Saturday, September 6, 2014

Best trails to see Grand Basin’s wonders

Bristlecone pine. Photo courtesy of
Great Basin NPS.
Among the best ways to see Great Basin National Park’s top sights is via a day hike. Just five short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – Earth’s oldest living organisms, limestone caves, night skies alit with thousands of stars, Nevada’s only glacier, and ancient pictographs.

Earth’s oldest living organisms
On several of the national park’s glacial moraines are incredibly old bristlecone pines, many nearly 5,000 years old, meaning they began growing as the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids. The 2.8-mile round trip Bristlecone Pine Trail allows you to walk among a grove of the trees, which scientists say likely are the oldest living organisms on Earth.

Limestone caves
The Lehman Caves run through 550 millon-year-old marble and limestone rock; water filled the cave rooms as recently as 12,000 years ago. The park ranger-led Grand Palace Tour heads through 0.6 miles of rooms, including past the intriguing Parachute Shield formation. Children must be at least 5 years old to go on the tour.

Incredible stargazing
Thanks to the dry climate, high altitude, and limited noise pollution, Great Basin boasts some of the darkest night skies in the United States. On a moonless night, you’ll be able to see thousands of stars and the distant Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye. For great views that don’t head into the backcountry, take the 0.3-mile Mountain View Nature Trail, which starts at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center.

Nevada’s only glacier
Measuring 300 feet long and 400 feet wide, the Wheeler Peak Glacier is Nevada’s only glacier and one of the southernmost in the United States. To touch the glacier, take the Bristlecone Pine Trail and then the Glacier Trail for 4.6-miles round trip. The glacier is at a very high elevation; the trailhead starts at 9,800 feet and climbs 1,100 feet above that.

Ancient pictographs
Pictographs painted by Fremont Indians who lived in the area more than 700 years ago dot a small cave that is a very short walk. The Upper Pictograph Cave sits just off the road leading to the Grey Cliffs, a few miles past the Lehman Caves Visitor Center.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.