Geezers in Great Basin National Park

I recently hit that major milestone all RVers look forward to, the National Parks Senior Pass.  Or as I hoped it was really called, “The Golden Age Passport.”   I’d much rather view life from the “golden age” than that of a “Senior.”   I came to hike over 6 miles at 10,000 ft elevation, which doesn’t make me feel much like a senior, but if that’s what they want to call free admission for life and 50% off of all campsites, I’ll take it!  It’s the only silver lining to the golden age.

I hoped to purchase this long coveted pass in Craters of the Moon. I walked into the Visitor Center first thing upon arrival and proudly proclaimed, “I’m here to purchase my Geezer Pass!” But they had none in stock, so they told me to just put “pending” on my campground envelope and let it go at that. So the commemoration would have to wait for Great Basin National Park.

Geezer status secured!

My very on “Senior Pass.” Geezer status secured!

The only fall color remaining in Great Basin in November...

The only fall color remaining in Great Basin in November…

Looking out onto the Great Basin desert.

Looking out onto the Great Basin desert.

A smidgeon of a rainbow as the rain clears over the Great Basin desert.

A smidgen of a rainbow as the rain clears over the Great Basin desert.

I had no idea what to expect from this northern Nevada park, having arrived in what is the off season.  With winter closing in, would there even be any campgrounds open?  Trails to hike?  Cave tours still on offer?    Much to my surprise, I found all three.img_0273

The Lehman Creek Trail goes from Lower Lehman campground all the way to Wheeler Peak.

The Lehman Creek Trail goes from Lower Lehman campground all the way to Wheeler Peak.

The Baker Loop Trail runs along the creek through several aspen groves.

The Baker Loop Trail runs along the creek through several aspen groves.

Of the park campgrounds along the 12 mile Scenic Drive, only one is still open at this time of year, Lower Lehman.   Having only 11 sites, most of them reported to be terribly unlevel, I had low expectations.  But I end up being only one of three people in the campground in Site #10, a level site on the end with lots of privacy and a stream rolling right beneath my back window…all for my new Geezer rate of $6 per night.

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Somebody needs to educate these guys about the upcoming holiday season...

Somebody needs to educate these guys about the upcoming holiday season…

As for the hikes, well, there are plenty to be had in Great Basin.  I did at least one a day during my stay, the Lehman Creek Trail, the Baker Lake Loop, and two at the top of Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.  This 12 mile winding 8% grade road gains over 4,000 ft to an elevation of over 10,000 ft at the base of Wheeler Peak.  The road crosses several ecological zones, from the rocky desert carpeted with sage to the pinyon pines and junipers, finally topping out at the alpine forest filled with bare limbs and stark contrast of paper-white aspens.  I just missed the fall color.  I can only imagine what these trails must look like in the golden splendor of autumn.

Beautiful mountain views at the top of Wheeler Peak scenic drive.

Beautiful mountain views at the top of Wheeler Peak scenic drive.

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Wish I could have seen the fall color change...

Wish I could have seen the fall color change…

While I do the hikes at lower elevation as “exercise hikes,” I have been gearing up for the two at the base of Wheeler Peak.  The Alpine Lakes Loop which skirts both Teresa and Stella Lakes is beautiful, particularly with the views of the snow-covered mountains as a backdrop.  Wheeler Peak (elev 13,063) creates its own weather as moist air blows from the west and cools as it is forced over the peak, forming clouds.  I take a lunch break beside Stella Lake, sunning while watching the wispy clouds form on approach to the peak, then rapidly dissipating as they move over the lake.

Teresa Lake, elevation 10,230 ft along the Alpine Lakes Loop. Not much water at this time of year.

Teresa Lake, elevation 10,230 ft along the Alpine Lakes Loop. Not much water at this time of year.

There are no fish in either Teresa or Stella Lakes, as they are shallow and freeze nearly to the bottom in winter.

There are no fish in either Teresa or Stella Lakes, as they are shallow and freeze nearly to the bottom in winter.

I could have sat in my lunch spot for hours, watching these clouds form and dissipate within a matter of minutes.

I could have sat in my lunch spot for hours along Stella Lake, watching these clouds form and dissipate within a matter of minutes.

But I think the most memorable hike of my stay in Great Basin will be the Bristlecone Trail.   Often times, the most adverse conditions leave the most lasting impressions.  Such was the nature with this trail.  Having read about the ancient bristlecone pines, believed to be as old as 5,000 years, the longest living life form on earth, I am intrigued.  I learn that the needles alone can stay on a tree for 40 years.  Their resistance to adverse conditions, their slow and strained growth against the elements, ability to survive at high elevation, reluctance to die…it just seems after millennia of years of struggle to survive, I should make the struggle to see them.

This hike typically rated "easy" turns treacherous overnight as melted snow re-freezes.

This hike typically rated “easy” turns treacherous overnight as melted snow re-freezes.

I don't often find amusement at public defacing, but I had to laugh that someone took offense to the description as "grotesque."

I don’t often find amusement at public defacing, but I had to laugh that someone took offense to the description as “grotesque.”

They do sort of look "grotesque"....in a beautiful way.

They do sort of look “grotesque”….in a beautiful way.

Being one of the higher altitude hikes, the upper parts of the trail are covered in ice.  Recent snow and sleet has melted by the sun, then re-frozen over as slick as glass.   The inclines are particularly difficult as my feet are steadily planted one minute, then sliding backwards the next with no means of control beyond the pointed end of my single hiking pole.  Just about the time I decide to turn around rather than risk a broken limb, I am passed on the trail by two more senior geezers.  Of course, when it comes time to descend, they slide down on their butts!  I confess to doing the same, but better to wear out a pair of pants than wear a cast!

Though some specimens in California's White Mountains have been dated back 5,000 years, the ones in Great Basin are believed to be more in the 3,000 year old range. Talk about GEEZERS!

Though some specimens in California’s White Mountains have been dated back 5,000 years, the ones in Great Basin are believed to be more in the 3,000 year old range. Talk about GEEZERS!

The hard wood, high in resin, weathers more like stone than trees.

The hard wood, high in resin, weathers more like stone than trees.

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The descriptive sign beneath these two trees describes how to recognize a Bristlecone Pine from a Limber Pine. The needles of the Limber looks like a well-worn bottle brush, while the bristlecone looks new.

The descriptive sign beneath these two trees describes how to recognize a Bristlecone Pine from a Limber Pine. The needles of the Limber looks like a well-worn bottle brush, while the Bristlecone looks new.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the Great Basin National Park is the Lehman Caves, once the namesake of the park.   These caves are best known for their “shields,” or round discs.  Shields are considered to be somewhat rare, with often only one or two occurring in a cave system.  Lehman Cave has over 300 of them.  Though I did research, I am still challenged to see how these bizarre “paddle shapes” can form in midair.

The most famous of Lehman's shields, called the "Parachute Formation."

The most famous of Lehman’s shields, called the “Parachute Formation.”

Lehman is a heavily decorated cave with lots of history.

Lehman is a heavily decorated cave with lots of history.

In the 20's, lavish parties were held in rooms named "The Lodge Room" and the "Grand Palace."

In the 20’s, lavish parties were held in rooms named “The Lodge Room” and the “Grand Palace.”

Visitors were encouraged to take home souvenirs of stalactites. Our Ranger tour guide told us relatives recently returned a box of these, taken by their deceased grandparents.

Visitors were encouraged to take home souvenirs of stalactites. Our Ranger tour guide told us relatives recently returned a box of these, taken by their deceased grandparents.

All shapes and speleothems have names, like "draperies," "popcorn," and the most interesting, "bacon" with variously colored bands through the drapery formation.

All shapes and speleothems have names, like “draperies,” “popcorn,” and the most interesting, “bacon” with variously colored bands through the drapery formation.

I really liked these "soda straws" that have a bubble at the base. They remind me of Christmas decorations from my childhood.

I really liked these “soda straws” that have a bubble at the base. They remind me of Christmas decorations from my childhood.

I caught a dreadful cold while in Great Basin, I believe to be the result of spending 90 minutes in such a closed environment with 20 people on the cave tour.  Although I “sanitized” after holding on to the railings, there’s just no avoiding the petri dish effect of inhaling others germs in such a confined air space.  For the entire week, the Winnie reeked of Halls Cough Drops and Vicks Vaporub.   A fitting aromatherapy for a newly minted Geezer…

30 thoughts on “Geezers in Great Basin National Park

  1. Suzanne, I enjoyed this post so much. This summer, we scattered my late husband’s ashes in a bristlecone grove on Mt. Evans just west of Denver, CO. It was his wish to to be with his ‘old buddies’. I need to visit Great Basin’s cousins.

    • I love that story, Betty! The “old buddies” do seem to have a lot of personality. In fact, many of them at Great Basin have been given names. I think you would enjoy the trail in better weather…it was beautiful.

  2. I enjoy pretending this geezer is you as you show and tell of your adventures. With this post, as I hiked along, I found myself wondering if you ever fear being alone on those long and lonesome trails you love. “WWSD”, I asked myself, should a bear (or creepy stranger) suddenly appear near your path? I know, I know…we mustn’t allow fear to keep our butts firmly planted in the armchair. Perhaps one day, someday, I will muster up the courage to do a solo trek. Until then, I’ll just hang out inconspicuously along with you. I *so* admire your fortitude and courage! :-)

    • What a lovely comment, as always, Rhonda. I am honored.

      I just read a post this morning on the Matador Network that said “Travel isn’t going to kill you…but staying at home will.” It’s a great article that breaks down heart disease, our number one killer in this nation, as compared to all the other fears; plane crashes, bear attacks, terrorism, etc. It’s an eye-opening article.

      I have “armed myself” to the best of my ability…hiking with the Delorme Inreach satellite device, a First Aid kit, food, water, whistle, para-chord bracelet, lighter, compass, signaling mirror, and even a “space blanket.” If they find me off a cliff some day, I hope they will say two things. 1.) Well, at least she was prepared, and 2.) At least she went doing something she loved.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment,
      Suzanne

  3. It’s on my ‘wish list’ to visit a Bristlecone grove in each state that has them – New Mexico is yet to be done. The grove in Great Basin has the best informative trail, a must for anyone wanting to learn more.

    Did you notice the sign on the water fountain at the trail head? BOIL before drinking … on a water fountain????

  4. When I was able to hike with Jack in isolated places, I always had the locator, taser gun, whistle, rope, cd for a mirror, bear spray, and two space blankets, panty hose for warmth, my camera, flashlight, and binoculars and water for the two of us. I used to think if then found US, they’d say, “Darn fool died of a heart attack carrying all that stuff”. LOL You’re lucky to just be getting your geezer pass. I’ve had mine for 10 years–beyond geezer.

  5. When I began reading this post,mi had the same thought Rhonda had about your solo hiking. Comforting to know that you are prepared and doing something you love.

    I hope one day to see a coffee table book of your photos and adventures. I can think of at least a couple of ways your photo-stories would be appealing to a fairly wide audience. I hasten to add: but not until those legs just won’t carry you anymore! Hope you’re all well from the sniffles, looking forward to next chapters.

  6. Welcome to the Golden Age! I got my pass this year when we were in Cascade NP. Great Basin NP has become one of our favorites over the past few years. Brilliant aspens in the fall, fabulous wildflower displays in the spring, wonderful trails, and very few people. Just our kind of place. :-)

  7. Great post! I enjoy all your adventures and make note of places we need to check out. I’m sure you will get your money’s worth out of the old geezer pass. Hope the aromatherapy helped speed up your recovery.

  8. I renewed my National Parks Pass this year and will be able to get my geezer pass next year too! I have been to the Leman Caves years ago and they were really nice. I have not seen the bristle cone pines though. Those look really cool. When we were there we did not have much time to spend so opted for the caves.

  9. The Parks pass is one of the very few things I am looking forward to as I age! Another will be Medicare…if it still exists…

    We really enjoyed our brief stay at Great Basin in May 2014. We were too early to get all the way up the road to the mountain and dealt with snow on the trails. What a wonderful park though, I love how lightly used it is!

  10. I “caught” a tick in Great Basin, but I doubt I got it on the cave tour 😉
    We loved that park, but being there in early June there was still too much snow on the higher trails. We would like to return to finish the trail to Wheeler Peak that was snowed under. Maybe early September would be the best time to go there?
    Less than two months before I join you at being a geezer! I haven’t looked so forward to a birthday in years.

  11. Never knew there was a Great Basin National Park until I read your post and looked it up on a map. Congrats on becoming a card carrying “geezer”. I got mine earlier this year at Great Sand Dunes NP. Makes me a smile every time I take it out and use it at a park entrance.

  12. It is so lovely to be able to relive so many of the places that we have visited in the past because of your splendid photos and commentary.

    I don’t remember what time of year we were there, but I think it was late November, right around Thanksgiving. It holds the record for “coldest place we ever camped” at ZERO. Fortunately, we had recently upgraded from a Volkswagen camper, with no bathroom and no heat, to a real motorhome with both!

    A camper on a motorcycle came for a while, but after having scraped off about five inches of snow from his picnic table and cooking his dinner, he decided not to deploy his tent, but left in search of a more hospitable environment. We had talked to him earlier, and he seemed determined to stay the night, but I think he had an attack of sanity at the last minute.

    Lehman Cave was a delight, especially since we were joined by only a few other people. The tour guide had a great spiel, and when he had us turn out all the flashlights, it was indeed very spooky to be able to see absolutely nothing.

    When we left there, we went up into the Ruby Mountains, which were beautiful, too. I can see that a cold would definitely put a damper on things. **extra special hugs**

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

    • Jim and Barb, there were a few pull-through sites up front that I think would accommodate you, on the right, or river side. I’m not a very good judge being only 24 ft, but both the Tracker and the Winnie combined are 40 ft, and I easily fit in site #10 as well. It’s only a short drive through, so if that doesn’t work, I would head on down to the Baker Creek Campground. It’s only 3 miles down a gravel road, and not too far from the Visitor Center.

  13. Welcome to the old fart park pass club. You don’t have to act old. Great Basin has been on my list for a while. Wherever I’ve run into the bristle cones they twisted and resilient. Plus the cave intrigues me. Yet doesn’t seem a winter place for me. Great job on those cave photos, not easy.

  14. We loved Great Basin!!! We visited just as the aspen were peaking…an amazing display:) As I was reading this post I was hoping you hiked the Bristlecone Forest. We’ve seen several Bristlecone forests but none have compared to the beauty in this area. We loved it so much that we did the loop going out to the oldest glacier in the area and then again coming back. The trunks look polished. We need to return again to finish our hike to the top of Wheeler Peak. We got to within 500 feet but couldn’t finish because of the ice on the skinny little trail that leads on the flat side to the top. We ran into people coming down and they thought we shouldn’t try without poles since there was no margin for error (we now have poles). Besides, the elevation had made me a little weak. We started with this hike since it was a perfectly clear day so the view on top would be awesome. I’m surprise we got to over 12,000 ft without only a day at 10,000!! So glad you got to see this gem of a park and find a camping spot! Congrats on the Geezer Pass:)

    • Pam, I did enjoy your posts on the area and referred back to them while I was there in GBNP. I stared longingly at that Wheeler Peak trail, but of course it was too snowy up there. I think you, John, Jim and Gayle, Hans and Lisa, and anyone else who wanted to summit Wheeler but couldn’t for whatever reason, should meet there one day for a “Summit Party.” 😉

  15. We got our Geezer Pass a few years ago at Zion N.P. Since reaching out to you when you were in Port Townsend, and we were on North Whidbey Island, we are now along the Colorado in “the canyon” in Moab. It’s Thanksgiving Day. A happy one to you. Yes, we’re using our Geezer Pass… $7.50 per day.

  16. We arrived at Great Basin NP just after a nasty fire had broken out, which closed two major roads along which we had planned to hike. Since it was so smoky as well, we turned around and left. This park will have to keep for another time. Congrats on getting your senior pass. I am looking forward to that day.

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