Our trip at times has looked like a drunk walking in circles, knocking on doors trying to find an open bar. Part of our whimsy has been driven by availability in parks such as Yosemite; part by a true change in plans and part by the fact that some of the National Parks are truly in the middle of nowhere. Case in point: Great Basin National Park. It’s one of the least visited National Parks and that’s got to be driven by the fact that it’s on the way to nowhere and is close to nothing. If you’re like me and have never heard of it, it’s in the northeast corner of Nevada, just over the line from Utah.
Like Petrified Forest, this was a spur of the moment change in plans. From Grand Canyon, we had to travel east to Petrified Forest, then backtrack and skirt around the east side of GC (beautiful drive along the east and through Marble Canyon) to get to St. George, Utah where we spent the 4th of July. We had planned to start our tour of the southern Utah parks from that vantage point but decided to go to Great Basin first.
We thought we’d camp in Great Basin because it has some of the darkest night skies in the lower 48. You should know that I love showers – long, hot showers. Sometimes twice a day if I’ve been working in the yard or hiking. I was willing to forego that pleasure to stay in the park (which only has pit toilets and water spigots) until I saw just how isolated it was and the Park Ranger told us they had a boil order on the water. Considering the fact that the only cooking utensils we have are hot dog sticks, that was a deal-killer for us. So we did a day trip and then headed back south into Utah.
Besides the night sky, the big draws in Great Basin are the hikes and drives associated with Mount Wheeler, the native bristlecone pines and Lehman Caves (which is actually just one cave).
We took a 90 minute Ranger-led tour of the cave and it was pretty amazing. There are all of the formations you expect in a cave but Lehman also has one of the largest collections shields known. NPS describes shields as ” two roughly circular plates fastened like flattened clam-shells, often with graceful stalactites and draperies hanging from their lower plate.” As far as scientists know, there are no “growing” shields in any cave so to see so many of them is pretty cool. I took a ton of pictures in the cave but most of them remind me of a science fiction movie journeying through an alien stomach. Judge for yourself! The first picture is the famous parachute shield formation. Isn’t it cool?