Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Great Basin National Park, Lehman Caves, and Cathedral Gorge State Park~May 27-29, 2016

The boys at the parks entrance.

We decided to spend the long Memorial Day weekend exploring Nevada's only National Park. Great Basin National Park is located about 5 hours from Las Vegas. We planned on camping at one of the campgrounds in the park. They do not take online reservations so we left early on Friday morning in order to get there in time to secure a spot. Shortly after we left town, I realized we had forgotten the hot dog/marshmallow cooking poles. We decided to stop along the way and pick some up. FYI, you go through a few small towns on the way there but nothing big so the selection of stores is very limited. We ended up finding some at the hardware store in Caliente. The only other town we passed of some size was Pioche. We stopped for lunch and gas in Pioche. There are no fast food options once you leave Las Vegas. We ended up eating at a small diner that took a really long time. This set us back a few hours. I'm telling you all of this so you can plan accordingly when traveling through this area. 

We arrived at the main Visitor Center, just after 2:00 PM,which is located outside of the park in Baker, NV. This is where you need to fill up your water containers since the campgrounds do not always have reliable water. I ran in and grabbed a park map and asked the ranger about the camping situation. We had hoped to camp at Lower Lehman Creek Campground. She told me that Lower Lehman was probably already full but there may be a few spots still available at Baker Creek Campground. If not, then we could camp outside the park in Strawberry Creek Campground. She notified me that they are able to take online reservations for Grey Cliffs Campground for future reference. We drove straight to Lower Lehman and saw that she was right. They were all occupied. We made our way over to Baker Creek. It is the largest campground in the park. We made our way through the different loops and were losing hope. Finally, at the last site, we found a perfect spot for us to camp. 

We quickly unloaded the car and made camp. We had reservations for a 3:00 PM tour at Lehman Caves that we didn't want to miss. The boys put their tent under the pine trees next to a small stream while I put our tent in the designated tent spot. It turned out to be a great campsite. We had the bathrooms and trash cans next to us so it wasn't a long walk to take care of business. The sound of the stream was a pleasant backdrop and it was also nice that we were able to space the tents out a little. 

The boy's tent by the stream.

Our view looking across the valley.

Our tent in the shadow of Wheeler Peak.
We made it to the Lehman Caves Visitor Center with about 10 minutes to spare. We had reserved the Grand Palace Tour. It was $10 for adults and $5 for kids for a 90 minute tour. There were about 20 people on our tour. 

We have been in many caves because it is something we enjoy seeing while on vacation. The special thing about these caves are the "shields" throughout the cave. There are more than 300 in the Lehman Caves. There was another interesting thing that happened while we were on the tour. The power went out! The guide was turning off the lights to an area we had just left when everything went dark. We waited there for a minute to see if the lights would come back on but they didn't. Luckily, some of us had flashlights and most of us had cell phones so we were able to light those up and make our way safely back to the surface. It was a fun way to finish the tour. It made it seem more natural and more of an adventure. 

Enjoying the tour with my family.

An example of a shield.

Two shields.
 After the tour, we went back to our campsite and made dinner. We had decided to not bring our stove since there was no water and we wouldn't be able to wash dishes. All of the food we ate was able to be cooked over the fire or prepared at the table. We had purchased wood for the fire before we left Las Vegas and I'm glad we did since there was no place to buy any there. You are allowed to collect dead, dropped wood around the campground so we were able to get plenty of kindling.

The entire weekend was forecast to have scattered showers and the forecast was correct. We had several small showers throughout our weekend. One even was accompanied with hail. Luckily, we were driving in our car during that storm. The good part about the storms were that they were all short lived and didn't really affect our time there.

One of Great Basin's claim to fame is the fact that it is one of the last true dark skies in America, On a clear, moonless might, thousands of stars, five of our solar system's eight planets, star clusters, meteors, man-made satellites, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Milky Way can be seen with the naked eye. The park offers astronomy programs April through May. Unfortunately, with the scattered rain came lots of clouds and we were unable to attend the program.

On Saturday morning, my husband and I woke up early for a run. It was a beautiful morning running in the fresh mountain air. Once we returned, we woke up our boys and ate breakfast. Since we had nice blue skies, we decided to do the scenic drive to Wheeler Peak, Nevada's tallest peak at 13,065 feet. It is a paved 12 mile, steep and winding road. It has some vehicle restrictions and is not open all year depending on weather.

We took advantage of the several pullouts along the route to view the mountains, valleys, creeks, and wildlife. We planned on hiking the Alpines Lake Loop Trail which starts at the Bristlecone Parking Area, near the Wheeler Peak campground. Once we arrived at the parking lot and the end of the scenic drive, we realized that we were not going to be able to do the hike since it was still snow packed. We spent a short amount of time exploring the area around the parking lot and made our way back down the scenic route.

Standing in front of Wheeler Peak.

Looking at the big turkey in the valley below. 
Taking in the amazing view. 
At the upper parking lot.
My boys in the aspens.

Aspens are my favorite trees.

 After the drive, we decided to stop by the main Visitor Center again to watch the video, pick up my souvenir magnet, and read about the park. After looking at the park map again, we noticed an off-road way back into the park and decided to take it. The road made it's way from Baker, out of the valley, weaving in and out of the park boundary, with a few water crossings. It is definitely a road that needs a high clearance vehicle, preferably with 4 wheel or all wheel drive. It was quite the adventure.

The view as we headed out of the valley.

4x4 driving towards Wheeler Peak.

 After our off-road exploration, we decided to go for our first hike. We were a little worried about getting caught in a rain shower but thought we would risk it. We did the Baker Creek Loop Trail. The scenery was beautiful! It made me think I was hiking in the Pacific NW. The wildflowers with the snowy Wheeler Peak in the background were gorgeous. The trail had a bit of everything; hills, valleys, creeks, aspens, teenage attitudes, and only a few rain drops.
Leading the way.
The boys showing their excitement to be hiking.

At one of the creek crossings.

The boys hiking together.

On our way back to the campsite, we saw our first Yellow-Bellied Marmot. There is a crossing sign near our campground entrance so we were excited to actually see one!

Say hello to my little friend.

Caution, Marmot crossing!

Once back at the camp, we made our dinner and enjoyed our time together. The boys took it upon themselves to gather more firewood (a.k.a. complete fallen trees). I sat there listening to them laughing and carrying on and it made my heart smile. I love our time unplugged and together in nature!

On Sunday morning, we all woke up early to start another hike. We did the Pole Canyon Trail and were able to start from our campsite. It was another beautiful hike. It offered amazing views into the valley, weaving trails through the aspens, multiple turkey sightings, and trails along the creek.

Leading the way again.

Heading into the aspens.

Looking into the valley (it was so much more beautiful in person).

Looking to the sky.

Hiking with my family.

As we finished this hike, we decided to break camp a little early. More rain was coming and we didn't want to be stuck in our tents for the remainder of the day. We had paid for 3 nights but decided to leave after 2 and chalked up the extra night as a donation to the park. We made the right decision because as we were driving away the skies opened up.

As we made our way back to Las Vegas, we decided to make a short stop at Cathedral Gorge State Park since it was literally right next to the road we were driving on. I had heard great things about the park from a friend and she was right! We stopped for lunch at the overlook before heading into the park. The boys loved exploring the endless maze of slot canyons. They crawled through holes, squeezed through tiny openings, climbed ropes over walls, and loved every minute of it. It was super hot in the sun but once we entered the canyons, it was a lovely cool temperature. We spent a couple hours there and that was plenty. I'm glad we decided to stop since it was still 3 hours from Las Vegas and would have been a long drive for not too long of a stop.

The boys loved exploring here. 

Making my way through the gorge.

Looking up from a cave.

Me and my family at Cathedral Gorge State Park.

We all loved it!

We packed a lot of adventure into 3 short days. I would recommend this trip to anyone! Great Basin National Park is beautiful and I think that we went at a great time to explore the lower parts of the park. I would love to return in late summer to explore the upper parts of the park. There are several hikes that I still want to do.

This was a great way to spend the weekend together as a family. My boys are growing up fast and we only have a few more years with them. I'm so glad that we get the opportunity to get away with them. They may not appreciate it now but one day, they will look back on these trips and smile. To quote Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."

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