Bit Nice Here

Yes, I have changed the format of the blog to a simpler one; the tag cloud was irritating me… 😀

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Great Basin National Park 

Great Basin is a 200,000 square mile area that drains internally. All precipitation in the region evaporates, sinks underground or flows into lakes (mostly saline). Creeks, streams, or rivers find no outlet to either the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Ocean. The region is bounded by the Wasatch Mountains to the east, the Sierra Nevada to the west, and the Snake River Plain to the north. The south rim is less distinct. The Great Basin includes most of Nevada, half of Utah, and sections of Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, and California.

The Basin and Range region is the product of geological forces stretching the earth’s crust, creating many north-south trending mountain ranges. These ranges are separated by flat valleys or basins. These hundreds of ranges make Nevada the most mountainous state in the country.

The Great Basin Desert is defined by plant and animal communities. The climate is affected by the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains. It is a temperate desert with hot, dry summers and snowy winters. The valleys are dominated by sagebrush. The biologic communities on the mountain ranges differ with elevation, and the individual ranges act as islands isolated by seas of desert vegetation. Because the Great Basin exhibits such drastic elevation changes from its valleys to its peaks, the region supports an impressive diversity of species, from those adapted to the desert to those adapted to forest and alpine environments.

Great Basin National Park preserves a small representative piece of this entire region.

From Ely, Nevada to Great Basin NP is only about 70 miles – 70 miles of more emptiness, that is….

Somewhere along this highway we saw a deer and her fawn ripped to shreds in the road – must have been hit by a truck

There was one pit stop along the way where we stopped for a drink – and met a German guy who was cycling the route to California!  It’s amazing how many fit people there are to be seen on these remote roads, pedaling away for many, many miles.

Once we arrived in Baker, right on the border of Utah, we decided to find a motel and offload the bike as it would be another 11,000 climb and we felt the bike could do with a lighter load. There were 2 or 3 motels in the tiny town of Baker and, having read reviews, we chose the one with the best ratings.

And it was only 6 miles from the entrance of Great Basin NP

We parked up, had a drink and I bought a ticket for the 3pm tour of the Lehman Caves.

Lehman Cave is a beautiful marble cave ornately decorated with stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, flowstone, popcorn, and over 300 rare shield formations.

Before entering the caves, we were gathered into a group. We were shown some of the formations, told to stroke them, feel them, get that off our chests and then NOT TOUCH ANY  PART OF THE CAVE ONCE INSIDE!

‘Popcorn’ formation

White Nose Syndrome Screening

All visitors to Lehman Cave will be screened through a simple question and answer process. Visitors who have not been in any cave or mine in the past year, or who are not wearing any clothing, shoes, or other items that were in another cave or mine can go straight to their tour. If visitors do have on clothing, shoes, cameras or other items that were in another cave or mine, they will be required to either change or clean items before being allowed on the tour. Cameras or other hard items can be wiped down with decontaminate wipes (provided by the park) and shoe soles can be decontaminate by immersion in a solution bath for 10 minutes (also provided by the park). As this process can take some time, visitors are encouraged to show up early or only wear and bring items that have not been in other caves or mines.

This is because….

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a disease responsible for unprecedented mortality in hibernating bats in the eastern United States and Canada. This previously unknown disease has spread very rapidly since its discovery in January 2007, and may pose a considerable threat to hibernating bats throughout North America. As white-nose syndrome spreads, the challenges for understanding and managing the disease are increasing.

The story of the discovery of the caves was made very interesting by the park ranger. he took us into the entrance – not the original one made by Absalom Lehman….

Lehman Caves History:
In 1870 Absolom S. Lehman and Olive S. Lehman settled at 600-acre ranch near Lehman Creek. Their ranch was about 1.5 miles below the cave which was still unknown to them.

There are many stories about how and when Lehman found the cave, but his daughter Laura reports that he found it shortly after she and her mother and brother left the ranch to go back to Ohio in 1881. Olive, who was suffering from tuberculosis, died there in 1883. Laura said before her mother died, her father brought them stalactite specimens and told of an astonishing cave near their ranch.

It is said that the native people warned Lehman and others that a little man with a blue beard would bring dire consequences to anyone who entered this sacred cave of the dead. The entrance to the cave had been used as a burial site.

However, the discovery caused a great sensation, and soon people were coming from all over the state to climb the wooden ladder down into the cavern where they toured using only candles for illumination. They broke off formations as souvenirs and for profit and often inscribed their names and the date on the walls and ceiling.

Soon, Lehman was charging $1 for adults and 50-cents for children 12 and over to tour the caves.

Lehman died in 1891 and subsequently his ranch at Lehman Caves was sold to Charles W. Rowland. Mrs. Rowland guided visitors in the cave until the early 1900s.

In 1922 President Warren G. Harding issued presidential proclamation establishing Lehman Caves National Monument.

On October 27, 1986 President Ronald Regan signed the Great Basin National Park Act creating a 76,000-acre park that included what was the Lehman Caves National Monument.

Once we were all gathered into the lead-in tunnel and advised that, should any of us feel claustrophobic to let the ranger know, our ranger gave us a taste of what it was like to be in a cave – he turned the lights off and we were wrapped in inky blackness. A timorous voice at the back said she couldn’t go on, so the ranger got onto his radio for another ranger to come and escort the woman back out.

The ranger pointed out that conservation was a new thing and, over the years, these caves had been used for many purposes. In the depression, bootleggers used the caves for storing liquor and it was actually distilled here. It had been used as a Speakeasy too – there was graffiti on some of the walls and ceiling dating from that time ….

Graffiti is not a new phenomenon!

It was a fascinating tour of a tiny fraction of the caves.  On the way out, we were given one last taste of the darkness…

Back out in the sunshine, it was time for a bit of a rest….

Whew - time for 40 winks

Wheeler Peak is  in the Snake Range part of Great Basin National Park.

Wheeler Peak, located in Great Basin National Park, looms high above the vast area of sagebrush covered valleys and sawtooth mountain ranges. It is the highest summit in the Snake Range and the second highest mountain in the state, at 13,063 feet it is just a mere 81 feet shy of taking the state highpoint—Boundary Peak, 13,143 feet high, claims that honor. A truly remote mountain peak, Wheeler is far removed from city life—the nearest city is Ely, 67 miles to the west.

It contains the only active glacier between the Sierra Nevada of California and the Wasatch Range of Utah, although it may be more a rock glacier than anything else. Unlike the slightly higher Boundary Peak in western Nevada, Wheeler Peak stands in splendid isolation. It consists of Cambrian-age rocks of the Prospect Mountain Quartzite, but nearby is a layer of limestone in which Lehman Caves formed. Bristle Cone pines grow on its flanks.

It was a gorgeous, cool ride up to the highest trail head – a respite from the desert heat.

We parked at the trailhead and, leaving J with the bike, I began the trek to one of the Alpine Lake, Teresa Lake. It was about a one and a half mile scrabble over rocks, fallen pines,  muddy streams and large patches of ice.

Teresa Lake

But it was well worth the breathlessness  – bear in mind, we are at almost three times the height of the highest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis)

The day was fading so it was time to head back down the mountain – before the proliferate wild-life began to roam the quiet road down. It was amazing to see just how flat the desert floor looked from this height – difficult to photograph too because of the thousands of trees blocking the view.

We left the park in a pink sundown – stopping along the way when I spotted this

  The white-coloured  ‘driver’ is actually the skull of a horse and, perched on the dashboard, are a pair of horse’s legs complete with hoofs! Quite spine-chilling really.

Oh, and a lovely open shelter with nice detail around the roof support ….

We arrived back in Baker as the last of the light faded. Hungry – we hadn’t eaten all day – we were relieved to see the three places that sold food and drink were still lit up – it was almost 9pm. We stopped at the first place – closed but still lit. Same thing with the second. Ah, the third one still had a couple of people in – but, disappointingly, they were staff, sweeping up. Seeing our fallen faces, one of them said we would get food in the next town, Border, 8 miles away.

Well it was either ride through the pitch-black night and risk the deer, elk and such or go hungry. Hunger won out. Anyhow, it gave us chance to fill up as the place was a gas station with a little bar and food served at the counter. And very nice it was too.

Back into Utah

We slept well and set off early. The weather was changing – lots of cloud building. Part of the route was on I70 and one of the stops for gas was in a strange gas station in a ‘town’ called Joseph. The comfy seating outside the gas station was definitely a first…

While drinking coffee, the rain began and another biker rode in – to put on rain gear. Chatting to him, he told us he has been on the road for almost four years and had ridden all around the UK, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand. Last year alone, his mileage was 35,000 miles! He just didn’t have any reason to stop anywhere for very long.

However, he had recently replaced his trusty old bike for a new-model Harley and he seemed to be regretting it a little – quite a few problems had raised their ugly heads; just yesterday, his battery had refused to start and he’d had to get a tow to a nearby town and replace the battery.

Once the rain eased, we climbed back on old trusty and headed to another favourite town, Torrey, six miles from Capitol Reef National Park.

But the skies weren’t too promising, and soon we were encircled by lightning – not comforting when you are in such an empty area.

But, gradually, we moved out of the worst of the weather system.

A couple of miles outside Torrey, we just had to stop when we spotted a herd of bison (buffalo). I pulled my Nik out of the side bag and began to trot towards them, managing to get really close – too close really; this chap decided to roll in the dust and shake the results all over me and the camera

Finally, we arrived in Torrey and headed straight to a nice motel we have stayed in previously

and booked two nights so we could spend lots of time in….

Capitol Reef National Park.

Capitol Reef National Park is characterized by sandstone formations, cliffs and canyons, and a 100-mile long bulge in the earth’s crust called the Waterpocket Fold. Erosion has carved the rock into marvelous shapes. The majesty of Capitol Reef is intriguing  with its twisting canyons, massive domes, monoliths and spires of sandstone.

I have, literally, hundreds of photos from here – but little time to sort them out at the moment. So I’ll add a few for now and sort out the better ones as and when I can.

One of the reasons this is my favourite national Park is it is just so accessible; you can stop and start walking almost anywhere.

Our first trip into the park was to Fruita – a little oasis in the desert.

The origin of the little community at the junction of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek is obscure. The first resident may have been an 1879 squatter by the name of Franklin Young, but the first landholder of record was Nels Johnson. Others soon followed, and the community that sprang up became known as Junction.

The Fremont River was the key to life; without irrigation, farming would have been impossible. The orchards of the residents prospered and before the turn of the century Junction was known as “the Eden of Wayne County”. In 1902, the name of the little settlement was changed to Fruita.

Local authority – such as it was – was vested in the Mormon Presiding Elder. The population never exceeded ten families.

Although it became widely known in south-central Utah for its orchards, Fruita residents also grew sorghum (for syrup and molasses), vegetables and alfalfa. Fruit growers usually picked the fruit before maturation and hauled it by the wagon load to bigger towns like Price and Richfield – and beyond. This was a formidable undertaking when one considers that in 1901 it took the Mormon Bishop of Torrey more than an hour and a half to travel the ten miles between Fruita and Torrey in the best weather. If the road between Torrey and Fruita was difficult, the route between Fruita and Hanksville – 37 miles east – was nearly impossible.

In 1884, residents of Fruita (then Junction) had built a passage through Capitol Gorge that extended to Caineville and Hanksville. This primitive roadway was called the Blue Dugway and it served to connect the river settlements with the rest of Utah until after World War II. This narrow wagon track was so difficult, however, that the little communities remained some of the most isolated in America until the mid-20th century.

Along the Fremont River, barter served as the means for acquiring goods and services; cash was in short supply. Although some Fruita men worked on state roads, annual fruit sales remained the major source of cash income.

The one-room schoolhouse, constructed by residents in 1896, also served as a community center. The desks were movable and the community enjoyed dances and box socials in the little building. Residents also held church activities there, as well as in private homes. Women often quilted together and men and boys were especially fond of baseball. “Putting up” foods was not a hobby in Fruita; it was essential for survival through the winter.

Well into the modern era, farming techniques in Fruita remained as they had been in the 19th century. It was not until World War II that the first tractor was purchased.

In the years after 1929, Fruita was spared much of the anguish that the Great Depression brought to other communities in America. Long reliance on barter as the main method of obtaining basic life needs shielded the Fremont River settlers from the cash drought that plagued the nation.

Although it wasn’t recognized at the time, the establishment of Capitol Reef National Monument in 1937 would become a tolling bell for the Fruita community. After World War II, visitors began to arrive in increasing numbers; the road from Richfield to Torrey was paved in 1940. In 1952, the pavement was extended to Fruita; the world had found the Capitol Reef country.

Nowadays, the orchards are maintained at a level of about 2,600 trees. A small crew is kept busy year-round with pruning, irrigation, replanting, and maintaining the health of the orchards.

As each fruit crop comes into season, fruit becomes available to the public on a pick-your-own basis. Fruit consumed in the orchards is free; there is a charge for fruit taken out of the orchards. We stopped in the tea shop and shared a mixed fruit pie made from the fruits picked in the orchard – peach, plum, apricots. Yummy.

Looking up, J saw a little face peeking from behind a big boulder; ‘Christine, quick, climb up and try to get a shot of that Marmot’  Huh. I began to scramble up the loose shale. ‘Higher, higher’ he called up. I made it to the rock, but of course, the critter was long gone and I was faced with coming back down on my ass, trying not to clunk my heavy new lens on the rubble.

Up - up - further.......
The little dot somewhere near the centre - is me

Next, J decided we’d explore a creek. As you can see, below, there were some incredibly square rocks above us – they look man-made but are not.

We made it fairly far down the gully, wading through some red clay that clung to our boots and made walking a bit heavy-going. There had been quite a lot of rain and flash floods were common in this area – obviously, this was an area that had had one.

Clingy, clunky, glorious mud - there's nothing quite like it for..... slipping and a slidin'

And, me being the one who always gets, stuck/muddy/lost/behind….. Yep, I slipped in the mud and wrenched my side. J was way out of sight.

And, if it hadn't been for my own tenacity and staunch bravery at carrying on, this could have been me....

Anyhow, here’s some scenery shots

Castle Rock

This photo was of J waving me off as I began a hike to Sunset Point and Goosenecks. The air was swarming with midges – I wished I’d left my bike helmet on. There is a dirt road to the two points for watching sunset – but not at all suitable for a bike like ours – very rutted and rugged. A families drove by in the comfort of their 4-wheel drive vehicles, I alternately cussed them under my breath and felt a bit sanctimonious at actually walking to the points. It’s amazing how breathless you get at theses altitudes – over 7,000 feet.

Goosenecks was exactly that – a deep, goose-neck of canyon, like a miniature version of the Grand Canyon.

trudging back

I got back to the bike just after the sun sunk below the visible horizon.

We put our lids on and headed to a bar just outside of the park; two huge glasses of water and one beer.

It was worth it – but I can’t show you the best of those photos really – I need to edit those; the dynamic range was so wide, a little layer work will be needed.

And now, I think this post is getting a bit long. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do a final one this evening –  Crossing the Rockies in Colorado and Old Fort Benton.  The 5 days in the motel have flown by and we’re both refreshed and raring to go. The next part of the trip is across the plains, the weather is a bit stifling, so, fingers crossed.

TTFN 🙂