Aly woke up early in the morning to catch the sunrise and get us moving on our last day in Great Basin National Park.
Once we got moving, we knew exactly where we wanted to go, the grove of ancient Bristlecone pine trees. (C) Gnarled and denuded of needles, these trees have been growing for thousands of years making them the oldest known organisms on the planet. The hike up is pleasant and wooded. As we rounded a shallow valley a mile or so before the grove, we encounter a small hotspot of birds. About 20 or so Red Crossbill were plowing through the cones on a group of trees. Their odd bill adaptation seemed perfect for dismantling the cones to feast on the seeds.
A bronze tablet marked the entrance to the short loop trail around the grove of trees. We ran into a few other couples and noticed that everyone fell into a sort-of hush as they slowly walked the trail. It felt as though one was in a holy place and any loud noise might disturb the slow, painstaking growth of the Bristlecone and Limber pine trees. Placards marked specific trees and gave approximate dates of their birth. The oldest tree in the park is about 4,600 years old and still growing. It was humbling to stare at these trees and think back to what the view from that spot must have been thousands of years ago, when that tree’s roots first grasp the rocky soil and began growing.
Once we were down from the old trees trail, we began to head out of the park. We made one last stop at the Baker Creek Trailhead (E) and went for a short hike. Upon crossing the creek, we found ourselves in a lush prairie meadow that seemed out of place for an area so lacking of water. Across the field, hopping among the tree branches was a MacGillivray’s Warbler, the western counterpart to the eastern Mourning Warbler.
If there was one thing stood out to Aly and I about Great Basin National Park it was the remarkable diversity of the ecosystems contained within the park. Between green meadows spotted with flowers, parched, scrubby sagebrush, and glacial moraines below bouldered peaks, one could experience a different park on every hike. Even as we drove down the long, straight road to Baker, it was jarring how quickly the varied micro-landscapes gave way to the desolate expanse of the Great Basin.