trails newsletter of January-March 2017.
There were many laudatory articles in it about the passing of Marge Sill, who had much to do with the park’s creation. A relentless protector of natural land and beauty, she lobbied and worked to create the park.
Some information from the Sierra Club’s Toiyabe Trails newsletter and Wikipedia:
The Lehman Caves are vast, with rangers giving almost daily trips through its vast caverns. Before being made a national park, dance parties took place in the underground pen spaces. Markings from candles and torches still decorate the caves’ ceilings.
The tours are usually daily but in the slow season may not be offered. The small town of Baker is at the foot of the park and has a hotel as well as a pizza restaurant. There are good campsites in the park, as well as in back country. Next to Great Basin Park lies the Highland Ridge Wilderness, two protected areas offer wildlife habitat and protection to 227 square miles
The oldest organism in Great Basin is Bristlecone Pine trees is least 5,000 years old, near the treeline near Wheeler Peak.
There are 61 species of mammals, 18 species of reptiles, 238 species of birds, two species of amphibians, and eight species of fish in the Park.
Wildlife has taken advantage of the habitat in the Park. Jackrabbits, pygmy rabbits, mountain cottontails, ground squirrels, chipmunks, and mice live in the low-elevation sagebrush desert. Pronghorns, coyotes, kit foxes, and badgers common.
In the more rugged areas nearby, cougars, bobcats, marmots, rock squirrels, and mountain sheep can be seen. Other animals include elk, mule deer, spotted skunks, shrew, ringtail cats, and ermine.
Many species of birds can be found in the park, according to Wikipedia, including Canada geese, hawks, sparrows, bald eagles, Tundra swans, barn owls, snow geese, killdeer, golden eagles, woodpeckers, mallards, wrens, greater roadrunners, chickadees, Great horned owls, ravens, magpies and swallows.
The park’s scenic features include Lexington Arch, the Lehman Orchard and Aqueduct, Rhodes Cabin, Stella and Teresa lakes, and Wheeler Peak Glacier.
According to the National Park Service, the caves were discovered by Absalom Lehman in 1885.
The park has 12 trails ranging from 0.3 miles to 13.1 miles.
The Great Basin Visitor Center is on Nevada State Route 487 in the town of Baker. The Lehman Caves Visitor Center is on Nevada State Route 488. It is 5.5 miles from Baker. Great Basin National Park has between 79,000 and 99,000 visitors in a normal year.
I wish I had read tall this information before going to the Basin, hiking pole in hand and tent pitched in the camping area.
I figured it would be news to man Nevadans who might not of even heard of the Park. It’s a fine natural place, and we have the late Marge Sill to think for it. She passed at away in October.
Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.