At first we thought crossing the Utah-Nevada state border might be a bit boring, after being totally wowed by southern Utah during the past few weeks. But on this route into the state we enjoyed stretches of gorgeous mountain ranges, a vast treeless valley floor, and seas of sagebrush on dry desert.
We were so intrigued by the diverse landscape, different than most other states we’ve visited. As usual, when we want to learn about what we’re looking at I whipped out my trusty iPhone to ask Siri about some Nevada fun facts:
I read out loud to Steve a few facts that define Nevada:
- FACT: “Nevada” is a Spanish word, nieve meaning “snow-covered.” The state was given this name because of its high mountain ranges where snow sometimes resides year-round. And yes, several mountains remained clad with the white stuff during our mid-June journey.
- FACT: The Federal Government owns approximately 87% of Nevada’s land.
- FACT: The state is covered by the Basin and Range regions, an area of more than 300 mountain ranges. Great Basin is the largest desert in North America, and Great Basin National Park makes up only a tiny portion of it:
Hey, we learned something new during our drive!
Great Basin National Park
Visiting national parks not overrun by massive crowds and traffic jams is high on our list, and Great Basin National Park fit the bill. Snake Mountain Range, where the park is located, looms over the tiny town of Baker – only 5 miles from its entrance. The town’s population of 52 hardy souls (as of 2018) is anything but a tourist magnet, and the only place with RV hookups to stay when visiting this park. So we came prepared with the fridge, freezer and pantry stocked up for a 5-night visit.
Great Basin National Park was established in 1986 to protect the South Snake Mountain Range. This mountainous landscape is isolated by the desert that surrounds it, like an island surrounded by a sagebrush sea. It’s notable for its groves of ancient Bristlecone Pines, the oldest known living tree, and for the Lehman Caves at the base of 13,063′ Wheeler Peak (which we could not tour because it was booked months in advance). We couldn’t see Wheeler Peak Glacier from our overlook, but who knew there’s a glacier in Nevada?
Arriving on June 15th, we were only able to drive 8 miles up Wheeler Peak Scenic drive to Mather Overlook at 9000′. Snow continued to cover the road beyond that point, killing our chances to hike on the higher trails 😦
On the way back down the mountain we stopped to read about the history of ranching, water resources and the land in the Great Basin:
We also stopped at nearby Baker Archeological Site, but were disappointed by the displays there:
Most of the trails we planned to hike in the Wheeler Peak area to see Alpine Lakes and Bristlecone Pines remained closed due to snow. Our only hike within the park was the Timber Creek/South Fork Baker Creek trail, a 5.1-mile loop beginning at 8000′. It was a steep 1,680′ ascent along overflowing Timber Creek, as we trekked over hard-packed snow that began at around 9,000′. Glad I brought my hiking poles on this one!
What’s unique about the Great Basin is that the huge water runoff doesn’t go to the ocean, but rather stays within the basin to be used by people, wildlife, livestock or to simply percolate back underground and/or evaporate. In short, the water that falls in the Great Basin stays in the Great Basin. Sounds similar to a saying I’ve heard about Vegas!
The other hike we followed was 15 miles outside the national park at the BLM’s Sacramento Pass Recreation Area. It’s located on the crest of the Snake Range, with Weaver Creek Basin and Great Basin National Park as a backdrop. There were three connected loop trails to follow, and we hiked all of them to create a 6.5-mile trek that meandered through unique quartzite rock formations, meadows and a forest.
It was a wonderful and diverse hike, with beautiful views of mountain peaks and some wildflowers to enjoy along the way, and we didn’t meet up with a single person during the entire trek – perfect! Try to do this one if you’re in the area and want a great hike outside of the national park.
Of course I stopped to admire the attention-grabbing beauties at my feet:
On the last afternoon of our stay, Steve had just finished hooking up the car for our next-day departure when our neighbor informed us that the scenic drive had opened up to the Wheeler Peak Lookout. Unhook the car, we’re going back up the mountain! We may never come through here again, so we’d better take this chance to see Nevada’s second-tallest mountain up close!
Wheeler Peak is the second-highest mountain in Nevada, with a strenuous hike that we were hoping to try. It starts at 10,160′ and gains 2,900′ in elevation. Just reading those facts made us a little short of breath, but we were disappointed that it was closed so we couldn’t brag along with our friends John and Pam and Mark and Joodie who had busted their lungs to do it.
Despite the hiking limitations, our visit here was a win as we were able to check out the park and take a great hike in the area while savoring its isolation and remoteness.
We moved on to Wendover, Nevada, a small city that straddles the Nevada/Utah border. We tried to attend their local Beerfest, but it was a madhouse with hour-long Disneyland-like lines for beer samples. We like beer, but not that much! We left right away and enjoyed a quiet brew at home instead.
Our final stop in Nevada was highly anticipated for two reasons. One, many moons ago Steve and his pilot buddies Mike and Rod landed here on one of the stops during their Great Pacific Northwest Flying Adventure. When we arrived Steve contacted his buddies to reminisce about their flying adventures, and they all agreed that Betsy couldn’t get airborne from this runway 🙂
But the main reason for this stop was to meet up with friends John and Pam, who were making their way south heading home. They arranged their schedule so we could cross paths, and we were very happy to see them.
We often meet up in Arizona during the winter, but we chose to be in Florida last year and missed them. There was a lot of updating to be done, but an afternoon get-together and nice dinner allowed us to get caught up with these great folks that we met early in our RV life:
That wraps up our Nevada sojourn!