s/y Nine of Cups
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
May 2012
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Great Basin National Park, established in 1986, is located in eastern Nevada
near the Utah border. The park is  most notable for its groves of ancient
bristlecone pines, the oldest living things on earth, and for the Lehman Caves at
the base of Wheeler Peak. The park protects ~77,180 acres of contiguous
wildlife habitat and wilderness.
What is the Great Basin? The Great Basin is the largest area of contiguous endorheic
watersheds in North America. Basically, it is a closed drainage basin that retains water and
allows no outflow to other bodies of water such as rivers or oceans. Normally, water that has
accrued in a drainage basin eventually flows out through rivers or streams or by underground
diffusion through permeable rock, ultimately ending up in the oceans. However, in the Great
Basin, rain (or other precipitation) that falls within it does not flow out but may only leave the
drainage system by evaporation and seepage. John C. Fremont, trained as a topographical
engineer, possessed an expertise unprecedented in western exploration and published the
earliest reports and surveys of the area.  
 (from various internet sources)
"Discovered"  and
exploited by Absalom
Lehman in 1885, these
caves were well known
by the native  
Americans long before
Lehman explored them.
The million-year-old
cave extends a quarter
mile into the limestone
and marble that banks
the base of the Snake
Range. Most noted for
its abundance of  
formations known as
"shields", Lehman
Caves is one of the
most profusely
"decorated" caves in
the region.
Animals who use caves fall into several different categories. A
trogloxene is a species who uses caves, but does not spend its
entire life cycle within one, e.g. chipmunks, mice and pack rats.
These animals are dependent on vegetation for food and must leave
regularly to forage. Bats feed on flying insects, such as mosquitos,
and so must also must leave the cave to find adequate food.

The nesting material brought into the cave and droppings left behind
by these temporary residents is a major source of nourishment for
another type of animal known as a troglobite.  

Troglobites are species that spend their entire life cycles in caves
and include cave crickets, spiders, psuedoscorpions and the
smaller mites and springtails.  Often troglobites have adapted to the
cave environment through morphological changes such as the loss
of eyes and pigment and lengthening of appendages. Lehman
Caves is inhabited by several endemic troglobites including the
critters listed above and a new species of amphipod (aka
freshwater shrimp) was recently discovered by park employees.
Nevada is the most
mountainous state
in the USA with
over 300 individual
mountain ranges
and 42 named
summits over
11,000 feet.
White nose syndrome (WNS)  is a fungal
disease that has killed more than one million bats in
the USA and Canada. The fungus is named for the
white fungus that grows around infected bats' faces
and other body parts. WNS results in bats
exhibiting abnormal behavior during winter months
such as flying during the day and clustering near
entrances. In some caves or mines where bats
spend the winter, 90 to 100 percent of the bats
have died. This epidemic has been called one of
the greatest wildlife disasters in our nation's
history.  Bats make up over 20% of the mammal
species on Earth and save the US agricultural
industry over 3 billion dollars a year in pest-control

To protect the Lehman Caves, we were asked
several questions regarding our recent travels,
asked to verify that we'd not be in any caves in the
last year and check our shoes to make sure they
had no debris on them.
View of the Great Basin from Wheeler Peak
The park headquarters are located in Baker, Nevada, virtually in the middle of nowhere. We found a room at the Whispering Elms for a couple of nights. Though not many amenities
were available, the local scenery was absolutely fantastic and we spent time just photographing the local sights before heading to the national park.
We booked an early morning tour of the cave and despite a bit of claustrophobia on Marcie's part, we enjoyed our trip below the earth's surface. Columns,
stalactites, stalagmites, cave popcorn, shields, draperies and great color...this cave had it all.
Above a shield, called the Parachute.
The remoteness of the area makes it
one of the darkest places in America
to view the stars...but not on a
cloudy night. ;-(
A pipit sings us a song
A wild rose comes into bloom.
Much to our disappointment, we were just a
wee bit too early for the Bristlecone Pine
Trail and finally turned back.
A packrat scampers through the grass
Lizard sunning himself on a warm rock.
Mule deer graze
View of Wheeler Peak
A jackrabbit poses for a photo
Wheeler Peak left, the Thumb in the middle and Jeff
Davis Peak to the right.
Once again, we were a bit too early in the season to be
able to hike the trails, BUT we had the park almost to
ourselves, the weather was brilliant and the cave tour
was great. Not viewing the bristlecone pines was
definitely a missed opportunity for us...next time.

We'll head to Idaho from here and visit
Fossil Beds National Monument. Wanna come?
More National Parks?

More American Odyssey trip?

Roadside Americana?

Birds of North America?

Wildflowers of North America?
Back to Home Page (already?)
In addition to 11 species of conifer trees and over 800 species of plants in Great Basin
National Park and the neighboring valleys, there are 61 species of mammals, 18 species of
reptiles, 238 species of birds, 2 species of amphibians and 8 species of fish.