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great lessons from Great Basin

We all have our “character flaws,” and my own personal fault has always been my lack of patience. I just like to think of myself as overly punctual, but I know it’s something I need to work on. I’m the kind of person that feels if I’m not five minutes early, I’m late. Having a kid has forced me to relax this a little bit, but not much. When I’m running behind, or am waiting on someone else, my blood starts to feel as if it’s curdling inside me (not in an angry way, just in a debilitating, I-can’t-handle-this kind of way). Surprisingly, I’m not a stickler to schedules, but I really just don’t like waiting, or making others wait. My impatience goes beyond this simple notion of lateness, but this is the only way I know how to describe it.

Three years ago, almost to the top of Wheeler Peak, I had a moment with nature and decided to stay off the summit. As close as I was, as strong as I felt, I could not bring myself to do it. This mountain was teaching me a lesson in patience, and I was going to listen.

This year, I was ready to finally stand atop that 13,000-foot mountain. I took a Friday off work, and drove out with Ceci to secure a campsite in Great Basin at our preferred campground, since Jim and our friends Rich and Reina couldn’t leave until afternoon and we knew it would fill up by the time they arrived. Jim hitched a ride with them.

I’m always nervous about driving long distances with Ceci by myself. She is a great little road tripper, but she has her moments, and I’m never in the mood to have to deal with those moments alone while I’m operating a moving vehicle. However, like the last time I drove alone with her, she surprised me. She didn’t cry or fuss at all. Not once. She peed all the way through her diaper, but was happy as a clam the entire drive. At one point, I looked back in the mirror and saw her picking her nose (a new development) and eating it. Sigh. Is she really at that age already?

The drive out was glorious. I love Jim (like, more than anything), but driving alone felt really incredible. When you’re married, you’re hardly ever alone (especially once you have a kid). For me, not having any time to myself has definitely been the hardest part about becoming a parent. Thanks to grandma, we get a lot of time away from Ceci, but rarely do I get time away from Ceci AND Jim at the same time. Ceci was with me on this trip, but she slept for an hour, and was so content hanging out by herself in the backseat that I was able to just sit back and enjoy the scenery unfolding in front of me. My time alone is when I have some of my clearest thoughts, and I enjoyed every second of the drive.

The stretch between the Sevier Lake playa and Snake Valley is some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. I remember feeling the same way during my first drive out to the park. It’s beautiful in a different kind of way than most people would find “beautiful.” It’s high desert with no trees and sparse vegetation, but rocky barren mountains jut out of the land. It’s a lonely road, and those are always my favorite. I make mental notes of the dirt roads that spur off the highway, and vow to someday come explore.

Once in the park, I secured a site and set up camp. Ceci and I hung out for several hours before everyone else showed up that night, reading books, me trying to take a nap while she jumped on my back… you know, typical child-parent activities. Once everyone arrived, I made a carb feast to help propel us up the mountain in the morning, and went to sleep, ready to tackle the coming day. The plan was for Reina and I to hike Wheeler Peak while the dads stayed down at camp with the kids. Jim has already summited it, and Rich has bad knees, so they could hang out together. After all the wind during our hike three years ago, it was not a place I was willing to bring Ceci.

And then, when I woke up that next morning, I saw a gray cloud enveloping the peak, and I felt a little relieved. As much as I wanted to hike that mountain, I’d already decided that I needed to spend time with my family instead. It was Ceci’s first visit to Great Basin (outside the womb, at least), and I wanted to experience this place with her. If Reina and I hiked Wheeler, we’d be gone all day, and shot for the rest of the trip. We’d spend the rest of the time hanging out at camp. While I love doing that, Great Basin is such a magnificent place that I wanted to be there with Ceci when she walked among 5,000 year old trees, stared up at Nevada’s only glacier, and looked out at the water of Stella Lake. If I hiked Wheeler, I would have missed all those things.

This place continues to teach me lessons. Maybe that’s part of why I love it so much. It puts me in my place, and makes me see the bigger picture. It makes time relative, and shows me how to be patient. In a grove of 5,000 year old trees, it’s hard not to see that the mountain isn’t going anywhere, but that children grow far too fast. The decision to forego the peak was easy.

So we hiked to the Bristlecone Pine Grove instead. On our last trip here, when I was seven and a half months pregnant, I was incapacitated by pregnancy-related pelvic problems. I’d hiked less than half a mile on this trail before I broke down in agonizing pain and had to hobble back down. This time, fueled by all the carbs from the night before, I flew up to the grove. I felt the occasional blaring gust of wind, and felt even more justified in our decision not to hike the peak (flashbacks to being suffocated by wind three years earlier). I stared up at it from below, and marveled at its steep face. Looking down, I was treated to an even more amazing sight, as Ceci toddled around in her fleecy pink jumpsuit among these majestic, ancient trees, picking up pinecones and rocks as old as time.

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Further up the trail, Nevada’s only true glacier clings to life. During my first trip here three years ago, we didn’t hike this far, since we wanted to save our energy for Wheeler the next day. The vegetation grows more sparse, as you’re surrounded by rock and ice, but wildflowers still grow out of the crevices. The glacier doesn’t look like much, as rock has covered much of it, but the ancient ice is buried beneath. Due to warming global temperatures, this glacier is expected to completely melt within the next 20 years.

Back in the bristlecone pine grove, we ran into Jim’s friend Annie, who is a ranger in the park. She told us of a recent search and rescue up on Wheeler, and that the wind is always pretty intense. I was already happy where I was, but felt more justified in my decision. I consider the idea to never summit Wheeler. To purposely, with great intention, forever keep myself off the top of this easily attainable mountain. To bow to it, revere it, and respect its dominance. I haven’t made that decision yet, but it’s something I’ll always consider when I’m here. We’ll see what happens.

GreatBasin9457sakWe head back to camp for a couple hours before heading down to town to grab a few things. Town, in the case of Baker, Nevada, is not what one might expect. I’ve lived in small towns. This is hardly even a town. The gas station has no attendants, period. There are two little stores, one of which is never open, and the other’s shelves are so bare that it looks as if it’s going out of business. Still, we grab beer and salt, and swing by Great Basin’s visitors centers.

One more hike was awaiting us that day, so we head back up the mountain, up toward the campground at 10,000 feet. A mile or so before is the trailhead for the summit. We obviously weren’t going to take it all the way up, but wanted to hike the easy one-mile cross-country portion to Stella Lake. It’s a stunning alpine lake nestled under the ridge. Rich and Reina had never been, and I was aching to see that beautiful sight again. I carried Ceci this time. She was a little fussy though, and I always forget how heavy she really is. I realize I don’t give daddy enough credit for carrying her all the time.

At the lake, she wants to go in the frigid water, and I can’t stop her. I take off her socks and shoes, roll up her pants, and she sits on a rock and dips her feet in. It’s cold, and she pulls them out, then puts them back in, then out, then in. She splashes, and holds her feet above the water line. She sits patiently, staring out at the water. Our time there is glorious, but before long I realize her feet are frigid. I must make the bad-guy parental decision to take her away from the water. She loses it. She’s at that age of rage. She fights me in the carrier, and I resort to lying to get her to calm down. I’m not proud of it, but I point into the trees and ask if she sees the moose. She obviously doesn’t, but shuts up and scans the trees. Do you see a bear, I ask?

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Reina and I decide to hike another trail directly to the campground, and let the boys go back to the car and meet us back at camp. Our hike is slightly shorter, and downhill. Luckily, I don’t have to keep lying to Ceci as we encounter some deer. “Do you see the deer?” We keep our eyes peeled for the rest of the hike, and come across ten of them. Even when we don’t see them, she’s happy to keep looking. Anything to keep her preoccupied.

GreatBasin9870sakThe next morning, we kick back at camp before we pack up and head down the mountain. We’re not quite done with Great Basin yet, though. It’s time to go underground.

Great Basin was originally established as a national monument in 1922, as Lehman Caves National Monument. Even though talk of making it a national park had happened since its early days in the 20s, it wasn’t until 1986 that it was expanded to include the massive mountain that Wheeler Peak sits atop and became the national park it is today. The park contains over 40 caves, but the Lehman Caves are the only ones open to the public.

We were a little worried with how Ceci would do on the cave tour, as she was fast approaching nap time. Luckily, Jim’s friend Annie was our guide, and with young children allowed on this specific tour, I figure they must be used to some pretty obnoxious and/or scared kids. Ceci did great, but was definitely getting “drunk tired” by the end of it. She was happy, but required more handling. She wanted to run around the cave, but she’d flop her legs over each other, and walk like a drunk person. She was totally going to fall and hurt herself. Luckily, just as I was pretty much done with trying to contain her, the tour was over. Phew! We survived taking a kid underground!

It was time to head home now and get Ceci to take a nap. By then, we were so ready to be home. Tenting with Ceci the last few nights was not comfortable in the least. Sometimes we sleep okay, and other times not so much. This time was the latter. I love camping with her, but enjoying things takes a whole new level of patience when you’ve got a kid along for the adventure. And as we’ve already established, patience is not my strong suit. I’m working on it though. Great Basin is helping.

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Hanging out with Leo and Ceci. The glacier is that snowy, rocky slope in the background.

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Leo blazing trail… barefoot.

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Kicking back around the campfire.

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Rich, Reina, and Leo at Stella Lake. What a beautiful family.

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Water loving kids.

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Re-creation of a picture I took during our last visit to Great Basin, when I was seven and a half months pregnant.

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Stella Lake solitude.

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Magic.

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Hiking down from the glacier.

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Wheeler Peak dominating the background.

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Very wise words.

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Childhood done right.

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Sock for hands.

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On the bristlecone trail.

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Life’s in the details.

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Netherworlds.

  • July 20, 2015 - 8:55 pm

    Elaine - You probably get lots of comments to this effect whenever you post something here, but you are a lovely writer, and should write/post more! I really loved this and your Tetons post <3

  • July 20, 2015 - 9:30 pm

    Sarah - Thanks, Elaine! I actually never post anymore and never get any comments when I do, so this means a lot! I’ve realized lately how much I enjoy writing about our adventures, and how it makes me feel ever-so-slightly like my former, pre-motherhood self. I’m going to try to keep at it!

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