But, wow. If you’re ever at all nearby—or even if you’re not—this park is worth the journey and several days of your life.
The scenery is spectacular, the hikes are gorgeous (albeit strenuous, at 8,000-13,000 feet), the rangers are enthusiastic and love their park, and the campgrounds are beautiful (but primitive).
This park is seriously remote—there’s no cell phone coverage in the entire valley; the closest town, Ely (population 4,000), is 60 miles away; and the park has some of the darkest night skies of anyplace in the country. I actually woke in the middle of the night the second night we were there, thinking—“We are so far from civilization”—and I scared myself. But that just made me realize that I need to spend more time away from civilization.
The slogan at Great Basin NP is “See the Milky Way in Great Basin National Park—Half the park is after dark.” We did just that, participating in an evening night sky program and learning about the autumn constellations (I can never find anything but the Big Dipper and the North Star when I’m left to my own astronomy skills). We also took the requisite Lehman Caves tour. The caves were interesting, filled with the usual stalactites and stalagmites, along with some bizarre formations that are unique to these caves. The guy who discovered the caves had his own little tour company back in the late 1800s. If you paid him a dollar, he’d give you a candle stuck inside of a gallon-sized tin can and drop you down into the cave by a rope. You were left on your own to explore; if you didn’t make it back to the drop-off point in 24 hours, he’d come looking for you. I most definitely would not have taken that tour.
The best part of the park, in our opinion, is the hiking. The trees were clothed in their fall regalia—the aspens bright gold and oranges, infusing the deep green forests of pine and juniper with flashes of light. The crisp mountain air was scented with the resinous fragrance of the evergreens, and the sky was a brilliant, deep sapphire. It was heavenly. The hiking (the uphill part) is intense at this elevation, but worth the effort.
A word of advice: If you venture to this semi-remote part of the country, stock up on groceries. There’s nothing much available in these parts if you are partial to healthful food. I asked for goat cheese and any kind of lettuce that wasn’t iceberg, and the store clerk looked at me blankly. However, I wasn’t the only disappointed customer. I overheard a woman say to her young daughter, “What kind of a grocery store doesn’t carry lard? I guess we’re not in the South anymore, Lucy.”
We travel well stocked with at least two weeks worth of organic meats, fish, and dairy products, but obviously need to replenish our supply of fresh vegetables and fruits every few days. I managed to find broccoli and a head of purple cabbage at the grocery store, so our three nights in Great Basin we had chicken tacos with purple cabbage slaw; grilled salmon, wild rice pilaf, and broccoli; and grilled steak, chipotle roasted sweet potatoes, and broccoli. So far, so good!