Great Basin National Park (GRBA) in east-central Nevada is well known as a dark sky park and boasts that it has some of the darkest night skies left in the United States. Low humidity and minimal light pollution, combined with high elevation, create a unique opportunity to view the universe.
The park will be hosting its annual Astronomy Festival from Sept. 14 through Sept. 16. Some of the festival events will include guest speakers, photo workshops, art workshops, and tours of the Great Basin Observatory, which is the only research-grade observatory in a national park. The park welcomes amateur astronomer volunteers and their telescopes for a star party each night of the festival. If you are interested in assisting with telescope viewing or participating in any of the events, preregister at: www.nps.gov/grba/planyourvisit/great-basin-astronomy-festival.htm.
Besides experiencing the astronomy festival and ongoing dark sky activities, there are other interesting activities that draw visitors to the park.
The Bristlecone pine is among the oldest living organisms in the world. It can be 4,000 to 5,000 years old. The gnarly appearance of these trees has been shaped by wind, ice, and snow. The trees grow very slowly, or not at all some years, because of the harsh weather conditions. The slow growth makes the wood dense and provides resistance to insects, fungi, rot, and erosion. A grove of these trees can be found just below the tree line at about 10,000 feet in GRBA. Weather permitting, a visitor can hike three miles round trip on the Wheeler Peak Trail to see a grove of these trees.
Great Basin also has more than 40 caves with guided tours through the two Lehman Caves. These caves are known for having “cave shields,” which are round mineral formations naturally formed over many years from calcite-rich water leaking into the cave. Reservations for tours are highly recommended and can be made up to 30 days in advance. For more information about the tours, go to www.nps.gov/grba/planyourvisit/lehman-caves-tours.htm.
Depending on how much time you have to visit Great Basin, the national park service has some suggested tours listed on their website from a half day to several days.
If you are interested in camping, Great Basin has five campgrounds. In addition, horses and other pack animals (mules, burros, and llamas) are welcome in the backcountry of the park. Please follow park regulations.
The park is about 700 miles from SaddleBrooke Ranch and 300 miles north of Las Vegas.
All park events and programs are weather dependent. Please check www.nps.gov frequently if you are considering a trip.