Great Basin (NV)
Park Number: 34/59
First Visited: August 2, 2012
Traveling Interstate 15, you see the signs repeated every couple hundred miles: “Great Basin National Park.” Yet, despite this, the place is unknown, one of the least visited parks in the system (about 115 thousand people a year). It resides in a mysterious state, often slated for the sins of sin city, or simply relegated to uncharismatic desert. But Great Basin is as diverse as Las Vegas itself: take a tour of the Lehman Caves, observe some of the darkest skies in the country, pick apples outside the visitor center, hike to the over-13,000-foot Wheeler Peak, or, my favorite, sit with the ancient bristlecone pines.
Bristlecones are the oldest living trees on the planet, some almost 5,000 years old, and the longevity is apparent, having twisted and gnarled to the wear of the elements: cold temperatures, high elevation, short growing seasons, intense winds. They look dead. But it is this very death-like resilience that ensures their survival, generating dense wood that is resistant to fungi, rot, and erosion. Sitting with these organic anomalies, you can’t help but think of the significance of their presence, having lived the entirety of humanity’s recorded history. Place your hands on the bark. You’ll feel it.