Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Caves and bristlecone pines and ...

... rock moraines, not to mention mountain peaks, glaciers, and alpine lakes.

Great Basin National Park has been on our to-do list for quite some time now. We were already in southeast Nevada to see the annular eclipse, so what better time? After a stop in Ely NV on Monday for a new trailer battery, minor medical services, and some quality internet time on the Blackberries, we pulled into the Lower Lehman Campground about 6pm. We were just in time to snag one of the few remaining campsites. This campground and the Upper Lehman Campground filled up that evening; later in the week that they were not as crowded. Apparently we weren't the only people in the area who had come for the eclipse and then stayed for Great Basin NP.

We had made advance reservations for a tour of the Lehman Caves on Tuesday morning. The tours do sell out ahead of time (ours did), so making reservations in advance is highly recommended. We picked the 90-minute Grand Palace tour. It is an amazing place, discovered in the late 1800s by a local rancher. We enjoyed the tour immensely...

After lunch we drove to the end of the Wheeler Peak road at 10,000' and went for a hike. There are 3 trails that leave from this trailhead: Bristlecone Pine loop, Glacier and Rock Moraine trail, and the Alpine Lakes Loop trail. They're all fairly short, so we did all of them for a total of 6-7 miles. (Click on any of the photos for a larger view...)
Bristlecone pines are very long-lived, found only in the higher mountain elevations of the Southwest. Great Basin NP has several bristlecone pine groves. Some of the trees here are over 3000 years old. At these elevations (above 10,000') they get exposed to some extreme weather and look as if they've led very hard lives.

(Umm, just to make myself clear here, I do mean the trees look as if they've led very hard lives, not the people...)
From the Bristlecone Pine loop, we continued on to the Glacier and Rock Moraine trail. We reached an elevation of about 11,000' and had some nice views of the SE side of Wheeler Peak -- our planned destination for Wednesday's hiking. (It's the peak on the right)
Just before reaching the trailhead on the way back down, we turned left and began the Alpine Lakes Loop trail. This trail took us past Teresa Lake ...
... and Stella Lake, with Wheeler Peak in the background.

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