Great Basin National Park

My whirlwind trip had me stopping at three national parks — Great Basin, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. Because it is winter in the high country, many areas are snowed in or closed for the season. Thus, I didn’t spend a substantial time in any particular area. For example, my visit here was about four hours.

(Click on any photo for a larger image)

I hope you brought a good book …

Great Basin national park is located in eastern Nevada… in the great basin, south of Ely, NV. It was dedicated in 1986 and has 87,000 visitors annually, less than 4% the attendance of either Bryce Canyon or Zion, the “nearby” parks.

There’s not much out here. The starkness of the surroundings is vaguely discomforting: high (6,800′ elevation), open, and not much greenery. To the east is a big, brown plateau with mountains in the distance. To the west, is the park, distinguished from its surroundings by trees dotting the landscape.

When I went, most of the drives were cordoned off due to snowfall. I spent my brief visit touring Lehman Caves. Temperature was a comfortable 50 degrees.

The cave was discovered in the early 1920s and named after the farm’s owner, who charged admission. The system appears to be much bigger than shown here. However, they’re loathe to develop it further because they want to preserve it for future generations.
Originally, people would have to crawl in on their bellies, something that took upwards of four hours. Candles were provided, but these were prone to going out at inopportune moments. When the park service took it over, they added a new, cleaned up entrance that’s easier to walk into. (To be sure, it’s not wholly ADA compatible, but the old couple on the tour were easily able to meander around.) It’s funny to think this cave has a door with a lock on it.
The original visitors would end up in this antechamber where most of the partying ensued.
According to the ranger, the caves were used to host weddings, parties, and fraternity initiations. For some reason, I can believe the frat parties — this is just so far off the beaten path that it would suit being blindfolded an hour’s drive.
While sitting in the main chamber, people would use the smoke from the candles to put their moniker on the ceiling. Since this is limestone, and limestone is pourous, the marks are permanent. At one time, the forest service tried to scrub these off. When that failed, they briefly tried painting over them with latex primer. (shudder) Thankfully, they just gave up.
This formation is called the “altar” and is allegedly where wedding ceremonies were performed. You can tell where there were lots of people because the spires are all broken off. The park service is very vigilant about reminding people not to touch anything.
There are numerous formations like these spires. The environment’s very surreal in this sense. It’s a bit difficult to photograph these because the inside of the cave is dark. With a flash, everything appears whiter than it really is. I’ve corrected these in photoshop to give you an idea of the actual appearance.
This is one of the over 300 shields in the cave. These discs are really weird because it’s not apparent how they’re formed. (Indeed, the ranger didn’t know.) These appear at any angle, which sorta negates the theory that they’re stalactites that fell off. Each disc also has a small fracture between it.
This formation reminded me of the original “Alien” movie. It’s a little hard to see, but there’s a large “shield” here. The little spires of rock grow at about an inch every 100 years.
This is a “wedding cake” like structure, one of many. These take thousands of years to form and taste much like my wedding cake did a year later (sitting in the back of the freezer didn’t help it 🙂
This is the outside of the park.

I’m glad I went, but this is not a park that I’d drag my family to unless we were adding this on as a side trip after visiting Bryce Canyon, Zion or the north rim of the Grand Canyon. If we did visit, I would spend the night to catch the clear night sky.

2 thoughts on “Great Basin National Park”

  1. As much as we hate Utah, the Timpanogos Caves are pretty cool. And the Ape Caves on Mt. St. Helens are really fun.


  2. Love your pics of the Great Basin. We drove to Seattle from Moab UT in 2001 after a vacation and we took U.S. 50 across Nevada. Loved it! Would like to go back and “explore” sometime but would not be sure where to start.

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