Tag Archives: Great Basin National Park

June 4: Disinfecting my shoes to protect the bats

Alpenglow on Wheeler Peak from my campsite.
Alpenglow on Wheeler Peak from my campsite.

I have to say, after last night’s incredible stars, that I can believe Great Basin NP’s claim to have some of the least light-polluted skies in the lower 48 of the U.S. Amazing.

This morning I took an hour and a half tour of Lehman Caves, which are one of the high points of this park. I discovered, to my delight, that my new (as of last winter) camera takes much better low-light photos than my old (as in ten years old) camera did. Both of the cave photos in this post were taken sans flash or tripod. Some of the others weren’t so great, but I’d say at least half of them came out well.

I had a little time between changing the ticket I’d bought several days ago via phone from this afternoon to this morning and the start of the tour, so I went for a walk along the nature trail on the surface above the cave, where I saw something really pretty called a cliffrose. I also saw the natural entrance to the cave (which isn’t used for people anymore, but is kept open for the bats), and the entrance and exit used for the tours, which were blasted out by the WPA in the thirties, before people knew better (I suspect this was about the same time the elevator that goes down into Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico was installed, too).

Cliffrose.  Smells kind of orange-y.
Cliffrose. Smells kind of orange-y.
This is the rifle that was all over social media in 2014 -- it was found up on Wheeler Peak, where apparently someone had just walked off and left it 100+ years ago.
This is the rifle that was all over social media in 2014 — it was found up on Wheeler Peak, where apparently someone had just walked off and left it 100+ years ago.  It’s now on display in the visitor center at Lehman Caves.  

Then I put my sneakers into a (very shallow, only the soles got wet) Lysol bath, to disinfect them and protect the bats that live in the cave from something called white nose syndrome, a fungus brought over from Europe that has killed millions of bats in this country and that they’re trying to keep from spreading. If you’ve worn your shoes into a cave before, you have to have them disinfected. So because I’d been in one of the caves at Lava Beds, my sneakers now smell ever so faintly of Lysol <g>.

The cave tour was cool, and not just because it was 50dF inside, while it was pushing 80dF outside. It was beautiful in there, from teeny-tiny soda straws (they’re long and skinny and hollow) to huge columns, elegant draperies and things called popcorn and shields. We walked through for an hour and a half, and every minute was interesting.

One of my better photos inside Lehman Caves.
One of my better photos inside Lehman Caves.
And another Lehman Caves shot.  I really  love this camera.
And another Lehman Caves shot. I really love this camera.

After the tour was over, I headed southeast across yet more lonely highway about 150 miles to the town of Cedar City, Utah (my fifth state of the trip), where I am tonight. One thing I did not expect was the acres and acres of the same desert globe mallow I saw in Oregon, in full bloom. It made the entire landscape orange in places, almost like the California poppies down in the Mojave Desert do, except the globe mallow is a darker orange. Just lovely.

Globe mallow carpeting the landscape in western Utah.
Globe mallow carpeting the landscape in western Utah.

June 3: Great Basin National Park

So. I’ve been on the road for a week as of today. Man, it’s going fast. I made it across the rest of Nevada today. Actually, I really rather enjoyed the whole “Loneliest Highway in America” thing. It was beautiful and desolate and greener and more floral than I thought it would be. And not nearly as lonely as I thought it would be, either. I probably passed at least three dozen cars in the 100+ miles I drove today. Oh, and six, count ‘em six over-sized loads, two of which were so wide that they had the Nevada Highway Patrol running interference for them. They actually had me pull over onto the shoulder and stop until the two giant pieces of what I think were probably mining equipment went by (Eureka, one of the two towns I passed through today, was basically just an overgrown lead mine), because each one of them took up the entire width of the two-lane road.

I still don’t know how to pronounce the name of the town of Ely (it’s either Ee’-lee, or Ee-lie’ — I asked, and it’s Ee-‘-lee), which was the “big city” of this part of the world. I’ve been topping off the gas tank whenever I hit a town of any size ever since I left California, because they’re so few and far between around here. I don’t think I’ve put more than $20 in the tank at a time since I left home, which is about 5/8ths of a tank.

Oh, and whoever heard of a rest area without a toilet??? I have now. Ridiculous. It had a garbage can. A pit toilet wouldn’t have been much more effort.

"Rest area," right.
“Rest area,” right.
Orange globe mallow all over the place.
Orange globe mallow all over the place.

I arrived here at Great Basin about 12:30, and the first thing I did after checking out the visitor center was snag a campsite. As it turns out, this early in the season (?) only one of the three main campgrounds is open, and it’s only about a dozen sites. I got the last one. Second time that’s happened on this trip.

Entering Great Basin National Park, on the eastern edge of Nevada.  Wheeler Peak in the background.
Entering Great Basin National Park, on the eastern edge of Nevada. Wheeler Peak in the background.

This afternoon I drove up the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, which goes up to 10,000 feet on 10 miles of switchbacks up the side of a mountain (not the peak itself). It was gorgeous, if a bit white-knuckly (I had to downshift on my way back down to keep from braking constantly). Unfortunately, the bristlecone pine trees the park is famous for (they’re the oldest living things on the planet) are a three-mile one-way hike along a still-snowy trail (nothing was even budded up there – it still looked like winter), so I guess I’ll have to satisfy myself with the exhibits in the visitor center.

But it was still well worth the drive up there. Just beautiful. And you can see forever from up there. One of those curvature of the earth things.

A closer view of Wheeler Peak, from the Mather Viewpoint along the winding steep road.  Stephen Mather (the first director of the park service) has his name *everywhere.*  He's like Philetus Norris in Yellowstone :-).
A closer view of Wheeler Peak, from the Mather Viewpoint along the winding steep road. Stephen Mather (the first director of the park service) has his name *everywhere.* He’s like Philetus Norris in Yellowstone :-).
The view east into Utah from near the top of the Wheeler Scenic Drive.
The view east into Utah from near the top of the Wheeler Scenic Drive.

I’m really looking forward to touring Lehman Caves here tomorrow.