With its caves, magnificent bristlecone forests and isolated star-gazing opportunities, visitors to this national park are in for a visual feast both above and below ground.
As the USA's National Park Service celebrates its centenary, we're profiling the wilderness areas it manages.
Today: Nevada's sole national park . . .
"This location is one of the best remaining undeveloped sites for observing the sky in the United States."
- David Bennum, physicist at the University of Nevada at Reno, on Greatbasinobservatory.org
Ancient trees and dramatic cave formations highlight this park, which is 460 kilometres from Las Vegas near the Utah border.
The trees, bristlecone pines up 4000 years old, are contorted, as if twisted from the sheer effort to survive harsh conditions. The cavern, Lehman Caves, is a geologic remnant of an ancient, shallow inland sea — a paradoxical image in this arid setting.
Tourists can sightsee at various levels: 50 metres below ground; at the surface; at 4000 metres in elevation (Wheeler Peak); and higher above in the night sky, which is said to provide the best visibility of the Milky Way in the continental United States.
Two guided cave tours are offered: the Lodge Room (one hour) and the Grand Palace (90 minutes). Of note among the many subterranean formations is the Parachute Shield. At least 80 US caves have shields, which are circular plates. Lehman Caves has 300.
As for the park's namesake, this region is part of a 517,997 square-kilometre area that drains internally, rather than into rivers that feed the Pacific Ocean or Gulf of Mexico. The Great Basin takes in most of Nevada, half of Utah and portions of Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and California.
For a wider view of the basin, visitors may hike an 13.8-kilometre trail to the Wheeler Peak summit, where vistas reward the effort. The Great Basin Observatory opened there on August 25, in celebration of the Park Service's 100th anniversary.
Size: 77,180 acres
Founded: National monument (Lehman Caves), 1922; national park, 1986
Attendance: 116,123 (2015)
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