Monday, September 8, 2014

Camping at Great Basin National Park

Wheeler Peak from the Scenic Drive

 I confess I am a fan of the national park system. Having unique parts of America set aside and preserved and made accessible to the average person is, in my opinion, a good thing. Each national park I have visited has its own wonderful characteristics. I have loved spending time in Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Zion, and Yellowstone. This year we decided to venture to a less-visited national park  Great Basin National Park is known for Lehman Caves, and bristlecone pines. As I researched things we wanted to do at the park, I realized it was far enough away that a day trip wasn't going to work. Our best option for truly seeing this park was to camp in one of the park's five developed campgrounds.

Lehman Caves

After a stop at the visitor's center, we arrived in the Upper Lehman campground in a driving rain. We drove slowly around the campground loops, trying to find a likely tent spot. Finally, we pulled over and parked in a vacant space, opened the cooler and assembled sandwiches, and ate lunch while we waited for the weather to improve. Eventually the rain stopped, and we got out to tramp around our potential camp site. Not enough room for our family-sized tent. Back to the loop we went. We finally chose a camping site I nicknamed "A River Runs Through It" for the small river that ran under the picnic table each time it rained. However, it did have ample room for the tent.

Having had a rather unfortunate rainy camping experience in the past, we were determined to do a better job on this camping trip. My daughter and I strung a tarp over the picnic table area, sheltering our camp kitchen, while my husband and son pitched the tent. We got the basics in place before the thunder, lightning, and rain began again. When the sun came out later in the trip, this tarp also provided welcome shade.

Tarp over our "camp kitchen."

Here are some tips I found for camping in the rain:
1)  Use tarps to shelter areas in your camp. (You can also string a tarp over your tent site if you have to pitch your tent in the rain).
2)  Put a ground cloth/liner INSIDE your tent, and let it curve slightly up the tent walls.  This keeps you and your sleeping bags and gear dry inside the tent even when the ground is pretty wet. We tried that on this trip, and it worked out really well!
3)  Keep firewood in garbage bags so it is dry when you are ready to use it.

Dinner is cooking during a rainstorm.
Upper Lehman campground was beautiful! We were near the creek,and took our camp chairs down to the water more than once. We did some bird watching, read books, sketched and painted, and just relaxed. It is a beautiful place to camp.

Creek near our camp site.

Great Basin National Park has several improved campgrounds. The campsites have a fire pit, tent site, and one or two picnic tables. There are also well-ventilated vault toilets around the campground. These were clean and well-maintained. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There are NO reservations. Campgrounds can fill up on weekends and holidays in the summer time. We arrived on a Thursday afternoon in July and had no trouble getting a camp site. However, by late Friday night, the campground was pretty full, so plan on arriving early. The Lower Lehman Campground can accommodate RVs. Trailers longer than 24' are not allowed on the scenic drive, which is your only access to Upper Lehman and Wheeler Peak Campgrounds. Camp sites cost $12 per night, and entrance to Great Basin National Park is free.

Not a camper? Limited accommodations are available in the nearby town of Baker, NV.