Great Basin National Park: A Final Hike Before Home

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After the morning’s solar eclipse, Sean and I decided to spend the afternoon of August 21, our final full day at Great Basin National Park, exploring one of the only remaining major sections of the Park that we hadn’t yet visited: the Snake Creek Canyon area. Like most of the other reasonably accessible portions of the Park, it is reached from the Snake Valley side of the Snake Range.

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Rocky Mountain Bee-Plant

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Image: Sean M. Santos

The dirt road into Snake Creek Canyon was very well maintained. And a series of lower elevation camp sites (7,200-8,200 feet elevation) were strung along it on the creek side. These would have made for a very different camping experience than what we were having up at Wheeler Peak Campground at 10,000 feet.

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Most of the sites were empty. Only one was occupied, by a family with a large van and a woman wearing a flowing sundress.

As we rode along, we listened to Candide.

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Granite Basin

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The road ended at a large, new parking lot near the upper edge of a field of sagebrush. From the parking lot, a number of trails headed off up ridges or farther into the canyon into the high country. Many of the routes were suited to overnight backpacking. There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot. So we essentially had the area to ourselves.

We sat in the partial shade of the low wall surrounding the parking lot and ate our lunch before setting out. While we were eating, we were visited by a Rufous Hummingbird.

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We decided on Snake Creek Overlook Trail for our final hike in the Park. It was a short 1.5-mile lollipop loop that led up a ridge on the other side of Snake Creek. At about ten to two, we set out.

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The trail began in the sagebrush meadow before dropping into the riparian zone along the creek.

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Quaking Aspen

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Not long after, it forked. To the right was the longer Dead Lake Trail. Our route was to the left toward the creek.

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Pyramid Peak

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Snake Creek

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Snake Creek

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Snake Creek

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We crossed Snake Creek. On the opposite bank were two amazing walk-in primitive campsites. If we ever came back with friends, these sites would be incredible to stay in.

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Baby Goldenrod

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Greenleaf Manzanita

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Greenleaf Manzanita

The trail followed an old Jeep road up the ridge. We were in a fascinating transition zone. Having just passed out of the sagebrush sea, we were now passing lower-elevation plants like manzanita along with higher elevation pines and Quaking Aspen.

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Quaking Aspen

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Quaking Aspen

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Mount Washington

As we rose higher, we were treated to glimpses of some of the high peaks of the Snake Range south of Wheeler Peak.

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Mount Washington

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The trail was rated easy, but still we were out of breath. For us lowlanders, each rating needed to be bumped up, easy to moderate, moderate to strenuous, strenuous to just don’t.

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We reached the trail’s namesake overlook, complete with bench.

It’s not so much that the overlook looks over Snake Creek but the dramatic ridge beyond and peaks beyond.

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Pyramid Peak

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Pyramid Peak

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Now we were on the downward-trending portion of the loop.

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SIlver Lupine

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Quaking Aspen

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(I still think this must be some form of Buckwheat)

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(Here it is again)

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Quaking Aspen

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Wild Turkeys

The only other hikers we saw on the trail were a family of Wild Turkeys. Otherwise, we were quite alone with the smell of sage and pine. We took the opportunity to make out on the trail and just enjoy being with each other in this place.

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The hike truly was short, but it was a satisfying final hike of the trip. We were back to the Jeep by 3pm, and began the drive down Snake Creek Canyon. This is definitely a part of Great Basin National Park I’d like to explore more if we ever return.

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Snake Creek Canyon Road

As we were emerging into Snake Valley, Sean remarked with satisfaction that this was a good Park.

There was no packing tape to be found in Baker, so we drove back over to the Border Inn on the state line to get some.

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Ranching Exhibit

Back on the main road into the Park, we stopped at the roadside ranching exhibit, the primary feature of which was a line of beautiful metalwork silhouettes depicting Great Basin ranching life.

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Ranching Exhibit

I liked the Pronghorn.

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Ranching Exhibit

The signage at the exhibit talked in part about the Nevada Land Trust and the Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, both of whom were responsible for helping to conserve land in Snake Valley adjacent to the Park. Hooray for land trusts!

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Grey Cliffs

Back in the Park, we drove up Baker Road, a dirt road that led to some of the lower elevation campgrounds. Here too was dramatic scenery well worth exploring further on a return trip.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Grey Cliffs. Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Snake Valley. Image: Sean M. Santos

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Back in camp, we had some hammock time before we made dinner.

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We spent the remainder of the evening packing and prepping for our departure in the morning. Sean chatted with Uncle Dan across the way. He said that they essentially hadn’t left the campground because of the older folks and the little kids in the group. It seemed like Dan wanted some people his own age to do some exploring with.

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A bat (obviously I have no idea which species)

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That night, it got chilly enough that I made a hot water bottle. We were in bed by 8:30pm.

Our alarms went off at 4:45am next morning, Tuesday, August 22. We had a long drive back to Las Vegas in front of us.

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By 6:15, we were loaded up and driving down Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, which I now navigated casually one-handed, for the last time.

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Snake Valley

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Wheeler Peak

The morning light washing Wheeler Peak was glorious. It was like the whole Park was saying goodbye and sending us on our way.

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Wheeler Peak

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Snake Range

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Bald Mountain (left), Wheeler Peak (center right) and Baker Peak (right) from Spring Valley

We crossed Sacramento Pass to Spring Valley and headed south. Off to the east, the Snake Range was dramatically backlit.

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Spring Valley. Image: Sean M. Santos

And to the west there was a rainbow extending from the low clouds.

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Bald Mountain and Wheeler Peak

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Spring Valley

We were glad we’d given ourselves plenty of time since we hit some roadwork in Snake Valley.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

Other than that, the drive was scenic and uneventful.

We made it back to Las Vegas with time to spare. We found a post office in an Albertson’s and dropped off our boxes to mail home. Then we went over to the REI and returned our unused fuel canisters. After gassing up the Jeep and returning it, we were shuttled over to the terminal.

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We had a beer and chatted with the bartender, who’d grown up in Milwaukee and Chicago. In line at a sandwich shop before boarding, a woman asked if we were from Chicago. She’d noticed that I was wearing a Hamilton shirt with the Chicago flag on it. She herself was from the south suburbs.

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Great Basin Highway

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Snake Range out there somewhere

It is possible that one of the ranges visible from the flight was the South Snake Range. Goodbye Great Basin National Park!

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At one point on our flight, there was a disturbance as the flight crew performed magic. I have been flying on American Airlines literally my entire life, and I have never experienced anything remotely like this before.

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Soon home was visible.

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And when we arrived at our apartment, Elsa was very glad to see us…and the treats we’d brought to make her think we’d been out hunting for her.

 

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