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Great Basin National Park - Nevada

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The Great Basin of the American West
is a vast, under-appreciated region that stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Sierra Nevada, and from southern Nevada and Death Valley in the south to Oregon (and even southern Canada) to the north. The Great Basin includes more than 160 mountain ranges, and not one of the rivers and creeks draining these mountains flows into the ocean. The water drains into the desert, where it evaporates or soaks into the ground. Two highways cross this high-desert region from west to east: Interstate 80 (in northern Nevada) and Highway 50, which runs from Carson City to Ely.

The first explorer to map and describe the region was John C. Fremont, who traveled across the basin in 1843&endash;44. Fremont put to an end the theory that the Great Salt Lake was an arm of the Pacific Ocean and, for the first time, proved the idea of the basin as a region unto itself. His name is remembered across the West.

What to See & Do

The One of the benefits of taking the Loneliest Road (Highway 50) across the middle of Nevada is that it passes Great Basin National Park, located near the village of Baker at the eastern edge of the state. Great Basin, one of the newest national parks, preserves and protects a significant piece of the region centered around Mt. Wheeler, an impressive mountain rising from the desert to an elevation of 12,067 feet.

The park is 50 miles southeast of Ely, Nevada. To get there, take Highway 6/50 leading south from Ely and turn west at Major's Junction. A turnoff to the small community of Baker also leads to the park.

Park Attractions

The park area has seen several incarnations over the past 100 years. Mt. Wheeler has been part of the Humboldt National Forest, and the national forest still encases the park on the west, south, and north sides.

One of the park's major attractions, the Lehman Caves, has been a national monument for many years. The caves may have been discovered by prospectors before the 1860s when Absalom S. Lehman moved to the area and explored the series of caves under the Snake Range. Taking time from his ranching activities, he led tours through the caves until he died in 1891. A trail runs through the caves. Pools of water on the floors have built miniature dams that have terraced the caves. Stalagmites, stalagtites, silvery crusts, and helictites (the popcornlike lumps) have grown throughout the caves.

No two rooms in the caves are alike. Daily tours are conducted through the caves, on a 2/3-mile (1 kilometer) pathway with stairs. The temperature averages about 50 degrees F (10 degrees C), and jackets are advised. The cave entrance is adjacent to the park visitor center and a snack bar. The visitor center is the natural place to begin a visit to the park.

Mt. Wheeler itself is the second major attraction. Drivers may take an exciting tour up the mountain on the Mt. Wheeler Scenic Drive, which winds its way up the eastern slope through the Lehman Creek Valley. There are several viewpoints at pulloffs along the way. The first turnoff is at the remains of the Osceola gold mining ditch, which took water from Lehman Creek to the Osceola mining camp several miles to the north. The Mather and Peak overlooks provide superb views of the peak. There are campsites beside the drive at a parking area and near the summit.

From the entrance to the top campground, a trail leads to a grove of bristlecone pine trees. You can take the hike on your own or join a guided hike with a park ranger. These 3-hour hikes are offered in the summer (from mid-June to Labor Day, starting at 9 am).

Park Trails

Other hikes and nature walks are available from various points in the park. The Lehman Creek Trail connects the upper Lehman Creek Campground and Wheeler Peak Campground over a distance of 4 miles, with an elevation change of more than 2,000 feet. Mountain View Nature Trail, starting near the visitor center, is a 1/2-mile self-guided loop walk that begins near the Rhodes Cabin and a picnic area. A trail leaflet is available.

In other parts of the park: Baker Creek Trail begins at the end of Baker Creek Road and winds 5 miles beside Baker Creek to Baker Lake, a fine spot to relax for a picnic. There are excellent views of the Snake Range peaks from this trail. Johnson Lake Trail begins at the end of Snake Creek Road, following an old mining road for 6.5 miles, climbing about 1,000 feet and ending at Johnson Lake. Snake Creek Road is reached by taking Highway 487 south from the town of Baker.

Camping in the Park

There are are four campgrounds in the park and three are located along Wheeler Peak Road. All are operated on a first come, first served basis.

Lower Lehman Creek Campground has 11 sites, open year-round, with water, pit toilets and pull-through sites for small RVs and trailers (elevation, 7,500 feet). Upper Lehman Creek Campground has 24 sites, with water, pit toilets, pull-through sites for small RVs and trailers, and a group picnic site, at an elevation of 7,800 feet.

Wheeler Peak Campground has 37 sites with water, pit toilets, 12 miles from the visitor center at the top of the scenic drive, at an elevation of 9,950 feet.

Baker Creek Campground has 32 sites, with water and pit toilets. It is 3 miles from the visitor center.

Hotels in and near Baker

Baker is a small village) near the entrance to the park, near the Utah border in eastern Nevada. While there is a gas station and store in Baker, motels and private campgrounds are located some distance from town, around Ely and to the east, at the state line.

Border Inn
P.O. Box 548, Baker NV 89311
(775) 234-7300
This motel is located 13 miles from the national park entrance, on the Utah/ Nevada border. There are 15 rooms here, in addition to a restaurant and bar, laundry, showers, and gambling.

Silverjack Motel
(775) 234-7323
The motel has eight quiet, comfortable rooms, in the middle of Baker. It's open March-November.

End of the Trail...er
This is a unique bed and fix-your-own breakfast place at the edge of Baker, and only 6 miles from the national park. Scheduled to re-open in May 2007, the facility has a large bedroom with queen bed, plus a smaller room with a daybed. Coffee beans and continental breakfast fixings in the refrigerator, telephone and wireless conection. For reservations, go to the End of the Trail...er's home page, or call 775-234-7206. The web site also includes art including beautiful woven horsehair bracelets for sale.

Whispering Elms RV Park
This campground in Baker is open during the summer months.

 


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