Just over the Utah border, visit Nevada’s only national park, Great Basin, where you can explore the inside of the Earth and the top of a 13,000-foot peak on the same day. Here are three unusual sights to see in the park plus more to do in the national heritage area.
1. Bristlecone Pine Trail
See some of the oldest trees in the world on this 2.8-mile roundtrip hike. Bristlecone pines thrive in harsh conditions and grow above treeline, so this hike starts at 9,800 feet. You’ll gain 600 feet in elevation as you walk this trail, which is dotted by interpretive signs that explain why bristlecone pines play an important role in the ecosystem. One of these trees, nicknamed the Prometheus Tree, was cut down by geographer Donald Currey in 1964. It had 4,862 tree growth rings, indicating the tree was nearly 5,000 years old. You can count its rings today in the visitor center. Bristlecone pines are now protected on federal land and cannot be cut down.
If you walk further down the trail, you can spot the only glacier in Nevada at the base of Wheeler Peak, a 13,000-foot mountain.
2. Lehman Caves
A popular attraction, the Lehman Caves are well-worth seeing, but you must go on a guided tour with a park ranger to tour the caves. Choose between the Lodge Room tour, which covers .4 miles, is 60 minutes long and is ideal for young children and families. Or sign up for the Grand Palace Tour that covers .6 miles, lasts 90 minutes and is for ages 5 and over (except November through February). While you can show up at the park to reserve your spot, park officials highly recommend you buy your tickets online in advance at www.recreation.gov/camping/gateways/2732. These tours fill up, and you don’t want to miss out.
3. Wheeler Peak
Hike or drive to this 13,064-foot peak, the second highest in Nevada. If you hike it, get a very early morning start at the Summit Trail parking lot to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. It’s a 8.6-mile round-trip trek, with 2,900 feet in elevation gain, to the summit. Or let your car do the work and take the 12-mile (round-trip) paved Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, which begins at the park boundary on Hwy. 488. Climb 4,000 feet to the peak’s face, while taking in stunning views of the Great Basin Desert below.
More Fun Nearby
Outside of the park, head to the Nevada Northern Railway Museum in Ely, a National Historic Landmark where you can ride on trains pulled by century-old engines. Check nnry.com for the schedule of themed trains.
To keep the Western history flowing, head 15 minutes down the road to Garnet Hill where visitors can try their hand at prospecting. Bring a rock chisel or just scour the area for garnets. These ruby-colored gem stones are semi-precious and widespread in this area. You can keep whatever you find.
To learn about a darker part of our country’s past, visit the Topaz Museum in Delta, Utah, educating visitors about the internment camp where more than 8,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II. Discover the stories of those who lived at Topaz at the museum before visiting the camp site, which is approximately five miles away.
At the end of a day, check in to the Stargazer Inn in Baker, Nev., and dine in the town’s newest restaurant, Sugar, Salt & Malt. Owned and operated by local chefs, who are also twin sisters, you’ll find inventive, seasonal dishes for dinner and an espresso bar and delicious pastries for breakfast.
487 Grill, a food truck also located in Baker, serves incredible burgers with a huge array of toppings.
For more information:
Great Basin National Heritage Area