GWL – Great Basin Heat & Cedar Breaks Cool

Day 52 – 4,638 miles traveled

 Welcome to Great Basin National Park

Welcome to Great Basin National Park

Beyond the pure natural secluded beauty of the place, there are two main reasons to visit Great Basin National Park … the extensive Lehman Caves and the 3,000 year old bristlecone pines. We visited Great Basin National Park and toured the famous Lehman Caves in 2012, but due to snow, we missed many of the hiking opportunities and the opportunity to see the world’s oldest living beings … the bristlecone pines. A return visit was definitely in order. Due to white nose syndrome in bats and since we’d just been in lava caves in Oregon, we weren’t allowed in Lehman Caves unless we decontaminated. Hmmm … sounds like as good an excuse as any not to do any more caving for awhile. We decided we’d concentrate on the trails and ancient plants on this visit.

 Bristlecone pine - oldest living thing on the planet

Bristlecone pine - oldest living thing on the planet

The trail was rocky and rough. Huge roots, like writhing serpents, twisted and turned and obstructed the narrow dirt path. We scrambled over boulders and scree. We tripped and stumbled a few times … at 10,000’ altitude, we were winded, but determined.

  Upon reaching the bristlecones, we checked out the informative interpretive trail. Touching a 2,000+ year old tree ... a different kind of thrill.

 Upon reaching the bristlecones, we checked out the informative interpretive trail. Touching a 2,000+ year old tree ... a different kind of thrill.

The views were so stupendous, we forgot we were laboring up the trail. The temperatures below in the little town of Baker hovered in the 90s while at 10,000’, we enjoyed the 70s … about a 5F difference/1000’ altitude.

 Great Basin views were stupendous. Explorer and frontiersman, John C. Fremont, coined the term 'Great Basin' upon determining that there is no river outlet to the sea from the basin. 

Great Basin views were stupendous. Explorer and frontiersman, John C. Fremont, coined the term 'Great Basin' upon determining that there is no river outlet to the sea from the basin. 

 We continued on to view a diminishing rock glacier nestled in a ravine below Wheeler Peak.

We continued on to view a diminishing rock glacier nestled in a ravine below Wheeler Peak.

 On the return, we took a slight detour to Teresa Lake, then made our rocky descent back down the trail to Blue.

On the return, we took a slight detour to Teresa Lake, then made our rocky descent back down the trail to Blue.

 Our campsite in the Upper Lehman Campground was situated at 7,300’ and surrounded in aspen, wild roses and, dare I say it, poison hemlock. 

Our campsite in the Upper Lehman Campground was situated at 7,300’ and surrounded in aspen, wild roses and, dare I say it, poison hemlock. 

 A yellow warbler kept us company with his sweet song, but rarely made an appearance.

A yellow warbler kept us company with his sweet song, but rarely made an appearance.

Day 53 - Hot and parched

We tossed and turned throughout the night for no particular reason. If one of us doesn’t sleep, neither does the other. Sleep just evaded us although we were tired enough and we ended up logy when it was finally time to rise.

The sweet, lingering fragrance of wild roses greeted us and a gold finch’s melody did much for our moods … as did a cup of morning joe. We could have possibly sat the day away in camp, but hiking seemed a better idea. We chose what we thought would be an easy trail … the Pole Canyon Loop. We were definitely wrong.

 The ride to the trailhead was a few miles away over a very narrow dirt road.

The ride to the trailhead was a few miles away over a very narrow dirt road.

 Actually, the trail itself was easy … well-kept and easy to follow. The topography, however, was all up with nary a break. We plodded and we trudged under a hot, searing sun. Several times, we figured we’d quit and turn around, but managed the 6-mile round trip … parched, tired and drained. The saving grace, other than the exercise, was once again the display of wildflowers in great profusion … bright red columbine, blue lupine, asters, sunflowers, Indian paintbrush, indigo beardtongue, fuschia vetch, white sego lilies, hot pink wild roses. So many varieties, so much color, so many excuses for blessed stops along the way to take photos.

 A profusion of wildflowers, like this sego lily, gave me a good excuse to stop for a breather and take a photo.

A profusion of wildflowers, like this sego lily, gave me a good excuse to stop for a breather and take a photo.

As always, the return trip down was easier and quicker. We were like horses getting close to the barn at the end of the day. We gratefully managed the last few steps to Blue, unloaded our packs, grabbed an ice-cold orange from the fridge and sat at a shaded picnic table sucking down the orange slices like manna from heaven.

Revived, we headed back to camp for a light lunch and a much-needed siesta. It was too hot to sleep in Blue though, so we dragged our camp chairs into the shade and napped successfully though uncomfortably for an hour until our bodies complained they needed to move. A lovely breeze came up in the late afternoon to cool us off. It’s 95F at 7,000’ … imagine the heat on the Great Basin floor.

Day 54 – 4,785 miles traveled

 Cedar Breaks National Monument ... nearly two miles high in the sky

Cedar Breaks National Monument ... nearly two miles high in the sky

Our previous plan still included visiting several of Nevada’s state parks on the way home, but temperatures continued to rise and now hovered around 110F in southeastern Nevada. The plan obviously needed modification. We crossed the state line into Utah, seeking higher elevations and cooler temps … and lost an hour entering a new time zone. We know we’ll need to deal with Las Vegas temps when we get home, but we wanted to avoid them as long as possible. We were headed for the high, high country … Cedar Breaks National Monument at 10,000+’.

 Parowan Gap ... what's on the other side?

Parowan Gap ... what's on the other side?

We took UT-75, a scenic “backway”, through Parowan Gap and were enthralled by the ‘gap’ in the road ahead. We had no idea what was up ahead until we saw the sign for petroglyphs and an historical marker. These glyphs are purported to be at least 1,000 years old. Click on the thumbnail to enlarge the image.

Our search for ‘cool’ ended as we climbed the 13% grade up UT-143 and ended in the Cedar Breaks National Monument campground at 10,350’. Instead of sweltering, we were now concerned with cold during the night with highs predicted in the high 30s-low 40s.

cedar-breaks_aspen bluebells1.JPG

We’d visited Cedar Breaks National Monument back in 2010, but never camped here. The campground was surrounded by aspen bluebells and tall trees; the campsites were spacious. A one mile trail led to the visitor’s center and once settled in, we took a most pleasant, wildflower-lined walk. This park is specifically known for its wildflowers and the place was all abloom to greet us.

 

A short trail led us along the 2-mile Sunset Trail, although it wasn’t quite sunset, and then back to Point Supreme for a ranger presentation about the spruce bark beetle which had plagued parts of the park and the Dixie National Forest over the years and led to extensive tree kill. We learned that these beetles are native to the area and ‘like fire, act as natural agents of forest renewal’.

 Beetle kill in this spruce forest silhouetted in a Cedar Breaks sunset

Beetle kill in this spruce forest silhouetted in a Cedar Breaks sunset

 On return to camp just after sunset, yellow evening primrose was in bloom … a fine good night.

On return to camp just after sunset, yellow evening primrose was in bloom … a fine good night.

We'll explore more tomorrow.  Join us as we explore a bit more of Cedar Breaks and then begin the seemingly long, hot journey back to Las Vegas.