Our last National Park for this vacation!!

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IMG_1510We left Gana’s house around 11 on Saturday.  Our destination was Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada.  Our route was ‘the loneliest highway in America’.  It was by far our longest drive of the trip, 8 hours with no midpoint destinations.  But, of course, we made a few stops.  We were not expecting much.  We had mentally interpreted “loneliest highway” as “boringest highway” and thought it was going to be 8 hours of unchanging desert.  We were wrong.  Route 50 in Nevada is actually quite pretty.  Scott and I enjoyed the ride immensely.  The kids didn’t mind it either.  About an hour before we reached the park, we passed through the last (of 3) towns on the route.  It was around 7pm, so we had to decide if we would eat dinner here or keep going on try out the 1 restaurant in the teeny “town” closer to the park.  We opted for dinner in Ely at a Mexican restaurant I had read about online.  It was delicious. 


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We then spent a little time trying to decide if we should just stay the night at a KOA in Ely or go on to the park as originally planned.  The campground in the park was “First come, first serve” and we were a little unsure about arriving at 9pm with no reservation.   Since every other remote campground we had stayed at this vacation had numerous sites available, we decided to go for it.


When we arrived at the park entrance, the sign said there were still vacancies at two of the three open campgrounds. Hooray!!   But, after driving around every site in these two campgrounds (which were not next to each other) we discovered that sign was not up to date.  Boo!  It was now after 10pm.  Our options:  Head back the way we came looking for a state forest, or sleep in the van.  We both agreed sleeping in the van was the best move.  We found a trail head with other parked cars (overnight backpackers), parked, and situated ourselves for the night.  The rental van has stow and go seating.  This has been great for storing items during our vacation.  This night it was great for storing seats so two of the kids could sleep on the floor. 




I am not going to say it was the most comfortable night of sleep ever.  But, it wasn’t bad.  In fact, Scott and I have not had much luck with our air mattress this vacation… we tried patching it twice and when that didn’t work, we even bought a new one which also leaked…. so most nights we have found ourselves sleeping on a deflated mattress…. all that to say, the van was actually more comfortable for me.  Everyone found a spot and I fell asleep looking out the window at a beautiful star filled sky.  Everyone was really good about it.


We woke and headed off straight to the Visitors Center.  Our goals for our time at Great Basin were two fold:  take a cave tour, and do an alpine hike Scott had read about.  When I went online Friday to buy our tickets for the cave tour they were sold out (perhaps a missed clue that the campground might be full?).  We were hoping maybe we could get a tour in Mon before we left the park.  We got to the visitor center a little after 8am (this would NOT have happened if we hadn’t spent the night in the van, I am certain).  We were not the only interested party and they offered to create a new tour for us at 10am AND, we could pick which tour we wanted!!!  We were so excited!!  We bought tickets for the tour and headed to a picnic area for breakfast… this picnic area had bathrooms with RUNNING WATER, so we even got to wash our hands AND brush our teeth! (flushing toilets and running water were luxuries many of our campsites didn’t have) Wahoo!! 


We greatly enjoyed our tour of the Lehman Cave. 






This cave formation is called, “cave bacon” and it is easy to see why.


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The tour was great and was done around 11:30… we set off to find a campsite and found a beautiful site within walking distance of the trailhead we wanted to use.   The kids loved the site as it was right beside a beautiful stream (and a secondary smaller stream our oldest daughter could make dams in :-).  They played happily on the logs and stream beds.  We ate a picnic lunch at our site and set up our tent.  WE SET UP OUR TENT AT 1:00 in the afternoon!  Our kids noted it was the first time all trip we set up our tent before 9pm. 




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Then we set off for our hike.  Our plan was to do one hike which really consisted of two smaller overlapping hikes (a 3 mile hike and a 2.7 mile hike).  We were going to hike to a fork in the hike, head towards the Bristlecone pine groves, then, when we hiked back and reached that fork, we would head in the other direction and hike around the two alpine lakes. 




Our hike to the pine grove was beautiful.  It was fun to do a hike where the kids could really see the trees thin out as we got closer to the treeline (and to experience the effect of the thinner air that went with it).  We enjoyed hiking around these ancient trees.  The bristlecone pine in this area are the oldest known living things.  Some of these trees have been around since 1000 years before Christ was born!!!!  They were beautiful.  Portions of them will look dead and exposed even when the tree was still alive which made it doubly perfect since, as our kids always tease us, we love photographing dead trees :-). 




IMG_1668  This tree is still alive - born 3200BC


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Each tree has such fantastic character which I presume comes from surviving harsh living conditions. And, when one finally does die, it can stay on the mountain for another thousand years because it’s wood is super dense and there are no bugs to eat it away.  Instead they just weather and eventually erode away in the wind.


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During our hike up to the grove it was threating rain but while we were there we started to hear the rumbling of thunder.  Because we were right at the tree line, it was definitely time to head back.  It began to rain as we headed back down so rather then wait it out at the fork, Scott and I decided to abandon the alpine loop trail and fit it in the next morning.   By the time we got off the trail, the rain was picking up and we sprinted back to our tent.  We then enjoyed a game of “Exploding Kittens,”  the card game of choice for this vacation.  By the time the game was done, the rain stopped.  Before long you couldn’t even tell it had rained.  The sun was shining beautifully once again. 




Scott gathered fire wood, the kids played in the stream, and we got ready for cooking dinner over the campfire. 




It was a beautiful evening.



I loved the aspen trees.  Scott loved the mountain peak behind them.  Together they made for such a beautiful location to spend our last evening camping.




We sat around the fire waiting for it to get dark enough for star gazing, then we walked a short distance past our campsite towards the meadow and looked up. 




It was stunning.  You could easily see the Milky Way as well as several constellations. The older two children sat up with Scott after the younger two and I went back to our tent b/c we were soo cold and tired.  Those that stayed up later were rewarded with seeing a shooting star!  




The lyrics to the beginning of Chris August song “Starry Night”  come to mind as I reflect on the beauty of God’s diverse creation that we were fortunate enough to see throughout this vacation.


From the birds that sing

In the tallest trees

To the human life

Of you and me


From the desert sands

To the place we stand

He’s God of all

He is everything


I’ve given my life to the only one

Who makes the moon reflect the sun

Every starry night

That was his design


I’ve given my life to the only son

Who was and is and yet to come

Let the praises ring

‘Cause he is everything


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