Friday, 25 November 2016

Part 10 of our holiday in the USA -.Great Basin National Park including the Lehman Caves from our base in Mesquite.

About 100 miles (160 km) north of Cathedral Gorge (where we were in the last blog), Great Basin National Park, established in 1986, is also in eastern Nevada.  It is in the Great Basin desert and contains most of the South Snake mountain range. The park is notable for its groves of ancient bristlecone pines. Some have been aged (by tree rings) at around 5,000 years old and hence the oldest tree species on the planet! They are shallow rooted and grow best in hostile environments. 
Also in the park are the Lehman Caves, originally protected as a National Monument in 1922.  The caverns were discovered around 1885 by Absalom Lehman, a rancher and miner and they extend 400 metres (a quarter-mile) into the base of the mountains.
Proof that we were there :-) That's bare rock, not snow, above the tree line on the mountain behind.

Difficult to see at this scale but this is an informative map of the park, its features and trails!

The Lehman cave system began forming approximately 550 million years ago (during the Cambrian period) while the rock strata were still submerged in a relatively warm, shallow ocean. The caves have been formed by a marble and limestone solution exploiting and eroding cracks in the rock; the solution also continues to form the many and spectacular cave decorations.

The cave system was extended during the later Pleistocene geological period, when a prolonged and increased flow of water further eroded fractures in the cave's bedrock. Eventually, the water level dropped, exposing the Lehman cave system to anyone without scuba apparatus!

On arrival at the Park's visitor centre, while waiting for the tour to depart, we walked around the exhibits and were fascinated by this Winchester rifle in a glass case.

This very rare Winchester 1873 rifle was only discovered in November 2014, just leaning against a juniper tree in the Park! (see the photo at the back of the case). It had obviously been there through all types of weather, the cracked wooden stock well weathered, and the barrel rusty. How many years had it been there? Who was the owner? Why did they not return for it?

What do you think happened?  It is still a complete mystery!

This is a route of the cave tour.

Access to the caves is only via the daily, and popular, guided tours.

From the entrance, visitors are guided through the specially named areas shown on the map; unfortunately  I am now not sure which  of my photos is which, but there are exotically named caves like the Gothic Palace, the Cypress Swamp and the Grand Palace. There are also hosts of stalactites, stalagmites, columns, draperies, flowstone, soda straws, shields and popcorn.  A geologist's dream!
This was my first photo inside the caves, so it is probably the Gothic Palace but....

So many different formations...

and shapes...

in every corner you look.

The colours you see in the photos are all correctly reproduced...

because the lights are white (not coloured) and  switch on and off  manually as visitors pass through each area to protect the precious features, and stop unwanted  fungal growth which would be generated by continuous lighting.

In one section on the route, the fixed lighting system did not work, but thankfully a number of people had torches; nevertheless,  it was  quite a spooky 5 minute walk to the next lit section!

Now I know that this photo shows one of the rare shield formations (the more horizontal bit in the upper centre)...

and you can see a few more here, with stalactites growing from them.

One of my photos towards the end of the tour, maybe the Grand Palace!

Back in daylight, we drove up Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive; there are amazing views along this winding road which takes you up high to a magnificent view across Snake Valley.  There are 11 types of conifers in the Park, including the ancient bristlecone pines!

Looking across Snake Valley towards the Snake Range.

Wheeler Peak is the tallest mountain in the Snake Range; its summit elevation of 3,958 metres (13,065 feet) makes it the second-tallest peak in Nevada. Despite the  extreme heat in the Great Basin during our June visit, there is still some snow to be seen on the mountains!

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated  25 September 2016)  

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Part 9 of our holiday in the USA. A visit to Cathedral Gorge and Ely, from our base in Mesquite.

Cathedral Gorge State Park is, in USA terms, a mere skip (1 hour)  north-east of Las Vegas and something more different from that concreted casinoland you couldn't find!! The Park covers 1,608 acres (651 ha) in a long, narrow valley, where erosion has carved dramatic and unique patterns in the soft bentonite clay.  There are a number of walking trails around the park, but because of the extreme heat while we were there, we only explored the area adjacent to the car park. Michael and Mary found this slot canyon for us to visit, and the temperatures within its shady angles were a bit more comfortable. They had not been to the Park before either, so it was a new experience for all four of us.

The beauty that visitors enjoy today developed from violent beginnings, starting with explosive volcanic activity that, with each eruption, deposited layers of ash hundreds of feet thick over the entire area. About five million years after the eruptions ceased,  faulting (fracturing of the bedrock that allows the two sides of the fracture to move in relation to each other) shaped the mountains and valleys prevalent in Nevada today.

Lots of information and a walking trail map clearly displayed for the  visitors.

Astonishing landscape! I felt a bit as if we had landed on the moon!

 Amazing formations in the soft rock eroded by rainstorms.

Adventurous explorers can crawl through small openings and tunnels in the network of canyons to discover hidden chambers.

Not for the claustrophobic!

Michael and Mary exploring the narrow and deep slot canyon...

and Nigel as well, negotiating one of the narrower side turnings.

Deep inside the slot canyon, here's how the sky appears from ground level!

Intricate rock patterns formed over aeons.

After a two or so hour drive north on Highway 93, our next stop after the park was Ely, where we stayed the night. Ely stands on the crossroads with east-west running Highway 50, also worryingly known as the loneliest road in the USA!

Founded as a stagecoach station along a Pony Express route, the town was named after Smith Ely, a local copper mining company president. Ely's mining boom arrived in 1906 with the discovery of copper there.

The copper market crashed in the mid-1970s and Kennecott, one of the main mining companies, shut down, and copper mining  temporarily halted. The dramatic increase in demand (and hence price) for copper in 2005  once again made Ely a copper boom town, but as the Kennecott smelter had been demolished, copper concentrate from the mine had to be transported by rail to Seattle on the west coast, from where it was shipped all the way to Japan for smelting.  However, since the 2008 financial crisis and the drop in the copper price, it is no longer worth producing copper from the Ely mines and Ely's prosperity is suffering  in consequence. There are still a few reminders in the town of Ely's steam railroad history, and the East Ely museum (housed in the old station building) contains some very interesting artefacts of railroad life, not least the preserved steam locomotives, two of which (nos 40 and 93) pull daily passenger excursions for visiting enthusiasts.

In 1961, No 93 was donated by Kennecott to the museum and was subsequently restored to operating condition by volunteers. We unfortunately arrived in town too late that day for the ride, but here she is in the shed cooling down!

One of the old coal tenders.

The grand old ladies of steam on the Nevada Northern Railroad, locomotives No 40 (restored in 2005) and No 93. The volunteers who rebuilt these locomotives and other rolling stock and who today operate the railyard and museum deserve the highest praise for their dedication in preserving this part of United States industrial heritage.However, due to lack of finance, it may close down in the near future and we were therefore very fortunate to see it!

The old station building, now the museum, is on the left of the track.

The amazing  mountain views visible from the station.

Looking down the tracks.

A Ford van belonging to the Railway Express Agency - it's all explained on the sign in the window! (see below).

Safety First is the motto , but this pick-up looks as if it has taken a few knocks!

We left our overnight stop at the Prospector Hotel the following morning and headed for the Great Basin National Park, but that is coming in Part 10 of our holiday!

Monday, 31 October 2016

Part 8 of our USA holiday based in Mesquite , Nevada

On the next leg of our USA tour, we were most fortunate to be able to stay with friends who live in Mesquite, and the hospitality they showed us while we were there was absolutely overwhelming. Their carefully considered schedulcovered every possible place in that area we could dream of seeing, in the time we had available. They  escorted us from place to place in their car, clocking up countless miles, making the most efficient use of time, acting as tour guides  and generally providing a 7 star experience which we will never forget! I have already posted about The Valley of Fire  and The Hoover Dam, to which they took us, not to mention the other exciting places which are still to follow.   I thought that, although I did not take a lot of photos of Mesquite itself, that you would like to see the few I did take and also meet our friends and their  family.

Mesquite is 80 miles north-east of Las Vegas, next to the Arizona state line, and was first settled by  Mormon pioneers in 1880. Today it is home to about 18,000 people, several casinos and nine(!) golf courses!

Just to give you a little of the friendship history, Michael and I used to go horse riding together when we were in our teens in Rhodesia.  To say we have known each other for ever is almost true.

On our arrival in Mesquite, we were taken up on the mesa (what I would describe as flat-topped hill, but forgive my poor knowledge of desert landscapes) to see an example of the amazing sunsets which often occur there.  This first night was, so we were told, not up to normal standard, but to us it was still a delight!

The day after we took the trip recounted in my blog 'Part 7', we had a day at home and met up with Michael and Mary's two daughters.  What a delight, two young ladies who obviously adore their parents and enjoy life to the full.  I have not laughed so much for a long time.
Michelle, myself and Marie

Michael, Mary, Diane and Nigel

and one of those laughter moments LOL.

Myself and Michael, reliving so many memories!

A typical view of a  residential area in Mesquite. Palm trees and the hills beyond, with sizzling temperatures day and night when we were there!

Of course no town could do without a Wells Fargo bank, a brand much in the news recently, after a scandal, where more than a few staff opened fake bank accounts to take advantage of productivity bonuses,  led to the resignation of the CEO!

The view of the desert - north, south, east and west all look pretty much the same! The huge scale of the landscape and scenery is hard to comprehend!

Yucca brevifolia, better known as the Joshua tree,  is native to arid southwestern North America, in the states of California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, where it is confined mostly to the Mojave Desert.

Now if you should be a keen golfer, you will love this oasis in the middle of the desert.  To me, as a non-golfer, this looks like one of the most difficult courses I have ever seen; water, water everywhere!!!  

Wolf Creek is quite spectacular, beautifully maintained and with the most amazing views. We didn't have time to see the other 8 courses!

A small green, some bunkers, and a waterfall. Don't stray out of bounds....!

and endless pools of water.

Michael and Mary were also kind enough to host old friends of ours from South Africa, who now live in Las Vegas, Kim and Syd on the right.  Lots more reminiscing.

To finish off this post on Mesquite, another most memorable sunset. 

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated  25 September 2016)