We started our day by cooking up an eggs breakfast in the full kitchen of the Get-Away Cabin, using the groceries that we had stocked up at the Border Inn’s convenience store. Considering the limited resources of Baker in the off-season, it was a really enjoyable meal, and as far as I could tell, our best bet for breakfast since we didn’t want to drive the eight miles to the Border Inn again, before our 9:00a tour of Great Basin’s Lehman Caves.
Saving some time would have been especially important had we not spent some time in the visitor’s center the day before, because the National Park is being extremely careful about protecting its bats from White Nose Syndrome. White Nose Syndrome first appeared in North American bats in New York in 2006; and is named for the white fungus that grows from the noses and wing membranes of infected bats (Belert et.al. 2008). In some bat species, such as the little brown bats, this disease has 90-100% mortality rate, and may affect half of the bat species found in North America, while it has been confirmed with symptoms in seven different species, two of which are endangered (White-Nose Syndrome.org). Wikipedia estimates that this disease was responsible for 5.7-6.7 million bat deaths as of 2012; this is a major concern not only for the endangered species involved, and their ecosystems, but us as well, as bats provide invaluable pest control and pollination services to humans. In any case, White-Nose Syndrome has not yet reached Nevada, but the National Park Service is doing what is can to make sure that it never comes to Lehman caves. This means that visitors who have shoes or cameras that they have taken into other caves must be disinfected. The process is easy, but it takes a few minutes.
Lehman Caves themselves were discovered by Absalom S. Lehman in 1885 (most likely), and shortly after his discovery he began bringing paying visitors down into the caverns, which are full of graceful formations, and at the time, were definitely an adventure to boast about having done. Early visitors went down into the pitch black caves with only candles to light their way, and with these candles they had to squeeze their way past thickly growing formations and through narrow passages. Many celebrated their exploration victories by writing their names on low cave ceilings with the smoke and heat from their candles. Some tourists at the time didn’t have that luxury, as their candles may have blown out and left them in the darkness, lost. Luckily, all early visitors had a guarantee from Lehman that if they didn’t come out of the cave within 24 hours, he would come looking for them, and he knew the caves well. (NP History of the Lehman Caves : http://www.nps.gov/grba/learn/historyculture/lehman-caves-discovery.htm).
My own experience with Lehman Caves was pretty tame, as the pathway through the cavern is now paved, and many of the formations that would have once forced visitors to squeeze by have been removed. There are also electric lights throughout the cave, as is fairly standard in caves open to the public. Lehman is probably one of the nicest caves that I have seen in the US, and I would rank it as being at least as good as Kartchner, although none of its formations are as large as Kubla Khan. There is also some unique historical aspects to this cave, that I haven’t seen elsewhere, such as the old signatures on the low ceilings from the early visitors. I also got to see a roosting bat during the tour, which was a first for me.
Besides Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park is also home to some of the oldest trees in the world, the Bristlecone Pines. Unfortunately, the only way to reach the grove was snowed in when we were at the park, and we hadn’t snow-shoed before, so we didn’t have the skills to brave to snow in order to see these trees. Thus, this was something that I missed out on when I came to Great Basin, but for anyone that visits during the season (Great Basin is one of the least visited National Parks in the lower 48- so it is a great place to explore if you don’t like crowds) this should be a must-see. For those people with experience snow-shoeing, there was also equipment available at the NP visitor center.
Day 4 to come on April 15th!
If you have any questions about my experience in Nevada and Arizona or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂