June 23, 2003

Great Basin Park - Baker, NV

Before Great Basin National Park came into existence in 1986 it was simply National Forrest Service land. The park lies within the Snake Mountain Range just east of Ely, running along the Nevada-Utah border. Lehman Caves was privately owned, but creation of the national park brought the caves into the federal fold. While I am thankful the park is protected, national park status creates a higher level of interest. But the remoteness of the park has kept the throngs away so far.

Evan and Brian, circa 2000; note Wheeler cirque in background

I first visited the Lehman Caves when I was in college. My memory is a little fuzzy; I thought there were four of us on that first trip but I can only recall the names of Doug Tueller and Kevin McGoohan. I was not a fisherman at that time; we simply went to escape city life and appreciate the grandeur of Wheeler Peak (13,062 feet) and the accompanying Snake Mountain Range. We camped in the Upper Lehman Creek campground (around 7,800 feet), and hiked the Lehman Creek trail to the Wheeler Peak campground (9,950 feet). It was a rigorous hike with Tueller in the lead; an eight-mile round trip with 2,150 feet up and then back down. Of course, we toured the Lehman Caves which was under private ownership and operation at that time.

I returned another time with McGoohan during spring break, and the highlight of the trip was the hour-long tour we received in the caverns, as we were the first and only visitors of the season. Still another time I recall driving up the morning after attending UNLV graduation parties in 1978 with a fraternity brother (who’s name escapes me). I recall still another trip after I began fly fishing. Although I’ve never fished the alpine lakes (Baker and Johnson hold Bonneville Cutthroat Trout), I have fished Baker Creek. I intend to return soon to try fishing the creek once again.

Stella Lake Trail just below Wheeler Peak
I estimate I have visited Wheeler seven or eight times over the past thirty years. It has a unique beauty all its own. It is the second highest peak in Nevada (Boundary Peak in the White Mountain being the highest at 13,143 feet), and it is an attraction for climbers with its breathtaking cirque at the peak. I believe it is the most photographed and recognizable peak in the whole state of Nevada.
Evan at Stella Lake, 10,385 feet elevation
Another attraction of Wheeler is its bristlecone pines. Bristlecones live over millennia, not centuries. The Wheeler Peak grove has kept its grip on life for two to three thousand years, with some trees living even longer. In fact, the oldest living thing ever discovered was a bristlecone pine in the Snake Mountain Range; it was cut in half – killed – in order to determine its age which was 4,950 years. The park has several groves of bristlecone pine, but the Wheeler Peak grove is unusual in that it grows on a glacial moraine consisting of quartzite boulders. Most groves grow on limestone or dolomite. The northeastern exposure of the Wheeler Peak grove is also unusual as most other groves have a generally southern or western exposure.

The Lehman Caves are an attraction all on their own. The caves in Wheeler are one of the best places to see rare shield formations. Over 300 shields are known to exist in Lehman Caves, more than any other cave. The cave is profusely decorated; stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, flowstone, popcorn, and other formations cover almost every surface of the cave. Caves can tell us about the history of the earth. Information about past surface climates are preserved in the layers of cave formations, and much can be learned about natural history from the "treasures" in old pack rat middens (i.e., dunghill or refuse heaps). Thus the cave can tell us a lot about past climate changes and their effects on plant and animal communities. Water, geologic forces, and climatic changes combined to form Lehman Caves over a period of millions of years.

Doug / Tom, Lower Lehman, Sep.1993
The Snake Range has numerous creeks flowing into the Snake Valley along the state border (Strawberry, Lehman, Baker, Snake, and Big Wash). Although I’ve only fished Baker, on various occasions Doug, Tom, Brian and I have fished nearby Silver Creek Reservoir that flows from Mount Moriah to the north (the northern portion of the Snake Mountain Range). Wildlife also abounds, with mule dear and rocky mountain bighorn in the mountains, and pronghorn antelope in the valley. I recall a trip with Brian and Evan wherein we had a buck in velvet eating in our campground, and then saw two pronghorns with a fawn just outside Baker.

The private land just outside the park contains lots of cabins. One of my favorite memories driving up the Lehman Creek road into the park is the “art” hung on the fence as you drive through the private areas. These people really have a sense of humor.

Proud Tom on trail to bristlecone grove
and ice field below Wheeler Peak, September 1993
Doug leading Tom and I down the Wheeler Bristlecone Grove Trail,
with the Snake Valley in the distance, September 1993
Lehman Caves, June 2003, with Brian and friends Jeremy and Delano.
Note Columns above with stalactites and stalagmites, and flowstone shields to the right.
Pictures do not do accurately portray these awesome structures.
Five mule deer bucks near Strawberry Creek, Sep. 1993
(Doug and Tom asleep in the truck cab)
Pronghorn antelope with fawn in Snake Valley outside Baker, NV
Above is a 3-D topographic map of the Great Basin National Park.
It is just off state highway 6 which branches off US Highway 95 to the west.
It is about an hour drive east of Ely, NV. Lehman Caves at the Visitor Center
is the area’s biggest attraction, but trails, creeks, and lakes abound,
as does plentiful wildlife. The park is well worth the visit.

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