Great Basin National Park: Aspen Trees and a Rock “Glacier” in Nevada

Confession: almost titled this blog post: “Nevada: Nothing to See Here Folks…Almost”

WOW. I have to admit that I don’t get why anyone would live in the state of Nevada. Sorry, I admit that I’m a Cali snob. There’s nothing out here for miles sometimes. Seriously, NOTHING. Lots of dirt and desert-like plants, but I think that most other deserts would be a lot more aesthetically pleasing than this dry armpit of a state.

meth equals death

The best part about Nevada: the constant state signs warning people to report “suspicious odors” and that “METH, CRACK, COKE, SPEED = DEATH”. Joy loved it all because she loves watching Breaking Bad.

Ok, so I’m being a bit harsh and am exaggerating a bit.

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Nevada’s nothingness along Highway 50

Sometimes it’s great to be driving out in the open with nothing to watch or oogle at for as far as the eyes can see (I took many photos of the “nothingness” because it’s actually quite impressive). There’s a bunch of quaint little towns with populations of 250 or below that look like a throwback to old Western times. There’s some gorgeous sunsets due to the constant atmospheric haze across Nevada’s wide dirt plains. And there’s a cute little place called Cave Lake State Park just outside of Great Basin National Park that I really liked (the landscape is kinda interesting and the campsites allow you to camp on the land sometimes, but the lake that people fish at looks tiny. Like the boats look like toys in a baby bathtub kind of tiny. Plus all the people out here are really nice and courteous, even though (or maybe because) we’re two little Asian girls traveling across the country in one car.  Okay, so I’m not that little, but Joy is.

Our My Little Pony travel mascot at Cave Lakes State Park

Our My Little Pony travel mascot at Cave Lakes State Park

After leaving Cave Lakes State Park (more nice people over there, esp. the rangers) we drove over to Great Basin National Park nearby. At first it didn’t look like much. It looked like yet another dry mountain with some trees on it? NOT impressed at all. And the glacier that we had heard about before was a “rock glacier” (what the hell is that?). But as we drove up the mountain, rising 7,000…8,000…9,000…10,000 feet – all the way to the top campground near Wheeler Peak, I was in for a pretty pleasant surprise.

A view at 10,000 ft.

A view at 10,000 ft.

The most interesting part of Great Basin NP is that each zone on the mountain (based on altitude) has different climates – which means that different plants and wildlife inhabit each area. The top zone looks a little bit like Tahoe (due to the pine trees) but with more desert plants and these gorgeous Aspen trees with leaves that glisten in the wind as they turn from side to side catching sunlight. The drive up the mountain had nothing but amazing views all around us (Joy reminded me to not kill us as I drove and pointed at all the pretty things that I saw). Away from the mountain, you can see nothing but Nevada’s hot dirt land stretching out into the horizon. Up the mountain, you can see light snow drifts atop Wheeler Peak. It’s as if this park and this mountain just popped out of nowhere (it kinda did).

Great Basin

It was about 3 pm when Joy and I decided to hike around the lakes trail and see the “glacier” – a snow and rock covered underground glacier surrounded by mountains. The hike was pretty pleasant, but the lakes were very small. Joy and I found the mud at the bottom of (very shallow) Stella lake to be extremely mushy and fluffy (it felt like melted butter if butter were brown and cool in temperature). Not the most pleasant to swim in, but it was surrounded by the mountain range, which was gorgeous. The other lake was fed by a mountain steam, so it was a bit more refreshing – and easier to swim in (I have this rule that I have to jump in every lake I hike to).

Beautiful. And ice cold.

Beautiful. And ice cold.

Around the bend, we headed on to the trail that led to the Bristlecone pine trees area (these trippy trees can be up to like 4,00o years old!) and further on to the Rock Glacier. It’s a pretty nice, easy/moderate hike uphill shaded by pine trees, surrounded by amazing rock formations and mountains. After about a mile and a half, we got to the end of the trail and saw the Rock Glacier from afar. Very nice, but what they don’t tell you in the park brochures is that you can pretty much walk another mile or so to get to the actual glacier itself. I’m not positive, but I walked a little further beyond the “We do not recommend hiking past this point due to the potential for falling rocks” sign until I could almost see the area where the glacier lay. It’s a pretty amazing little hike, surrounded by mountain wildflowers and lichen. Where else can you straight into a mountain? It was a pretty spiritual experience, I must say.

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The awesomeness of Mt. Wheeler. Check out the “rock glacier” in the middle (it looks like a snow drift)

We didn’t go to the Lehman Caves (got there too late in the day) but I’ve heard that they’re pretty cool too. I’ve seen about 3 caves in different continents. To me, all caves look pretty much the same (some are just more exciting to navigate than others), so if you haven’t gone cave exploring before, check them out. If not, go straight to the hiking trails. There’s much more to see than we saw in the few hours that we were there.

Oldest trees in North America

Oldest trees in North America

Around 7 pm, we drove down the mountain and went straight on our way to Utah. The scenery IMMEDIATELY became much more gorgeous. Why is that? “It’s as if when they were drawing up the borders in Utah, they saw the dry flat land and said, “Oh you can leave that for Nevada,” Joy said. Nothing but Great Basin National Park, that is.

Sunset on the way to Utah

Sunset on the way to Utah

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2 thoughts on “Great Basin National Park: Aspen Trees and a Rock “Glacier” in Nevada

  1. Dana Eng says:

    HI Tiffo,glad to hear you are having a great time in spite of the hot weather. Pentax tech support advises we send your new camera in for service to find out why the battery is not charging up. They advise not using an Iphone charger because it could damage the camera’. Take care “small Asian girl”
    luv Dad

  2. Kevin says:

    Enjoyed your pictures and write up. Great Basin is on my list. I think the park would frown on swimming in the lakes.

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