The hole and the whole mountainside
by John C. Evanoff
A lot of people like to take a trip
for a long weekend and I thought those of you who do would like
to know a bit about other parts of Northern Nevada a bit further
away from home in Reno.
East across the State on Highway
50 a little more than 300 miles away is the little town of Ely.
I intend to write further on “The loneliest highway”
and the many attractions along its length, but for this column,
I’d like to spend some time on Wheeler Peak and Lehman Caves
on the other side of the state in Northern Nevada.
Wheeler Peak is the second highest
mountain in Nevada but the highest totally within the borders of
the state. Boundary Peak southeast of Mono Lake is the highest but
straddles the California-Nevada border. Traveling east on Highway
50 past Ely through Spring Valley, you come upon this impressive
mountain and its awesome Snake Range. At 13,063 feet, it dominates
your eastern view. The many peaks among the Snake Range are all
just above 11,000 feet but Wheeler stands out majestically as the
Historically, mining and agriculture
are the heritage of the area, but the Goshute, Paiute and Shoshone
Indians lived in the region for thousands of years and before that,
an earlier culture lived along the shores of the great receding
inland seas called Lahontan and Bonneville. The Snake Range, which
Wheeler Peak sits dramatically in the center of and the Humboldt
Forest surrounding it are covered with pinion pine, a staple of
the Indian families living in the area for centuries.
From Highway 50 east just on the
northwest side of the mountain, you take Route 73 into Baker and
then Route 74 west up the hill. Spend some time at Lehman Caves
National Monument, a large limestone cavern at the eastern base
of Wheeler. Lehman Cave is the biggest limestone cave structure
in the west. The tour is impressive and many people say the shield
formations are some of the most beautiful in the world. Don’t
be caught without a camera. This hole is much more and your visit
will give you breathtaking views of the interior of the earth. The
visitor center has an interpretive display, books and information
about the geology, life zones and archaeology of the area.
Then the route takes you up the
hill along Lehman Creek to Wheeler Peak Campground. Catch your breath
along the way because your overnight stay at the campground is above
10,000 feet. By the way, fishing is good for brook trout and rainbow
all along the creek. Of course, if you don’t want to camp,
you can always stay in Baker or Ely, but the camping is spectacular
here. Between the rustling leaves of the Mountain Mahogany and Quacking
Aspen groves and the gurgle of the little Lehman Creek brook, you
should sleep comfortably and the nights are filled with some of
the best astronomical views in the entire state. These skies are
by astronomer standards some of the darkest in the west. If you
have a telescope or binoculars, bring them along and be prepared
to spend hours looking at the clear star filled sky.
In the morning, after a nice sized
breakfast, pack your backpack well and begin the trek up Solace
Trail, which passes both Stella and Teresa Lakes. A short distance
from Teresa Lake a trail winds three or so miles into the ancient
bristlecone pine forest and the Wheeler Peak glacial icefield. If
you take this route, expect to spend several hours taking pictures
and discovering the feeling of being around natures oldest living
things. Some of the trees in this small area are over 5,000 years
If you wish to climb Wheeler, just
past Teresa Lake on the right, about a mile and a half from where
you camped, you’ll find the Wheeler Peak Trail. You should
be in pretty good shape to make the ascent to the summit from there.
Winds can be strong and chilly, so be prepared to layer. The trail
leads to the old heliograph station at the top. The heliograph was
used by the US Calvary before the advent of the telegraph to send
messages from mountain peak to mountain peak and then to forts across
the countryside. The views of Utah and Nevada from the top are spectacular.
You’ll want to eat a small lunch and take in this fantastic
view before you head back down the trail.
There are several other hiking trails
in the region including Baker Creek Trail, which leads from Baker
Creek Campground seven miles up into Baker Lake. I’ve seen
a couple elk, lots of deer, a few kit fox, bobcat and rabbit along
the trail. Fly Fishing for trout at Baker Lake is excellent. West
of Baker Lake is Mt. Washington, which has its own ancient Bristlecone
Pine Forest and if you have the time, it’s worth the journey
to discover its beauty and serenity. Massive cliffs along the Big
Wash Trail south of the Baker Lake trail are some of the most unusual
in the world. The quartz and limestone give the cliffs an ethereal
feel. At certain times of the day, the shadows and colors of the
canyon walls will fill your mind with images you will remember for
a lifetime. South of Mt. Washington along the Highland Ridge trail
are Lincoln Peak and Granite Peak, both just over 11,000 feet in
elevation. The southern most trail along Lexington Creek takes you
up to Lexington Arch, a large limestone arch more than six stories
high. Lexington Arch is one of the most highly sought after photographs
in the area.
Wheeler Peak and Lehman Caves are
the Great Basin National Parks centerpiece for all its diversity
and recreation. Lehman Caves are open year around but remember that
most of the roads are closed in the winter above 7,000 feet, so
the best time to visit is June through October. Also, the road up
to Wheeler Peak Campground is an extreme grade and you should have
the vehicle that can take the extended climb. For you equestrians,
there are horse loading facilities at Wheeler Peak Campground. Horseback
is by far one of the best ways to see a lot of country in this scenic
area in a short amount of time.
I’ve walked all over the Wheeler
Peak area and can tell you from experience that you will find reasons
to explore and discover the region more than once. The changes in
colors of the seasons are dramatic and the fall colors are extraordinary.
If you are an artist or photographer, bring your easel or camera.
You will be back time and time again to capture those moments.