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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Great Basin Great Basin National Park, NV, Thursday, 11 July 2013 5:19am

We decided to not set an alarm to wake up this morning. We got up around 8am anyway. I managed to both step on my glasses in the shower (luckily, I have a spare pair), and cut myself while taking down the tent, but we somehow managed to get underway.

After breakfast at a little diner, we stopped in at a drugstore with a soda fountain. I got a cherry lime rickey, and Adrienne got a milkshake. We paused at a sculpture garden across the street before leaving Ely.

The drive to Great Basin National Park was more interesting than the drive the night before because we were able to see what was around us. But what was around us was mostly sagebrush. The Great Basin is an area between mountain ranges where rainfall doesn't drain to the ocean. Over the aeons, this has led to a flat desert with salt flats. The surrounding mountains are scenic, though.

We scored a really nice campsite in the park, right next to a creek. There are a lot of neighboring campsites, but the burbling of the water makes it seem like we're alone.

Speaking of being alone: we took the last two (of twenty) spots on the 3pm tour of Lehman Cave, but for reasons unknown, the other eighteen people didn't show up. There were multiple groups that had reservations who never claimed their tickets. So we had a 90 minute cave tour all to ourselves. It's a neat cave. Still quite wet. There were some places where stalactites had been broken a hundred years ago and are starting to regrow, so you can get a sense for how long these formations take to grow (100 years of progress: 1 inch of stalactite). Lehman Cave has a few unusual formations, "Shields", which seem like hundreds of stalactites grew out of them at once, and bulbous stalactites, which look a bit like onions with long roots. There was also some delicious-looking cave bacon.

After the cave tour, we drove to the top of Wheeler Peak. We'd been debating whether this was a good idea, since we'd had trouble with our brakes overheating on the way out of Yosemite. However, I did some trials using our van's manual shifting, and was able to control downhill speed using lower gears, so we decided that it was doable.

Up on the peak, we did a two hour hike out to see some ancient (3000 year old!) bristlecone pines. There were some spectacular views along the trail, and the pines are interesting. They're gnarled and mostly dead. The specialty of this species is hanging on to life while leaving behind the parts that it can no longer support. On the way down, we stopped at Teresa Lake, and got to watch another untroubled deer munching on some foliage.

The drive down went well. Second gear and sparing use of the brakes controlled our speed just fine. No signs of overheating. It's actually really lucky that we had trouble yesterday, because we were able to call the rental company and ask how to activate manual shifting (the van is automatic, but has a manual mode). There's no cell service here, so that wouldn't have been an option today.

Disappointingly, we'd hoped to do some stargazing here, but there's a large fire nearby that is putting out a lot of hazy smoke, and it's fairly cloudy. It's sad, because this is one of the darkest places in the country (no cities nearby), and is supposed to have great visibility. Ah well.

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