I rested in my tent, and I mean truly rested. There had not been any other moment in my life in which I felt as calm as I did that evening in my tent in Great Basin National Park.
When I arrived earlier in the day, I looped around Wheeler Peak Campground twice, looking for a vacant site. The campground seemed to be full, but eventually I struck success and found a perfect site.
This was a developed campground, and so the road was paved. There was a place to park my car, and my campsite had a picnic table and a fire ring. As an added bonus, this particular site had a patch of pine trees, and within the patch of trees was a flat barren area to pitch my tent. I could camp in my own miniature forest in the welcoming shade. This would be greatly appreciated, after having spent most of the day in the hot desert sun.
This little forest gave me a feeling of privacy and security, despite the dead squirrel in there, just a few feet from where I pitched my tent. Flies buzzed around it. I made a mental note to make sure to avoid it. The last thing I wanted to do was to clean fresh juicy squirrel guts from my hiking boots or feel them ooze onto the sides of my flip flops. It hadn’t crossed my mind that the real concern should be the carcass attracting other animals.
After I set up camp, I went for a hike, taking the trail which began in the campground. The campground was named after Wheeler Peak, because the mountain peak towered over it. The trailhead led to the peak, but the trailhead also veered to Stella Lake and Teresa Lake, both which were small lakes at the bottom of the rock glacier. I took in these two lakes and saved the hike to Wheeler Peak for the following day.
Up here above the Great Basin Desert, the forest was warm and spacious. Pine needles, fallen tree limbs, and streams covered the forest floor so beautifully. I made my way through the forest, observantly, with a full sense of wonder. This type of open forest was new to me. What sort of animals live here? What sort of plants and features might I expect to see? The the trail eventually led to Stella Lake. I stood there alone. The bright sun shone down, and the landscape opened up to a pristine view.
Except for a few patches of snow, I saw crumbled rock spread all over the landscape amidst clusters of pines. It was evident that all the rocks had fallen over time from the focal point. Just beyond the pines in the far reaches was it: Wheeler Peak, in all its majesty with a prominent rock glacier cascading from its height. This was the Great Basin National Park I had seen in pictures. Looking down, the water was turquoise, stealing blue from the clear sky and reflecting green from the pines surrounding it. Up close, the water was very clear. I could see jumbled rocks just on the other side of the small ripples caused by the gentle warm breeze. Who would have ever guessed that up here hidden in the heights beyond the heat of the desert was such a place. What else is Nevada hiding up in its mountains?
This lake before me was not very big. It was small. I could easily swim from one side to the other. It seemed more like a pool. That combined with the fact that the pine trees weren’t terribly tall, the rocks around had fallen in relatively small fragments, and the only wildlife I had observed were chipmunks playfully running around, gave this place a sort of miniature feel. This sensation was appealing. It made the place welcoming, homey, manageable. It was like I had come upon a secret, exclusive, pocket-sized Montana.
It seemed as if the forest of the park was only possible because of Wheeler Peak. Here at the base of this giant rock feature was the collection of its ice melt, the fruit of its shade. It created conditions for this pristine forest. It was another paradise hidden in the high reaches of a mountain.
Sometimes in our spiritual lives, the greatest places of pristine serenity are up in high reaches, well beyond the canyons in which so many people dwell. It takes initiative and determination to get to these places. Sometimes it involves making it past the desert of life, in which everything seems so fruitless and barren. In other instances it might mean walking over the snowpack, with not a trail in site, but relying on the guidance of God’s spirit. When you’re traversing your mountain, you may not see these secret places, hidden up in the high reaches, but they will surprise you, if you endure.
It’s important to say that arriving at these places of peace in life require you to be well elevated from your canyons. It may be you are stuck in a canyon of addiction, of insecurity, of selfishness, of anger, or of any ailment. Places of peace may not be found until you make your way up into the mountains. If you are stuck below in the canyon, you’ve got to ask yourself what is it going to take for you to get to your place of peace? Forgiveness, admittance, reliance? What about all of these?
Life is not easy, but we all long for places of peace. I also want to be free flowing and pure like the little streams of water that flowed from the mountain lakes into Leham Creek. They flowed smoothly and quickly, just with a subtle trickling sound, and they meandered and swerved through the forest, clear and cool- not a care. Their flow was level to the ground around it. They weren’t carving out canyons, stirring up trouble, but flowed right along with the landscape of life. I remember holding my camera to take some pictures and thinking, I’ve never seen water flow more beautifully in my life.
My hike had been extremely pleasant, with the company of the sweet pines, the warm and gentle dry air around me, the vibrant blue and green colors of the ice melt water, the captivating vista of Wheeler Peak, the pine cones and pines needles spread all across the forest floor, chipmunks scurrying about, birds singing up in the trees, and the subtle trickle of the water meandering through the forest.
When I got back to camp, I felt, in a sense, high. It felt like nature had just shot something sedating through my veins. Maybe it was the altitude, or perhaps I was just tired and relieved from the desert. Or maybe it was the gift of a beautiful landscape and the exercise in the forest that released endorphins.
I sat down on my sleeping bag, in my tent, tucked in between the pines, and I was at perfect blissful ease. I brought into my tent with me my water bottle and my book on the West. I took a sip of my water and laid down. The sleeping bag felt soft, silky, and warm, as it slid under my skin of my arms and brushed against my heels. Beneath it was the comfort of my air mattress filled full. I stretched my legs out and I could almost hear them giving off a sigh of relief. My head sunk heavily into my pillow. I looked up through the top of my tent into the limbs of the pine trees. Just beyond them was the rich blue sky and a few clouds lingering. I could gaze at this view for hours, I thought.
The lighting was perfect in my tent, coming in proportionally on all sides of the white tent, making my skin almost appear as if it was glowing that dusty red of southern Utah. The greenness of my sleeping bag was illuminated by the light, complementing the color of the pines overhead. I was relaxed, but my senses were keen and aware.
The temperature here was perfect. The air was deeply breathable, and the sides of my tent subtly radiated heat. I felt perfect, wrapped up in the womb of nature which was going to birth my rejuviation. I broke open my book, and started to read, then I fell deep asleep.
I woke up in the early night. I hadn’t expected to fall asleep and sleep so long and so deeply. I thought about just staying put in the tent, but concluded I really needed to eat. So I lifted myself up, stepped out of my tent, walked through my little forest and over to the other end, where I built a fire in the ring. I gathered up as much warmth from it as I could, because the air had grown cool. I cooked some oatmeal and ate whatever other snacks I had. I wrote a few postcards and then called it a night. I walked back into my mini-forest and zipped myself into my tent for a night of deep rejuvenating sleep.
Read the previous entry “Reflections on the People of Rural Nevada,” here:
5 thoughts on “The Hidden Greatness of Great Basin”
I looove Great Basin! I’m planning a trip back there for sometime in May and I’m so excited!
Its one of my favorites! Have you been before? Have you summited Wheeler Peak?
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I went last summer and really enjoyed it! I didn’t go up to Wheeler Peak, I need to get in better shape first haha. Did you?
Yes! That’ll be my next blog entry or the one after it. It was amazing. The highest altitude I’ve ever been and the view absolutely amazing. It’s not that hard, but it was super windy, I was scared the wind would blow me off the mountain, so at times I had to crawl. You’ll get to read all about it.
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I look forward to reading it! I would worry about the wind, too haha.