Glacier in a Basin

Beehive charcoal ovens at Frisco, Utah.

June 2 – June 5, 2020.

John C. Fremont called it the “Great Basin” in 1844.

His father-in-law, Missouri Senator Thomas Benton, had gotten him the job. In May 1843 Fremont led a party of 39 men west on the Oregon Trail. Reaching what is now Nevada, they turned south to explore and map. They determined that no river crossed the Sierra Madre mountains. The precipitation that landed in Nevada stayed there. No rivers ran to the sea. Nevada was basically a great basin.

The western deserts are all about elevation and moisture. The Saguaran and Chihuahuan deserts are mostly low elevation. They are covered with cacti, which require minimal moisture. Sagebrush replaces cacti in the northern high deserts, which get more moisture.

Throughout the deserts, high mountains get the most precipitation. Junipers, then oaks appear above the desert, giving way to Ponderosa pines high on the mountains. Above the Ponderosas ancient pinyon pines can be found. Above that, the trees disappear altogether. Cools temps keep snowfall from melting away. And if it stays frozen all year you might find a glacier!

I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised to see a glacier in the Great Basin, but we were. I am so glad that we did. We have seen the effects of erosion everywhere out west. We’ve seen huge canyons, with relatively small rivers in them. Even though we know the deserts were wetter in the past and that water flow increases with summer storms, it’s still hard to imagine these trickles of water cutting away so much rock.

Cue the glaciers! Not only was it wetter here in the past, it was also colder. There were more glaciers, and these guys are the steamrollers of erosion. The underside of a glacier is ice wrapped around rocks. As the heavy sheet of ice moves downhill it brings the rough base with it, grinding everything in its path. To me, it seems more like sanding with 40-grit sandpaper than using a thin, weak stream of water.

This was our first glacier. Hopefully, we’ll see more.

On the way to Great Basin National Park, we stopped in Utah at the former site of mining town, Frisco. Frisco was named for the nearby San Francisco mountains. Silver was mined here in the late 1800s. When the population reached 6,000 one writer described the town as “Dodge City, Tombstone, Sodom, and Gomorrah all rolled into one”.

Charcoal kilns at Frisco.

View by the road into Great Basin National Park in Nevada. This stop is where a local donated land for a bird sanctuary.

View of a section of the Osceola Ditch Trail in Great Basin. The timbers on the left were supports for a huge water flume. Water on the mountain was needed for mining operations below. Miners joined in an effort to build a chute to carry water downhill. It worked for a short time.

Looking up at Wheeler Peak in Great Basin.

View from the Osceola Trail

Stella Lake.

Teresa Lake.

Pinyon pine trees grow very slowly in difficult environments. They live long lives. This one is 3200 years old. It was growing before King Nebuchadnezzar was born.

Another pinyon pine in the center. A bristlecone pine is on the left.

And here’s the glacier on top of Mount Wheeler. It’s early June, so much of the ice is gone. The hillside rising on the right at a 40-degree angle is all loose rock ground off this monolith by the action of the glacier. Loose, hard stone like this spills all down the mountainside.

Here at Strawberry Creek is the beginning of another mountain ascent at Great Basin. a hundred years ago this was pastureland for grazing sheep.

Along the Strawberry Creek trail, sheepherders carved messages in many of the aspen trees. Hobo Bill apparently left his mark in 1940.

Many of the carvings are names, dates, and messages (to other sheepherders?). Here is one of the more artistic depictions.

And, of course, Coulomb’s Law of the attraction of opposite bodies, in Spanish. The electrostatic force of attraction of two resting bodies with opposite charges is inversely proportional to their proximity to each other. Was this about science or sheepherder love?

Gold-mantled Ground Squirrel.

House Sparrow

Barn Swallow

Rock Wren

Lark Sparrow.

Clark’s Nutcracker keeping watch.

Clark’s Nutcracker announcing new arrivals.

Clark’s Nutcracker cracking nuts.

Pine Siskin.

West Coast Lady

Boisduval’s Blue

Callippe Fritillary

Long-nosed Leopard Lizard.

Charcoal Bee Fly.

9 thoughts on “Glacier in a Basin

  1. Vikki Dibble said:

    Your recent find of the beehive ovens are fascinating. It reminds me of the beehive huts or homes built all over Ireland typically from the 8th to 11th century. For Star Wars fans you can see the huts atop Skellig Michael off the west coast – filmed the last 2 movies. They used no mortar and pure engineering and physics left these huts to stand for centuries. Because Ireland does not have a national park system like the USA , then farmers have these on their vast lands everywhere. Kind of a wonder to see becuz’ during those times often the animals were brought in to be inside at nite for safety !! Thanks so much for your writings – thoroughly enjoy.

    • Duwan said:

      Very cool! I would love to see the beehive huts of Ireland. The ovens are so other-worldly looking, I’m not surprised that simular huts were in a sci-fi movie. Amazing that they are still standing after all these centuries!

  2. These photos are stunning! Who knew there is snow – let alone glaciers – in Nevada? You make me want to visit this national park. I hadn’t even heard of it. Mark and I don’t know much about this state. It sounds like you visited at the right time. Was the climate OK? I especially would like to check out the charcoal kilns at Frisco and see the views of the mountain without having to “work” to hard at it, hiking. 🙂

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks! I was pretty surprised to find a glacier in Nevada too. I have been wanting to go to the park for a while but really had no idea what it was all about. We haven’t spent a lot of time in Nevada but mostly what we have seen has been desert, weird art, and ghost towns – so Great Basin was completely unexpected.

      You have reminded me that for a while I used to put more practical info in our posts – like where to go or find info about a place. I need to start doing that again. There was a nice BLM campground not far from the park – I will include more info on that in our next expense post.

      And the climate was great – very pleasant in our campsite and although there was snow on the ground for our hike to the glacier it wasn’t cold.

  3. Stunning to see the changes in vegetation through the series of your beautiful photos Duwan. The charcoal kilns remind me of ancient Turkish bath houses that we saw while there. Those were a bit flatter and with holes in the ceiling to let light pass through.

    • Duwan said:

      The kilns seem like versatile shape. Ancient Turkish bathhouses seem really interesting! How cool would it be to take a bath in a structure like that.

  4. Alan Christensen said:

    I was there a few years ago. Was lucky to get a spot at the Wheeler Peak campground, tucked in among aspen in their fall colors. Deer came through each evening to grave in the meadows. I did the cave tour, too. I was not a hiker back then, so I didn’t get out on the trails. Next time, though.

    • Alan Christensen said:

      GRAZE in the meadows. Sheesh, read before posting, Al.

    • Duwan said:

      I love seeing deer. The campground sounds nice. The cave tour was closed – but maybe next time. I’d love to explore more of Nevada.

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