Great Basin National Park, below ground

August 23rd, 2014, afternoon

One of the main attractions at Great Basin National Park is the Lehman Caves.

This afternoon I spend an hour and a half underground. Our guide, Karen, takes us through this door (not the original entrance, of course)…

1_afternoon visit of Lehman Caves began here

…and into a series of galleries and passages…

3_and on we went 2_arrived in first gallery

…and broken stalactites

4a_broken stalactites 4b_broken stalactites

Legend has it that Lehman, the man who theoretically discovered the caves (I say “theoretically” because the native peoples of the region had known about them for centuries), told his visitors (who paid a price to visit the caves): “If you can break it, you can take it.”  So of course many people tried to break off a piece of stalactite, and many of them succeeded.

This formation is called cave wallpaper:

5_cave wallpaper

Karen says that this is called cave popcorn…

9_cave popcorn

…these are cave draperies…

7_cave bacon

…and cave bacon:

6_cave draperies


I call these cave parsnips:

8_cave parsnips


The passages can be very narrow:

10_the passages are sometimes very narrow


I call these guys cave gods:

11_cave gods


Obviously, the colors sometimes come from the artificial lighting:

13_the colors sometimes come from the lights


What would you call this?

14_what would you call this


Here are some more broken stalactites. If you look closely you can see how, little by little, they reconstruct:

16_more broken...notice the... 19_broken...notice the...


When a stalactite and a stalagmite join forces, they form a column:



We move into a new gallery:

17_new gallery


There are just too many formations to comment upon:

21a_too many 21c_too many

21d_to count 21b_too many


A cave organ…

25_a cave organ

…a cave grotto…

15_cave grotto

…a cave altar…

29_an altar


Stalagmites, standing in a pool of water (though the water is difficult to see):



Powdered sugar?

22_with powdered sugar





In yet another gallery, one in which the locals used to have parties, we see this writing on the ceiling:

31_the inscription room

Karen says that even if they wanted to, the cave authorities couldn’t erase these inscriptions without possibly damaging the formations. Thus, like the broken stalactites, these writings remain as reminders of what we have done in the past and to make us think about what we should or should not be doing, now and in the future.


One last photo and then it’s back to the surface:



Back in camp I make an early dinner of chicken, rice and vegetables…

34_and I made an early dinner... 36_an early dinner, before going to the astronomy evening

…before going to an astronomy evening. That turned out to be very interesting under these very dark skies of the Great Basin. But I’m here in a cool and rainy period and at this altitude it gets cold at night. I’m not dressed for it.

Tomorrow I’ll be on my way east again.


Great Basin National Park, above ground…

August 23rd, 2014, morning

After a rainy night, the view above the campground:

22_view from my camp site in the morning light, after the rain

And then a few minutes later:

23_then a few minutes later...

But it clears up again in a few minutes. It’s a beautiful day.


I have a busy day planned, but first there’s morning coffee and some organizational work to be done:

24_morning coffee, getting organized

When you move about so often, packing and unpacking, keeping track of everything is essential. Where do I keep this? Now where did I put that? More on this in a future post.


First I drive up this side of Mt. Wheeler, or Wheeler Peak (the mountain seems to go by both names)…

27_drove up Mt. Wheeler, from eastern side

…from which we see the dry valley in the distance:

28_view from above, another Nevada valley below

I take the nature walk at the Wheeler Peak parking lot and campground where we can see some interesting forest specimens. Great Basin National Park is known for its bristlcone pine trees which can live  from two to three thousand years:

30a_saw some interesting forest

I don’t think this is one of them, though. You have to walk up higher that  9,500 feet to see them and I don’t go up that high.  For some good pictures of truly ancient bristlecones, though, look here.

The trail twists and turns among the pines:

30d_but I don't think these are the famous bristlecones

A stand of aspens comes into view, a good sign, they say, for the evolution of the forest:

31_saw abundant aspens; good sign


Of course, I take pictures of whatever wildlife crosses my path: the ritual deer…

32_the inevitable deer

…and, will wonders never cease, a chipmunk.

33_and I even caught a chipmunk, Katie...

Katie, do you see that ? I actually got a photo of a chipmunk! My career as a wildlife photographer may yet come to be.


Before we go on, let me bring you up to date on that art car we saw at Spencer’s Hot Springs. As of this posting, September 7th, Burning Man 2014 has come and gone. But you can now see pictures and a video of that art car, The Mushroom Patch, here, and here.

And have I told you about my conversation with the bartender at The Major’s Place? It went something like this:

Bartender: You know, I’ve been in Nevada for nearly 15 years and I thought I’d heard of everything, and then this guy comes in here the other day and tells me he’s going to this thing called Burning Man. What the hell is that?

Me: It’s sort of an arts festival, but more. I went there with some friends back in 2006.

Bartender: Well, tell me about it.

Me: Well…guy named Larry Harvey…divorce…big party on beach in San Francisco…big fire to burn the old man and bring in the new…the Man…art exhibits of all sorts…got out of hand…moved to Black Rock Desert in Nevada…gift-giving economy…leave no trace… Well, maybe you should just Google it, here.


Since the title of this post is “Great Basin National Park, above ground…”, you can imagine what my next post will be.


Pott’s Ranch Hot Springs and more

August 21st and 22nd, 2014

I get up early and pack up, but try as I might it is nearly 9 a.m. before I leave the campground. This is a trend that has proven difficult for me to change.  More on it in a future post.

And I make my way down the other side of the Toquima Range into the Monitor Valley where Pott’s Ranch Hot Springs is located a short distance to the south.

Some views of the ranch as you drive up:

1_Pott's Ranch 2_house and out building


The springs are found a bit further along the road behind the house. Once again I find a primitive hot spring that has nevertheless undergone some improvements by kind souls among the hot springs aficionados who pass this way. I’m alone here and so I fill the tank and soak at my leisure:

3_I fill the tank 4_it fills up quickly and I have a soak

The view, while soaking:

5_meadow from Pott's pool

Once again, Nevada, need I say more.

And in the immediate vicinity of the pool:

6_these flowers 8_spring

It’s so peaceful here that I’d like to stay longer, but I need to be on my way. Great Basin National Park is next on my agenda.

Time now for a bit of digression.

In his travel book on the US, Lost Continent, Bill Bryson begins his chapter on Nevada like this:

“Here’s a riddle for you. What is the difference between Nevada and a toilet? Answer: you can flush a toilet. Nevada has the highest crime rate of any state, the highest rape rate, the second highest violent crime rate (after New York), the highest highway fatality rate, the second highest rate of gonorrhea (Alaska is the trophy holder)… I crossed the border from Utah with a certain sense of disquiet.”

Well, I think Nevada deserves better than this shabby introduction from Bryson. Everywhere I find the people friendly and ready to help out. And I need it when Van gets a flat tire after we leave Pott’s Ranch. I’ve changed many a flat in my time, but the difficulty here is to find the spare where Dodge has so carefully hidden it.  I finally find it and manage to get it out with the advice of some Nevada hunters who stop on this desert road to help. When I get into the town of Eureka, there too people are kind and helpful in directing me to a repair shop. I finally have to go on to the next sizeable town, Ely, to get a new tire. Enough said about the tire incident, but everyone I meet along the way is great.

We get into Ely too late to have the tire fixed that day. I need a bath and a beer and so does Van, so we go to a motel.

Moving right along…

The next day, both of us washed, rested and repaired, we head east from Ely, still on Highway 50–the lonliest road. I stop forsome coffee at a place called The Major’s–a restaurant, bar and RV park–where I take this picture of Mt. Wheeler:

10_the next day, Mt. Wheeler, from Major's Place on Highway 50

Mt. Wheeler is in the national park, but the park’s entrance is on the other side of the mountain.

Mt. Wheeler and the open road…

11_Mt. Wheeler and the open road

…with some flowers along the way that I don’t think I’ve seen yet:

13_along the way, flowers not seen before 14_these flowers too


We arrive at the park and find a campsite, with a table and a fire pit…

15_arrived at GBNP and found camp site 16_with table and fire pit

…right along side this stream:

17_and a stream close by

The view above the campground:

18_the view across the valley


The altitude here is relatively high, more than 7,000 feet, and there is a lot of moisture thus the vegetation is lush, with many aspen trees and some serious webbing on some of the plants…

20_and aspen trees, not yet seen 21_some impressive web in the thick growth

…these flowers along the stream…

19_ flowers along the stream

…many wild rose bushes nearby…

21c_back on the surface and back at camp, wild rose bush

…and thick grass on the opposite bank…

21b_one last look at lush vegetation the next morning

But notice the dry hills in the background, sagebrush and stubby pines. The desert is never far.

The bar tender at The Major’s said they’d had a lot of rain lately. Sure enough it begins to thunder and lightning, and it rains off and on all evening. I don’t have time to make dinner, so it’s crackers, cheese and fruit in the back of Van. I spend the evening with a book. I’m reading–or re-reading rather–Travels With Charlie. More on that in a later post.

Spencer’s Hot Springs and the Toquima Cave

August 20th, 2014

I make my way to Spener’s Hot Springs, not far at all from Austin, in the Big Smoky Valley. But when I drive up to the springs, what do I see but this contraption:

30_young and old

And I think, aha, these people are going to Burning Man. The contraption in question is an art car. This one is disassembled, of course, to be transported to the festival in the Black Rock Desert. I chat with its owners as I, too, have been to Burning Man. That was in 2006. You can learn more about Burning Man here.


The main spring at Spencer’s looks like this:

4_main pool bis

There are other springs nearby, here and there among the sagebrush, such as this one:

11_nearby pool

With a second, and much cooler pool nearby, full of goldfish:

12_with gold fish in the runoff pool


I had a nice soak (several, in fact) and interesting conversation with the usual interesting collection of hot springs fans present, and a nice morning walk in the vicinity.

True to the spirit of the hot springs community, someone has made this maze:

6_someone has made this maze

…which leads to this offering:

7_that leads to this offering


But the best part is the tranquility of this place, and the view over Big Smoky Valley:

8_the view out across Big Smoky Valley

As I walked I took a few pictures of the local inhabitants…

10_jack rabbit, lower left, Katie...

…such as this jackrabbit that you can see on the lower left, if you look hard.

But it was soon time for me to go on to my next destination, up in the Toquima Range, in the Toiyabe National Forest, just a few miles distant:

13_on my way to my next destination

As I said, this forest demands a new definition of the word “forest”.

The road behind me and the road in front:

15_behind me 16_before me


But we soon meet the trees:



And I arrive at my destination:

19_I soon arrive at my destination

Shooting practice appears to be a big sport in these parts.

I find a campsite:

20_I find a campsite...

It’s a small, primitive campground, only four or five campsites, probably frequented mainly by hunters. I like it here, it’s so calm and peaceful.


Now I head off to the Toquima Cave and its drawings, a fifteen-minute walk away along an easy trail. As the trail progresses I like this forest more and more:

23a_as the trail progresses 23b_I like this forest more and more

We now approach the cave…

24_as I approach the cave..

… up these few steps…

25_the final steps

…we can’t go in…

26_but we can't go in

…but I can take pictures:

27_but I can still take pictures 28a_and pictures

28b_and more pictures - Copie 28c_and even more

From the information signs posted we learn that these drawings were intended to summon the spirits to bring good luck for the hunt and that no other message was intended.


28d_it is explained that...

Today this cave is a sacred site for the contemporary Shoshone people. You may want to zoom in to get a better view of these pictograms. Or look them up on Wikipedia here.


On the way back to the campground I take an interest in the trees, both young…

29_on the way back... 29b_I get interested

29c_in the different 29d_trees of this forest

…and old.

30a_young and ol 30b_as the old are sculptures

The old are like sculptures.

Back at the campground the evening is beautiful:

32b_closer up

As I said, I like it here. I have the whole place to myself.


The Open Road…out across the desert

August 19th, 2014

As I come down from Johnsville, on the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada, I’m already in the Great Basin. I leave behind the thick pine forests and the mountain meadows:

1_coming down from the Sierra


I encounter some plants that will be my faithful companions all across the desert:

2_frequent plants1 3_plants2


The particularity of the Great Basin is this: all water that comes into the Great Basin stays in the Great Basin. All the rivers–the Truckee, the Humboldt, the Reese, the Sevier, the Jordan (yes, there is a Jordan River in the US, in Utah, of course), the Bear and others all flow into inland lakes such as Pyramid Lake, the Great Salt Lake, etc. No water flows to the sea.

To the east of the city of Reno the state of Nevada shows its true terrain…

4_Nevada terrain reveals itself

…including its oases in the river valleys.


The open road shows its true face too:

5_the open road too


On the other side of the town of Fallon (which calls itself the “oasis of Nevada”) the notion of distance becomes very clear:

6_on the other side of Fallon...

(In miles, of course.)


The fabled US Highway 50…

7_fabled Highway 50

…also known as “The Lonliest Road”:

8_the lonliest road


It’s just you and me, Van…

9_just you and me, Van

…and the Nevada landscape:

10a_and the Nevada landscape 10b_landscape

10c_landscape 10d_landscape


The skyscapes can be as beautiful as the landscapes:

11a_skyscape1 11b_skyscape2 11d_skyscape4

Nevada! Need I say anything more?


The road goes on, straight and narrow…

12_road goes on, straight & narrow

…into the town of Austin.


Austin, with 350 inhabitants, has 3 churches:

13_into Austin, church no. 1 14_church no. 2

15_church no. 3

I believe that this last church is, in fact, closed, like half the stores along the main street.

Austin has a courthouse too, presented as a “historic” building :


Three churches and a courthouse, but no grocery store. That’s Austin. No problem, I shopped in Reno before venturing out here.


On I go, to the Bob Scott Campground in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest:

17_on I go to...

After the giant redwoods and the stately pines of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this forest demands yet another definition of the word “forest”.


The campground in the evening light:

19_campground evening light


I make a quick dinner of sautéed summer squash and bulgur wheat:

22_a quick dinner, sautéed summer squash and bulgour


The campground in the morning light:

24a_in the morning light 24b_morning light

We’re in the Toiyabe Range here. Since Fallon we have gone over several ranges and crossed through several valleys. Nevada is like that, up and down, up and down.


My neighbors are from Holland:

25_the neighbors are from Holland


Making breakfast:

26_making breakfast


Desert sage is rampant here, but I also notice this clump of desert grass:

28a_but I notice this one too


And this little fella too:

29b_and this little fella


And now we’re off. And you’ll soon see why I stopped in Austin.