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Great Basin National Park – Tips and Images

Great Basin National Park tips and images @handbookofnaturestudy

Great Basin National Park is a surprising place…way out in the middle of a lot of nothing-ness (close to both the Utah and Nevada borders). It takes some planning and forethought to get there but it is worth the effort. We stayed three days earlier in August along with my husband, son, and two of his friends.

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We camped in one of the five campgrounds in the park, Baker Creek which is three miles up a gravel road that is accessible to most cars whether they have four wheel drive or not. We looked at each of the other campgrounds during our stay and they each have their own benefits so make sure to read about them on the website. All are first come, first serve so arrive early in the day for the best selection of sites. There are no hook-ups for RVs, all have simple vault toilets, and there are no showers….making for a real camping experience. There were lots of trees, nice picnic tables, and a babbling creek that some children were exploring when we were there.

The nearest place to perhaps find a room is in Baker, Nevada but Ely, Nevada is not too far either. Baker had a little grocery store (very limited), a cafe, and a gas station. The national park does not have a store except for a gift shop. There is a small cafe at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center.

Great Basin Visitor Center

There are two visitor centers at Great Basin National Park. The Great Basin Visitor Center (closest to the highway) is superb! We thoroughly enjoyed the interactive exhibits, historical displays, and nature based information that was presented. You can learn all about the bristlecone pines, the Great Basin habitat, and all the creatures found in this unique desert environment.

Great Basin National Park is trying to make a name for itself as a dark sky destination for viewing the night sky beauty. It bills itself as “one of the last true dark skies in America“. We wish we had been able to experience that part of the park but because of the super moon and the clouds…it wasn’t a great star viewing weekend. It will go back on the bucket list for future visits. You can find a schedule of astronomy events on the park’s Astronomy page.

Great Basin  (21) Lehman caves

The second other visitor center is the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. This wasn’t as updated or interactive as the other center but still very informative and interesting. We booked our cave tour here early in the morning and we only had a few choices of times available. Make reservations or arrive early to make sure to fit in a tour of the caves. There are two different cave tours and we took the ninety minute tour which takes you to every room open to the public. It was amazing!

Lehman caves (6)

I have been to quite a few caves but this one by far is the most interesting and beautiful of all. I also want to note that this cave has lots of tight confined spaces that you have to fit through (usually by turning your body sideways) and lots of low ceilings. I am fairly tall (5′ 10″) and many times I had to walk a distance with my head down to avoid touching the ceilings. Just a warning. This tour is appropriate for all ages as long as they are comfortable with walking since you can’t take strollers, carriers, or even backpacks on this tour.

Lehman caves

There are also Park Ranger programs you can attend by viewing the schedule in the park newspaper or asking at either visitor center. The day we were there they were offering up scopes to few the sun and an interpreter to tell you all about what you are looking at.

There is a Jr. Ranger program at Great Basin National Park that we observed quite a few of the children participating in….ask at either visitor center for information. They also have a “Cave Cadet” pin so ask about that too!

Great Basin  (20) Lehman caves

My guys enjoyed the viewing scopes to look down from the park across the Great Basin…

Our group split up on hiking day. Three of use hiked the Bristlecone Trail and two hiked to the top of Wheeler Peak!

Bristlecone Trail Great Basin

The trail up to the Bristlecone pines was empty when we hiked up early in the morning (around 8:30 AM). There is a rather large parking lot at the trailhead but it was FULL when we got back later in the morning. There are vault toilets (clean) in the parking lot once you wind your way up the road from the visitor’s center. It is a very high altitude and the views as you round the corners are majestic.

Bristlecone Pine Trail: The hiking trail itself is a little longer than posted at closer to 3.1 miles and not 2.8, as measured by our pedometers. It is a moderately difficult hike because of the length and elevation when you end up at a little over 10,000 feet.

Great Basin  (24) Bristlecone Wheeler Peak hik

Our group thoroughly enjoyed the hike and then the interpretive trail with signs teaching you more about these  ancient trees. More information on the hike here.

Great Basin  (27) Bristlecone Wheeler Peak hike

Fascinating to think about how old some of these trees are and after going through the interpretive trail I am fairly sure I can identify these interesting trees.

Great Basin  (34) Bristlecone Wheeler Peak hike

Great Basin  (25) Bristlecone Wheeler Peak hike

View from the trail…amazing light and clouds the whole day long!

Great Basin  (21) Bristlecone Wheeler Peak hike

Wheeler Peak Summit Trail: We dropped the other group off at the Summit trailhead and they started off at around 8 AM. It is advised to start early so you aren’t up on the peak when the threat of afternoon thunderstorms roll in. There is a very small parking lot for this trailhead so plan to have someone drop you off or get there early. This is a very strenuous hike and fairly long at 8.6 miles roundtrip. You start at 10,100 feet in elevation and gain 2,900 feet going up to the summit.  My son said the last portion of the hike is all exposed with no tree cover.

reat Basin Ntl Park Wheeler Peak (1)

These two young boys completed the hike and said it was worth the effort because of the beautiful view from the top. I will take their word for it.

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There is a turnout alongside the road where you can use these telescopes to look up at the peak. We could actually see people up there but not our boys.

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One evening we walked along this trail which parallels Baker Creek and ended at our campground. What a beautiful place with the aspen trees, green grass, and the sound of running creek water.

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There were lots of wildflowers which makes me happy.

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Plenty of fungi to observe too!

reat Basin camping nature center (3)

Not so very glamorous after a week of camping and no showers at Great Basin. Our children are all growing up so we treasure the time we have to spend with even just one of them during a camping adventure. Planting seeds of appreciation for the natural world gifted to us by a loving Creator is something we highly value and have tried to do throughout our years as parents. Seeing our youngest share his love of the outdoors with his friends makes me smile from ear to ear.

Thanks for coming along on our Great Basin experience!

Some other things to know about Great Basin National Park:

  • No entrance fee!
  • There is a ticket cost for the cave tours.
  • This is the desert but it gets cold here so make sure to bring a jacket or sweatshirt even in the summer.
  • Check for operating hours before coming.
  • Visit the Things To Do page on the park’s website for a good idea of how to spend your time.
  • You can download a pdf of the 2014 park Newspaper from the website.


You can read more of my national park tips in these entries:

OHC Autumn Nature Study Continues Cover Button

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Utah in August!

Vacations can be many things. Our trip to Utah and Nevada was rich in nature study opportunities and family adventures too! I love that type of vacation because it leaves us refreshed and full of memories.

Utah to Nevada (5)

The road between California and Utah is really captured in the image above. Open roads, big skies, and lots of NOTHING. We had a long trip to get there but watching the clouds and then early evening lightning in the sky was enjoyable. Plus, there are many rest areas that you can stop at along the way to stretch your legs, get a cold drink (most have vending), and use the clean restrooms. We didn’t have a single rest area where that wasn’t clean and inviting.

Trip to Utah Aug 2014 (16)

We took several longer stops where we all got out and walked a bit before hopping back on the road. This rest stop (Grassy Mountain/Cedar Mountain Wild Horse Range) in Utah had a path up to where you could see the pioneer trail across the Great Basin. We had our youngest son and two of his friends on this trip which made for a lot of boy time…I felt very outnumbered.

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Yep, the sign says snakes and scorpions. The boys were disappointed that we didn’t see either of those things on our hike to to top of the hill and back. What we did have was an awesome view!

Trip to Utah Aug 2014 (13)

Just another road shot on the way to Utah along Hwy 80. More rocks, more sky, more clouds, more road…..along about this time I was ready to be at our destination.


Jordanelle campsite and wildflowers (4)

We arrived at Jordanelle State Park and had a terrific spot in the Hailstone Campground. This is a super place to camp and a great home base for our trip….between Park City and Heber City (where we were visiting friends).

Jordanelle campsite and wildflowers (5)

The Jordanelle campground was filled with lots of wildflowers which surprised me. It was nice to talk walks in the evenings when it was cooler.

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We spied a large patch of milkweed!


Summit Park Peak Hiking Utah (1)

We all were invited to hike up in Park City up at Summit Peak. We started off with sprinkles of rain but it never did get us too wet. What a beautiful trail! We had a lot of fun hiking here and getting to know the boys’ friends.

Summit Park Peak Hiking Utah (10)

Along the trail there were lots of wildflowers growing and my husband and I noted this plant in abundance. At first I wasn’t sure what it was, so I took some photos of the big distinct leaves. Later on I discovered one with flowers and was able to identify it…burdock! I was thrilled because that is one of our new Outdoor Hour Challenges coming up in September. This gave me an opportunity to observe it up close and I will share more photos next month.

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Lots of these along the trail too!


Park city downtown

One night we walked up and down the historic downtown of Park City. I love doing window shopping, finding a nice place to eat, and then strolling through a town to get the feel of it. This is a very casual and friendly place that I would love to go back to in the winter…skiing!

Park City downtown (6)

Loved this sign downtown that shows the direction and distance to other Olympic game sites around the world. I live closest to Squaw Valley…how about you?

Jordanelle campsite and wildflowers (17)

With three teenage boys around, they were always eager to have a campfire after dinner. This night though it was my husband that got it going and I sat and enjoyed the warmth and glow of the flames. Jordanelle has these awesome cement fire pits complete with grill that swings over and a hook for hanging a dutch oven.

Jordanelle campsite and wildflowers (18)

This was the night of the really bright moon….too bad we had clouds that obscured the light and brightness. We still enjoyed sitting out late and watching it peek in and out from the cloud cover.

Utah to Nevada (6)

We reluctantly left Utah and headed back home at the end of the week. Here is our smiling faces somewhere on  a summit near the border of Utah and Nevada on Hwy 50. We were heading back into Nevada to Great Basin National Park. This is a very remote park but very much worth the effort.

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Here is a little sneak peek into our campsite at Great Basin….more on this national park in an up-coming post!

I fell in love with Utah on this trip and we are eager to go back again maybe next fall to experience Zion National Park. We just couldn’t work it in this time but it will give us something to plan on and look forward to in the future!


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Insects in August – Looking for Crickets

Insects in August- Looking for Crickets (our cricket study)

We have spent lots of time outdoors in the evenings this summer because it is too hot to be out much during the day. We usually start our evening off with dinner on the back deck and then sit later in the evening as the sun sets. We are still experiencing lots of finches flocking to our tree just at dusk…accompanied by lots of singing and chirping.

We also notice the hummingbirds at the feeders as the sun descends lower and lower on the horizon.

The bats come as well and several times I have felt them whisk past my ears while I am on the deck, startling me but they never actually touch me so I am okay with that.

Great Basin grasshopper

We have been on the lookout for insects at all times of the day. We noticed grasshoppers in Utah and Nevada on our trip a few weeks ago.

Swallowtail butterfly

I was able to capture some butterflies at my dad’s house that were in among his flowers. This butterfly had a lot of his wings broken off…didn’t seem to stop him from flying skillfully from flower to flower.


Milkweed beetle Utah

My favorite insect of the month so far is this Milkweed beetle that we saw in Utah. Amazing colors and design!

bee lavender butterfly (3)

Here is an interesting bee we saw in our front yard on the lavender.

Listen Here=Capturing Cricket sounds in the Evening -Our video/audio

And then there were crickets in our yard. When I took a video (so I could capture the audio), I realized that there are two distinct sounds. One is definitely a cricket but the other is a buzzing sound. I am thinking it is a cicada of some sort and have done some research on cicadas found in California. There are some so I am now on the hunt to actually see one.

Just remembered that we saw cave crickets when we were at Great Basin National Park in the Lehman Caves, which are pale and have really long antennae. I was so focused on the cave and its awesome formations that I forgot to really pay attention to the crickets or take a photo.

I love it when we take one topic and focus on it for a month….I highly recommend it for more in-depth study of anything topic your children are interested in learning more about.

Here is a pdf for you to use with your children: Buggy Sounds of Summer.