Sunday, September 20, 2015

Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park, one of 59 national parks in the USA, entertains 90,000 visitors a year, most of whom come to see the famous Lehman Caves. Actually, it began in 1922 as Lehman Caves National Monument and in 1986 became Great Basin National Park. Its 77,180 acres are part of the 200,000 square mile Great Basin which drains internally. All precipitation in this vast area either evaporates, sinks underground, or flows into lakes, most of which are saline. No creeks or rivers find outlet to the Pacific Ocean or Gulf of Mexico. Hence the name Great Basin, which comprises most of Nevada, half of Utah, and even sections of Idaho. It is a temperate desert with hot, dry summers and snowy winters, and since it exhibits such extreme elevation changes from glacier-carved valleys to high peaks over 13,000 feet in elevation which rise more than a mile from the desert floor, it supports an impressive diversity of flora and fauna species, most notably its groves of ancient bristlecone pines, the oldest known non-clonal organisms which means they originate vegetatively, not sexually, from one single ancestor 5000 years ago! That means the park's pines were growing at the time the Egyptians were building their pyramids!

White, snow-covered Wheeler Peak, the highest point at 13,063 feet, is seen off in the distance in the next two photos...

The Great Basin area has been occupied for over 12,000 years, the first people being the Paleo-Indians. The Fremont lived here about 1500 years ago followed by the Shoshone about 700 years ago, and Shoshone descendants still live in the area today. There are 11 species of conifers and over 800 species of plants in the park, with arid plants such as sagebrush, juniper, and pinyon in the lower areas and White Fir, Quaking Aspen, spruce, and Ponderosa Pine up higher.

The Desert Shrub Life Zone is at 5000-6000 feet elevation, then Sagebrush Life Zone at 6-7,000 feet, the Pinon-Juniper Zone at 7-8,000 feet, the Montane Zone at 8-11,000 feet, and the Alpine Zone from 11-15,000+ feet.

There are 61 species of mammals, 18 species of reptiles, 238 species of birds, 2 of amphibians, and 8 of fish. I spotted this family of turkeys near my campsite...

...and a family of deer were residing in the trees just 20 yards from my tent, and every day they walked right past me as I sat in my camp chair, looking at me but completely at ease with my presence.

There are 65 miles of trails n the park offering access to the mountains, glacial moraines, and alpine lakes, but the greatest attraction at the park is Lehman Caves, located at the flank of the mountain but still at an altitude of 6800 feet. The caves extend 1.5 miles in length and were formed when higher water tables during the Ice Age made pockets in the limestone. Park Rangers give fabulous tours of the caves, explaining what you are seeing with the flowstone, stalactites and stalagmites, and delicate white crystals that grow in the darkness. Here are a few photos, and more in of can be found on my page here.

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