We left California. What an amazing place! There are a variety of landscapes that seemingly change with each turn in the highway. Deserts, beaches, forests, mountains, hot springs, volcanos and so much more gives nature enthusiast ample places to explore. Having nine national parks, the most of any state, there are vast spaces of undeveloped land. We only scratched the surface by visiting three of the national parks. We definitely have to return to this state again.
We drove across Route 50 in Nevada appropriately named The Loneliest Road in America. Crossing the middle of the state through a series of basins and mountain ranges, it roughly follows the old Pony Express route. The long straight road often disappears into a vanishing point far off in the distance. Seeing little more than sand, sagebrush and blue skies, it’s a tedious drive.
I felt this was the perfect opportunity for grammi to finally tow the camper. All the miles we’ve traveled and not once has she driven with the trailer in tow. She was eager to give it a try so I pulled over and gave up the steering wheel.
She started slowly, getting the feel of the extra weight. Realizing the truck has more than enough power to tow our camper, she quickly gained confidence. “I don’t notice it back there at all” she said, as we gained speed. It was a welcome break for me and I enjoyed looking out into the desert. I saw a herd of wild horses in the distance.
We made it as far as Austin, smack dab in the middle of the state. Established as a mining town in 1862 it survives as a living ghost town and serves as an example of early Nevada history.
We stayed the night in a church parking lot equipped with RV hookups. I thought this to be an ingenious way for a church to raise revenue by providing a place for travelers to stay the night while crossing the desert.
The next day’s drive was more of the same. We finally turned off Route 50 onto 487, where we came to the small town of Baker. Located near the entrance of Great Basin National Park it was an ideal location for us to find a campground. Our options were limited with only two campgrounds in town. We stayed at the Whispering Elms Motel and RV Park. Nothing fancy but there was full hookups and cell service, albeit slow. Despite my best effort to stay longer, we were only able to book the site for two nights. We may have found a first-come, first-serve site in the national park big enough for us, but we just settled for the two nights.
Great Basin National Park is the only national park in Nevada and is most notably known for Lehman Caves, bristlecone pines (the oldest living organisms), and Wheeler Peak with its glacier ice. We took the scenic 12-mile drive up the steep paved road stopping along the way at the overlooks. The endless view of the basin below was breathtaking, as well was the view of the glacier on Wheeler Peak above. The cooler temperatures were a welcome relief from the afternoon 100+ degrees in the basin.
Wheeler Peak at 13,065 feet high is the second tallest mountain in Nevada. Hiking to the summit is a challenging eight mile round trip with over three thousand feet of elevation gain. We did not attempt this. Instead we hiked the Alpine Lake Loop Trail. It is 2.7 miles long with a modest 600 feet of elevation gain. Featuring two alpine lakes, Stella and Teresa Lakes, and grand views of Wheeler Peak as a backdrop, this hike was challenging enough at over 10,000 feet elevation. Having to stop often to catch my breath gave me plenty of opportunity to bask in the beauty.
We spent a few minutes sitting on a rock by the lakeside. The cloudless azure sky contrasted beautifully with the shadows cast by the gray jagged rocks on Wheeler Peak. The water sourced from melted snow was cold and clear. The breeze was cool and refreshing. A deer stood across the lake chewing on vegetation growing near the bank. A strange caw from an unidentified bird caused grammi and I to look up and scan the trees. This peaceful scene is what motivates us to hike the trails in the many parks and forest.
The lakes shoreline recedes during the summer (as you can see in the picture below) only to be replenished by the winter’s snow.
As we were descending the rocky trail we came to the Bristlecone Trailhead. We stopped. We looked at each other questioning if we had enough energy left in us to hike to the Bristlecone pine grove. Ultimately we decided we did not. In retrospect, I regret that decision. I would’ve like to seen the oldest trees in the world. We didn’t have much time at this park, so now I’ll have to make a point to come back to do that hike. Additionally, Lehman Caves were closed due to COVID-19 giving me another reason to return.
Admittedly it was a short stay at Great Basin National Park where Wheeler Peak towers high above the basins of Nevada and Utah. It is home to alpine lakes, glacier ice, a limestone cave, and ancient trees. We were there long enough to realize it was a special place. It is worthy of a visit, just plan to stay longer than we did.
So until next time…happy days and safe travels.