Great Basin National Park (map / wiki) is another park that wasn’t on my radar until I began planning my trip. It’s name, Great Basin, refers to the area encompassing western Utah, southern Oregon, bits of California and Idaho, and nearly all of Nevada.
This area forms the largest contiguous watershed in North America which doesn’t drain to the ocean (known formally as an “endorhetic watershed“). The park itself is located within an “island forest” situated high up on the mountains of Snake Range.
Glacier Basin National Park is home to Nevada’s only remaining glacier. I was as surprised as you are that Nevada even has a glacier, so I had to go see it for myself.
The hike up to Rock Glacier starts through pine, spruce, and aspen, but as the trail gained elevation the the environment becomes less hospitable. The terrain transitions from workable soil to dry rocky dirt. The air thins out, and the weather at this elevation can be harsh and erratic. Up around 9,500 to 11,000 feet the living ain’t easy, and competition amongst the trees changes from being a battle against each other to a battle against the elements.
Bristlecone pine trees are the last to cling to the craggy sub-alpine land. They have evolved to endure, and their survival mechanism can be summed up as “slow and steady”. Their short growing period creates a dense hardwood which is then contorted by the elements into living sculptures of defiance.
You want to feel young and spry? Hang out with some 3,000 year old piece of tortured elegance. Bristlecones have been dated up to 4,800 years old, but the oldest tree I read about in the park was 3,200.
Rock Glacier is lives up to its name. Very little ice is exposed, but its shape can be seen in the picture below. Remember, the only criteria for a glacier are that it’s a body of ice through the entire year and it that moves.
For me the real attraction in this park are the bristlecone pine trees. Similar to the redwoods in California, they are a rad example of the natural world filling every possible niche it’s capable of.