Like many of my “adventures,” I had no idea what I was getting into when I signed up to spend a week in a national park I’ve never even heard of in the Partners in the Parks program. Would I be spending all day with a group of strangers that didn’t know how to have fun, instructors that made us write an essay a day and tried to make this into an actual class, eating awful camp food and finding nothing of interest in this park to excite me?
I’m glad all my worries were proven to be as far as possible from the truth.
All around, the week I spent in Great Basin National Park, NV, was one of the most memorable weeks of my summer. The park itself was a beautiful oasis in the desert, with a huge diversity of wild life and terrain. It even had a glacier. In the middle of Nevada. Yeah, I didn’t expect that either. Over the course of the week, I discovered that Great Basin is truly a hidden gem in the National Park Service’s portfolio. Boasting some of the darkest night skies in the country, you can easily find the solitude in this park to truly gaze in uninterrupted wonder at the thousands of stars spilling across the sky in the Milky Way.
Now, even set in an amazing and unique location, a program like this where you spend all your time with a very small group of people can easily be spoiled by a few bad eggs. Fortunately for all of us, there was none of that in the Great Basin! At only four students, we were a tiny group. I would like to thank the general obscurity of Great Basin for that blessing. Having such a small, intimate group really helped us get to know each other really well and move through all our plans relatively hassle-free. And the group leaders, two amazing professors from Southern Utah University, made learning anything and everything about this park and living outdoors into something to look forward to. There really is no better setting for learning biology and “leave no trace” than the natural habitat of the subjects of study.
If it was not for having such a cohesive and enjoyable group, I don’t know if it would have been possible to accomplish all that we did and stay in such great spirits. We would not have had the flexibility or drive to accidentally do a 6-7 mile alpine hike past two beautiful lakes, up past 5,000 year old bristlecone pine trees, and up to the glacier at over 11,000 feet in elevation in the rain. We probably would not have been able to go electrofishing in Lehman Creek to survey their fish population, which ended up being one of the coolest things ever. And don’t even get me started on how much better it is doing an overnight backpacking trip, ascending over 3,500 feet up steep mountainsides carrying a third of your body weight in essential supplies, when everyone is on the same page.
I would encourage everyone who has the opportunity to take part in a Partners in the Parks program. It’s a once in a lifetime experience to get out and explore the beautiful wonders we have in our own backyard that often get forgotten behind our busy daily lives, school, work, friends, and technology. I almost wish I wasn’t graduating this winter just to be able to participate in another Partners in the Parks program. Almost.
The hikes we did:
Alpine Lakes Trail à Bristlecone Pine Tree Grove à Glacier
Approx. 7 miles, 1,100 feet, 6 hours
This was a gorgeous loop, passing by two alpine lakes (Stella and Theresa) before connecting to the Bristlecone Pine Trail. The Bristlecones Pines are spectacular half-dead, half-alive ancient trees, possibly the oldest living organisms on Earth. Some are 4,000-5,000 years old. From the Bristlecone grove you can connect to the trail to the rock glacier, rising up to 10,800 ft in elevation.
Majestic Bristlecone Pine.
The glacier…wayyy back there.
Osceola Ditch Trail
0.3 miles, 100 feet, 1 hour
We walked out to the Osceola Ditch, an 18 mile long channel dug by gold miners for water, to get a primer on the history and purpose of the National Park Service in a natural setting. Much better than sitting in a classroom!
Lehman Cave Tour
0.5 miles, no significant change, 1.5 hours
The cave tour was a great treat to end the trip! The caves holds a huge variety of structures, including my favorite, the jellyfish.
What happens when you bring a UV light into a pitch black cave.
13.1 miles, 3,290 feet, overnight
This was probably the most physically challenging thing I have ever done in my life. We took the South Fork Baker Creek trail up past two beautiful meadows to the Johnson Lake mine site. The, we passed over the Pyramid Peak ridge rising up to our maximum altitude of 11,290 feet between Johnson Lake and Baker Lake. We camped by Baker Lake and had an early start the next morning to catch a stunning sunrise. The hike back down the Baker Lake trail was an easy change from the day before and we passed through many Aspen forests while we descended back down to the trailhead.
It was so steep! I died.
The trees are watching you.
This hike in particular really emphasized one of the greatest aspects of GBNP. In 13.1 miles, we only saw two other people hiking and saw two other people camping across Baker Lake. Solitude and peace is something you will find more than enough of in this beautiful oasis. An opportunity to connect to nature, yourself, and your companions in a very genuine way.
Sunrise at Baker Lake.