Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park protects a unique ecosystem referred to as an Desert Island wherein, due to extreme elevation gain, the environment transforms from high desert all the way to sub-alpine. I had long put a visit to the park on the back burner but I am quick to admit I was wrong in doing so; the mountains there are truly an oasis and I was remiss in not going before now. I mean, a glacier in Nevada? Yeah, I shoulda visited sooner.
Our first day we hiked the Alpine Lake Loop Trail, connecting to the Bristlecone Pine and Glacier Trails. Beginning around 10,000 feet these trails were in a true alpine ecosystem unlike the more arid Cedar Mountains near the house. We began in green aspen forest before passing the gorgeous Stella and Teresa Lakes below the glaciated Wheeler Peak; in between the lakes we were treated to beautiful Englemann Spruce forest. After the lakes we turned onto the Bristlecone Trail and continued up to the harsh glacial moraine environment where little other than the tenacious bristlecone tree could take hold. Further up the trail as we gained more elevation even the bristlecone gave way and we began crossing large expanses of rock deposited by the retreating glacier. We crossed a few snowfields as we hiked further into the cirque; here surprisingly we found more life in the form of lichen and pockets of tiny alpine flowers. Though the visible snow at this point was part of the glacier it was amazing to think that the bulk of the glacier actually lay under the very rock we walked on – hence it’s classification as a rock glacier.
The following day we opted to not do another of the more popular trails at the top of the mountain and instead chose the Baker Creek Loop, a more moderate rolling trail in a different section of the park. Most of the trail was through more arid meadow but it provided a plethora of views to the creek.