Arches and Canyonlands National Park and were headed west, towards home. It's funny, the emotions that can arise on a long journey. It felt like we were nearing the end of the trip yet we still had five days and four nights to go, and there were still four national parks on the itinerary. I've put together two previous posts of my favorite shots from the trip, and this is the third and final chapter.
Like the La Sal Mountains described in the last post, they are laccoliths, mushroom-shaped intrusions of magma. It was at the Henry Mountains that the term laccolith was first proposed by Grove Karl Gilbert, a pioneering American geologist.
By the time we left Bryce that afternoon we were making serious mileage towards home. We crossed the deserts of western Utah and arrived at one of my favorite national parks of all: Great Basin. The park is not a basin, it's a mountain range, the Snake Range. It was established in 1986, although a small portion, Lehman Caves, was made a national monument in 1922. The political journey leading to the establishment of the park was different than most. As I came to understand it (and please, provide some insight in the comments if I have this wrong), there was a desire to have a national park representing the best of the Basin and Range geologic province, but promoters were split between three possible locales! There was the Toiyabe Range in central Nevada, the Ruby Range/East Humboldt Range in the northwest part of the state, and the Snake Range, which got the eventual nod. Purists supported the Toiyabe Range because it best exemplified the unique ecosystems of the Great Basin whereas the other two showed more affinities for Rocky Mountain flora. It was an interesting problem because the Ruby Mountains and Snake Range offered more "normal" mountain scenery along with glacial lakes. They really are a bit more like the Rockies. I suspect that the Snake Range got the nod because it already had the infrastructure for a national park (an extant visitor center, for instance), it had Lehman Cave as a centerpiece, but it also had Nevada's only glacier, and a forest of Bristlecone Pines, the oldest living organisms on the planet.
The park also protects Wheeler Peak (13,063 feet), which is the highest peak entirely within the boundaries of the state of Nevada (the actual high point, Boundary Peak, is a spur on the ridge of a higher peak in California, and it is only about 50 feet higher than Wheeler). There is a spectacular ridge-hugging paved road that reaches the main trailheads at over 10,000 feet.
you can read some details in this post from a previous trip). The next morning we were homebound and quickly crossed the western desert hills of Nevada. We crossed Anchorite Pass and rolled into our home state of California In a matter of minutes Mono Lake came into view. We took a break at the Interagency Visitor Center at Lee Vining.
Unfortunately humans always find a way to muck things up, and Los Angeles worked really hard to mess up this system. It involved building a 200 mile-long aqueduct and an eleven mile-long tunnel under a series of volcanoes to siphon off water from the tributaries that drain into Mono Lake. When the city closed off the streams in 1941 Mono Lake began drying up and lost 45 feet of elevation. The salinity drastically increased, threatening to kill off the shrimp. Lawsuits dragged on for years, but now an agreement is in place to raise the lake to a sustainable level. If only the California drought would cooperate...
The day we arrived the lake was (for me) an unusual shade of turquoise. The clouds were a sight as well. There had been not a great many clouds during our trip. The lack of rain was nice, but the entire route of our trip has been in the grip of an exceptionally severe drought. We wouldn't have minded a drencher if it could have helped.
Our final national park of the trip was in some ways the most familiar, but we didn't see it from a normal angle. Something like 90% of the people who visit Yosemite National Park go to the iconic valley, but the valley makes up only 7 square miles of a 1,000 square mile park. We entered the park at Tioga Pass (9,945 feet) and drove through the alpine meadows of the upper Tuolumne River. After more than 3,000 miles of barren desert environments, the greenery was stunning. We made a final lecture stop at Olmsted Point, which provided a unique view of Half Dome, from upstream.
But that was it. Once everyone realized that we had crossed the headwaters of the river that flows through our community, there was no slowing down. Homesickness is a powerful emotion and it was almost as if our vans took on a life of their own as we rolled down the western slope of the Sierra Nevada to the end of our journey. Like crazed tourists, we had visited 10 national parks, 9 national monuments and recreation areas, and maybe a dozen state parks. We had traversed a geological history encompassing 1.7 billion years of geological events and thousands of years of human history. All it took was 15 days, 3,700 miles, and a great group of students and volunteers!
Come join us some time in the future. We're headed to the Cascades this fall with a five day trip to Mt. Shasta, Lava Beds National Monument, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and McArthur-Burney Falls State Park. Contact me for details...