Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada is full of ancient Bristlecone Pine trees, a couple of grueling hikes, and gazillions of stars. In late summer a friend and I packed up our camping things and drove across hundreds of miles of nothingness to reach the park; we had our sights set on the tippy top of Wheeler Peak, tallest mountain in Nevada at 13,065 feet.
We woke up ridiculously early and were on the trail with that giant rocky peak towering above us. We hiked for a couple of hours on a relatively easy trail, nothing too steep, nothing too exposed, a little lake…
Then suddenly we were above the tree line, the trail was going nearly straight up the side of the mountain, the wind was ferocious and unforgiving.
Honestly, the switchbacks were so narrow and tight you were essentially ladder-climbing and scrambling up a hunk of loose rock for nearly 2 miles. That picture up there shows the trail disappearing into the steepness of the mountain, but this was before it was super windy or super scrambly.
After a lot of stopping and wheezing in the thin air we reached the summit and were able to look out onto dozens of tall, rocky peaks, just like the one we were standing on.
A kind soul had built a little round fort-type thing up on the top out of loose rocks that gave some blessed shelter from the wind. We stopped for lunch, chatted with hikers as they reached the summit, and tried to psych ourselves up for the descent. It took us about 5.5 hours to reach the top, but we cruised down and were back at our car two hours later.
I had pretty low expectations for Great Basin National Park, but was completely bowled over by the brutal natural beauty and the incredible stars at night. GBNP has one of the darkest skies anywhere on earth, the number of stars we saw was completely outrageous, including the International Space Station crossing the sky, lots of shooting stars and meteors, and layers and layers and layers of pinprick constellations. The other thing Great Basin is famous for is groves of ancient Bristlecone Pine trees, some 5,000 years old! The thing about Bristlecones is they have no natural killer; the cause of death of most of these great trees is their roots are exposed and the tree eventually topples. What that means is the mountain they are growing on erodes faster than the tree dies…these trees are literally older than mountains!
Their bark shows scars of hundreds and hundreds of years of rain and wind and snow. I probably could look at and pet tree bark all day long and not get bored, it’s just so fascinating. (Yes, I know my nerd is showing, just bear with me, okay?)
Great Basin is also famous for the Lehman Caves, vast underground caverns with all sorts of formations. However, the tours were completely sold out by the time we got there, so if you have plans to go, be sure to buy cave tickets in advance. And, if you are the photography type, take a tripod to get some shots of the night sky. And then send them to me so I can swoon all over again at the number of stars!