Date of Trip: October 21st, 2017
We were originally planning on spending an entire four-day weekend at this tiny national treasure. Since Kenon was only two weeks in to a collarbone injury we decided to slim it down to just one day. Great Basin is a must on your national parks bucket list. Even if you sneak it into a longer road trip. We went in late October and it was as if no one even knows it exists. There were so few people that we would go an hour or more before seeing anyone else.
How to do it like we did it:
- Mid-morning cave tour
Book this on their website. You can book it at the visitor center upon arrival but you are not guaranteed a spot as it fills up fast. We did the entire 90-minute tour and it is well worth it. There were children as young as eight on the tour. It does get narrow but only for brief moments while walking from one cavern to the next. The guides also have exit plans for anyone who begins to experience claustrophobia. It is full of unexpected history and science lessons along with the most gorgeous rock formations.
- Lunch at Mather Overlook
Beautiful little overlook. Take the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive to a left turnoff with signage announcing the overlook. It’s not exactly a dream picnic spot. There is only one picnic table and it is right next to the pit toilet – ew! Kenon and I ate our lunch on the “bench” that serves as a barrier to the overlook. We only saw one other person the entire time we were up there which made it very romantic. Wheeler Peak is the second highest point in Nevada and offers gorgeous views.
- Bristlecone Pine Trail
This is a MUST if you are visiting the park. Some of the trees are over 2000 years old. Some of them have been dead (and are still standing) for over 3000 years! You have to see it to believe it. This is an out-and-back 4.6 mile trail with 1000 feet in elevation gain that eventually turns into the Glacier Trail. We were surprised to find slippery snow and ice packing a few steep, narrow parts of the trail. This was only late October. We wished we would have had a YakTrax traction system. The trailhead is at the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive at the Bristlecone Parking Area. There are a few trails that take off in different directions so make sure to stop at the sign/bulletin board to get oriented in the right direction.
We did not complete the entire trail. At about mile 1.5 there is a short interpretative trail that takes hikers through the pine grove complete with signs telling about the history. It is a wonderful spot to stop and stay awhile. We went through this short circle then turned around and went back.
And that’s it!
Gear of the trip:
YakTrax. We did not actually bring any with us but we sure wish we would have! The high elevation causes early snow and ice.
The temperatures did not break 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Since it is in the desert it never felt this cold. There was absolutely no wind-chill, the air was dry, and the sun was shining so it felt closer to 60 degrees. While hiking for long stretches in the shade I did get colder so I was glad I packed layers. In the cave I wore long pants, a long sleeve shirt, and a jacket and I felt comfortable the whole time.
My Biggest Take-a-Way:
The Bristlecone Pine Trail took us up to the oldest living organisms on earth. Some of these trees are over a thousand years old. What is even more incredible is that many of the trees died hundreds of years ago yet still remain standing as a testimony to moxie.
The pines are able to remain so long after death because they grow in such harsh mountain climates. The elevation at which these trees choose to grow is too brutal for most flora – dry soil, rough winds, and freezing temperatures. Since there is so little competition for soil nutrients the plant is able to put down deep, wide, and strong roots. Since the wind rages so fiercely the wood becomes dry and hardened. The adverse conditions are exactly the thing that created the perfect combination of traits that keep the trees “alive” long after they die.