Great Basin National Park. The name makes us think that the park will be mostly flat, centered around one of the many basins scattered across Nevada. Once again, Nevada had a surprise for us. Great Basin NP is actually centered around the Snake Mountain Range. There’s a huge diversity of landscapes and ecosystems to see in Nevada’s only national park.
Another surprise was finding out that Great Basin NP has a cave system to explore. All explorations are via a ranger-guided tour to protect the cave environment. Online tickets were sold out for the entire weekend when we arrived. Fortunately, a ranger let us know that they offer a limited number of same-day tickets. We just had to be at the visitor center right away when it opened the next day.
This cave is worth setting the alarm for. The formations that you see in caves—stalactites, stalagmites, columns, etc.—are all considered decorations (or in science speak speleothems) because they’ve been created in the second stage of the cave’s development. Once the initial area of the cave has been carved by water, more water seeps in. It deposits minerals that build-up and become stunning formations. Lehman Caves is the most decorated cave we’ve ever been in. There are intricate formations both large and small. Iron in the water gives many of them a striking bright color.
Stan Springs a Leak (Again)
After the cave tour we headed to the Snake Creek area of the park. Our plan was simple—hike a couple trails and then stay at a free campsite along the creek. The road to the trailhead is dirt, 10 miles long, in a no service area, and gains approximately 2,000 feet of elevation. We only saw one other car the entire long bumpy way. As we pulled into the trailhead Tom noticed that Stan was slowly leaking transmission fluid. Not good.
This is the exact type of situation that we have AAA for. Unfortunately, cell service was 10 miles away. We let Stan cool down a bit to see if we could possibly drive him out. When we turned him back on, transmission fluid gushed out. Really not good.
We had no choice but to attempt the 10 mile trek to cell service on foot. Not half a mile down the road we encountered people, amazingly enough. They gave us a ride down the mountain and said it’d be best to leave us with a man called Hank. He works in an official capacity in the area and they tell us he has a landline we can use. They assure us that this is much better than just leaving us at the end of the road or at a ranger station.
A Great Rescue in Great Basin
Hank lives in the wilderness. His front yard is inhabited by a flock of wild turkeys, chickens, roosters, and feral cats. He has a confederate flag hanging in his window and guns within arm’s reach of pretty much anywhere you stand inside his house. At one point, he told us that he tries not to drive on paved roads unless he absolutely has to. We have some initial concerns about our new rescuer, but we couldn’t exactly be picky. Hank ends up being perhaps the biggest surprise we find in Nevada.
While Tom calls AAA and I unsuccessfully try to get cell service, Hank opens a few bottles of beer. He sets full pint glasses down in front of us saying that this is his home-brew. It seems we’ve already found some common ground. We start talking home brewing, over carbonation, and exploding bottles. He shows us a stain on his ceiling from his last batch of exploding beer. About an hour and two home-brews later we find out that the tow truck isn’t coming. They won’t go that far up the dirt road. We need to get Stan off the mountain ourselves.
Hank thinks that we may have overheated and the transmission fluid boiled over. It may be cool enough now to drive down the mountain. If we’re still spewing transmission fluid then Hank can tow us. We don’t have any other options so this becomes the plan.
The three of us, Hank’s dog, and a cooler of beer (hey, you always need to be prepared, right?) load into Hank’s truck. We bounce up the mountain road while Hank’s dog sits next to me chewing on a deer leg. Not a bone. The entire leg from the knee-joint (assuming deer have knees) down. On our way up we see a fox in the middle of the road and narrowly miss a head-on collision with another vehicle. We make it though.
All looks dry and well with Stan and we get down the mountain without incident. Back at Hank’s we call AAA again. They tell us to bring Stan to the nearest highway. Also, it’s going to be about two hours before a tow truck can pick us up. Stan should make it fine the last few miles, but we have some time to kill.
Off the Mountain
We offer to take Hank out for dinner in town to thank him. He declines saying, “Oh I don’t go into town. I’m not much for civilization, but I never leave anyone on the mountain.” We thank him profusely and apologize for taking up his Friday night. He tells us that his plans are to pour another home-brew and watch Bill Maher. “Do we like Bill Maher? And would we like to join him?” he asks. How could we say no to that?
The topic on Bill Maher was climate change. Being that he lives off the land it’s not surprising that Hank has seen firsthand many effects of climate change. Our conversation inevitably leads to politics and the last election. We discover that Hank is an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter. He campaigned heavily and volunteered with the Nevada caucus during the last election. We find that we have a lot more in common politically and socially with Hank than we ever would have thought.
Soon it’s time to take Stan out to the highway to meet the tow truck. Hank follows behind us to make sure everything goes smoothly saying “I got you off the mountain. I’m not gonna leave you now.” At the intersection of a dirt road and the highway we watch an orange moon rise over the nearest mountain with our new friend and wait for the tow truck.
Back to the Park and Gratitude
Our remaining time in Nevada was much less eventful. We spent the weekend in the bustling town of Ely while Stan was in the shop. It’s a quaint place with vintage neon lights, a few casinos to choose from, and one of the few brothels within city limits. We didn’t actually go to the brothel, so we don’t have anything to report there. Sorry to disappoint. In the end, we lucked out and there weren’t any major transmission problems—just a series of smaller issues that were repaired easily.
Even though we planned to already be in Utah, we decided to spend one more day at Great Basin National Park. We combined three hikes into one and saw a variety of scenery—two subalpine lakes, a Bristlecone pine grove, and the only glacier in Nevada. Then we stopped at Hank’s to drop off a thank you gift. He insisted that we take a 6-pack of home-brew with us. Twist our arm😉
We don’t know how we’ll ever repay Hank for his kindness and generosity. We really can’t. Not only did he help us, but he turned a stressful and unpleasant experience into a fun adventure. He also reminded us of the valuable lesson of not judging a book by its cover. As cliche as it sounds, this is something that’s hard to truly practice. We involuntarily make judgments when we meet people. We put them into categories in our minds based on what we see and what we’ve experienced. Hank taught us that at first we may seem very different, but if you take a little time to get to know one another, it turns out that we’re not that different at all.
Have you ever gotten into a bad situation while traveling? Did you have to ask for help? How did it turn out?