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  • Writer's pictureColin

Great Basin National Park Road Trip

This spring, we headed out on our first big trip since moving to Denver. It was a National Park trip that we desperately needed. From the absolute solitude and dispersed camping, to ending the trip in Vegas for my 30th birthday - it was an amazing time all around!

Like others in the past, this trip began with a flight to Vegas. It's always so cheap to fly to and is such a great starting point for so many parks! Before we left the city, we had our first stop: Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument.

This new park might not have been the least developed site we visited on this trip, but it definitely had us wanting more guidance. (We also visited Castle Mountains and there is literally one sign, but the beauty spoke for itself). At Tule, the history is incredible, we just didn’t know what we were looking at.

We stopped at all the different kiosks and did a little bit of hiking. Hopefully this park gets some more development as time goes on and we can return to gain a better understanding of the significance of the area. We would love a park film on this one😍!

From the Vegas area, it was on to the highlight of the trip, Great Basin National Park! The downfall with dispersed camping, is you don't always know if you'll find a spot. There was oddly only one place I could find between Vegas and a few hours drive toward Great Basin. This was a legit campground and of course full on the holiday weekend. Thanks to one of the reviews, I knew of a empty lot across the way that might be able to be used. After some back and forth, we decided that was going to be it for the night.

We got up with the sun and hit the road. We were excited to see the "Extraterrestrial Highway Sign", but it looked like some clown stole it again. We did capture some other cool shots on the way, though!

Great Basin was such a gem! These remote and lightly visited parks continue to be some of our favorites! From the underground Lehman Caves to the 13,065 ft Wheeler Peak, there is so much diversity. Lehman Caves is home to turnips and cave shields, some of the rarest cave formations cave in the world!!

Although we didn’t hike to the summit of Nevada’s 2nd highest peak, the journey to the glaciers was incredible. Rock Glacier and Wheeler Cirque Glacier meet at the bottom of Wheeler Peak. An extraordinary and challenging hike takes you from the top of the scenic drive, to this amazing display of nature. It was one of the coolest things we have done so far!

Along the path to the glaciers is a third wonder of Great Basin - the Bristlecones. These trees are the longest living things on the planet, some 5,000 years old! Even after they die, they continue to stand for hundreds and even thousands of years. These trees were stunning to see in person and the one pictured here is 3,200 years old and STILL LIVING!

Grey Cliffs campground was a beautiful place to stay, even with the little bit of snow we got. Our second night however, we decided to visit the Snake Creek Road area and woke up to a few inches of snow! (Good thing we decided to sleep in the car that night 😉).

This park is so out of the way, that it sits along The Loneliest Road in America. Don’t let that fool you however, it is certainly a site to see!

From Great Basin, we looped into Utah and back down to Nevada, to get to Lake Mead National Recreation Area! Lake Mead had some highs and lows for us. There were a couple of stops we made that surprised us; places you wouldn’t expect when you think of a lake recreational area.

Our first stop was the ghost town of St. Thomas. About 3.5 miles down a dirt road will bring you to the trailhead for this former thriving town. The trial itself is another 2.5 mile loop and is very interesting. There’s been so many ups and downs here, and we were so fascinated by its history. We definitely recommend checking this area out and we can’t wait to read more about it. This was probably our favorite part, at least most interesting, of Lake Mead.

Our second stop was the Redstone Dunes Trail. We just wandered around here for a bit, taking in the outer-worldly landscape. One spot was really cool where you could see the lava rock, sandstone and limestone all layered together.

Our 2nd day at Lake Mead, we hiked 1.5 miles onto the Historic Railroad Trail. This was also a very fascinating part of the site. A railroad was built through the area, only as a supply route to the construction site of the Hoover Dam. Tunnels had to be carved from the hard lava rock. It was really cool to see!

Lastly, we found a pretty awesome dispersed campsite. We had a great view, but we’re bummed to not be near the water. We tried a couple of options, but decided to just call it good so we could start setting up camp and make dinner. Our biggest disappointed was not being able to get into the water at all during our visit. It is LAKE Mead after all! Thankfully, these other stops made it more than worthwhile and now we have an excuse to come back!

After Lake Mead, we once again headed towards the solitude and lack of crowds. Castle Mountains National Monument is another majorly undeveloped site. Even with hours of research and planning, we were still nervous about traversing the terrain. Just beyond the Nevada border on the California side, it is almost completely surrounded by Mojave National Preserve.

There is very little to plan at this site, but we came up with a couple "destinations". Our first stop was Stagecoach Spring. As soon as we turned off the main road, we got our first “off-road” test. We couldn't even make it all the way to the spring and had to park and walk 5 minutes or so. We were excited to have finally made it and experience a destination within the park and pose with all the Joshua Trees.

It was a bit of a challenge, but we finally got the car turned around and headed to Hart Peak. With so little guidance and having to rely of off research and offline GPS, it got a little confusing. We didn't really have a "stop" for Hart Park, so we continued driving and tried to find Castle Mountain Mine.

We ended up passing trespassing signs for this company and started to feel uncomfortable, as we could tell we were approaching HQ. We decided to turn around and make our way out, toward Mojave.

New York Mountain Rd would give us a feel-good, thorough park experience, and exit us towards Fenner...until we reached a fence and dead end. After frustratingly trying to navigate around the “town” of Hart, we gave in and backtracked the way we came.

The remoteness and freedom makes a park like this exciting, however having a private company and fenced-off areas within, we would have appreciated a little more guidance from the NPS. The only way we knew of this company was by researching routes on Google Maps, it was never mentioned. Still with doing the research, we ended up stranded. Hopefully more information is available on this park soon!

As we exited, we had mixed emotions. We were disappointed with how the experience ended, but we were also pleasantly surprised at how much a small and remote park had to offer view-wise. If we could figure out how to traverse THROUGH the park, we might even come back!

Until next time though, it was onto Route 66 and the infamously high-priced gas of Najah’s Desert Oasis! We had planned to gas-up here before entering Mojave and being there for a couple days. From this direction, it is the last stop until we exited Mojave on the north end.

After topping off with some $8 gas, we headed to the last park on our Great Basin road trip! Mojave National Preserve is another remote and lightly-visited park. We were very excited for this experience!

With over 1.5 million acres to explore, even hours of research couldn’t fully prepare us for this park. The park itself is already in the middle of nowhere and then everything within the park is very spread out. That being said, Mojave is absolutely beautiful and was one of our favorites parts of the entire trip!

We arrived to Mojave in the evening, after a long day of travel from Lake Mead and through Castle Mountains. We checked out a couple dispersed options and decided one the first one. It was absolutely amazing! Top 5, maybe 3, camp sites we’ve ever had!

We woke up with a full day of Mojave ahead of us, and boy was it a journey! We started at the Kelso Dunes and quickly realized we got off a little too late in the morning. It was already extremely hot and we didn’t make it long on the trail. The dune views were so pretty and hopefully we can make it to the top one day!

After our dune experience, we were excited to visit the historic Kelso Depot. Even though this visitor center was closed to the public, it was really cool to walk around the outside and read about the history of Kelso! The original Post Office is still standing across the street from the train station.

Next up was the Lava Tube! The pictures we saw of this looked so cool and we couldn’t wait to see what this was all about. We managed to get to the end of the trail and took the ladder down into the ground. We were very confused and something didn’t seem right. As we disappointingly headed back to the car, I randomly got some cell service and pulled up IG. We were definitely missing something, so we headed back to the ladder and tried again with our flashlights. We never would have thought to climb through that little space! We’re so glad we made sure to find the right spot, because this was such a cool and unique thing to see!

To try and not backtrack, we were planning on taking Mojave Road to cross through the park and end up at the Joshua Trees. According to Google Maps, this was going to take about an hour and a half. Well, I guess I missed the part about needing a 4x4 AND high clearance in my research. This journey along the historic Mojave Road started out as one of my favorite things. 3 hours later however, I was very much over it. And incase you don’t know, rough roads are probably Kayla’s least favorite thing while traveling. The combination of any potential issue, plus being in a rental, makes her very anxious. I can’t disagree, but we always take it nice and slow!

This was definitely the most challenging road we have ever been on. At a certain point, I too started getting anxious, because even if we turned around, we knew we had to go through all those challenges again. At the same time, we had no idea how much longer we had if we continued straight. In the end, we made it through and had 3 or 4 close calls. We got “stuck” twice, but the GMC Terrain was a freaking champ! In a different vehicle, I would definitely do it again. Seeing the Mojave Road Mailbox was a weird highlight for me!

After finally reaching pavement, we made our way over to the Teutonia Peak trail and the Joshua Trees. Sadly due to a wildfire, most of the trees are burnt and scared. We were exhausted from that drive, so we didn’t venture out long on this one. We decided to head to our final destination for the night, the Hole-in-the-Wall area.

This was another interesting journey. We didn’t realize how far we’d be traveling along a dirt road just to get here. It felt like we had left and were in a totally separate park. We were hungry and so tired at this point, we skipped out on our last planned trail and setup camp and made dinner.

Waking up on our last National Park day, we packed up camp and headed over to the Visitor Center to wait for it to open. It was my birthday, so the park ranger gave me some goodies! We were talking with this ranger for some time and realized we had met him last fall at Agate Fossil Beds NM. He had just moved out here to be closer to family. So crazy!

It was here we got our Castle Mountains and Mojave passport stamps and called it a day on this National Park journey! Although we had an exciting day ahead of us full of birthday celebrations and running water, the National Park adventures were over for now. Vegas here we come!

We had one planned stop en-route to Vegas. It was of course, the Instagram famous "Seven Magic Mountains". To no surprise, the place was packed. It was still really cool, however. It's kind of a surreal sight, just in the middle of the desert like that. We were really glad we stopped and decided to stop at a bar nearby instead of heading straight to the city.

The Pioneer Saloon is a really cool and historic bar in Goodsprings, Nevada. We had thought about making this a stop, but didn't want to backtrack after leaving Seven Magic Mountains. We are very glad we decided to after all. We still didn't have a hotel for the night, so after getting some good and filling food in us, we were able to concentrate and nail a place down.

After feeling better about our evening plans, we were off to Sin City! We love Fremont Street, so we made sure to stay there for the night. After finally getting checked-in and hauling all of our gear to the room, it was like heaven to have a real shower!

Finally ready to head out and celebrate the big 3-0, we started the evening at Banger Brewing. Walking up and down the Freemont Street Experience is a journey all on its' own. We just enjoyed the night casually strolling around and catching a concert at one of the stages.

After a week of solitude and desert dust, this was a great way to end the trip and celebrate the bday. Where to next?!

Checkout our Instagram posts for more pics of each stop!


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