Photo spot 12: Great Basin National Park – Wheeler cirque
High above the Great Basin Desert in Nevada, the South Snake Range forms a vegetated island protected by Great Basin National Park. At the timberline, groves of Bristlecone pine trees grow, clinging to rocky ridges and cirques. The oldest living things on earth, those trees, with fantastically gnarled shapes and great texture, were already saplings before the Egyptians built the pyramids.
The most well-known and most accessible Bristlecone pine grove in the park is reached by a hike from the end of Wheeler Peak Drive, 12 miles from the visitor center. Because of the high elevation (10,000 ft) the road is often closed by snow from late autumn to late spring. Aspen groves abound in the area around the parking lot, turning bright yellow in late September.
The Bristlecone Pine trail starts at the edge of the parking lot. It is about 1.5 miles (one way), and 600 feet of elevation gain to the Bristlecone pine trees and associated interpretative signs. As it zig-zags amongst them, it provides you with many angles, but you can also wander in the boulder fields to look for more views and specimen.
You can continue further on the trail for about a mile and another 600 feet of elevation gain to a point where you stand in a purely mineral place. You will be standing on large moraine, directly below the impressive headwall of Wheeler Peak, home to an active rock glacier. Wheeler Peak (13,065 ft) is the tallest independent mountain in Nevada.
Morning light is preferable on the Bristlecone pine grove, as a hill casts a shadow in the afternoon. On the other hand, the light on Wheeler Peak is better in late afternoon to sunset. I would make it an all-day exploration.