Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Day 7: Cedar City, Utah to Ely, Nevada via Great Basin National Park, caves, and ice cream sandwiches.

This morning we were out of the hotel room by 5:30.  Earlier and earlier.  Do you see a theme here?
We finally headed west across the scrublands of western Utah towards Great Basin National Park, and eventually home.  There really is nothing between Cedar City, Utah and Baker, Nevada.  There were plenty of stretches of long, straight, barren landscape that had little except for the occasional deer and cow, and it was at this point that my wife started our first audio book;  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  First impression; man it must be nice to have the money to do what she wants to do.
Great Basin really is in the middle of nowhere, Nevada.  We got an hour back going from Mountain to Pacific time, so we actually had to wait a bit for the Visitor’s Center to open when we arrived.  As soon as the doors opened we signed up for a Lehman Caves tour at the earliest possible time and went to saddle up for the days hikes. 
Lehman Caves is a must at Great Basin, especially if you have never actually spelunked before.  It’s a great hour long introduction to a small cave system that the National Park rangers do a fantastic job narrating.  A couple of notes about the cave tour:
-It’s paved on the whole tour.
-Yes, it’s the real thing.  You need to duck a bit in some areas.
-Yes, it’s cooler inside.  About 60 degrees in my estimation.  I went with shorts easy.
-It’s lighted but they turn out the lights to show you what darkness (with a couple of natural light holes) is really like.  They also light a candle lantern to show you what it was like in the 1890s. 
-We saw a bat. 
-We lost a member of our party in the first minute because they couldn’t handle, something.
-The scorpions of Leahman Caves are well done by the rangers, especially at the end.
Yes, you need to go.
There’s small café in the same building as the Lehman Caves Visitor’s Center at Great Basin, and that’s where we found this creature,
THAT is God’s answer to the question, “How exactly should an ice cream sandwich look?”
That’s two huge chocolate chip cookies and a healthy dose of vanilla ice cream.  We could have had sugar or peanut butter cookies and all kinds of different ice cream but we went traditional.  They used a large chef’s knife to cut it in half thus making it a nice mid-day snack.
Back on the road we went to the higher elevations of Great Basin and a twenty degree drop in temperature.  It was a fantastic mid-70’s when we hit the top parking lot and began our hike to a glacier.  You heard that right, a glacier.  The name of the ice formation is called Rock Glacier in the park but is actually known as the Wheeler Peak Glacier everywhere else.  And yes, it is the only glacier in Nevada.  The hike was up the Bristlecone and Glacier trails.  We passed through the famous grove of Bristlecone Pines and marveled at the oldest living things on Earth.  Another mile after the grove we started the precarious hike through glacial rock up a moraine to near the bottom of the glacier.  There was basically a very slight hint of a trail on worn rock that was piled many feet off the ground.  The sound of walking on the rock was a cross between the sound of crushed glass and the sound of massive stones grinding together.  The glacier wasn’t much to look at (it’ll be gone within twenty years) but the view back down the moraine, thousands of feet into the Utah desert was stunning.  The return trip was made with a little loop detour through a couple of beautiful mountain lakes as we descended from our nearly 11,000 foot elevation.
Great Basin should be on your bucket list of national parks to visit.  The hikes can be a little brutal for the average person but feeling of being in the mountains in the middle of Nevada is pretty dang awesome, and the caves are the cherry on the top of the park.  The problem with the area is that it really is close to nothing, which is why we headed west for our hotel room in Ely, Nevada, about an hour away.  Although it is a small casino/motel, I highly recommend The Prospector if you are heading along Highway 50 and need a place to crash.  The rooms are nice and the people are friendly. 
Up early tomorrow and home.  A long way home. 
Hikes:  Rock Glacier, Alpine Lakes Loop
Miles hiked:  6.2
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