I have to say, one of the things I have been most pleased with on this trip has been the fact that altitude is just not nearly as much of an issue as I thought it would be. For about a year, we’ve been mindful of the elevation in any campground we wanted to go to because I had an unpleasant experience at Lake Tahoe. This trip has proved, I think, that I don’t need to be worried about it. I will still take precautions, like not drinking alcohol, and downing tons of water. But if I can be fine up at 10k, it’s all good.
We weren’t sure if we were going to make it all the way to Great Basin on Thursday, or try to get in early Friday. There’s really not a lot along Highway 50 though, so I just kept driving. We got to the visitor center in Baker around 3 and they said there were sites, so we headed for the largest campground at Baker Creek. To get there, you have to traverse about 10 min of gravel road. We found a great site with lots of solar and an amazing view, with just the small downside of being very unlevel. That’s where the BAL Leveler shines, as does the Caravan Mover. After a little creative stabilizing, we were in and very happy campers. Oh yeah, except for the fact that I whacked Bruce’s front bumper again, this time on a rock. I tell myself that he’s still a happy car because he gets to go to national parks rather than to the mall and soccer practice, like most other luxury SUVs. He’s a luxury camping car, and that means he’s gonna get battle scars. Sorry. And I promise I’ll get that fixed!
Thursday evening we got a surprise! As we were sitting inside Dory, another Alto pulled past us in the campground. I was so excited, I ran outside to flag down the owner. Luckily, he was not at all put off and turned out to also be from California. The family is super nice and was thrilled to be introduced to the Altoistes group. We have seen one other accidental Alto, way back in Acadia, two years ago. Then recently we saw a Safari Condo van in the Tetons. But all other Alto sightings in the wild have been arranged. So this was a big treat for us.
Friday we had the whole day to explore, except Richard needed to get in some good work at the outset. Not a bad remote office at all! I couldn’t get tickets to the cave tour until Saturday, so we decided to do the Bristlecones hike in the afternoon. This trail started after climbing up the park road to 10,000 feet at Wheeler Peak. It wasn’t a long or difficult trail, and the payoff was a huge grove of hundreds of Bristlecone Pines. We’ve seen a couple before, but never a grove like this. Many of them are thousands of years old!
We had dinner that night in a place called Kerouac’s. Years ago, when Richard biked from home to Zion, he made his way through Baker. He remembered having dinner at Kerouac’s and pitching his tent in their back yard. They still aim to provide a welcoming atmosphere to travelers on the road. Nice place, highly recommend.
Saturday we got to do the Lehman Caves tour and that was a highlight of this whole trip. I learned all about how the cave decorations are formed and also that a terrible movie was made in the 60s called “The Wizard of Mars.” I have not watched it. If you do, you can’t blame me for the loss of over two hours of your life. Apparently, the producers were allowed to flood the cave for filming. But then, in the 20s, the caves were used as a speakeasy and high end party or wedding destination. No one knew back then that it took thousands of years for the formations to grow, so Lehman told guests they could break off whatever stalactites they wanted, to take as souvenirs. He thought they would simply grow right back. You can see rooms in the caves that must have been impassible with the dense, hanging ornaments. Many of them were simply cleared out to make room for people to gather and party. Our tour guide also told us how the shift from the Forest Service to the National Park Service was a tumultuous one. I never knew this, but the mission of the Forest Service is about utilizing natural resources, whereas the National Park Service’s purpose is preservation. That’s a conflict I was unaware of, but it explains why there was so much “FS” graffiti on the ceiling of the “Inscription Room.”
Saturday afternoon, Richard pondered riding up the Wheeler Peak road. But first, afternoon espresso back in Dory. Our timing was such that right when we got back, a big hail storm moved in, so we hunkered down and enjoyed being safe inside, rather than biking in hail. After an episode of “Star Trek Voyager,” the skies cleared and we decided to venture just one more short hike before the end of the day. So we chose the Baker Creek Trail as a little 3 mile loop. If you look closely at the trail map on the trailhead sign, it would seem to indicate that the return trail, bottom part of the loop, crosses Baker Creek at several points. This is untrue. We happened to pass our Alto friend on the trail and he gave me his trail map. Everything we did made sense on that map, and did not make sense on either the sign posted at the trailhead, nor on Galileo Pro, which is what Richard relies on at all times. Going up the trail was a steady climb, and I’m really slow. I could say it was the elevation, but I think I’m just slow. So it was getting kind of late before we finally hit the bridge and junction to start heading back down. I was expecting it to be all downhill, and it wasn’t. And that caused Richard to look at Galileo Pro, which told him we were on an entirely different trail. So he panicked and insisted we go back the way we came. I maintain that if we had continued just another hundred feet, we would have seen the next junction, a clearly marked sign, and probably a moving sidewalk that would have taken us right back to Dory. With cocktails provided along the way. His way meant we had to go all the way back uphill, then downhill along a million switchbacks, easily tripling the distance. When I’m mad, I am a super speedy hiker. This is dangerous information for Richard to have. He just did his best to follow, thinking, “You go girl!” as I tore off down the trail at a record pace. Even so, it was well dark by the time we got to the campground. My hiking backpack now has flashlights and I have made a decree that we will no longer hike without paper maps.
Sunday we headed out again, but we were both tempted to hike the other side of the trail, just to see. We’ll have to leave that for another day. Great park, definite highlight. The stars are outrageous with no light pollution and a high elevation.
Total miles: 288.7, 17.7 mpg, 5 hours 56 min. Site 36 Baker Creek Campground. This site was great, though not very level and you have to go over 3 miles of good gravel road. Sites 23 & 24 looked nice. Site 20 was huge. We thought this one had the nicest view and was close enough to the creek to hear, but not see. The upper loop is all tent sites. The Upper and Lower Lehman Creek campgrounds are paved and we saw some bigger rigs there. All the campgrounds have vault toilets, but they’re nice. No showers or power, but water spigots. There is a dump near the Lehman visitor center.