To break up the monotony of the ‘Loneliest Road in America’, we stopped at Great Basin National Park* in Nevada on the border of Utah. The park, tucked into the surrounding mountains, is the only cold desert in the US which means that most of the precipitation reaches the land as snow or during summer thunderstorms. The park has a couple of unique features: playing host to a stand of bristlecone pines and to the ‘Lehman Caves’. Given the high elevation of the bristlecones (10,000 feet+), the roads up to the stand were unfortunately still snow packed and closed. I am disappointed that everywhere we go the paths to the bristlecones seem to be closed thanks to the heavy precipitation the states received this winter (but I am simultaneously thankful that they have been pulled out of the drought they were in last time we visited). There’s something about being in the presence of a tree that has lived for thousands of years that I crave. Maybe Rocky Mountain National Park will reward us with some of these trees. Fingers crossed.
The other feature, ‘Lehman Caves’, is a set of caverns with unique formations and a constant temperature of 10 degrees with 90%+ humidity. To see these caves, you must sign up for a ranger tour and pay a minimal fee. The pictures looked amazing and the chance to see such a fragile ecosystem was tempting but I just couldn’t. The ecosystem is so delicate that tourists cannot bring any food, water, or even carry a bag/purse through the caves. The alterations made by the park (adding wooden steps and electric lighting) have already had measurable impacts on the species inhabiting the caves – changing the composition of the species able to survive and introducing new species that have displaced others. I settled for the spectacular images on the National Parks website and I suggest that you do too: click here for some more. Making these kinds of decisions can be tough. Travelling so far to settle for pictures and not first-hand experiences can be frustrating but I think it is the right choice.
We did some short hikes. The elevation (8,000+) made doing any strenuous hikes difficult but the camping was excellent. The first night we were there the campground was full but a kind couple from Oregon share their site. Thanks, Bob and Betsy! The second night we had a campsite to ourselves and got to see some turkeys and deer roaming about. Kent learned that the turkeys were actually introduced into the basin/desert proper below the park for hunting. The turkeys, unbeknownst to the hunters, are ‘mountain turkeys’ that prefer high elevation. They migrated into the park and the Ntl Park Service has been monitoring their introduction since. Tehehehe. We got a chuckle out of that.
Moving on, we left Great Basin National Park and headed along the lonely road to Orangeville, Utah. Similarly to last trip, we feel bad about leaving Joe’s Valley until our last climbing destination. The ‘General Fatigue Syndrome’ is weighing heavily on us at this point in our trip. Our bodies are exhausted, tendons are tender, and the desire to sleep in our own beds is strong. But we press on! Arriving later in the day to the free camping on the Ntl Forest Lands, we still got out for a short evening session before heading to bed. The psyche was high (or at least, not entirely faded).
We have climbed a solid 5 days since arriving here – some days even doing split sessions between late morning and afternoon. Our attitudes are drastically better than last trip. I am pretty sure I climbed more problems the first session than the entire time at Joe’s last trip. I have had some of my best days in terms of V points and Kent is continually amazed at my stubbornness in terms of what I am putting my tendons through (I have had some light injuries to both of my ‘strong’ fingers on my left hand which has slowly moved to my right hand as well – now I am stuck taping four fingers in order to climb). Joe’s Valley is definitely “soft” in terms of grading but the confidence boost is appreciated this late in the trip. Being able to climb anything is encouraging, being able to flash 4’s, 5’s, 6’s and climb 7’s is keeping the psyche flame kindled.
Resting here is much easier this trip thanks to the newly opened ‘Cup of Joe’s’ from which I am writing this blog post. The shop, opened as part of the owner’s house front, is super cozy and the owners are fantastic. The place is a great spot to talk with some locals about climbing, get some stunned looks that we come all the way from Canada, and above all, a great spot to get tasty coffees. This place, combined with the Aquatic Centre in Castle Dale (hot showers!) has really helped keep us sane. Visiting the aquatic centre cost only $4 for a day pass and we had the Olympic sized pool mostly to ourselves. Swimming helped with muscle recovery, but the treading water for 20 minutes made my legs a bit sore.
Overall, I still think Joe’s would be better appreciated near the beginning of a trip. Maybe next time we will reconfigure our travel plans so we can fully enjoy it.
*In spite of my attempts to locate the “original”/name given to the park by the earlier inhabitants, I have failed. Do you know what the groups in this area call the Great Basin? Let me know in the comments.