Great Basin NP (2) – Lower Lehman

Fab first come site!

Once again, the ‘arrive by 2’ guideline saves the day. We rolled out of Deer Creek and down highway 189 before 10 am and that was helpful in two ways. First off, we dashed in front of a huge storm system that would have stalled us for a good long time. In doing so, we were able to grab a beautiful first come first serve site in the Lower Lehman Campground, where there are only eleven sites to choose from. Because all of that happened the way it did, our stay in Great Basin was logistically much easier than if we’d had to stay either at Baker Creek Campground, or down in the town of Baker. Either would have worked, but not as well.

Highway 189 into Provo was a nice surprise.

I will again make a strong endorsement for taking 189 and skirting Salt Lake City, rather than navigate the interstate maze through downtown. This route passes gently down a lovely canyon, full of river views and waterfalls. We made one super efficient stop to top up on gas and restock groceries before we left civilization for the duration of Nevada. Then it was 6 to 50 East; the Loneliest Highway, all the way to Baker.

Lovely lonely country of western Utah

Highway 50 is a beautiful way to travel western Utah and Nevada. The landscape changes as you go up, over, and down a series of ranges, each followed by a basin. In the east, the waves of basin/range follow each other one right after another. There is greenery in the form of low scrub, and even wildflowers to please your eye as you pass the miles.

“If we drive fast, we can do this…”

Given the vast expanses of relatively flat land, you can see weather coming from afar. We saw a deep dark scary looking system looming on the horizon directly in front of us. Consulting weather apps, and comparing that with our planned trajectory, it looked like we just might be cutting off and heading west right in front of it. That is, if it didn’t catch us before turning right. “Drive fast, drive fast, drive fast.” We came a bit too close for comfort, but did in fact get just in front of it. We got some wind and rain, but not too bad. Later we talked to a group that had stopped in that little town of Delta for lunch, and regretted it. They said it was white knuckle time and that they pulled over a lot, getting jostled around by the wind and doused with blinding rain.

Whew! Made it!

After we crossed the Confusion Mountain range, we could see the mountains of Great Basin obscured by clouds at their upper peaks. It was an exciting and breathtaking approach. The road just lays out straight in front of you until you can’t make it out in the distance. Eventually, you turn left for Baker. There, we got gas and then headed up to see if we could get a site.

There’s our destination; just ahead and in the clouds.

There were four available when we got there and we got to select a beauty. Lehman Creek runs right behind it, providing a background noise of gurgling water at all times. There was unobstructed solar, and the elevation of 7500′ made it nice and cool, day and night. It was a score and we were jubliant.

Nice Visitor Center

We stopped at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center to see if there were any tickets for a caves tour. That was our bad for not thinking to reserve ahead of time. I’ll give us a pass though, cause we’ve been busy. Nothing was available that day, but you can come at 8am every morning to try for a drop in tour that can accommodate 20 people.

Triumphant crossing of the last bridge to the parking lot

We had plenty of daylight left, so we drove up to the Baker Creek Trailhead parking area. We had a mission to accomplish here. Last time, we took what was supposed to be a loop trail, but due to failing light and lack of confidence in the trail map, we turned around at the top and returned the way we came. There was lots of dispute over whether or not we were actually on the right trail (can you guess which one of us did not believe we were on the right trail?). This majorly conflicted with those of us who, at the time, really struggled with hiking uphill, and knew we were on the right trail, and knew it would be shorter to continue rather than turn back (can you guess which one of us that was?). This time around, we had light and less complainy hikers.

Meadow Turkeys

I can totally understand what happened. Once you reach the “top” of the loop, after having climbed 900′ (which is a lot already), you cross the river and think you should now be heading down. Instead, the trail goes UP and over another little ridge, so that you actually follow the South Fork of Baker Creek down. Mission status: accomplished. Bottom line: I was right about being on the right trail. But, Richard was right, at the time, to play it safe and turn us around. It is a super steep descent along the South Fork trail, and that would have been dangerous without light. Plus, we would both have been scared we were off trail and might have to haul it back up if I had turned out to be wrong. So, we both win!

Bikey goes high

The next morning, Richard headed up to the top of Wheeler Peak on his bike. This is an unrelenting climb, at an 8% grade, for ten miles, up to an elevation of 10,000 feet. While he was playing Tour de France, I was leisurely showering. I headed up in the car later and went slowly, taking the middle of the road. It is steep and cliffy a lot of the way, but the views are incredible. I could feel the elevation, but it didn’t thwart me. I know the secret now: drink water, no alcohol. All good.

Touching eternity (almost)

The Bristlecone Pines hike was also on the list of do-over activities. It’s about a three mile hike up to see the trees, and the trails were flowing with little streams all over the place. It had rained steadily overnight, but we got to enjoy clear skies and perfect temperatures up at that height. I took a then/now photo of myself showing off how not ass kicked I was at ten thousand feet.

The last act of our two night stay was a tour in the Lehman Caves. Richard went before 8am to the Visitor Center to get tickets and was not the first person in line. One person was trying to talk their way into getting tickets for 15, and that would have sunk our chances. They had a sob story about having reservations, but cancelling them. The rangers took them over to the side to work with them, but that meant Richard got tickets.

Soda Straws, forming stalactites in super slow motion

Our tour was at 4pm and it was great. We saw the same things we did last time, but the camera on my phone has gotten a lot better. The ranger did a nice job explaining the cave formations to us, and I am better at retaining cave terms, such as: speleothem, stalactite/stalagmite, cave popcorn, cave shield, soda straw, cave bacon, cave turnip, and drapery.

Cave Turnips

Oh, by the way, because I looked back on the blog from 2017, I knew to ask about the movie filmed in the cave: “The Wizard of Mars.” For reasons not well understood, we went ahead and watched that last night. How it is possible for a movie to be both: 1) the most impressively bad 60s sci fi movie ever made, and 2) so boring it was hard to stay awake through it? I can’t describe this thing. Richard fell asleep during the super exciting bits where the martian encased in a crystal tube mind melds with one of the stranded astronauts to tell him they need to follow the golden road to find the lost city in time. He asked what he’d missed and I told him it really didn’t matter and that he should NOT rewind to watch it again. I just could not take it.

Cave Bacon (flashlight shining through)

We enjoyed dinner indoory in Dory as we watched a small rain cloud pass by. We were both very tired, and very happy. We love this park, even if we do the same things we did before. I was happy to be far better able to hike at elevation, even going uphill. Richard is just Richard, and never seems to age or be daunted by any physical activity. It is always a thrill to walk amongst thousands of years old trees. It’s a glorious oasis with bountiful plant life and creatures. We saw what was later identified as a Blue Grouse, lots of deer, and a whole lot of wildflowers. Absolutely fabulous and a highlight of the trip.

What a great place!

Total miles from Deer Creek: 211.7, 16.9 mpg, 4 hours 18 min. Site 10 first come first serve. No hookups. Great solar. No water in campgrounds. Sometimes 1 bar of 5gE. Lehman Caves Visitor Center has wifi. Cell hits better from visitor center.

Leave a Reply