We were passing through eastern Nevada and took the opportunity to stay at Great Basin National Park for a couple of nights. With uncooperative weather, we decided to do the tour of Lehman Caves which is weather independent. We were pleasantly surprised.
Great Basin National Park is one of the lesser visited National Parks in the U.S. Of course that makes it even more attractive to nature lovers.
For those that are curious, I'll let the park website explain the "Great Basin".
The Hydrographic Great Basin is a 200,000 square mile area that drains internally. All precipitation in the region evaporates, sinks underground or flows into lakes (mostly saline). Creeks, streams, or rivers find no outlet to either the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Ocean.
The Great Basin includes most of Nevada, half of Utah, and sections of Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, and California. The term "Great Basin" is slightly misleading; the region is actually made up of many small basins. The Great Salt Lake, Pyramid Lake, and the Humboldt Sink are a few of the "drains" in the Great Basin.
The basin is surrounded by mountains and the Snake Range runs through the park with Wheeler Peak being the primary focus. At over 13,000 feet Wheeler Peak is the tallest "independent" mountain in Nevada.
In the photo below, Wheeler Peak looms over the Lehman Caves Visitors Center.
Unfortunately, during our visit, the weather was pretty bad, and we didn't have time to wait it out. So, on this day we opted to take one of the guided tours through Lehman Caves.
Here are a few logistics regarding the Lehman Cave Tours.
There is a sixty-minute tour, the Lodge Room Tour ($9), and a ninety-minute tour, the Grand Palace Tour ($11), which includes everything in the Lodge Room Tour plus a couple more rooms. Senior and Access passes entitle the cardholder only to discounts on cave tours (no discounts for accompanying friends and family).
During the summer, they offer each tour four times a day, but the rest of the year they are only offered twice a day. Check the Lehman Caves Tour webpage for current pricing and schedules.
They highly recommend reserving your spots online, but they hold a few tickets at the Lehman Caves Visitors Center for same-day walk-ins. We were told to be there by 8:00 a.m. for the best chance to get tickets for today, but they still may sell out. Tours are limited to 20 people
We didn't have reservations, so I arrived right at 8:00 a.m. and we got lucky.
I obtained tickets for the 10:00 a.m. Grand Palace Tour.
Oh, they asked me if our shoes, boots, clothing, or any other gear we would be taking into the cave had been in any other cave in the last ten years. If so, they have to be disinfected to be sure we don't carry in White-nose Syndrome which is killing bats across the country.
Also, the cave is a constant 50 degrees, so they told me to dress appropriately. And you are not allowed to take food, drink, any types of bags (including camera bags), tripods, and a few other items. You can take a camera or phone and take all the photos you want.
At our tour time, a ranger gave us a brief orientation at the entrance.
On the Grand Palace Tour we would be visiting the entrance area, the Music Room, the Lodge Room, the Inscription Room, and the Grand Palace. The rooms are shown on the map below. The Talus Room and West Room are off-limits due to a few crumbling ceiling issues.
We entered the entrance tunnel where the ranger asked if anyone was claustrophobic, so they could leave before we got too far in.
The trail through the cave is a solid surface with texture on uneven areas, and there are several steps. They ask that you wear close-toed shoes with good traction. Oh, and there is quite a bit of stooping and ducking.
You aren't supposed to touch anything in the cave. The formations are really close to the path, so it takes some discipline to not reach out and feel them.
Having come from the state of Mammoth Cave and having seen the wonders of Carlsbad Caverns, our cave expectations are pretty low. But I have to say we were both impressed with Lehman Caves. There are great formations close to the path, and the path is kind of fun with ups and downs and low ceilings and narrow passages. The ranger was quite knowledgeable and had several amusing stories about Mr. Lehman.
Unfortunately, Mr. Lehman had a "If you can break it, you can take it policy" for his tours, so many of the stalactites had been broken or sawed off. Also, visitors would use their candles to burn initials and words into the ceiling, especially in the Inscription Room.
We quite enjoyed the tour and here is a collection of some of the more interesting photos.
Our ranger also told us that a portion of the 1965 movie "The Wizard of Mars" was filmed in the cave. She said "If you haven't seen it, consider yourself lucky". Of course, I will now have to watch it to see just how bad it is. The full movie is on YouTube: "The Wizard of Mars" (the name was later changed to "Horrors of the Red Planet".
At the end of the tour, we walked up through the exit tunnel. That was the most strenuous part of the walk. A couple people were huffing and puffing a bit in that last section.
Here is where we exited.
And this is the original, natural entrance used by Mr. Lehman when he discovered it.
The natural entrance is located on the Mountain View Nature Trail behind the Visitors Center. It's a nice, easy little 0.3-mile trail that's worth the walk.
Again, we were surprised by this cave and really enjoyed it.
As a little bonus, we encountered a bit of wildlife in our brief visit to Great Basin National Park.
Another great activity if you are short on time is to drive the 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Road up into the mountains. Unfortunately, the road was only open to the 7-mile mark when we were there and the mountain top was fogged in.
The most disappointing thing was we couldn't access the Bristlecone Pine Grove farther up the road. Bristlecone Pines are the longest-living trees in the world, and we really wanted to spend some time with these twisted marvels of nature.
Still, we made the most of our one full day in the park, and it just gave us incentive to return during the summer one of these years.