America's newest national park, Great Basin in Nevada, was signed into being on Oct. 27, 1986 and officially dedicated yesterday. A mountain park rising high above the bleak flatlands of eastern Nevada south of Ely, its principal feature is towering 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak in the South Snake Range.
Formerly under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service, the compact 77,109-acre park encompasses Lehman Caves National Monument, a massive limestone cavern honeycombed with tunnels and galleries elaborately decorated with stalactites and stalagmites.
Visitors to the park, just west of the small town of Baker, will find alpine lakes, a glacial ice field, more than 30 miles of hiking trails and the Great Basin National Park Visitor Center, which offers park exhibits and a 15-minute informational slide show. Among the new park's visitor highlights:
Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive: This high mountain roadway doesn't make it to the top of Wheeler Peak, reaching only to about 10,000 feet, but the views are nonetheless magnificent. The 12-mile drive begins at the Visitor Center and ends at the park's highest campground.
The hiking trail to Wheeler Peak: The distance is five miles one way from the trailhead at the upper campground, and it is fairly steep. But you don't need mountaineering gear, and from the summit you can see 11 mountain ranges on a clear day.
Bristlecone pine forest: The rare bristlecone pines are perhaps the Earth's oldest living things, some of them growing for more than 4,000 years. A mile-and-a-half trail from the upper campground around Teresa Lake leads to a 150-acre bristlecone forest.
Lehman Caves: Guides lead 90-minute tours of the limestone caves, a national monument since 1922, along a nearly one-mile paved trail. They are offered year-round.
Camping: The park has 92 campsites set among pines and firs in four campgrounds, one of which is open year-round. Also, there are limited accommodations in Baker, five miles to the east, and a larger selection in Ely, about 68 miles to the northwest.
For information: (702) 234-7331