|Bristlecone Pines||Bristlecone Pine Groves||Gathering Pine Nuts|
|Lexington Arch||Prometheus Story||Scenic Drives||To Do Ideas|
There are a number of things to do while enjoying Great Basin National Park. These activities include but are not limited to birding, camping, hiking, photography, star gazing, and cave touring.
Great Basin National Park has Rocky Mountain scenery, along with western desert scenery, to make it an area of wonder and scenic beauty all of its own.
For a detailed list of Great Basis hiking possibilities, with location and trails, see the Hiking Page. There are hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties.
Join a National Park Service ranger to explore Great Basin's natural and cultural history. Join a ranger to learn about the forces that once shaped this landscape - and continue to do so, see the Calendar Page. Ranger / Naturalist programs include scheduled hikes, talks and walks. Regularly scheduled tours of Lehman Caves are offered year round, more frequently in the summer. Campfire programs, guided walks, and Junior Ranger programs offered Memorial Day to Labor Day. Introductory slide show and exhibits available at visitor center. These are just some of the ways to discover the diversity of the scenic, natural and historic wonders that comprise Great Basin National Park.
Gathering pinyon pine nuts is a wonderful way to experience the fall bounty of the pinyon pine in Great Basin National Park. The singleaf pinyon, Pinus monophylla, is an abundant tree found in mixed stands with Utah juniper between 6,000 and 9,000 feet. It is the only species of pine on the continent with single needles. The nuts produced by these pines are delicious and nutritious. They have been important to the local people and animals for millenia. The pine nuts commonly purchased in gourmet food stores are typically those of the Colorado pinyon, but the nuts of the singleleaf pinyon are equally tasty.
Gathering pine nuts within Great Basin National Park is subject to regulation. The following regulations are enforced so that impact to the park is minimized and that plenty of nuts are available for winter food for Clark's nutcrackers, pinyon jays and ground squirrels.
Parking is allowed only in gravel or paved parking areas. Do not drive or park off-road. All-terrain vehicles and other off-road vehicles are strictly prohibited.
The Wheeler Peak Scenic drive is 12 miles long with an 8% grade. Vehicles longer than 24 feet are not recommended to travel beyond the Upper Lehman Creek Campground. The road is closed beyond this campground in the winter. The Baker Creek Road is a 3.6 mile gravel road. This road is closed in winter.
Drive the scenic road to the base of Wheeler Peak. From there, follow easy to moderate trails to alpine lakes and the bristlecone pine forest.
Climb Wheeler Peak and visit the glacier in its rock-bound cirque or explore one of the other park canyons.
Snake Creek flows all year through groves of aspens beneath wildly eroded limestone outcroppings.
At the park's north end, Strawberry Creek runs through stands of aspen trees and open meadows.
All park roads except Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive are unpaved and infrequently traveled. Along the way are many pleasant picnic sites with good views of the broad, sagabrush-covered basin to the east.
Rising high above the floor of Lexington Canyon, this imposing natural arch was created by the forces of weather working slowly over a span of centuries. Lexington Arch is unusual in one important respect: it is carved from limestone. Most of the natural arches of the western United States are composed of sandstone. The fact that Lexington Arch is made of limestone leads to speculation that it was once a passage in a cave system. Flowstone, a smooth glossy deposit that forms in caves has been found at the base of the opening, lending support to this theory.
It is even possible that Lexington Arch is actually a natural bridge. The distinction: an arch is formed by the forces of weathering, such as ice, wind, and chemical breakdown of the rock. A natural bridge, by contrast, is formed by the flowing waters of a stream. It is possible that long ago when Lexington Canyon was less deep, the waters of Lexington Creek flowed through a cave in the wall of the canyon, in the process enlarging the tunnel that later became Lexington Arch. If this happened then the Arch is truly a natural bridge.
Whatever the case may be, the forces of weather continue to sculpt the Arch. The limestone is particularly vulnerable to the dissolving action of rainwater. As time goes on the rain, ice, heat, and cold chisel the Arch into a unique natural form that will continue to change with the passage of centuries.
Planning Your Trip
Lexington Arch is located in a remote and wild section of Great Basin National Park. The dirt road is unimproved. Be prepared for rugged terrain and remember the high elevation. Hiking boots are essential on the rough rocky trail. Bring water and a snack and be prepared to spend the better part of a day driving and walking to Lexington Arch. Weather conditions can change rapidly, so come prepared for all types of weather, including sudden rainstorms and snow.
A word of caution about the unimproved dirt road. The road is rough and rutted. Four-wheel drive is usually not required for the trip, high-clearance is recommended but not necessary. Use caution when driving this road.
How to Get There
To reach Lexington Arch from the Visitor Center drive east to Baker on Nevada 488, a distance of 5.5 miles (8.9km). In Baker turn right onto Nevada 487. Drive south 10.7 miles (17.2 km). On this stretch you will cross the state line into Utah, at which point NV 487 becomes Utah 21. Pass through the town of Garrison, and then pass Pruess Lake on your right. Look for the first dirt road on the right just south of Pruess Lake. Turn right onto the dirt road, it is posted for Lexington Arch.
Proceed west 12.0 miles (19.3 km). The road will branch in a few places. At each fork look for the sign indicating the correct direction to Lexington Arch. Please remember to close any fence gates that you open to keep livestock on their range. After 12.0 miles (19.3 km) the road ends in a small parking area with a sign indicating the trail to Lexington Arch. Park here.
The hike to the base of the Arch is 1.7 miles (2.7 km). The trail rises 820 feet (250 m). The first mile of the trail climbs up a steady grade and then levels off before crossing into the park. The last quarter mile climbs several short switchbacks to the arch. You can climb up into the opening of the arch if you choose.
The bristlecone pines are the stuff of legends. True masters of longevity, they endure not centuries but millennia. On rocky slopes beyond the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, you can walk among trees that have kept their grip on life for two to three thousand years - some much longer than that. A bristlecone pine found here was determined to be the world's oldest living thing: 4,950 years of age.
Great Basin bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) are remarkable for their great age and their ability to survive adverse growing conditions. In fact, it seems one secret to their longevity is the harsh environment in which most bristlecone pines grow.
One bristlecone pine near Wheeler Peak was dated to be more than 4,900 years old. This tree, known as "Prometheus", was cut down and sectioned for scientific research in 1964 before Great Basin National Park was established.
Bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park grow in isolated groves just below treeline. Conditions are harsh, with cold temperatures, a short growing season, and high winds. Bristlecone pines in these high-elevation environments grow very slowly, and in some years don't even add a ring of growth. This slow growth makes their wood very dense and resistant to insects, fungi, rot, and erosion. Vegetation is very sparse, limiting the role of fire. Bristlecone pine seeds are occassionally cached by birds at lower elevations. Bristlecone pines grow more rapidly in more "favorable" environments at lower elevations. They do not achieve their legendary age or fascinating twisted shapes.
While bristlecone pines are the longest-living tree, scientists debate what is truly the oldest living thing. The creosote bush that grows in the Mojave Desert may be older. The cresote achieves its age by "cloning" new bushes from its root system. Yet bristlecone pines surely deserve our respect for not only surviving harsh conditions, but thriving in harsh conditions.
In 1964, a scientist was granted permission by the United States Forest Service to study some of the bristlecone pines growing in a grove beneath Wheeler Peak. The researcher was very excited to start studying the lessons preserved in the rings inside these ancient trees. Many lessons were to be learned from one tree in particular, named "Prometheus."
Bristlecone pines, like most trees, add a ring for each year of growth. Scientists can study the variation in width to determine patterns of good and bad growing seasons in past years. The trees literally record the seasons of their lives in their rings. This is very valuable for the study of climate change. Dendrochronology is the branch of science that studies tree rings. Dead bristlecone wood is as valuable to scientists as a living tree, since it extends the continuous climate record even farther into the past by overlapping patterns of identical ring growths in different trees.
Tree ring information can also help date archeological sites that contain wooden beams. This has been particularly useful in the Southwest. Radiocarbon dating (carbon-14) is a very common tool in archeology. Bristlecone pine wood has helped calibrate radiocarbon dates that are up to about 10,000 years old. Sea coral is now used to calibrate even older radiocarbon dates.
The Forest Service granted permission for the researcher to take core samples from several old-looking bristlecone pines and to cut one down. Bristlecone pines often grow in a twisted fashion. Also, one section of the tree may die off even a couple thousand years before another part. This means it can be very difficult to capture the oldest part of the tree in a core sample. The tree that was cut down in 1964--while still living--has since become know to some as "Prometheus."
Counting revealed that Prometheus contained about 4,900 growth rings. This made it the oldest known tree. Currently the oldest known living tree, about 4,600 years old, is in the White Mountains of California. Chances are good that there are other, older, bristlecones that have not been dated.
According to ancient Greek myths, Prometheus was an immortal who brought fire (symbolic of knowledge) to humans. Prometheus the bristlecone pine also imparted much knowledge to humans. Information gained by studying this significant tree added to the knowledge of carbon dating (which is valuable to archeologists and paleontologists) and climate data. Perhaps we have not learned all that we can from bristlecone pines. These ancient trees are protected on federal lands so that we will not lose the lessons we may have yet to learn.
Bristlecone Pines - Identifying the Tree
Bristlecone pines are often confused with limber pines. They can be found growing together at the same elevations. They are affected by the same erosional processes, and may look very similar with dead and twisted wood exposed.
A bristlecone's needles are about one inch long, and grow in packets of five. The needles completely surround the branches. The tightly-bunched tufts of needles may extend back a foot or more along the branch, giving the branch the appearance of a bottle brush. The developing cones are a deep purple color, which helps to absorb heat, and mature after two years at which time they turn a brown color. The tree gets its name from the cones whose scales are each tipped with a claw-like bristle.
Limber pine trees, on the other hand, have needles in packets of five that are 1 1/2 to 3 inches long, and grow only towards the ends of the branches. Also, the cones of the limber pine do not have bristles.
The species of bristlecone found in Nevada and California is the Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva). Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine tree is a separate species (Pinus aristata) that can be found in Utah and Colorado and can live for 3,000 years.
Please remember that everything natural in a national park is protected. Some bristlecone pine wood on the ground may be thousands of years old and important scientifically. Please leave all down bristlecone pine wood in place.
The Wheeler Peak bristlecone pine grove, the most accessible grove in the park, is located on the northeast side of Wheeler Peak. It is unusual in that it grows on a glacial moraine consisting of quartzite boulders. Most groves grow on limestone or dolomite. The northeastern exposure of the Wheeler Peak grove is also unusual as most other groves have a generally southern or western exposure. The Wheeler Peak bristlecone pine grove is reached by a 1.5 mile (3 miles round trip) trail from Wheeler Peak Campground. A short self-guided nature trail passes through a portion of the grove. During the summer, the park offers ranger-led interpretive walks in this grove. Check at the Visitor Center for a schedule.
Mount Washington Grove
The largest grove of bristlecone pines in the park is on Mt. Washington. Located in the west central portion of the park, access is difficult. No developed trails exist in the grove. Some sections of this grove have relatively tall (over 40 feet) bristlecone pines that resemble high-elevation spruce or limber pine more than the typical gnarled treeline bristlecone pines. Unlike the Wheeler Peak grove, the trees on Mt. Washington grow exclusively on limestone. In fact, nearby quartzite areas are notable for their lack of bristlecones.
Eagle Peak Grove
The third grove in the park is near Eagle Peak (Peak 10,842) on the ridge between the Snake Creek and Baker Creek drainages. The terrain is steep and access is difficult. These bristlecones also grow exclusively on limestone soils, while granitic soils in the area lack bristlecones.
For other interesting places and sights to see, please visit these sites: Utah State Page.
Address, Email & Phone Guide
Activity and Calendar Page
Backcountry Camping Guide
Bonneville Cutthroat Trout
Bristlecone Pine Groves
Brochures, Maps, Written Info
Crosscountry Skiing Guide
Geology of the Snake Range
Geology Field Trip
Jobs, SCA, Volunteer Positions
Lehman Caves Ecology
Lehman Caves Geology
Lehman Caves Tour
Osceola Ditch Story
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