Located in the South Snake Range, Great Basin National Park includes a sampling of the habitats that make up its namesake region. From sagebrush plains, the mountains rise high into clear sky, clad in turn by pinyon-juniper woodlands, grassy meadows, Quaking Aspen groves, mountain scrub, ancient stands of Bristlecone and Limber Pine, and finally steep and rocky peaks above the tree line. Cradled just below the 13,063-foot summit of Wheeler Peak is the only remnant glacier in the Great Basin. Alpine lakes and perennial creeks provide further relief from the dominating aridity of the vertical succession of habitats.
The 77,100-acre park was created in 1986 by greatly expanding the existing Lehman Caves National Monument. Eroded by water out of limestone bedrock, the cavern was decorated over eons by the deposition of tiny amounts of calcite carried by remnant trickles of groundwater. Its rare and unusual formations include helictites (twisting and turning twig-like projections), snow-white clusters of carbonate needles, and knobby lumps of “cave popcorn.” It is best known for its shields--circular plates that extend out from the walls, with stalactites and other string-like formations often hanging below, making them resemble parachutes.
In a remote and wild section of the park, rising high above the floor of Lexington Canyon, is an imposing natural arch. Created by the forces of weather working slowly over a span of centuries, Lexington Arch is unusual because it is carved from limestone, whereas most natural arches of the western United States are made of sandstone. It may have once been a passage in a cave system, or even a natural bridge.
Visitors can also enjoy Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, which ascends to over 10,000 feet on its way past several developed campgrounds. But much of the most rewarding exploration is done off-road, on a series of trails that penetrate the rugged backcountry (snow can close high-elevation roads and trails in winter). Commonly observed animals include Golden Eagles, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Yellow-bellied Marmots, and Mule Deer.
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