The Great Basin

Capitol Reef AU11-230

My Colorado odyssey is now finished. The last portion of it, which involved a long two day trek from Capitol Reef National Park to Eureka, CA, involved passing over the Great Basin.

According to Wikipedia, the “Great Basin is the largest area of contiguous endorheic watersheds in North America and is noted for its arid conditions.” What that basically means is that its the largest area where water has no access to the ocean. Any water that falls via rain or any other method within its boundaries will stay within its confines. The Great Basin includes Lake Tahoe, Death Valley, the Great Salt Lake, the Salton Sea, and Mono Lake. While centered in Nevada, the Great Basin covers large expanses of California and Utah, and smaller expanses of Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming. It is considered largely a “high” desert, meaning that most of it lies well above sea level (despite Death Valley and the Salton Sea, exceptions to this rule). If traveling from Colorado and Utah, you almost have to go through the very heart of the Great Basin. Toward the middle of the Great Basin, the elevation rises to 6,000 feet or more, and the mountains ranges that rise up along the Basin floor reach to 13,000 feet. Highway 50, the so-called “Loneliest Road in America,” pushes right through the middle of the Great Basin. After disappearing into Interstate 70 in Grand Junction, Highway 50 re-emerges south of Salt Lake City, and drives across one of the widest sections of the Great Basin from the middle of Utah to within 25 miles of Reno, Nevada, where it dissolves into Interstate 80. It compromises the shortest route straight across the Nevada portion of the Great Basin, and if you are traveling from either Bryce Canyon or Capitol Reef National Parks, it is the quickest route back to northern California.

On the day I traversed the Great Basin, an unstable weather system, pushed forward by the first big winter storm of the season, was assaulting the high desert. Dark clouds flew across the sky, congregating around high peaks. Winds whistled across the mountain tops and swooped over the dry, brush covered desert plains. The dominance of clouds, with sun making frequent cameos and providing mottled light across the desert floor and against the flanks of creviced mountains, gave the landscape a sort of grandiloquence that flirted with beauty. Under the bright sunshine, the Great Basin can become monotonous; but under the beautiful light provided by storm clouds mixed with sun, the landscape is transformed.

As I was on a long journey which brooked against even the shortest delays, I had little time to get any pictures. In any case, there weren’t many places one could stop, as the shoulder was nearly non-existence and the road tend to be raised above the desert floor as a protection against flooding. I took a few quick snapshots, including the following one of Mount Wheeler, the highest mountain of the mighty Snake Range, completely shrouded in thick clouds: