Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great_Basin_2 I always wanted to visit Great Basin National Park, but distance, time, and alternate plans had a tendency of getting in the way. My recent departure from Reno-Tahoe, however, finally afforded me the opportunity to pay this substantial piece of Nevada a visit.

You always hear the term “Great Basin” used to describe the state of Nevada. I thought I more or less understood what it meant, but it turns out I didn’t. When I heard the term my mind would immediately flash to wide open places and large expanses of land; but I never really included water into that equation. I know it seems obvious considering the use of the word “basin,” but because much of Nevada is seemingly dry to the naked eye, I didn’t think about it 3-dimensionally.

Great_Basin_Diagram What is really occurring is the flow, and sometimes trickle, of water both over ground and underground to a central and internal source. What is unusual about the Great Basin is that it has no external outlet. In other words, it does not lead to the sea. Instead, water eventually evaporates, giving itself up to the atmosphere, returning again to the earth at some later date.

I always knew this was the case with the Truckee River, as it carried water from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake, but I just never thought of it in larger terms. I did not know that it incorporated the entire state of Nevada, as well as parts of Utah, California, and Oregon. It is huge!

There_Is_No_More_Water I of course learned all of this at Great Basin National Park. I also developed a larger appreciation of what the ramifications of Las Vegas growth means to Nevada’s most precious resource. As the city reaches further and further out into the Great Basin, they are slowly but surely depleting a confined water system. It may be large, but it is not infinite, and it is connected to many different environments and communities that depend on it.

Great Basin National Park is a popular stop off for those who are interested in exploring Lehman Caves and climbing Wheeler Peak. I actually did neither. But I did go hiking, and I found this most incredible tree. I’ve seen my fair share of trees, including the Giant Sequoias, some of the oldest Bristlecones, and the large Live Oaks of the south, but I have never come across such a peculiar configuration of rooted wood in my life. We spent some time together.


8 thoughts on “Great Basin National Park, Nevada”

  1. I just randomly read this. You are a good writer. I am not just saying that either, you could write for a travel publication if you wanted to. I can’t beleive I have lived out here for 12 and a half years and I had no idea what the meaning behind “BASIN” was. The problem with living in the Bay Area is that you become so caught up with whatever you are working on that you forget that you are less than a day’s drive from some of the greatest outdoors on the continent.

  2. Hey Robert,

    Sorry to see you go, but glad to hear you took the long way across Nevada. Great Basin NP proudly boasts that it has cleanest air in the lower 48 states and rightly so. While the park will retain its water from the Vegas grab, it recently just dodged another bullet when Senator Reid came out against two coal power plants in Ely. A huge step on many scales, but one that ultimately guarantees the basin will also keep keep those sweeping views and gorgeous blue skies.


  3. Hi, just thought you might be interested about the hydrology of Great Basin Aquifer. I’m a Master’s student in earth science doing a big presentation on Las Vegas water use, so here’s my two cents:

    The aquifer is confined, but it does recharge in various mountain ranges. So it’s possible that Las Vegas could remove some water and still leave the aquifer in good shape for other users. The problem is that the SNWA (Southern Nevada Water Authority, which makes decisions about water use for Las Vegas) uses a groundwater model that predicts more recharge than other models out there. Going by their numbers, they’re not as a whole planning on taking more water than the aquifer provides, but they’re planning on pumping some areas (sub basins) very heavily, and others not at all. So some areas will be really negatively affected.

    Drawing down water levels is a concern for other people in the area, obviously, and also to the ecosystems in the region. Most biodiversity is concentrated along springs, streams and wetlands that depend on the aquifers for water. One study predicted negative effects for the 15 endangered and 5 threatened riparian species in these areas. We’ve already seen this effect, as a minnow called the Las Vegas Dace, only found in springs in the Las Vegas Valley, went extinct in the 1980s due to overuse of groundwater.

    I really think Las Vegas needs to cap its population or at least slow its growth substantially. It’s a desert. It’s made for low population density. (Easy for me to say, as I’m from humid southern Ontario, but we have our own gw supply issues here, too…)

  4. Maddy, thank you for adding your two cents. Sounds like the water authority is trying to get away with completely destroying certain ecosystems, which I suspect are located in areas that have a smaller influence on government actions. I hope they don’t succeed, but as I have come to learn, laws and legislation are often a compromise. Please return to give any future updates if and when you learn of them. And good luck on your presentation!

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