The West's untapped treasures
It's easy to understand why Great Basin National Park is one of the country's least-visited natural treasures: Just off U.S. 50, the Loneliest Road in America, it's not near much except the Nevada-Utah border. Those who do make the effort to explore the park will find exquisitely formed caverns, 4,000-year-old bristlecone pines, and the continent's southernmost glacier.
At Lehman Caves, sign up early for one of the guided tours through an otherworldly half mile of stalactites, stalagmites, and twisting, straw-shaped helictites. Bring a sweatshirt, as the cave is a constant 50°.
Afterward, drive 12 steep, curvy miles to the top of Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, where there are a variety of hikes to suit all abilities.
The Alpine Lakes Trail leads 2.6 miles to Stella and Teresa Lakes, which would appear more at home in the Rocky Mountains. Hike the Bristlecone-Glacier Trail, and within 2 miles you'll reach a grove of bristlecone pines, among the oldest living trees on Earth. Between 3,000 and 5,000 years old, these trees are testimony to spartan living under harsh conditions. A mile farther up, the trail is surrounded by the 1,500-foot-tall walls of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak.
WHERE: On U.S. 50 near the Nevada-Utah border, turn south 5 miles on State 487; at Baker head west 5 miles on State 488 to the park.
WHEN: Visitor center, Lower Lehman Campground, and Lehman Caves open year-round; high country open May into October.
SERVICES: Camping in the park's 104 sites costs $10 per night. Baker offers basic supplies (no gas) and a motel.
ACTIVITIES: Caves are next to the visitor center; tours take 30, 60, or 90 minutes and start at $2.
FYI: Wheeler Peak Scenic Dr. is too steep and curvy for most RVs.
CONTACT: (775) 234-7331 or www.nps.gov/grb.