Great Basin goes on my list of secret parks. Not that people don’t know about it, or come to visit it. Just that it is so much more mellow, more remote, more available to you when you are here. 4,000 feet of altitude from the lower camps to the upper camp, a actual glacier on the mountaintop, high mountain lakes, the oldest trees on the continent, wildlife, diverse flora, and what feels like very little traffic. Good recipe.
Coming from Sequoia I was interested to see these ancient trees. A three mile hike between 10 and 11,000 feet of elevation is all it takes. They are Bristlecone Pines. If the Sequoias are like Overlords – dominating the landscape and proving with their majesty that they can taken all comers; the Bristlecones are like our Elders. They look like they have been around forever. Bent, twisted, scarred, irregular, they stoop as a testament that we can survive, not as an example of supremacy. They have a character that warms rather than overwhelms. They are approachable, and viewable in one piece and in what is likely an appeal to our ego, the just seem more like one of us. Despite the cardio crushing trek to see them, they were worth it.
With the high lakes feeding streams that traverse the full length of the park, you can see how fishing the Bonneville cutthroats here would be a blast. But right now they lakes are nearly dry, the streams are narrow, though beautiful, burbling brooks and the trout are not fishable. As we are learning, searching and yearning for good water, as long as it is done in places like these is a worthy and enjoyable pastime.
Our campsite tonight is our most dramatic and beautiful. At around 11,000 feet, we look directly out at the patches of ice on the summit of Mt. Wheeler. The jagged ridges near the peak have remained unfrozen since inception while the peak, shoulders and slopes down to the canyons below are smoothly rolled by the receding glacier. To sit in the campsite and stare and study this one mountain is comforting and challenging at the same time.
With zero light pollution and high altitude come amazing night skies. Those of us from the large metropolitan areas may never have known the colors of the night sky. Blue stars, red stars, nebulae, the Milky Way – all visible with the naked eye. One of the further charms of the Great Basin is to help us, at night amidst the grandeur of a sky we have never seen, gain some perspective on life in general, and our own in particular.
After two nights here we will leave early tomorrow for Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It is our intention to camp on the north rim, but we don’t know much about the site. The drive will essentially be HWY 50 across Utah and into Colorado, with a few patches of Interstate 70 thrown in. We don’t know what we will find in Black Canyon, or how long we will stay, but we will wander into something extraordinary, of that we are certain.