I have lived in various towns in seven different states, but I have not lived within two hours of a national park since my childhood in Miami, FL (Everglades NP). National parks have always been travel destinations for us while state parks and national forests sufficed for day trips throughout the year. We enjoy those areas (especially because they are usually less crowded), but there is always something special about visiting a national park.
The entrance to Great Basin National Park is only a little over an hour from our house and we have been eagerly waiting to visit it since we first moved to Nevada in March. However, the mountains here received a healthy snowfall last winter and Great Basin NP does not plow the park road so we had to delay our first visit until mid- June (and it turned out even that was a bit too early).
The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is only 12 miles long, but it swiftly rises over 3,000 feet in elevation. We crossed numerous ecological zones as we wound our way up the mountain. By the end of the road we had reached an ecosystem similar to that found in northern Canada, even though we had only driven a few miles. At each turn in the road, our view of Mt. Wheeler (the second highest mountain in Nevada) became more grand and impressive.
The road ended at an elevation of 10, 000 feet and that is where we began our hike to see the bristlecone pines. The trail started off relatively easy in a pretty pine forest with only a patch of snow here and there. However, as we continued to hike uphill, the snow patches on the trail became larger and harder to navigate. In some places we only had a sliver of rocky trail to walk on between the snowy areas and other places there was no option but to walk over the slippery, melting snow.
We felt that we had the trail to ourselves at the beginning, but the groups of hikers seemed to bottleneck near the top as the hiking conditions grew trickier and everybody was going at different paces. We definitely enjoyed hiking in the cooler weather up on the mountain, but the price we had to pay for it was navigating a snow- covered trail.
After hiking 1.5 miles and gaining 600 feet in elevation we reached the bristlecone pine grove. These twisted, gnarly- looking trees can live for thousands of years in severely harsh conditions. Interestingly enough, the harsher the conditions, the longer they can live. These trees are one of the few living things that truly thrive on adversity.
After spending some time admiring those ancient and resilient trees, we headed back down the trail. The hike took a little longer than we had expected and it was approaching evening by this time, but the amazing views of the Snake Range and Valley kept us from rushing back to our car.
We enjoyed our first experience in Great Basin and look forward to becoming frequent visitors, although next year we will probably wait until July before attempting to walk amongst the bristlecones.
“I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.”