There are many interesting destinations to explore in the Great Basin Desert of Nevada, yet because this vast desolate expanse covers so much ground, the driving distances between points of interest can be hundreds of miles. For some people this can be a deterrent, while others will look forward to cruising down a long desert road with no other cars in sight. Time also seems to pass by quickly when traversing the desolate expanses of the Great Basin Desert. Having to do a long drive in this region is really nothing to dread, because the journey will end up being a pleasant scenic drive.
Ghost towns, dinosaur fossil beds, ancient petroglyph sites, pony express stations and historic pioneer communities await to be discovered in this vast expanse of high desert terrain. There are several Nevada State Parks, National Monuments and Recreation Areas in the Great Basin Desert to explore too. The Great Basin National Park is one of the most popular destinations and visitors can explore a vast cave system in this place. Even with so much to see and do, the Great Basin is so large that some seriously long driving time will be required to see it all. On the plus side, plotting the travel route in a logical order that minimizes mileage is easy to do, because there are only a few paved roads in this entire region.
The landscape can change dramatically in the Great Basin Desert, so doing a long drive is far from monotonous. Dry lake bed salt flats meet tall mountains that rise from the desert floor. The high elevations have pine forests and plenty of wildlife can be seen. The crystal blue lakes and reservoirs are inviting when the summer temperatures reach a peak. An endless sea of sage brush makes up most of the Great Basin Desert landscape, which imparts a mesmerizing effect when passing through.
There will be moments of somber silence and shared thoughts when driving in the Great Basin Desert. A driver and passengers will instinctually think of how to survive in this seemingly harsh environment, which inspires conversation. Thoughts of where to find water, food and shelter will continually cross the mind. When speaking of these things, more than likely the fellow passengers will express that they were thinking the same thing. It is funny how the desert has a way of making visitors focus upon survival as a common topic.
The Great Basin Desert is subject to extreme climatic conditions that continually change the appearance of the landscape. Seasons of drought can leave this environment looking dry, brown and lifeless. Winter can drape the mountains with snow. The summer monsoon rain season can make the desert look lush and green. Plenty of strange weather phenomena, like dust devils, can be observed in this vast expanse too.
When the summer storm clouds roll through the Great Basin desert, the effect is very dramatic and this presents some great landscape photography opportunities. One of the monsoon season weather phenomena to keep an eye out for occurs on dry lake beds. When the extreme heat of summer makes the ground temperature scorching hot, a light monsoon rain shower will actually evaporate shortly after hitting the hot ground and the water quickly evaporates as a cloud of steam. As a result, misty steam clouds rise up from the ground, just as if somebody set off a Hollywood fog machine!
The photographs for this article were taken in west central Nevada, which only covers about one fourth of the entire Great Basin Desert territory. The photos were compiled while taking a long trip from Las Vegas to Virginia City and the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park during the summer monsoon season. The travel route followed U.S. 95 and U.S. 95A from Las Vegas to Carson City. From Carson City, the travel route ran east on U.S. 50 to SR 361, where I headed south back to U.S. 95 near Tonopah. This long touring loop covers a lot of ground and there are plenty of fun things to do. The star of the show when traversing the lengthy distances between destinations in this region will always be the majestic scenery of the Great Basin Desert!
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