20 Aug
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Loneliest Road Leads to Great Basin National Park

"The Loneliest Road in America" US-50

There were no other travelers on the “The Loneliest Road in America,” US-50 in Nevada. We drove miles and miles without seeing other vehicles. There were no dilapidated buildings hinting at past habitation. It was just us on an adventure to Great Basin National Park with rolling hills and sagebrush as our companions.

View of the basin from a Great Basin National Park lookout

I’ve lived in Wyoming for almost four decades. I’m a sucker for the open road. I like roads rural with few people and quaint Norman Rockwell towns dotting the way. I found the Loneliest Road peaceful and distraction-free. Peace and lack of distractions are high on my needs list. Great Basin National Park is a small part of a large basin in the western portion of the United States. Most of the water in the area has no outlet to the seas. Great Basin is edged by desert but contains 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak and the underground world of Lehman Caves.

Great Basin National Park rocky peaks

Baker, Nevada is the closest town to Great Basin, but there’s not much to the tiny town. The day we left Great Basin, I was hoping for a hot cup of coffee from a gas station. Baker doesn’t have one of those, only stand-alone gas pumps. Great Basin is truly for visitors seeking the wild. Campsites in the park aren’t reservable. We spent some time driving through the campgrounds to find a spot large enough for our tent, ending up at Baker Creek. It would have been nice to have the ability to reserve sites before arrival instead of hoping for the best.

Bristlecone pine tree in Great Basin National Park

Bristlecone pine tree in Great Basin National Park

The campgrounds were full during our stay as were the cave tours, but the trails, roads and visitor’s centers weren’t busy. Our main objective during our Great Basin visit was to visit the Wheeler Peak bristlecone pine grove. There are trees in the grove dating more than 3,000 years old. We affectionately referred to them as spooky old trees. Half of a bristlecone pine may appear dead while green pine needles thrive on the other half. The twists and knots riddling the ancient trees are beautiful. I have a ridiculous amount of close-up photos of extremely old wood.

family hiking the rocky Glacier Trail in Great Basin National Park

I’m a collector of hikes. We’ve hiked more miles than I can begin to count. The Bristlecone and Glacier Trail in Great Basin is breathtaking. It has everything I adore about a good trail: marked, but still rugged, fabulous views, trees and rocks. You gain 1,100 feet on the 2.3 mile trail that leads you near the base of Rock Glacier. The glacier itself isn’t much. It’s aptly named and covered in grey rocks. As you near the end of the trail above 10,000 feet, there are bigger rocks to navigate. Sturdy shoes are a must for this trail. The views are impressive with rocky peaks towering above and an ocean of sky over the basin itself. We were lucky enough to have lunch at the glacier without anyone else. We lounged on the warm rocks and enjoyed the quiet before heading down the trail.

Woman posing with sign at Rock Glacier in Great Basin National Park

We added the 2.7-mile Alpine Lakes Loop trail to the Glacier Trail. The lakes trail is more moderate than the strenuous glacier trail and winds past Teresa and Stella lakes. Again, there were few people on the trail or the lakes. The kids waded in Stella Lake giving there trail-worn feet a treat. Every time someone asks to wade anywhere, someone falls in….every time. This time it was our daughter who fell in not once, but twice. I just shake my head now when it happens, while the kids are genuinely surprised one of them fell in the water. Every time kids….every time.

Stella Lake in Great Basin National Park

A bonus for camping a short way from the Loneliest Road is the lack of artificial lights competing with starlight. We were in Great Basin for the tail-end of the Perseid meteor shower and spent one evening under the stars watching for meteorites. Allowing ourselves to be distraction-free with our children under the Milky Way is a gift…no phone, no clocks, no schedule, no TV. The meteor shower may have been why there were large numbers of campers in Great Basin during our stay. The park is one of the lesser-known national parks.

Meadow in Great Basin National Park with Wheeler Peak in the background

We have a national park entities map hanging in our basement. The last two summers I’ve felt compelled to find a way to Nevada to visit Great Basin. I’m glad we made it part of summer 2015.  It exceeded my expectations in both it’s beauty and trail system. I love when Mother Nature throws a curve ball into my preconceived notions.

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