We left intrepid Town Mouse and her intrepid friend as they were planning their trip to Boulder. After the plans were firmed up, the Google directions were printed, and the luggage was stashed in the car, they left at 5 a.m. (well, 5:30, actually) on a Thursday morning to miss the Bay Area rush hour traffic and, following the directions diligently, made their way to Yosemite (well, they did miss a turn, but it was only a 10 mile detour).
Taking Highway 120 on a weekday, early in the day, was delightful. Who knew it was possible to drive through Yosemite without getting stuck in a traffic jam? Everything was green and beautiful and the two adventurers much enjoyed the stunning views of the granite, with early summer flowers everywhere. Even better, in contrast to last year, when there had been a lot of controlled burns, the views were clear and crisp. It would have been tempting to stop, but the two pressed on, driving even by beautiful Mono Lake (photo from Wikipedia above). Mono lake is an important stopover point for migrating birds and under constant pressure to be drained too much, do look at the Mono Lake Committee's website for more information.
Soon after Mono Lake, the two started driving on Highway 50, and actually found the wide open Basin and Range landscape, with the sagebrush and little twirling duststorms in the distance fascinating and enjoyable. In parts, the road had a lot of stomach-flipping little dips. These roller coaster rides made for fun interludes in the long journey. Still, they were very happy to arrive in Baker, Nevada, where they had reservations at the Jack Silver Inn and Electrolux Cafe (photo from their website).
It was a very good choice. The rooms were clean, spacious, and reasonably priced. Where most motel and even inn rooms seem to be cut from precisely the same mold these days (boring, I say), this place had character. The two travellers also enjoyed a delicious dinner and, after a good rest, a breakfast of homemade granola with yogurt and fruit.
Thus fortified, they were ready to visit Great Basin National Park.
Here's what the website says about the park:
"In the shadow of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, 5,000 year old bristlecone pine trees grow on rocky glacial moraines. Come to Great Basin National Park to experience the solitude of the desert, the smell of sagebrush after a thunderstorm, the darkest of night skies, and the beauty of Lehman Caves. Far from a wasteland, the Great Basin is a diverse region that awaits your discovery."
And yes, it really is an amazing place. Quiet beauty, not overrun by visitors. Town Mouse and her friend both remarked each ranger seemed truly happy to see them and to share the beauty of this special place. They started with a guided tours of the Lehman Caves, a truly spectacular set of limestone caves near the visitor center (photo from the park website).
The group was small, and the ranger told stories and had a lot of interesting information. There was so much to learn, who knew there were not only stalactites and stalagmites but also drapes (also called bacon), soda straws, and disks? As the groups progressed through the series of caves, they understood better how the water had formed the different beautiful rooms, and also how humans had shaped the caves over the years. The ranger was excited to tell that just recently, bats had been seen in the cave, which might mean that the cave is returning to balance.
After the caves, the adventurers decided to go for just a short hike at the mid-elevation (around 9 000 feet). Regrettably, Town Mouse did not take her camera, so she did not take photos of the blooming cactus, columbine, and many other flowering plants and she truly regrets that. But along the road, they she snapped a photo of the quaking aspen against the sky, and a small blue penstemon.
The original plan had been to leave without completing the Wheeler Peak Drive, but then it was just too tempting, and the little Prius valiantly drove up to 11 000 feet without complaint.
The view was indeed worth the drive, and the two regretted having to turn around and drive back down to rejoin Highway 50. Before they left, they stopped briefly for another look at the sagebrush.
And a few photos of plants, here some poppies that reminded Town Mouse of Mantilleja poppies, but that were only about 3 feet tall.
Both adventurers were sorry to leave, there was so much else they could have done. Stargazing, hiking, ranger-led tours, campfire talks -- it's really a wonderful national park to visit, and they both hoped to come back one day.