A vacation destination in Nevada that is perfect for cooling off during the hot summer season is the Great Basin National Park. The Great Basin Highway (Highway 93) runs right by the Great Basin National Park, so once a traveler is on this long highway, a map will not be needed for navigating the way there. This park is 300 miles north of Las Vegas and there is plenty of picturesque scenery to take in along the way. Cathedral Gorge State Park, Caliente, Pioche and several other scenic Nevada destinations are located along the road to this National Park.
There are a few gas stations, restaurants, campgrounds and motels located at fairly distant intervals on Highway 93, but for the most part, this part of the Great Basin Desert is a wide open territory with uninterrupted panoramic views. The closest city to the Great Basin National Park is Ely, Nevada and this is where modern accommodations can be found. Ely is about 45 minutes away from the Great Basin National Park, so those who are less reliant on modern amenities may be better off choosing Baker, Nevada for a basecamp, because this tiny town is located next to the park entrance. Baker has dining options, limited lodging and a couple of trading posts, which is all that is needed to make the trek complete.
The Great Basin National Park definitely is one of the most beautiful places on earth and the views of Wheeler Peak are nothing less than majestic. From the mountains in this park, the scenic views extend through the vast Great Basin Desert to the horizon. The mountains in the park are so high that they are draped with clouds on any given day, which is quite a sight to see!
This part of the Great Basin Desert does draw a fair share of rainfall during the spring and early summer seasons, so most of the vast open stretches of desert in this region are lush with fresh plant growth. It is amazing how beautiful a green desert landscape looks, because in general, this is not often thought of as being a desert characteristic. Where there is rainfall and green growth, there is plenty of wildlife. The most often seen wild animal in this region is a variety of rabbits, which are quite abundant at times. During early summer the Great Basin National Park certainly is a great destination for wildlife observers, so be sure to bring a camera along for the ride.
The lower elevations of the Great Basin National Park are well over a mile high, so the temperatures are comfortable in the summertime. If cooling off is a high priority, then I highly suggest doing the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. This scenic drive winds its way up the mountain to over 10,000 feet above sea level and the air can be 30ºF cooler than down below on the desert floor. The best part about doing this scenic drive is that Wheeler Peak is so tall, the snow sticks to the ground year round in many places near the top. In fact, the only glacier in Nevada is located way up on top of Wheeler Peak, which is a rare sight indeed. Just above the roadside 10,000 foot elevation marker, there is a hiking trail that goes to the glacier.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to the Wheeler Peak Glacier. Because of many years of severe drought and global warming, the glacier has nearly melted away. On the last report that I heard a few years ago, not much was left of the big chunk of ice, but all it takes is a few hard winters for the glacier to return.
The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive round trip tour is about 23 miles long. There are several good scenic overlooks on the way uphill that provide great views of the pine forests, the desert valley below and the mountain peaks. Some of the scenic overlooks actually are wooden deck platforms that are perched high up on a canyon ridge, so the views are nothing less than spectacular! There are even a few telescopes mounted on the viewing platforms, so taking a closer look at Wheeler Peak is easy to do.
Another good place to cool down in the summert at the Great Basin National Park is the Lehman Caves. The temperature inside Lehman Caves is a constant 50ºF year round. Tours of Lehman Caves haves have to be reserved ahead of time and the tour is well worth the price of admission. Wandering through a cool vast cave system sure is a great escape from the extreme heat!
The Great Basin National Park definitely is a cool comfortable place to be, but the weather can change with little warning in this mountainous region. For this reason, it is best to prepare for the worst, especially when camping. As can be seen in the photos, breaking out the rain fly for the tent will likely be necessary in this high elevation micro climate. The campgrounds are rarely full in this park, but making campsite reservations is always a good idea for holiday weekends.
The trip to the Great Basin National Park is well worth the drive and the scenery in the wide open spaces of the desert certainly is captivating. A lot of strange weather phenomena happens in this part of the Great Basin Desert and when a rainbow occurs the colors are guaranteed to be vivid. The Great Basin National Park certainly is a great place to be during the summer season and the pleasant memories will last a lifetime!
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