Great Basin Appreciation

Added a new national park to our list of those we have visited this week. Whole returning home from Olympic Village at Lake Tahoe, We chose the route along the loneliest highway through Nevada. We have driven past the entrance to the Great Basin National Park but have never ventured in to learn about it or explore. This time we did.

After spending the night in Ely, it was a short drive of about 30 miles to the park entrance.

This park is a celebration of a much larger area than what it protects. The Great Basin is a large area of land in the western US where geologic processes have pulled apart mountainous terrain to leave broad swaths of sunken valleys between ranges of rocky peaks. Largely undeveloped, this land appears to be a sweeping emptiness. Summers are blistering and winters are brutal.

Although technically on the western side of the continental divide, the watershed from this area never reaches any ocean… it collects in lakes and ponds throughout the basin and was once largely collected into an ancient lake known as Lake Bonneville.

It is believed that there was once an historic breach of the retaining rock on the northern edge of this huge lake that sent a destructive flood of canyon-carving water, gouging out what are now known as the Snake and Columbia River Gorges. The Great Salt Lake is the most prominent remnant of Lake Bonneville.

Within the boundary of this small national park lie representations of the surprising diversity to be found in this area of the US. Mt Wheeler is the tallest mountain of the range and a steep paved 12 mile road will take you up its flanks… a rise of over 3000 vertical feet through a range of life zones. At the base of this mountain lies the entrance to a spectacular system of limestone caves… revealing another side to the treasures sought below ground throughout this region.

As always, a first stop at a national park is just the appetizer…. we look forward to future visits with more time to explore and what we learned today gives us a new appreciation for the vast area of landscape that we now know to be the actual great basin of the United States.

90% of this area is public land and the towns along the loneliest highway have hardly changed over the past century…. let’s hope it stays that way!

Bear Mountain Bliss

Today’s forecast promised full-fledged Arizona spring weather… 60° and sunny.  A visit to the Hike Shop in Sedona yesterday gave us a list of trails we would enjoy.  We tried to pick one that would likely be less crowded with weekend tourists.  Bear Mountain, at 5 miles round trip and 2000 ft elevation gain, looked like a perfect choice.

I read through a few trail reports and knew to expect some crevice climbing that may require some scrambling, and several “false summits”…. with another mountain beyond the one you just got to the top of.  Once we reached the top of this ridge (see below and the saddle area left of the red rock peak above)… we had already climbed 1000 ft and could see Bear Mountain summit another 1000 ft higher and mile and a half farther.

I also knew it was rated one of the most scenic trails Sedona has to offer.  A diversity of terrain, many rock layers and several distinctive life zones.  If we managed to make it all the way to the final summit we would  also be rewarded with a view of Agassiz and Humphreys Peaks …. the snow-covered San Francisco Peaks just north of Flagstaff.

So we packed a lunch, grabbed our hiking sticks, and headed out.

The climb was steady.  We encountered a few people as we neared the top of the second “false summit”.  The views were splendid and the sun was growing warmer.

We walked another half mile to where the views opened up over canyons and sweeping expanses on both sides of the ridge.  Ahead of us we could see the summit of Bear Mountain… and the wind gusted through this open area.

After stopping for lunch we decided to forgo the 800 ft climb ahead and go cross-country a bit here, instead….  enjoying the views and stopping to sketch a bit before heading back down.  You can see the trail below us in this picture from the second plateau:

We hiked about 1.7 miles and climbed about 1200 feet in elevation before turning back.  Ahead of us was another mile and 800 ft elevation to reach the top, which we could see from where we were.  Another time perhaps.

In this panorama Bear Mountain summit is to the far left… Fay Canyon opens up to the west as you pan right.