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20 Aug
2015
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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.


 
Arkansas: Hot Springs National Park
By     |    Jun 26, 2015
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Arkansas: Hot Springs National Park

Honestly, I didn’t have high expectations for Hot Springs National Park located in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I thought the kids wouldn’t find the bathhouses interesting enough and that the water you can collect wouldn’t taste good enough to warrant bringing home with us. Wrong and wrong. Wisely-named Hot Springs National Park revolves around the local hot springs, which have a history of people flocking to the area for therapeutic purposes. Bathhouse Row sprang up in the 1800s as wood and... [Read More]

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Take a Trip: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
By     |    Apr 22, 2015
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Take a Trip: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

In honor of National Parks week and because I have a crazy passion for the National Park Service, here’s another flashback vacation memory. Most vacation destination lists don’t have North Dakota on them. I’m a collector of states. I want to visit as many as possible. We hadn’t visited North Dakota and were looking for a vacation destination there. The answer was Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We could add another state and a national park. Honestly, I didn’t have high... [Read More]

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Take a Trip: Craters of the Moon
By     |    Apr 16, 2015
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Take a Trip: Craters of the Moon

I’ve been sorting through the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the past few years for a photo project and have become nostalgic for past road trips. I’m asked quite often for travel ideas by people who want to add to their adventure list or start down the road of family road trips. We’re heavy users of National Park Service entities and most travel inquiries I receive have to do with whether or not we’ve been to a certain national... [Read More]

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Take a Trip: Brown v. Board of Education
By     |    Jan 19, 2015
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Take a Trip: Brown v. Board of Education

I knew when we walked in the door and were greeted by two signs: white and colored, this historical site wouldn’t be like any we’d taken our children to before. We were on our way home from vacation in Illinois in July and stopped in Topeka, Kansas at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. We try not to shy away from tough conversations with our kids, but our conversation about segregation while at that place is one... [Read More]

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Take a Trip: Glacier National Park
By     |    Aug 12, 2014
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Take a Trip: Glacier National Park

I felt my cares wash away looking over Logan Pass inside Glacier National Park, located in northwest Montana. The rugged peaks, dotted with what remains of the diminishing glaciers, give way to lush green meadows, vibrant blue lakes and rock-bottom rivers. My everyday worries and to-do items were pushed to the farthest reaches of my thoughts thanks to the natural beauty that surrounded me. National parks are a favorite vacation destination for my family. We’ve viewed some impressive vistas, but... [Read More]

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Gateway Arch: Overcoming Fears
By     |    Jul 26, 2014
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Gateway Arch: Overcoming Fears

I don’t like heights, large crowds or tight spaces. A visit to the Gateway Arch in Saint Louis, Missouri was sure to be pure torture. Our two oldest boys really wanted to see the Gateway Arch, part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, AND take the 630 feet trip to the top for a look over Saint Louis. I started researching the arch and quickly realized I was going to need a lot of prayers and possibly medication to keep me... [Read More]

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Checking Fossil Butte National Monument off the List
By     |    Jul 1, 2014
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Checking Fossil Butte National Monument off the List

If there’s one thing I like more than the act of making a list, it’s crossing items off the list. We’ve purchased an annual U.S. National Park Service pass for several years in a row now and have steadily crossed places off the list by collecting “passport” stamps at places visited. This weekend we visited our sixth and final location in Wyoming and our 46th place overall in the National Park Service system. Our final Wyoming destination was Fossil Butte National... [Read More]

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5 Favorite National Parks
By     |    Apr 2, 2014
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5 Favorite National Parks

We’ve visited 22 national parks, all west of the Mississippi River. Our bucket list includes seeing all the national parks in the lower 48 states. The National Park Service sells National Park passport books, small blue spiral books broken down by regions. Each region has listed places run by the National Park Service, not just parks, but monuments, memorials, refuges, and historic parks. At visitor centers, tourists can stamp their passport with the name, location and date of the place... [Read More]

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Take a Trip: Death Valley National Park
By     |    Mar 20, 2014
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Take a Trip: Death Valley National Park

When I say we went to Death Valley National Park for spring break, people seem perplexed by the choice. I’ve been asked numerous times why we chose that park for a vacation. We’ve been to loads of destinations run by the National Park Service. It has yet to lead us wrong. The places the park service has set aside and protected for the enjoyment of people are varied and stunning in their own right. Death Valley is no exception. The... [Read More]

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Take a Trip: Joshua Tree National Park
By     |    Mar 19, 2014
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Take a Trip: Joshua Tree National Park

The landscape of Joshua Tree National Park is comprised of geologically odd rock piles and misshapen trees. No two Joshua trees look alike. Despite the muted colors, the park looks as if Dr. Seuss’ Lorax would be at home in this forest reminiscent of Truffula trees. The top of the Joshua trees may branch out a couple of times or dozens with green, prickly tufts at the end of the branches. Massive rock piles dominate large areas of the park,... [Read More]

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Take a Trip: Mojave National Preserve
By     |    Mar 18, 2014
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Take a Trip: Mojave National Preserve

All I’ve ever known is living in the shadow of mountains. The parched, cracked desert with its muted colors always seems otherworldly to me. The first stop on our 2014 spring break vacation was the Mojave National Preserve in California. The varying degrees of yellow land marked by cactus, creosote bush scrub and Joshua trees is starkly different from the dark green pine and spruce trees of the Rocky Mountains. The Mojave National Preserve contains 1.6 million acres of land... [Read More]

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