Tag Archives: Travel

Great Basin National Park

It recently occurred to me that, what with all the state and national parks I’ve been to in the last year, people may find it helpful if I described a few of my experiences along with some tips and tricks here on my blog. I’ve decided to start with Great Basin National Park, since I was there not too long ago. Keep an eye out for similar upcoming posts!

GRBA Sign

I’ve actually visited GBNP twice—once when I first moved to the Vegas area and again when I decided to roadtrip across Nevada on The Loneliest Road in America. During my first trip, I mainly paid attention to the fall colors and cool cave structures. The second time around, I finally got to see a bristlecone pine tree, and also Saturn!

Late September at Great Basin means beautiful fall colors (mostly thanks to all the aspens), chilly nighttime temperatures, and ready-to-harvest pine nuts. Truth be told, I had been warned before my trip that pine nuts can be pretty tricky to harvest, so I didn’t even try. Instead, I walked along a couple trails, drove up to Wheeler Peak, and took the Grand Palace Tour of Lehman Caves. I had never toured a cave before and found it fascinating. The Lehman Caves’ claim to fame is a plentiful supply of shield formations (they look like rock chandeliers). Also, people discovered these caves over 100 years ago, so it’s got some human history mixed in there, too.

I spent my first night at Baker Creek Campground. The campground itself was good, but you have to take a gravel road to get there and I have a compact car designed for paved roads. I decided to find a different campsite for my second night. Lower Lehman Creek campground was full and Upper Lehman Creek campground was closed for construction. I decided to set up my tent at Wheeler Peak Campground. In hindsight, this wasn’t a great idea in late September. I had a chilly night, but managed it. I had to leave right away in the morning and didn’t have time to see any bristlecone pine trees during that trip.

Tent at Wheeler Peak Campground

Luckily, I had a second chance several months later. During the week of the Great American Eclipse of 2017, I began my roadtrip across Highway 50 at Great Basin National Park. By this time, construction had finished on Upper Lehman Creek campground and I was able to get a campsite there. It was probably the easiest time I ever had setting up my tent—thank goodness for newly-constructed tent pads that haven’t been super-compacted yet! It was one of the few times I’ve ever managed to hammer in all my tent pegs securely. (It’s the little things.)

On Saturday nights during the summer, the park offers a free astronomy program by the Lehman Caves visitor center. I generally try to stay away from astronomy—the sheer size and scale of it all hurts my brain. The rangers did a very good job of explaining astronomic objects and concepts though, so I had a good time. They also have super high-tech portable telescopes. We got to see several celestial objects, but my favorite was Saturn.

The next morning, I braved the drive up to Wheeler Peak. (Have I mentioned I’m afraid of heights? I am.) From the campground parking lot, the bristlecone pine grove is about a 1.4 mile hike away. Much like tortoises, bristlecone pines are adapted to require very little water and grow very slowly, which translates to very, very long lifespans. For many years, the oldest-known bristlecone pine was Prometheus, which was roughly 4,900 years old. Unfortunately, people found this out when they cut the tree down and counted its rings. Luckily, an older tree was recently found in California. The current oldest living bristlecone pine tree known is over 5,000 years old.

 

The bristlecone pine grove is a crazy place if you think about it—if you had been standing in that same spot 2,000 years ago, you would be looking at those exact same trees! And they wouldn’t even be saplings! They would be adult trees! It’s kind of mind-blowing. Luckily, some chipmunks showed up to distract me.

If you continue down the trail for another mile or so, you can see a small glacier. I decided to save that for another day, however, and walked back to my car and the next stop on my adventure.

Glacier Trail HWY 50

 

The Basics:

Location: Baker, NV
Entrance Fee: FREE
Visitor Center? Yes (2–Great Basin Visitor Center & Lehman Caves Visitor Center)
Have I camped Here? Yes (Upper Lehman Creek, Wheeler Peak, and Baker Creek campgrounds)
Camping Fee: $12/night **Some back-country camping is free**
Camping Reservation Needed? No
Number of Campgrounds: 5 (depending on season)
**I recommend Upper Lehman Creek Campground, though Wheeler Peak is fun in the         Summer before it gets too cold.**
Campground Amenities: Vault toilets, campfire rings, tent pads, no hook-ups
Best Time of Year to visit: Mid-to-late summer or during the annual Astronomy Festival
Highlights:

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A Little Bit of Everything

I’ve always loved collages. There’s something about taking separate objects or images and bringing them together to make something new.

The art pictured above is comprised of petroglyphs–images engraved into rock. These particular rocks show superimposition, meaning that some of the art was etched over already-existing images. To see these petroglyphs and more like them, check out the Crystal Wash Rock Art site near Ash Springs, NV.

I’ve been to a lot of cool places in Nevada since moving here over a year ago.
Here’s a collage featuring a few of them:

NV Photo Collage

Pictured locations include:

The Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (A.K.A. Mount Charleston)
Great Basin National Park
Cave Lake State Park
Mount Irish 
Nevada Northern Railway Train Museum
Sloan Canyon
Desert National Wildlife Refuge
Valley of Fire State Park
Red Rock National Conservation Area
Hoover Dam
Fremont Street Experience, Las Vegas

Another place I’ve visited is the Neon Museum in downtown Las Vegas (near Fremont Street). It’s basically a neon sign boneyard. They offer a tour and challenge you to write your name in neon. I succeeded.

Neon Jess 2

And as long as we’re talking collages, who could forget this timeless ensemble:

Ceiling of Wonders--Early

Campus, flyers, ads, candy wrappers, hand written notes–all were welcome on the Ceiling of Wonders.

One Wild and Precious Life–Part 1

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? –Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

I moved to the Mojave Desert to escape my comfort zone. (Also, because I got offered an internship which would give me some much-needed field experience.) I wanted to live up to my own lofty ideals of “going where life takes me” and “living with no strings attached”. I’ve learned a lot out here so far—mostly in regard to plants and field work and desert life, but also about myself. I’ve also gotten a little braver.

Whipple Wash

Monitoring rare plants in Whipple Wash.

One of my current heroes is Cheryl Strayed of Dear Sugar/Wild/Tiny Beautiful Things fame. When Cheryl was 26, she spent the summer hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from California and Oregon. She did this alone. Solo. By herself. Sociologically speaking, women in our society are not expected to do things alone (ie: go to bars, eat dinner at sit-down restaurants, travel, walk through miles and miles of wilderness). Through reading her work, I have come to the understanding that Cheryl is not only brave enough to do all of those things, she is also compassionate and a very attentive listener.

So, I’m in the desert. I am an avid listener of Dear Sugar Radio (a podcast featuring Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond). I found out that there would be a live taping of Dear Sugar Radio in Portland, OR in July. Can you see where this is going?

The idea seemed crazy at first—I came to the desert to find plants, not to go gallivanting off to see writers. Portland was still a long way away—closer than it would be from Wisconsin, but still. It was on a Friday, I would have to take time off from work. I would have to drive to the Las Vegas airport. It would be frivolous—I should be saving money. Who would go with me? I casually mentioned the upcoming event to one of my friends who also loved Dear Sugar Radio, but she didn’t bite. So much for that idea.

I couldn’t shake it though. I really would like to go. My friends were going places on the weekends—Vegas, Death Valley, Iowa, Florida. Sure they were either reasonably nearby or places they had once called home, but still I didn’t really want to drive through Vegas. I tend to get lost a lot. You could take a train—you’ve never been on a train before. I looked it up—I could easily catch a train that would take me where I wanted to go. You said you wanted to be more adventurous.

It was like I dared myself to do it. I looked up the price of a ticket to the event, a round-trip train ticket, and a hotel nearby. I could do this. So I did. I bought all three in one day. Then I started telling people: my roommate, my parents, my friends back home. By that time, it was too late for them to talk me out of it—I already had the tickets. Actually, no one did actively try to talk me out of my trip. They said they were worried about my safety, that they wished they could go with me, that I was very brave to go all by myself. But no one said, “Don’t go”. For which, I was grateful.

Droid 7-25-16 402

Ticket for 1 to Dear Sugar Radio Live!

My parents did request regular updates, though.

It wasn’t until I had already purchased the tickets and started informing people of my upcoming trip that I started seeing the parallels. Cheryl grew up in Northern Minnesota. I grew up next door in Northern Wisconsin. Cheryl started her hike in the Mojave Desert. I was travelling all over the Mojave desert for my botany internship. (Mostly in 4-Wheel Drive vehicles, but there was definitely some hiking involved.) Cheryl was 26 when she hiked the PCT. I’m 26 now. Cheryl ended her hike at the Bridge of the Gods, about 40 miles away from Portland. I was going to Portland. Basically, in my own way, I was kind of, sort of maybe, ish, following in Cheryl’s footsteps. That thought alone was empowering.

My grand solo adventure was supposed to start at 12:30AM on a Thursday, but the train was delayed. It finally pulled up to the station at 1:32 AM. By that time, I was exhausted. I found my seat, stashed my luggage and fell asleep. Done.

The proper part of Thursday (the part on the other side of sunrise) was a blur arriving at LA’s Union Station, finding some breakfast, waiting for my next train, boarding said train, finding my new seat, and PA announcements about dinner options, and this is a non-smoking train, and our next stop will be.., and seriously people—don’t smoke on the train. I had a window seat and watched graffiti melt to mountains which gave way to the ocean, then vineyards, which later vanished into evergreen forests and misty lakes. I’ll admit that I didn’t pay as much attention to the scenery as I maybe should have. I was too busy reading The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch. It was a little more difficult to drift into dreamland the second night, but I managed.

In the morning, I woke up to a seat-neighbor—it had been empty up until then. The lady next to me was retired and off to visit her family in Seattle for 2 or 3 weeks. I figured she was okay when I saw the book she had brought with her—A Mercy by Toni Morrison. We talked about her siblings and her grandchildren and her plans for the next few weeks. She asked where I was going and why. She seemed pretty impressed. “I love that your generation is encouraged to do that sort of thing. When I was your age, it was all about finding a husband and raising a family. Even working outside of the home was a big deal.”

When the train arrived in Portland, my seat-neighbor wished me luck and reminded me to “call your mama.” I stepped off the train. It was gray and less than 80°F—I wasn’t in the desert anymore.