Great Basin National Park
Updated: May 14, 2020
Update from the poll:
We had 10 people give their opinion so far and here are the results:
Thanks for the confidence in us to the one person who said we may not come back but we both said we were coming back to work so we ARE for sure coming back.
We made it to Ely, NV and stayed at the KOA Ely which for how little we actually stayed here was still pretty good.
Their spots were all pull-throughs which means we didn’t have to back the trailer in and can just drive straight in. Talk about a marriage savers ;). Jen and I are still working out the details on how to communicate how to back a trailer up and what 1 more foot to go really means. The other day at Welcome Station I asked Jen to make sure we had enough room to put the slide-out out (As Mitch would call it, the Expand-O) and she said yep we are good. Well after we put the leveling blocks under the tires and got all the stabilizer jacks out, I went to put the slide-out out and Jen calls out “Hold on, we may have a problem” and yep, we did! So we had to pull everything out, hook the trailer back up to the truck and move forward about 2’ and start all over again. Ugh!
Communication is a funny thing. I had listen to this personal development guy, Darren Hardy, for a long time (still do) and he says communication is all about how the other person responds to what you say and if the other person doesn’t say or do what you wanted then it is your fault in how you communicated the message. I had many instances at work where my communication didn’t work and I had to re-think how to get the results I wanted many of times. (Sometimes I still failed) Now, I think Jen may need to work on this. As I am typing this, we are at an RV park with spotty wifi and as usual Jen is having technical difficulties at connecting to her work systems (This is a very common occurrence. Ask her IT dept.). So I am on my computer connected to wifi and typing in a text editor that is not connected to the internet, but I keep bouncing back and forth between the internet browser and the editor. Jen on the other hand is grunting and moaning over there about how she can’t connect and she asks me “are you on the internet or just typing?” Well at that exact moment and the previous 3-5 minutes I was just typing so I said “Typing”. Later, I was done with my blog typing and internet usage so I disconnected and she pipes up “Finally, it worked!” At which point, I said “Haha, that is funny I just logged off the wifi” and she said” WHAT!!! I asked you if you were on the wifi earlier!” Of course, I responded with “No, you asked me if I was typing and I said Yes to that”. :) Ah, the joys of marriage and communication! (Jen did say she wanted to work on our communication on this trip)
We arrived about 2:30pm in Ely and decided that we would hang out at the trailer to clean up, catch up on some work, and get some school work done with Lila. Part of why I wanted to get down this weekend was because Great Basin is an International Dark Sky Park which mean it is a public space protected for natural conservation that implement good outdoor light and provide dark sky programs for visitors. It was also because the best time to view stars were supposedly during this weekend. Personally, I had no idea about this whole Dark Sky program but if you interested, check out their website here. You can see what they have to offer. So Jen was just getting ready to go on a run and I noticed they had an Astronomy program starting in 2 hours. We decided to take the hour long drive there to see what it was all about. I will say it was well worth the drive.
They had the whole place decked out in red lights and reflective paint on the side walk and a ranger-led a presentation talking about the dark sky program, the stars, constellations, and why stars are so important to us and many animals. Very interesting! After the presentation, they had 3 really nice telescopes set up that were pretty cool in that they just typed in the coordinates of what they wanted to look at and it would automatically move the telescope to it and continually track it as the earth rotated. We were able to see thousands of stars and the Milky Way without any use of the telescopes and with them we saw Saturn and its rings as well as 3 of its many moons. We also saw a nebula (can’t remember the name but I think Orion) which is where stars are born. (Real ones, not Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper) (Jen says I am such a dork! Probably… personally I never saw the movie but it popped in my head)
Lila started getting tired so we decided to leave before the end and boy was she tired. She had fallen asleep within 2 minutes of getting in the truck. So Jen and I made the hour long trek back in the truck in the pitch dark on the Loneliest Highway in America, Highway 50.
Normally, it isn’t a big deal to drive 60-70mph at night on a state highway but when there is no moon and no lights and it is an open range meaning there is no fencing and cows, elk, and any other animal can come out freely, it was a nerve-wracking drive. Fortunately, we didn’t see any large animals but a couple of jack rabbits almost lost their lives and almost gave Jen and I heart attacks. Many locals we spoke to said they try their best not to drive at night and if they do they go a lot slower.
The following day we had scheduled a “Grand Palace” cave tour at the Lehman Caves at Great Basin which is the longer (90minutes) of the 2 tours they offer.
We also wanted to get Lila’s and possibly Jen’s Junior Ranger badge in and 1 or 2 hikes.
Junior Ranger program are supposed to be for kids under 18 but my wife LOVES to do these programs so for her last birthday I got her an official National park ranger vest and hat. Lila also has a vest and hat. Pictures of that to follow soon. Jen has even been sworn in as a Jr. Ranger at one park. I think I have video of that.
So we decided we would get up at 7am to make sure we got there right as the visitor centers were opening. They have 2 there - one for the whole park and one at the top for the Lehman Caves. Sleep that night could have went better but since we got home (that is the trailer is called now) at 11:30pm and Lila woke up at 2am to get in our bed because Bob was bugging her in her bed, the bed was a bit crowded with Lila thinking she needed to pin me against the side wall. When I tried to move the dead weight(Lila), she mumbled something like what the heck!?? Leave me alone. So my sleep was less than stellar. Jen was the one that REALLY wanted to get up at 7 so we didn’t miss out on the Jr. ranger program yet when her alarm went off she wasn’t moving much. In our usual manner, we finally got out the door at 8:30am.
I forgot, Jen also wanted to go check out this Ghost town we saw signs for and read about. There were signs on the road leading to Great Basin that made it look like you could enter on the East, drive 10 miles up to the Ghost town and then drive 7 miles down to exit onto the same highway further West. So we headed up that gravel road and about 3 miles in we got to the cemetery (which I don’t know if you know but Jen LOVES to go to cemeteries and read and look at the tombstones).
We continued to drive up this road and saw a lot of signs on the left and right side saying No Trespassing or Hunting and thought, well at least it doesn’t say that on the road so we kept driving. We saw a bunch of old buildings that might have been the ghost town but there were signs everywhere saying No Trespassing and we still were only 5 miles in. Thankfully, we crested the top of the hill because driving up this gravel road going up hill was super bumpy and bouncy but once we got about 6 miles in we were heading downhill. At about 8 miles in, we saw some power lines that had the old ceramic or glass insulators on them. (I wish I took a picture but didn’t. I was thinking we needed to hurry so we didn’t miss our tour). Well right at 9.5 miles we see this house that seemed pretty nice and way out of place for being 10 miles up this gravel road, but when we hit 10 miles we see someone with a travel trailer at what looks like a park and they had the vault toilets there too. We were really confused but Lila had to go the bathroom and they had a map there so we got out to look and low and behold not only did we drive right by the Ghost town back at mile 5 but the sign says it IS on private land and you shouldn’t bother them. REALLY!! Why didn’t any of the other things we read say that. Also, the RV park place was actually where the exit onto highway 50 was that we thought we had to drive the 7 miles according to the Nevada state road signs???. Good laugh for us and on we went to the caves.
Before we went into the visitor center, I stopped at a walk up coffee cart that I read about online and was happy I did because their coffee and coffee cake was amazing. On to the visitor center, we went and sadly they didn’t have any jr. ranger books. Apparently, they had ran out and ordered some a month ago but still haven’t received them. I think Jen was persistent enough about it though that they said the other visitor center at the Caves would print one off for us and we could pick it up up there. After reading about the Great Basin area at the center, we headed up for the cave tour. 6 miles up the road we arrived back at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center where we were at yesterday for the Astronomy class and they already had the packet printed out. Yeah!! As we were checking in for the tour, we went through the questioning about the White Nose Syndrome (WNS) that affects bats. If you are not aware of it, there is this disease that is spreading through bat colonies that is killing them off. Officially, they aren’t sure how it spreads but they ask if you have worn any of your clothes/shoes in any other caves around the world. I saw what they did if someone had shoes from another cave - they basically put the treads in some sort of bleach/lysol mixture. I have know idea what they do about your clothes. hmmm…. After taking our water bottle, the jr. ranger booklet, and pencil back to the truck since they were on the “NO” list of items in the caves, we got together with the Ranger (Leah) that was leading the tour. She had all 20 of us introduce each other to each other then as she was holding this big flashlight she asked for a volunteer. I knew where she was going with this so I put my hand up and she gave me the title of volunteer “Ranger Steve” and I was the caboose of the tour with a flashlight.
We have been on a cave tour before and I knew if you are the last one it gives you more time to look at things and take pictures as well. :) The caves were pretty amazing and cold (50°) which we knew but after 90+ minutes Lila was done and wanted some heat.
We grabbed a bite to east at the Cafe they had there which was pretty reasonable given Jen and I shared a sandwich. During Lunch, Lila finished all her pages that she was supposed to do in her Jr. Ranger booklet and she got sworn in for Great Basin.
After lunch, we drove up the road 12 miles to the trailhead. Great Basin’s Lehman Cave Visitor Center sits at 6,825 ft (2,080m) elevation already and the drive up to Wheeler campground where the trailhead is took us to 9,886 ft (3,013m). We looked at the temperature in the truck at the visitor center and it was 83° and by the time we made it up there it was 71°. Wow! We decided to do the Alpine Lakes Loop Hike and then the Glacier Hike. The glacier hike started from almost the end of the Alpine Lake loop so it would have been a total of about 6.5 miles with elevation change of 500’ for the first one and an additional 1000’ for the second one. Jen and I decided we were either a bit out of shape or the 10,000’ altitude was making us pretty tired in the first mile of the trip. We made it to this open meadow with the wild flowers and lots of grasshoppers, butterflies, and humming birds and a great view of Wheeler Peak in the background (Lila’s favorite place).
About a 1/4 mile further brought us to Stella Lake then a bit further we arrived at Teresa Lake which both are fed from run off from the mountain glacier and neither have fish in them. Both of them are pretty shallow (maybe 12’ from the looks of it) and they freeze completely in the winter time. On the way down from the lakes, we decided to take the Glacier trail which had an interpretive trail to these trees. Can anyone (Jen and I were hoping to stump Sam) guess what trees they are? (Comment below with your answers) They primarily only live in high elevations like this and most of them are over 2000 years old. (One was 5000 years old)
We made it to the interpretive trail which was .7 miles up and we had .95 more to go to the Rock Glacier so we continued on until Jen said shouldn’t we be turning back soon since it is almost dusk. Dusk…Jen has asked almost every Park Ranger in the last 2 days about snakes and if they are here. Jen is very afraid of snakes especially venomous snakes like the rattlesnake that live in these hills. Not only did they say the snakes primarily only come out at dusk they also said snakes do not hang out at 9000+’ BUT Jen still didn’t want to risk it. Probably didn’t help that I said there was a sign back at the trailhead that said Mountain Lions are also here and at this elevation. So we made it about another .5 miles until we could at least see the Rock Glacier then we turned around. So the glacier here is not one you can see anyways, it is under a larger mass of rocks (hence, Rock Glacier) but we did see snow.
Lila did a great job overall. She had a brief moment where she was not very happy but she turned it around after I mentioned Oreo’s. In the past, we used to tell her if she made it through a hike without a bunch of drama should could have some Oreo’s. This time we didn’t have any but I knew of a place I wanted to go for dinner and I told her I am sure they have good dessert. Worked like a charm! Other than her sore feet which we all had because the trails were very rocky and even with hiking boots on all of us it was still tiring on the feet.
Back at the truck, Lila and I slipped out of the boots and back into the flip-flops for the drive down from 10000’ and the temperature went from 65° to 78°. We got Jen and Lila’s picture at the sign then headed into the thriving metropolis of Baker which is right at the gateway to the park with a year around population of 70. I had scoped out this restaurant (Kerouac's) because we were planning on boondocking nearby and it got really good reviews (4.5 out of 5 stars with 150+ reviews) for a place in the middle of nowhere so we tried it and let’s just say they didn’t disappoint. Jen and I shared an amazing appetizer salad (Burrata - creamy mozzarella, arugula, roasted corn, tomatoes, and red onions) and pizza (Pancetta, Ricotta, Parma, and Peppadew peppers). Lila had the Peach and Proscuitto appetizer and a slice of our pizza and of course followed the dinner up with Chocolate Devils Food Cake and with Chocolate frosting. I, of course, had the best ice cream there is….that’s right… Vanilla (Bean) ice cream.
Back to the Loneliest Highway and the KOA….