Road Trips

Great Basin National Park, Nevada: One of America's Best Parks to Hike

Filed Under: National Parks, Nevada

If you thought the only attraction between Utah and California were the gaudy lights of Las Vegas, then a visit to Great Basin National Park in Nevada is long overdue. Though the untrained eye might see little more than desert when driving through the Great Basin, a closer look will reveal a land full of flora and fauna that is in a state of constant change. Geologists even theorize that the Earth's crust below the basin may someday separate, dividing North America into two continents.

The best way to see Great Basin is by foot, and a number of well-maintained trails lead visitors to a variety of attractions. The Bristlecone Trail grants hikers the chance to see and learn about the rare and ancient bristlecone pine tree. These trees thrive in unusually adverse climates, and many are found in high-elevation groves within the park. These trees grow slowly in a twisted, gnarled fashion, and are known to survive for thousands of years; the tree known as "Prometheus" was found to be over 4,900 years old. From the Bristlecone Trail, visitors can take the Glacier Trail and see the only glacier to still exist in the Great Basin Desert. Lexington Arch, a six-story limestone arch that is quite possibly the park's main attraction, is accessible from the Lexington Arch Trail.

The grand landscape and determined plant and animal life of the Great Basin proves the tenacity of nature over time, and seems symbolic of the strength and courage of the ranchers and miners who settled this land over a century ago, thriving as they worked with, rather than against, natural resources.

Geological History
Great Basin National Park is part of the Great Basin Desert and includes the South Snake Range of mountains. These mountains are coined a "desert mountain island" because they are surrounded by a "sea" of desert. This region is called the Great Basin because the streams and rivers have no outlet to the sea; instead, water collects in salt lakes, marshes and mud flats, where it eventually evaporates. During the last ice age, glaciers covered the peaks of these mountains, and as the climate turned warmer, the area beyond the mountains became a desert.

Park Activities
Great Basin offers a variety of activities, and some are simply not to be missed. The only glacier in the Great Basin Desert lies at the foot of 13,063-foot-tall Wheeler Peak, and is easily accessible to visitors. Another popular stop for tourists is the looming Lexington Arch, a rare example of a natural arch carved entirely from limestone. Even after it seems that you've seen all there is to see in the Basin, more natural wonders await visitors underground! Lehman Caves offers glimpses of many shield formations, as well as stalactites, stalagmites, helictites and flowstone formations.

Where to Stay
One sure-fire way to fully appreciate Nevada's "Wild West" is with a stay on a real, working horse ranch. Hidden Canyon Guest Ranch lets visitors stay in tipis or bedroom cabins, all furnished with beds, electric blankets, carpeting and electric lights. When they're not enjoying the ranch's ATV tours or paintball games, guests can spend time with the Norwegian Fjord horses that are raised right on the property.

Nearby Sights/Side Trips
Whoever said cowboys weren't sensitive, or for that matter creative, obviously never checked out the Western Folklife Center in Nevada. This is the place that hosts the Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering each January, a weeklong showcase of passionate rhymes, conversation, stories, singing, dancing, bona fide Western gear and some pretty darn good cookin'. This is an unforgettable peek into the other side of life on the range. Workshops stretch far beyond simple poetry writing and include everything from an "Introduction to Great Basin Swing Dance" to "Rawhide Braiding". The center features regular exhibits on Western Folklife Media as well as general folk arts.

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