A special out-of-the-way place, way over in Eastern Nevad
For those of you seeking a special, out-of-the-way place to enjoy the grandeur of Mother Nature’s Great Outdoors, you might want to consider a late summer or early fall excursion to White Pine County in Eastern Nevada.
Geez, why White Pine County?
Well, for those of you who may not know, White Pine County contains one of the nation’s least visited National Parks — the 77,000 acre Great Basin National Park.
So, if you’re anywhere in that general area, it should be a “do-not-miss” destination on your travel schedule.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Great Basin National Park is easy to reach, although it is a long drive.
Just take U.S. 50 east from Carson City to Ely, a distance of about 318 miles. The park is located about 85 miles southeast of Ely.
That’s a total of a little more than 400 miles, one-way.
When you reach Ely, take U.S. 6 and U.S. 50 east toward Delta, Utah.
Near the Nevada-Utah stateline, take Nevada S.R. 487 south for about 10 miles to the tiny town of Baker.
That little dot on the map is the gateway to Great Basin National Park, the only National Park in the State of Nevada.
Great Basin National Park was created in 1986, but the effort to create a national park in that area was certainly not a present-day idea.
That area was first proposed for National Park status way back in 1922 but the effort failed, primarily due to strong opposition from mining and ranching interests.
It was about that time Congress created the Lehman Caves National Monument, which is now incorporated within the park’s boundaries.
Lehman Caves were first discovered in the late spring of 1885 by a local rancher, Absalom S. Lehman.
He was to ultimately explore about 80 percent of the caves area.
Through the late 1800’s – early 1900’s, those caves were widely-known for hosting explorers, tours, parties, weddings, etc.
Today, ranger-guided tours cover most of the known caves, beginning at 8 a.m., each day.
You can choose between 90 minute, 60 minute and 30 minute tours.
Longer tours go further along the same routes as the shorter tours.
The 90 minute tour travels 0.54 miles through passages, tunnels and rooms and includes 10 stairways.
Children under the age of 5 are not permitted on the 90 minute tour. Cost is $8 for adults, $4 for children 11 and younger and $4 for those who are Golden Age cardholders.
The 60 minute tour turns around in the Inscription Room. Cost is $6 for adults, $3 for children 11 and younger and $3 for seniors with Golden Age cards.
The 30 minute tour visits only the Gothic Palace and is wheelchair accessible. Cost is $2 for adults, free for children 11 and younger and $1 for Golden Age cardholders.
Light jackets or sweaters are highly recommended, even on the hottest days of the year.
The caves temperatures are always a constant and delightfully cool 50 degrees with 90 percent humidity.
Be sure to wear shoes with good traction because the trails may be wet and slippery.
Visitors to the park can enjoy the 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, which begins east of the Visitors Center. It ends at a campground and trailhead, which are located at an elevation of about 10,000 feet on the northern flank of Wheeler Peak.
From there, if you so desire, you can hike on a number of different signed trails to such destinations as Teresa and Stella Lakes, the Bristlecone Pine Forest, the permanent glacier at the base of Wheeler Peak and even to the summit of the mountain.
Bristlecone Pine trees are the oldest living things on earth, with some of the trees in the park being as much as 3,000-4,000 years old.
One Bristlecone Pine near Wheeler Peak was dated to be more than 4,900 years old in 1964. Unfortunately, that tree was cut down and sectioned to get a reading of the its growth rings.
Editor’s Note: The 4,900 year-old tree was cut down by an employee of the U.S. Forest Service.
Of special note, Wheeler Peak Glacier is the only permanent body of ice between the Wasatch Mountain Range in Utah and the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California.
Camping, hiking, backpacking, etc. are permitted in the park.
There are no developed cross country ski trails, but wintertime provides excellent opportunities for backcountry skiing enthusiasts.
There are four campgrounds:
Baker Creek at an elevation of 7,530 feet with 32 spaces (open May-Oct.). Access is via a graded, gravel road. Campground Host is in Site No. 8. No evening programs.
Lower Lehman Creek (7,300 feet) with 11 spaces (open year-round). No evening programs.
Upper Lehman Creek (7,752 feet) with 24 spaces (open May-Oct.). Nightly programs in the summer.
Wheeler Peak (9,886 feet) with 37 sites (Open June-Sept.). Vehicles longer than 24 feet are not recommended. Campground Host in Site No. 1. Evening programs on Friday and Saturday in the summer.
The nightly, campground fees are $10 or $5 for Golden Age or Golden Access cardholders.
As you can see from those elevations, you would be well advised to take plenty of warm clothes and blankets for the cool evenings at those high-altitudes.
The National Park, itself, contains a wide variety of physical features that dominate the Great Basin area.
Those features range all the way from hot desert areas to cold arctic zones, topped by Nevada’s second highest mountain, Wheeler Peak (13,063 feet).
The park contains desert areas, lush meadows, small ice-cold streams, crystal-clear lakes, majestic and rugged-looking mountain peaks, groves of pine trees, patches of quaking aspen trees, sagebrush, underground limestone caves, etc.
It is a showplace of all of the varied features of the Great Basin ecosystem, which were not previously represented in the National Park System.
Within the park’s borders are a wide variety of 72 different mammal species including: Pronghorn Antelope, Bats, Bobcat, Unita Chipmunk, Coyote, Mule Deer, Rocky Mountain Elk, Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Yellow-Bellied Marmot, Mountain Lion and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.
FINALLY, if you’re looking for a special out-of-the-way place to spend your vacation this summer or fall, you would be hard pressed to top what is offered by Nevada’s very unique, Great Basin National Park.
For information, call the Great Basin National Park Visitors Center, open year round, at (775) 234-7331.
— Bet Your Favorite Pigeon
Bet your favorite pigeon he can’t tell you the name of the first National Park created in the United States.
If he answers, “Yellowstone National Park in 1872,” you lose.