When I added Great Basin National Park to our list of places to stop it was only because we needed a place to sleep between Canyonlands and Yosemite. I Googled “National Parks in Nevada” and it happened to be a halfway point, as well as the only national park in Nevada. I put it on our list knowing nothing about it, having never heard of it and having not seen a single photo of it.
The drive there was filled with highways stretching miles and miles into the distance, disappearing over the horizon; desert mountains surrounding us in every direction, not a sign of human life for hundreds of miles; and heat that kept our thermometer between 90 and 100 degrees. I was nervous about our campsite that night, would we roast alive in Great Basin?
But the terrain changed suddenly. We were about 10 miles from the park entrance, still debating whether or not to just stay at a cheap motel for the night, when we gradually began to climb in elevation. We arrived at the visitor center which was at the base of a mountain, one that we hadn’t even caught a glimpse of until we were right on it. We talked to a park ranger about the campsites available in the park and a hike we could do before sunset.
We followed the road up the mountain and the temperature began to drop. 80 degrees. 70 degrees. 65 degrees. We were giddy at the drastic change in terrain and temperature. We drove our car up the mountain until we hit the top at 10,000 feet. Instead of a desert, we were surrounded by alpines, bubbling creeks, wildflowers and leftover snow piles. We looked up through the pines and an exposed mountain - Wheeler Peak - loomed above us.
There, we parked our car and hiked Alpine Lakes Trail. It is a 4.7 mile round trip trail that took us up 964 feet through cool meadows and forests and to two alpine lakes. We sat at the edge of Stella Lake and ate snacks, staring in amazement at the pristine lake and mountain that sat mighty before us. We had no idea this place was here and didn’t know what to expect from Great Basin, making it all the more sweet. We agreed that it was one of our favorite hikes of the trip so far.
After we finished our snack we stripped off our hiking boots and sweaty socks and waded into the bitterly cold water. We let the crystal clear water get up to our knees and as our toes began to numb we dunked our dirty heads in the water. With a case of the goose bumps, we ran out of the water and dried off in the sun before putting our socks and boots back on.
That evening we drove a little ways back down the mountain to camp at a first come, first serve campground called Lower Lehman Creek Campground for $12. Our campsite hosted a mama deer that wandered around our tent, nibbling at the plants. We could hear Lehman Creek bubbling a couple hundred feet away. The mountains surrounded us. We built a fire as the sun set, then fell asleep under the light of the moon.