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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Snowshoe to Lexington Arch

On our first day at Great Basin National Park, we drove in all the accessible roads to decide what adventures we wanted to undertake.  (See our blog entry about exploring the park. The first feature we drove in to see was Lexington Arch, in the southeastern corner of the park.  Although the snow stopped us from driving in as far as the trailhead, we knew we wanted to return to try to snowshoe to where we could see the arch.

Well, today was the day.  We headed out to Lexington Creek Road and drove in 10.5 miles to where the snow stopped us previously.  Along the way, we followed the NPS signs for the trailhead:

Our drive had some wildlife encounters.  On the way in, we spotted this lone pronghorn antelope bounding toward the road as we approached.  As soon as s/he realized we were approaching, s/he froze, then turned around and bounded off toward the trees:

On the way out, we also caught sight of a Great Blue Heron who was probably looking for lizards in the Lexington Creek watershed.  Unfortunately, our encounter was too sudden and short for us to get a photo of the beautiful, big bird.

Eventually, we arrived at the beginning of our showshoe:

Our path lay into the Lexington Creek Canyon, toward larger, steeper mountains:

As we continued on snowshoes along the road, we turned back for a look at our Jeep and the golden cliffs above it.  The view was dominated by our snowshoe tracks:

Generally, the snow was less than a foot deep, and, with the warming weather, the ground underneath has started peeking through the melting snow.  In the photo below, a regal, though fire-dead, tree stands in a garden of rocks and points our way with an orange blaze:

About a third of the way in to the trailhead to Lexington Arch, we encountered a cairn which was obviously intended to mark the 4-wheel drive road.  Kathy made sure to contribute her own rock to the pile:

Almost a mile in, we were approaching the trailhead just off the snowy road, when we looked up and spotted the arch in the distance, just above the bare trees (right-middle in the photo below):

Eventually, we made it to the trailhead, where, during warmer months, people who have driven in would debark their vehicles and start a 2-mile climb to get to the arch.  We found the trailhead sign, but it had been worn down to an illegible nothing -- white on one side and black on the other:

The trail to the arch is 2 miles long, and, according to the GPS map and our assessment of the terrain, we would have a steep climb up a canyon, then a long switchback around a rocky knob, before working our way over to the arch.  Frankly, the snowshoeing was already taxing and we wondered what we would achieve by inching our way up a steep trail in showshoes.

We looked for another approach.  Turning to the near side of Arch Canyon, we saw that two large hills offered a less steep climb, and we should be able to reach a shoulder which would give us a good view of the arch.  Even better, most of the climb could be done in bare boots, rather than in snowshoes.  We decided to try our bushwhack route rather than the trail.

As we climbed the steep hills, we looked back down into the Lexington Creek stream valley, where we had started from the trailhead at the snowy road.  We had gained a lot of elevation very quickly:

The hill we picked wasn't high enough to get a view of Lexington Arch over the shoulder of a hill that was nearer to the arch.  So we decided to cross the shoulder of our hill, down through a drainage, and back up to the shoulder of a hill nearer the arch, to see if we could get a view.

Our guess was good.  We climbed to the shoulder of the hill above Arch Canyon and gained a much closer view of Lexington Arch:

Having achieved our objective, we worked our way down the snowless slope of the second hill to a perch where we stopped for lunch and enjoyed views of the canyon.  Then, having feasted and rehydrated, we restrapped our snowshoes and worked our way back down to the road to begin our return hike to the Jeep.

Along the way, we discovered new perspectives on some of the things we had seen hiking in, including this cave tucked up at the base of one of the rocky peaks of the steep hills around us, that somehow we hadn't spotted on our hike up the creek:

Approaching our Jeep, we came into a more open section of the stream valley and, looking up to our left, spotted a snowy peak lurking just beyond the col between two nearby hills:

We were almost back to our Jeep -- in fact we had it in sight -- when we looked down at the snowshoe tracks we had left hiking in.  There, in all his glory, was a Snowshoe Happy Face congratulating us that we had almost completed our little trek:

When we reached the Jeep, we sat for a while, drinking down some hot chocolate we had packed for the trip, and admiring the spectacular views along Lexington Creek Canyon.  As we drove out, we spotted a cloud hovering over the desert where we were headed; it was showering Snake Valley with miniature snowball-type hail.  We thought we would drive through it, but by the time we arrived where it had been, it had moved on:

There wasn't much left to do now but to finish our drive home and look forward to the Veggie Black Bean Chili that Kathy put in a crockpot before we left.  Oh, yes, and perhaps a little Happy Hour Hydration in honor of Leslie's and Risa's birthdays.

Garnets, Gold and Ghosts

Hi Blog!

We’ve learned that the Great Basin is much, much larger than just Great Basin National Park. The Great Basin is the largest watershed in North America. It spans nearly all of Nevada, parts of Oregon, California and Utah. It stretches all the way from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California to the Wasatch Mountains east of Salt Lake City. Parallel mountain ranges run north to south with wide valleys in between. 

We are camped in Baker in the Snake Valley so we could be close to the Great Basin National Park. On Friday, March 29, 2019, we ventured further into the Great Basin.

Our adventures started with a drive West along Highway 50 toward Ely. We climbed up and over the Snake Range, traversed Spring Valley, climbed up and over the Schell Creek Range, traversed the Steptoe Valley and climbed into the Egan Range. Our destination: Garnet Hill, a BLM Recreation Area which allows rockhounding for garnets. 

The higher we drove the more we wondered whether our rockhounding would involve snow shoveling!

While there were still patches of snow on the ground, most of the rocky surfaces were snow free. Here we are at the trailhead ready to begin our search.

The area around Ely was home to a number of copper mining companies, including Kennecott, whose famous Alaskan mine is now a National Park. When the copper market crashed in the mid-70s, Kennecott shut down and it’s smelter was demolished. As the price of gold increased, the old copper tailings were processed to extract gold. With the increase in copper prices the mines were reopened, but the ore is now shipped to Seattle, where it is sent to Japan for smelting. Click the link to see our view of the copper mines from the top of Garnet Hill.

Garnets form in the small cavities in rhyolite rock. You can find the garnets either through careful rock breaking or searching the surface for the dark colored stones. The garnets can weather out of the rocks and wash downhill. We decided to follow several washes down from the summit to see what we could find. The further we got from the parking area, the easier it was to spot the rocks with garnets in them. Most of the rocks had small rice-sized stones. We cracked open several larger rocks to expose slightly larger stones. To save time, we collected several specimens to bring home to crack open. Here are the stone we set free today.

By the time we finished tromping, bending, lifting and cracking, we had built up a powerful hunger. With lunchtime approaching, we drove back into Ely to Nardi’s Home Style Restaurant.

After satisfying our hunger, we began our drive back to Baker. We passed several interesting places between Baker and Garnet Hill, which we left to visit on our way back. Our first stop:  the Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park in Steptoe Valley.

These ovens were associated with the silver mining town of Ward, Nevada, which was established in 1876. The ovens were in operation from 1876 to 1879.

The beehive shaped ovens were built of quartz tuff by Italian masons who specialized in ovens. Once mining ended, the ovens were used as shelter travelers and had a reputation as a hideout for stagecoach bandits.

The ovens are over 30 feet high. It took six acres of trees to fill one oven with wood. Once lit, it took 12 days to burn the wood down into charcoal. The ovens are open to the public. We stepped inside to admire the stonework.

The charcoal ovens seem to mirror the lumpy humps of the Egan Mountains.

After finishing our walkabout among the ovens, we drove clear across the Steptoe Valley. The valley was named after Colonel Edward Steptoe, who explored the region in 1854.

It was then up and over the Schell Creek Range. Once we crossed Connors Pass, we descended back down into Spring Valley. Here we stopped to admire the Spring Valley Wind Farm. The 66 turbines cover an area of 77 acres.

Just beyond the wind farm, we came to the turn off for Osceola. The dirt road leads back into a valley and over to the Sacramento Pass Recreation Area. We awee hoping to drive up through the old ghost town and over the shoulder of the Snake Mountains to reach Highway 50.

Osceola, the most famous of the White Pine County gold producing districts, was probably the longest-lived placer camp in Nevada. One of the world's largest gold nuggets, said to weight 23 pounds, was found in this area. The gold-bearing quartz belt was 12 miles long by 7 miles wide. Placer gold was found in 1877 in a deep ravine. Miners first used the simple process of the common “49” rocker. Hydraulic monitors later were used to mine the gold from 10-foot to 200-foot thick gravel beds. In its heyday, Osceola had over 500 residents.

But, there were several fires in the late 1880s and the population was down to about 100 by 1900. A fire in the 1950s destroyed most of the remaining buildings. The camp produced nearly $5 million primarily in gold with some silver, lead and tungsten. Intermittent mining continues today. We stopped to look down into the large open pit. The mill building looks like it is still in use.

As we made our way around the open pit, we actually met the town's one resident. He keeps an ATV parked on the side of the road just in case some tourist gets past him and finds themselves stuck in the snow. We asked if we could make it over the pass. He told us the last time he checked the road was still covered with a seven foot high snow drift. Oh, well. Adventure happens when your plans go awry.

We finished our drive through town taking pictures of the old structures.

The shell of the general store is the only original structure still left standing. Well, sort of standing.

The mining claims in this area are still active, but most folks don't come up until after the snow melts. Heeding the advice of the local, we turned around as soon as we hit the snow covered road.

On the bright side, we got to go back down the way we came up. The views of Spring Valley are impressive. We passed the Swamp Cedar Natural Area. Carried by glaciers to the valley floor sometime in the last two and a half million years, the Swamp Cedars remember when woolly mammoths plodded through the Great Basin. The Swamp Cedars carry an aura of magic. In fact, they are not cedars at all. They are actually Rocky Mountain junipers and Rocky Mountain junipers always grow on dry, rocky mountain slopes or in somewhat shaded canyons. Always – except for these Swamp Cedars which have wet feet (thus the nickname, "swamp cedar"). Mysteriously, the Swamp Cedars grow in valley bottom woodlands that are flooded part of the year. Like us, they learned to adapt to their new environment.

Before long, we were up and over Sacramento Pass and on our way back to camp. Tomorrow, we hope to do less driving and more hiking. We are planning a snowshoe to Lexington Arch. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Around Baker Nevada

What is there to do around Baker, Nevada?  It's located down a lonely road off U.S. Highway 50, which is itself billed as "The Lonliest Road in America."  Nothin' here but the South Snake Mountain Range:

Baker itself is not much more than a crossroads --

-- and if you don't rein your horse in as you pass through, you might miss it.

The community is home to the Historic Baker Ranger Station, which was responsible for oversight of the national forests and monuments in this area.  Once Great Basin National Park was formed and its visitor centers and administration facilities built, this CCC-era, classic green-and-white complex of buildings was sold, the major part to a regional group that manages the Great Basin National Heritage Area:

The Great Basin National Heritage Area is one of 55 National Heritage Areas scattered across the United States.

Baker has its own heritage.  Our campground is trying to make its own heritage with a 50's national park poster style mural on the side of the campground office and bar:

Many of the buildings are original log buildings constructed in the 1800's that have been renovated to one degree or another.  Over a dozen of the buildings are log cabins that simply sit where they were originally built, presently occupied or not:

The town boasts eclectic architecture.  Here is an old railway car that has been repurposed as a residence:

The town has its issues.  As part of Snake Valley and White Pine County, its residents are furiously fighting an uphill battle against what they seem to suggest is theft of their groundwater by the Southern Nevada Water Authority  (SNWA) to supply the thirsty needs of Las Vegas, much as happened with the Owens Valley, near Lone Pine, California decades ago.  Unique signs and constructions have been erected to draw attention to the threat:

All around Baker are visible remnants of its history, such as this rusting jalopy resting somberly near a National Park Service exhibit on ranching in the Snake Valley:

Ranchers and other valley residents landscape their properties in quirky ways.  Nearly every residence in town has an eclectic garden filled with repurposed materials as sculptures and decoration.  Even out on ranch roads, you can spot unique figures such as Bob Wire and Barb Wire who were just hanging around by the roadside:

This old hippie, built from a bleached cattle skull and probably sporting a Vietnam Vet's wheelchair, stares with some intent purpose at passerby, yet in some gentle way offering an adjoining seat to anyone who wants to take a load off and gossip a bit:

About a 2.5 mile drive (or in our case, walk) from town is the Baker Archeological Site, administered by the BLM:

Here, the remains of a Shoshone village now known as "Baker Village" was discovered and excavated.  The archaeological dig, once analyzed, was backfilled, but the site offers a walking path and a visitor guide to help explain the site to visitors:

We would have liked a copy of the visitor guide, but there were none on offer.  Only one yellowed and dog-eared copy crouched timidly in the box that held the visitor register.  We paged through it to try to read the information.  We could not read most of it.

The illustrations, however, were interesting.  This one shows an artist's conception, taken from the actual excavated site, of what Baker Village might have looked like when it was occupied in the 1200's:

There's not much in the way of other habitation around Baker.  There are two nearby towns -- Garrison and Eskdale, each located a few miles away across the state line in Utah -- that have joined with Baker to share community resources, such as fire and volunteer rescue service.  In addition, the three communities share school resources.  One town houses a school serving grades K-2, another grades 3-8, and the third town provides schooling for grades 9-12.  Kids in each town are bussed to the appropriate neighboring town's school until it's time to graduate to another school in another town.

Up on lonely Highway 50, on the way to Eskdale, there is a restaurant-bar-casino-motel-RV campground complex known as Border Inn, so named because it straddles the Nevada-Utah border:

The motel is in Utah.  All of the interesting stuff, such as the bar and casino, are in Nevada.  Would you have thought otherwise.  Here we sit, within spitting distance of LDS country, indulging a sin:

Needless to say, we lost all we gambled, but -- hey -- what better way to understand the local culture.

That's about it for Baker, Nevada.  Tomorrow we plan to drive further afield and check out some other interesting things on the other side of Sacramento Summit.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Lehman Caves in Great Basin NP

Hi Blog!

One of the big attractions at the Great Basin National Park is the Lehman Caves tour. On Wednesday, March 27, 2019, we met Ranger Brenna for our 1:00 p.m. tour. Before beginning our descent into the underworld, Brenna gave us a little history of the area.

The caves were discovered by Absalom Lehman back in 1885. He was homesteading on government land. To make a little extra money, Mr. Lehman would charge visitors $1.00 to show them the entrance to the cave and give them a candle to light their way.  The cave system is extensive, as this NPS map shows, and the ensuing years have in part been the history of making more of the caves accessible to more of the public.

In 1922, the area became a National Monument. In 1933, control of all national monuments, including Lehman Caves, was turned over to the National Park Service. Even though the area was run by the NPS, this area didn't become a National Park until 1986.

As we began our tour, we were warned that Lehman Caves are wet! It is the water leaking down from the surface through cracks in the limestone that allow the stalactites and stalagmites to grow. Several walkways had standing water. The humidity level in the caves is 95%. Those light drips landing on your head are known as cave kisses and they bring good luck. Just be careful looking up!

Portions of a movie originally titled The Wizard of Mars, a science fiction horror take on the popular Wizard of Oz, were filmed inside the cave in 1965. The flick was later renamed Horrors of the Red Planet. The formations we encountered definitely looked alien.

We encountered all sorts of formations such as flowstones, popcorn, rimstone, draperies, stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, shields, soda straws and columns.

The acidic water from the surface carries down various minerals. In certain locations in the caves, the iron from the surface adds a light red shade to the cave surfaces.

The low light in the cave made for interesting photos.

Ranger Brenna had a blacklight (ultraviolet) flashlight which shone infrared light onto the bacteria growing in the cave. Some of the bacteria was phosphorescent. It absorbed the infrared light and continued to glow after the flashlight was turned off.

Before the Lehman Caves were incorporated in a National Park, tourists were allowed to take home souvenirs. Many of the features closest to the trail were broken.  This resulted in many stalactites and stalagmites terminating suddenly in a flat end, rather than a pointed end.  Here is a photo of stalactites hanging from a low ceiling in the cave; some of these have been broken:

After seven years of drought, with the copious precipitation this last winter, many of the cave pools are now full again.

When a stalactite meets a stalagmite it becomes a column.

Once a column is formed, it can continue to grow and expand, looking like giant drippy sand castles.

Several times along our tour, we turned out our lights to experience complete darkness. Unfortunately, the pictures from that part of the tour didn't turn out. However, when folks turned their flashlights back on, it made for some cool effects.

Pictured below are rimstone dams on the floor of the cave. Each dam, or rimstone, grows into a generally circular shape and holds a small pool of water inside it. Water flowing over the top of the rimstone dam deposits more calcite, increasing the height of the dam.

The only unexplored area of the cave was above our heads. The tunnel leads toward the surface, but no one knows for sure how far it goes. The formations along the sides are too fragile to allow exploration of it. The water dripping down the vertical tunnel into the main chamber is full of organic material giving the formations below the opening a greenish/brownish look.

The stalactite on the right in the photo below was broken off, exposing its crystal core. While the core shows rings, it cannot be dated like tree rings. Stalactites can only grow if there is enough water to bring down more minerals. Years could go by with no new growth rings.

There was only one room we could not enter for safety reasons. The Talus Room is littered with large pieces of the falling ceiling. As an area of the cave dries, the formations can crack and fall.

The formations in Lehman Caves are very dramatic. Some of the most unusual types of formations are the parachutes.

Over the years, many different materials were used to create trails through the caves. In one of the more recent sections, the cave floor was left untreated and is forming rimstone pools. Under the blacklight, the rimstone pools are highlighted and shown to be filled with fluorescent bacteria.

All too soon, we were lined up waiting to leave the cave. We turned our lights out one last time to say goodbye to the dark.