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
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.
Clark’s Nutcracker keeping watch.
Clark’s Nutcracker announcing new arrivals.
Clark’s Nutcracker cracking nuts.
West Coast Lady
Long-nosed Leopard Lizard.
Charcoal Bee Fly.