Sean and I departed Chicago for Great Basin National Park on Wednesday, August 16, 2017. The night before we had celebrated our second wedding anniversary with a lovely evening of tapas and paella. After a strategic planning call on Wednesday afternoon, I shouldered my large pack, which I’d brought with me to my office in the Loop, and headed for the Blue Line El to O’Hare Airport. Unfortunately, there was a severe delay, so Sean and I changed plans. We met at the corner of Dearborn and Randolph and were driven to O’Hare by a Lyft driver named Juan. Juan’s youngest son was studying business at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign. After school, Juan’s son planned to learn the legal marijuana business in Colorado before returning home once it was legalized in Illinois. I guess it sounded like the kid had a good head on his shoulders.
Stretching from the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada in California all the way to the Wasatch front of the Rocky Mountains in Utah and from the edge of the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Plateau in the south to the Snake River Plain of Idaho and the Harney Basin of Oregon in the north, the Great Basin comprises a huge expanse of the American West. While it is vast enough to encompass a variety of landscapes and habitats from alpine peaks low-lying desert, the Great Basin is generally signified by high, arid sagebrush desert cut by mountain ranges. The Great Basin boasts 160 north-south trending mountain ranges separating ninety valleys.
One of those mountain ranges is the Snake Range in eastern Nevada near the Utah border, which separates Snake Valley (elevation: 5,300 feet) in the east from Spring Valley (elevation: 6,400 feet) in the west. The Snake Range is capped by Wheeler Peak at 13,065 feet, the second-highest peak in Nevada. In 1922, President Warren Harding established Lehman Caves National Monument to protect a magnificently decorated cave in the eastern slopes of the south Snake Range. For the succeeding sixty years, talk ebbed and flowed of creating a National Park in the Snake Range. Finally on October 27, 1986, Congress combined Lehman Caves National Monument with a portion of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest to create Great Basin National Park, 77,180 acres of sagebrush sea, Pinyon-Juniper woodland, conifer forest, sub-alpine and alpine mountain habitat, Lehman Caves, Lexington Arch, and Great Basin Bristlecone Pine woodlands.