A Trip to Great Basin National Park

Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National ParkWhen I drive between my homes in Yellowstone and Yosemite, I always take a new route in order to visit a national park or wilderness area. Last spring I explored Craters of the Moon National Monument. On my drive this past week, I toured Great Basin National Park. Often overlooked because of its remote location, a visit to this park is well worth the drive and the off-the-beaten path roads provide some remarkable scenery.

Great Basin National Park, located on border of Nevada and Utah, is named for the geography it inhabits—the small park of 77,000 acres sits amidst the mighty Great Basin of our continent that encompasses over 200,000 miles and 160 mountain ranges in the states of Nevada, California, Oregon, Idaho and Utah. Most commonly defined from a hydrographic perspective, all of the land within its borders drains inward and lacks an outlet to the sea.

A series of geologic events dating back almost 800 million years shaped the dramatic and diverse landscape of the park, from the sagebrush valley to the wondrous Lehman Caves, to the imposing summit of Wheeler Peak at 13,063 feet—an altitude change of almost 8,000 feet! Because of the abundance of mountain ranges in the larger Great Basin, and the drastic variation in altitude between the lowlands and the top of the ranges, each mountainous area acts as an island of habitat for a diverse number of plant and animal species.

Decorating the landscape in Great Basin National Park are an array of flora and fauna, including the ancient bristlecone pine, which can live almost 5,000 years. John Muir described the intrepid trees hisThe Mountains of California: “There are many variable arching forms, alone or in groups, with innumerable tassels dropping beneath the arches or radiant above them, and many lowly giants of no particular form that have braved the storms of a thousand years.”  

Great Basin also boasts a large variety of animal life such as pronghorn antelope, kangaroo rats, bald eagles, elk, bighorn sheep and desert horned lizard. Over 70% of all North American mammal species are found within Great Basin National Park; a park ranger at the visitor center observed to me that while the park is a mere 1/30 the size of Yellowstone, it possess only one fewer species of mammal. 

Lastly, don’t miss the excellent stargazing opportunities at Great Basin National Park. As one of the darkest places in the country, the stars adorn the sky like a million precious gemstones and on some evenings the soft glow of the Milky Way stretches overhead.

For more information on visiting Great Basin National Park visit the National Park Service website. For books and other information, check out the non-profit Western National Parks Association's excellent online store.

To view a photo slideshow, click on the image below.