2nd – 15th June 2014 – We cross back into Nevada from California as we head towards the Great Basin National Park, where some of the oldest living trees in the world can be found……the Great Basin Bristlecone Pines. With 13 peaks that rise over 11,000 feet, including Nevada’s second highest mountain Wheeler Peak at 13,063 feet, winter is never far away and snow can fall here at any time of the year. It is one of the least visited parks we are told, possibly because of its remote location and huge distances between places, often described as being ‘in the middle of nowhere’. But that’s what attracts us to it, as well as having seen pictures of these amazing, ancient trees.
The enormous Great Basin National Heritage Area is a vast region of valleys and narrow mountain ranges, so called for its lack of drainage. Its streams and rivers find no outlet to the sea, instead the water collects in shallow salt lakes, marshes and mud flats, to evaporate in the dry, desert air. These broad basins between craggy mountain ranges, stretch from California’s Sierra Nevada to the Wasatch Mountains in Utah. Nevada’s Great Basin National Park protects the South Snake Range, close to the border with Utah.
It’s easy to travel on the road to the park as it’s almost deserted, with a hot, dry wind sweeping across a landscape dotted with grey sagebrush, and huge skies. We have a clear view of Wheeler Peak in the distance, snow still not melted on higher elevations. In the summer, fierce thunderstorms are also common here.
We arrive at the park in time to take the last tour to explore the underground world of the Lehman Caves. It was 1885 when Absalom Lehman came across the entrance to these caves, near to his ranch. He explored far into their depths and was credited with their ‘discovery’, although American Indians had known about them for some time.
Lehman Caves is a single cavern, despite its name, extending a quarter of a mile into the limestone and marble of the Snake Range. Its origin has been traced back to almost 600 million years ago, when most of what is Nevada and Western Utah, was covered by a warm, shallow sea!
Following our tour, we find a great place to camp in the Upper Lehman campsite area, sheltered amongst tall aspen trees, forest and wild flowers, with a wooden bridge crossing a fast flowing stream and leading to a clearing with a picnic table and fire grate. We seem to have a ready supply of dry, fallen wood at our site, so whilst Bill does his boy scout job, I mix the very welcome G & T’s!
We make an early start from Lehman Creek and begin the 12 mile, steep and winding Wheeler Peak Drive. Moby is still overheating at altitude, but is able to have time to cool down as we stop at the various overlooks which give great views of the Snake mountain range, before finally ending at a parking area at just under 10,000 feet. From here, hiking trails lead to subalpine lakes and the Bristlecone Pines, which grow along with Limber Pines, above the snow line between 10,000 – 11,000 feet.
The lakes sound great but our aim is to see the ancient Bristlecone Pines, a 3 mile round hike to the most accessible grove, in the shadow of Wheeler Peak.
It’s an interesting climb through forests, admiring views though the trees, crossing streams and through snow, where it is easy to lose sight of the trail.
First sightings of these trees growing amongst the shattered rock faces on the higher slopes can never compare to pictures seen previously of them. Their twisted, sculptured shapes are a wonderful work of art!
Bristlecone pines can live thousands of years in harsh environments and on these rocky slopes, we are walking amongst trees that have battled against all odds and survived 2,000 – 3,000 years or more. Where other trees would not survive, these slow growing pines have the unusual ability to adapt to such extreme conditions as strong winds, driving snow, ice storms and freezing temperatures.
Info on this tree puts its age at 3,200 years This tree is between 3,100 and 3,300 years old. years old.
Bristlecones have a great reluctance to die and may cling to life for centuries after reaching old age. Not all live long lives but strangely, the oldest trees have been found to grow where survival is the most difficult. After death, they may remain standing for thousands of years more…..incredible trees!
The bristlecone’s needles can live for up to 40 years, completely surrounding the branches and giving it the appearance of a bottle brush. Often a tree can look nearly dead but have some of its branches still living.
The fine grained wood of the bristlecone has a high resin content and is highly resistant to decay and attacks from fungi and insects. Instead of rotting, these trees are eroded like stone and polished by wind and ice crystals, leaving amazing contorted and coloured shapes. You can almost feel the agonies they have gone through to survive!
A glacier is another mile beyond the bristlecone grove and another 600 feet higher, but it’s only a short attempt, as it’s not long before we are sinking up to our knees in snow. Being amongst these ancient trees and without the crowds, has been a fantastic experience. We have met only six other people on the trail.
The following morning we find a note left on our Land Rover from John and Janey whom we had met in the parking area at the top of Wheeler Peak Drive before setting off on our hike. They very kindly offer us a room and shower and a home-cooked meal at their home in Salt Lake City, where we are heading next to try and sort out Moby’s overheating problem. It will be lovely to see them again and we really appreciate their offer.
And so it’s back on the road and we are soon crossing the border line into Utah once again, as we head for Salt Lake. It’s another stretch of remote road and we have Sevier Lake gleaming white in front of us. Judging by the tyre marks on this dried up lake some people have had some fun and were obviously not too bothered about the warning notice, which seems to have been used for a bit of target practise! We were not as brave as them with our weight, but did venture a little way out. The boots and shoes hanging from a nearby dead tree reminded us of Tea Kettle Junction in Death Valley!
It’s a long journey to Salt Lake and the outskirts seem endless. We are surprised to find it almost surrounded by many snowy peaks of the Wasatch Mountains. The KOA campsite here turns out to be one of the best we have stayed at and GBR (Great Basin Rovers) we discover, have been fantastic in ordering our Land Rover parts. Oil, air and fuel filters, brake pads and thermostat are all waiting for us and Bill (of GBR) has no problem with us working either in his yard, or in the quiet side street. We really appreciate this and who should we meet there, also out in the side street and working on their Land Rover………David and Jayne with their Lizzybus whom we first met at the Overland Show at Flagstaff in Arizona.
They have also been having a problem with overheating but sorted it by having a new radiator. It’s what we also have to eventually do, as fitting the thermostat and then testing it out up the steep Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, is still not a success. At 7,000 feet we have to stop, as both oil and water temperatures have disappointingly risen yet again. The thermostat might have disappointed us by not solving our problem, but a highlight was seeing moose grazing knee deep in water close to the road on our way back down.
Everything takes a bit longer to sort out than expected but we fortunately manage to meet up with John and Janey and have a lovely relaxing evening with them and a great meal. Thank you both very much but really sorry that we missed the chalk artists and barbecue due to trying to sort out all of the above.
A big thank you also to Bill of Great Basin Rovers for all his help and very efficient service and also to Moni his wife, for also inviting us back for a meal before we leave. We can really recommend GBR, Utah.
We have time to take a look around Salt Lake, an interesting and modern city. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, referred to as ‘Mormons’, found refuge in Utah in the early 1800s. When their Church President Brigham Young led them to the Salt Lake valley, he declared, “This is the place,” and the site for the Salt Lake Temple was chosen. Every year, the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir presents a concert in celebration of the arrival of the pioneers in the Salt Lake valley. The city here is famous for its wide streets….wide enough, according to Brigham Young, for a team of oxen to do a U-turn! Today approximately 35% of Salt Lake City’s population is Mormon, but it also embraces many other religions.
And so we set off once again with a present of some strawberries grown and picked from the little garden around our next door neighbours huge RV on the campsite, camp host Marlene who has always made sure we are comfortable whilst here…….and with our new radiator knowing that we will no longer have problems on the hill climbs thanks to GBR! We have also caught up on many things….except our blog…..of course, but I will catch up one day for our patient readers!
Leaving Salt Lake we have an amusing incident with a policeman on a motorbike who has noticed me using the Ipad to check the route to our next destination, The Grand Teton National Park. Catching my eye, he drives slowly by a short distance away and shouts out, “You can’t use that thing whilst you are driving! ” “But I’m not driving,” I shout back with an amused smile, thinking that when he realises that our steering wheel is on the other side, he will also see the funny side. But no smile is forthcoming, instead he again shouts, “What are those plates?” “English,” I reply with another smile. He is still not amused but it appears to satisfy him as he drives off. I must remember that I cannot joke and laugh with the police out here like we have done throughout Central and South America. And one thing never to forget we have been told, is that if we are ever pulled over by police, we must stay in our vehicle with our hands on the steering wheel! Glad to have been warned about this, as even opening a door is not advisable……..police are well armed out here and require great respect!