Friday, June 3, 2016

Nevada Beyond the Neon: Great Basin National Park

         Mention Nevada and most people think of Las Vegas, that pulsing, energetic disco ball of a city.  By contrast, Nevada’s backcountry is relaxed and quiet, a place where the pace is not feverish disco but leisurely waltz, where light is provided not by pulsating strobes but by the soft glow of the sun and the moon.

         One Day in America’s most recent post introduced readers to US Highway 50 in Nevada, called the “loneliest road in America”.   
         This post begins a series highlighting places to go and things to see and do when you leave the highway and enter the spaces in between, those landscapes of sweeping views, endless skies, and room to breathe.

         We’ll begin our tour of Nevada with Great Basin National Park.  If it’s solitude you crave, then this is the national park for you.  Located near the tiny town of Baker, the park is little-visited.  I’ll prove it to you by quoting this statistic, which divides annual visitation by the number of days in a year:  

Average # of visitors per day to Yellowstone National Park:  11,000
Average # of visitors per day to  Great Basin National Park:      250

         Don’t get me wrong, Yellowstone is a great park—especially in the off-season.  But Great Basin holds many treasures of its own, including:  

1)  Lehman Caves.  This geological wonder of highly decorated marble and limestone formations may be explored with a guided park service tour.  
2)  Wheeler Peak.  At 13,063’, this is the second highest mountain in Nevada.  An 8.6 mile round trip hike will take you to the summit and back.
3)  Bristlecone Pines.  These ancient trees, several thousands of years old, stand proudly along the 2.8 mile Bristlecone trail.
4)  Lexington Arch.  An uphill climb of 1.5 miles leads to this six-story limestone arch.

Classic basin and range territory.
View from the road to Great Basin National Park.

Close-up of Wheeler Peak on an autumn day.

View from the Glacier Trail, a continuation of the
Bristlecone Pine Trail.

A magnificent Bristlecone Pine.
This tree could be 3000-5000 years old.

Lexington Arch as seen from the trail on a snowy
November day.

Have I convinced you to explore Nevada beyond the neon?  I hope so.  This summer the national park service celebrates its 100th birthday.  If you have a must-see list of national parks, put Great Basin near the top of that list.  You won’t be disappointed.


  1. Rita . . . If I am ever so fortunate to travel out West, you have definitely convinced me to travel "beyond the neon" and visit Great Basin National Park! The Bristlecone Pine/Glacial Trail combo alone seems like it would be exceptionally interesting and scenic.

    Thanks for sharing this information,


    1. Hi John,

      Believe it or not, many people here in Utah have no idea that Nevada holds so many treasures. They think of Nevada only as a place to gamble, or as a state to drive through on their way to California.
      The Bristlecone Pine/Glacier trail is indeed magnificent. 17 years ago we hiked the trail in July and saw the impressive glacier. Unfortunately, as of 2016, the glacier is almost completely gone.
      But a trip to Great Basin is still a must-do!
      Thanks for your comments!

  2. Glad to see you have started on a new series, Rita and that too on the places that are far from the madding crowd :)
    And exceptional pictures too! That bristlecone pine in particular, much weathered and witness to the advancing waves of civilization. And the Wheeler peak as well. Thanks for another outstanding post

    1. Hi Soumyendu,

      "Far from the madding crowd" describes all the places I'll highlight in my Nevada series. As mentioned in my comments to John, Nevada is a state with many off-the-beaten-path and overlooked wonders.
      I, too, love the bristlecone pines—love the fact that they've been around for millennia and have seen so much history!
      Thanks for reading and commenting!