Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park is located in Nevada in the United States. The park holds 77,180 acres of land in the arid mountainous area between the Wasatch Mountains and Sierra Nevada mountain range, known as the Great Basin. It is located in the east central portion of Nevada about 290 miles from Las Vegas. In 1922, President Warren G. Harding established the area around and within the Lehman Caves, a popular tourist attraction, as a national monument and in 1986, the area was merged with Great Basin National Park at the time of its establishment.

The climate of Great Basin National Park is arid throughout the year, although winters can be cool. The area does not receive large amounts of moisture, but most of the moisture the park receives occurs in summer thunderstorms or winter snowstorms. Because the area is so arid, none of the moisture reaches the ocean, but does circulate by evaporation, flows into lakes, or is absorbed into the ground. In the back country sections of the park, the weather can change from mild conditions to extreme conditions quickly, although mild weather is more common. Weather and temperatures vary depending upon the elevation within the park, with areas at higher elevations receiving more moisture than areas at lower elevations.

Great Basin National Park supports over eight hundred species of plants and eleven species of tree including sagebrush, Utah juniper, and salt brush at lower elevations and ponderosa pine, whiter fir, and quaking aspen at higher elevations. There are 238 species of bird within the park including eagles, hawks, and chickadees and 8 species of fish including the rainbow trout. The varied habitats within the park support 61 mammal species including chipmunks, mice, and ground squirrels at lower elevations and mountain lions, bob cats, and mountain sheep at higher elevations. Kit foxes, pronghorn, ringtail cats, and coyotes also inhabit the park.

One of the park’s most popular features is the Lehman caves, which are thought to have been formed about 550 million years ago, when the caves resided under water. The cave system features many formations that consist of limestone and marble mixtures.  There are many creatures that reside inside these caves, including bacteria, mites, crickets, spiders, and pseudoscorpions. These creatures depend upon the cave environment for their entire lives, while other creatures like Townsend’s big-eared bat and mice, must leave the cave to find food.

Great Basin National Park receives between 79,000 and 89,000 visitors annually. It offers a dozen trails to hikers that vary in length between .3 miles and 13.1 miles. These trails include the Mountain View Nature Trail, which is short and occurs at an elevation of 6,825 feet, and the longer Wheeler Summit trail, which is a difficult trail that occurs at an elevation of 10,160 feet. Many back country trails can be accessed by dirt roads, of which some are occasionally maintained. The park holds two visitor centers that can be accessed by different roads. The Lehman Caves Visitor Center can be accessed by Nevada State Route 488 and is located about five miles from Baker, Nevada. The Great Basin Visitor Center can be accessed by Nevada State Route 487. Both of these centers offer information about the park’s cultural, natural, and geological history. The centers are open throughout the year, excluding New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.

Image Caption: The grove in which Prometheus (a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine — Pinus longaeva) grew, with the Wheeler Peak headwall in the distance. Credit: Jrbouldin/Wikipedia