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Great Basin National Park  


Introduction

South Snake Range

Wheeler Peak

Plants and Animals

Lehman Caves

Buildings

Park Vistas

References


Great Basin National Park, located in the eastern portion of the state of Nevada, preserves a small section of America's vast Great Basin. The park contains lofty mountains, alpine lakes, creeks, desert, limestone caverns, some of the world's oldest living trees, glacial moraines, and even a glacier or icefield, despite the southern latitude.





Great Basin is one of America's newest national parks as well, having been established on October 27, 1986. It's located in one of the "emptiest" places in America, and is as remote as any national park in the lower 48 states.


The South Snake Range: An Island Habitat

The Great Basin itself is a vast area of the western United States located primarily between the Rocky and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, including areas of Utah, Nevada, California, Idaho, and Oregon. First identified by famous explorer John C. Fremont, the basin is so named because all of the rivers within it flow inward, reaching lakes, soaking into the ground, or evaporating rather than reaching the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.


For potential visitors, ParkVision recommends "Story Behind the Scenery" guides.


Most of the basin is extremely dry and desolate. The character of the basin itself can be seen in the following pictures.



These pictures south toward the park and the South Snake Range which makes up much of its area.



The next view looks west toward the South Snake Range from outside the eastern border of the park. The contrast between the dry basin area and the snow capped peaks is particularly striking. The basin in the foreground of this picture is at approximately 5300 feet, while the South Snake Range contains 14 peaks over 10,000 feet.



The South Snake mountains provide an "island habitat" in an ocean of desolation and sagebrush desert. Within the range is moisture in creeks and snow which create opprtunities for all kinds of plant and animal life which isn't possible in the dry, desolate areas of the basin. This difference can be seen in the following picture taken from approximately the 8000 foot level of the South Snake Range, looking north toward the North Snake range across a valley. Within the island habitat is a variety of vegetation, while the valley basin appears dry and relatively lifeless.



One of the higher mountains in the South Snake Range is Baker Peak, at 12, 298 feet. Even in mid-June the peak may be covered by snow, as can be seen below.



Wheeler Peak

The highest mountain in the South Snake Range, and the centerpiece of the park, is Wheeler Peak. At 13,063 feet it stands above the other mountains in the range. Wheeler Peak is the second highest peak in Nevada, shorter only by 77 feet than Boundary Peak in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.



The peak itself was named after Lt. George Montague Wheeler, leader of a great Army geographic survey of the area. Wheeler was the first to measure the altitude of the mountain, which towers above the surrounding basin, which is relatively flat.



At its peak the mountain is rocky; in the picture below the walls of the glacial cirque can be clearly seen. In this area is one of Great Basin's most interesting features--a glacier even at an extremely southern latitude. There is some debate about whether this feature is a glacier or an ice field; the difference is that glaciers move downhill, while ice fields do not. The presence of either within the confines of the Great Basin and so near to desert land is noteworthy.



Plants and Animals

The water and climate provide resources for a wide variety of plants and animals in the park. In the lower elevations juniper and pinon pine are dominant trees, and sagebrush and manzanita provide ground cover.



At moderate and higher elevations thick stands of trees are found throughout the park. These include aspen, Engelman spruce, and limber pine. Below, stands of these trees can be seen in the Baker Creek valley.



Below is a close-up of aspen trees and a section of Baker Creek, one of the two major waterways in the park (along with Lehman Creek). The creek contains brown, brook, rainbow, and cutthroat trout.



At very high elevations live Bristlecone Pine trees, some of the oldest living things on earth. At least one of these trees in the park is believed to be over 4000 years old.

Many animals make their homes in the park. Baker Creek is a particularly good place to find wildlife, such as the marmot below which makes his home in a rocky area.



Lehman Caves

The park is home to a number of limestone solution caves, the most well known of which is Lehman's Caves (actually a single cave). Located at 6800 feet, these caves comprise about 1 one and a half miles of underground passages.



Spectacular formations can be found in these passages, as can be seen below.



In some places the stalagmites and stalactites join together to form columns from the floor to the roof of the cave.



Buildings

There are few historic and no grand or imposing buildings within the park. The park does not feature a hotel or other kinds of indoor visitor accomodations. The visitor's center, however, lays in a scenic spot on the slopes of Wheeler Peak. Lehman's Caves are located directly behind the center, pictured below.



Park Vistas

The park features a variety of beautiful panoramas. In the first picture below, the traveler looks southeast across the Baker Creek valley toward the basin and the state of Utah.



The abundance of water in Baker Creek provides life for stands of aspen and other trees.



References

Information about Great Basin National Park has been drawn from personal experience, data available in the park itself, and a number of other sources, including:

  • National Geographic's Guide to the National Parks of the United States. National Geographic Society, 1992.

  • Houk, Rose. Trails to Explore in Great Basin National Park. Baker, NV: Great Basin Natural History Association, 1989.

  • National Parks of North America. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 1995.

  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  • Comments and other remarks can be sent via e-mail to parkvision@shannontech.com