Canyonlands and Great Basin NPs

Regardless of your direction of travel, east or west, on I-70, one of the first things you will notice as you traverse Utah is a sign that says “NEXT SERVICES 100 MILES”. This is not just informational, it is a warning.

As you drive at posted speeds between 70 and 80 MPH (112 and 128 KPH), there is nothing to see except arid landscapes dotted with scrub-brush and the occasional abandoned small building, the function of which is not clear. The entire stretch of highway is flanked by barbed wire fencing and an occasional unnamed dirt road projecting laterally over a small hillock or off into nothingness. Eventually you reach a small historic town that was established on the Green River. As appropriate, it is named Green River. Other than growing melons, Green River’s claim to fame is that John Westley Powell, in 1889 launched a raft from there and explored the length of the Colorado river. Raft tip are still launched from here but permission is by lottery drawing and trip sell out fast. Other than the John Wesley Powell museum in the heart of town, there is little of real interest except gas stations and fast food unless you need a resting place and a convenient place to launch a tour of National Parks in the area; an hour to the south.

In my opinion, the best place to stay is America’s Best Value Inn at the east end of Green River. This place is not only well located, but the family that runs it is an American heartbreak and success story. Here is the story of the family that runs this very clean, very accommodating way-station. They have endured what few of us could.

In addition to this great motel, the area grows, and is famous for, what are said to be the sweetest watermelons in the US and they celebrate the crop in September. Melon Days attracts a large crowd from communities from hundreds of miles around.

Canyonlands National Park

There are two entrances to Canyonlands National Park as can be seen on the referenced map; each one a dead-end drive. By scanning the map, one sees that the entire park is a warren of hiking trails and 4 wheel drive roads. Other than the pleasant drive through deep canyons, carved into the landscape by the Green and Colorado rivers, there is little for the mobility challenged explorer here.

The park is quite conducive to a days auto-touring though, so don’t pass it up. Sandwiches, snacks and a good supply of water is a must, there are no concessions here.. The roads run along the mesas overlooking the canyons. The mesa are covered in scrub brush as well as Pinyon Pine trees from which the native Americans harvested pine nuts which were a mainstay of their diet. The roadways descend from the mesa tops into the sometimes mile wide canyons, where streams feed sporadic spaced lush green meadows and nourish stands of Cottonwood trees along their banks. In the early morning hours and as the canyons cool in the evening, an abundance of wildlife emerge to feed and water. A few of my pictures of Canyonlands are here.

Great Basin National Park

Out in the middle of nowhere, someplace between Utah and California, is a 10,000 foot (3,000 M) snow-caped Mountain. If you were coming from the east you might mistake it for the Sierra Nevada Range, and from the west maybe the Rockies. As with other National Parks we’ve been to, there is one road into and out of the park. Nevada Highway 488 is south of I-50 off of Nevada Hwy 487.

It is a long winding highway that starts in desert scrub and ends in a pine forested parking lot at 10,000’ elevation.

Along the route there are several turnouts that overlook the desert valley far below, but they are not really convenient for mobility vehicles. At the high end of the 2 lane highway, in the parking lot, there are trails to alpine lakes that are the only home of the Bonniville and Lahotan Cutthroat Trout. Wheeler Peak at 13063 feet above sea level is at the end of one long arduous trail starting in the parking lot. There is an accessible trail that traverses the campground and affords great views of Wheeler Peak.

Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves were discovered in the 1920s. The site consist of several caves with unique geologic characteristics. They first became a National Monument and more recently an integral part of the Great Basin NP. The caves are located very near the GBNP visitors center. By Googling “Lehman Caves”, and selecting Images, hundreds of photos of the cave interiors can be seen. For the able bodies, tours are available, but you need to get your tickets way ahead of time since they sellout early and quickly.

ADA Accessibility of the Caves

“Brief tours of the first room of the cave, the Gothic Palace, are available for those unable to negotiate the stairs and narrow passageways of the tour route. Participants join the first 30 minutes of a regular tour and are escorted out of the cave by a ranger.” “For those in wheelchairs, there is no guarantee you will be able to visit the cave. The entrance tunnel is historic and not ADA-approved. A friend or family member must be available to assist those in non-motorized wheelchairs, and be comfortable navigating the wheelchair down a steep grade. Please be advised that wheelchairs are not available at the park.”

More Park Accessibility information is available here .

As far as both Canyonlands and Great Basin National Parks are concerned, there is a lot to see and although the accessibility issues do exist, that should not deter a visit. In both cases you should expect crowded conditions at points of interest during the summer travel months. Also, in both cases, except for camping areas, if you need to load and unload mobility vehicles you can expect to be doing this constantly to take in all the sites. Weather in both Parks, as with many Parks, is best in the late spring and early fall months; remember, this is desert land.

In close proximity to GBNP, in both Nevada and Utah and within it boundaries there are Antelope, Bristlecone Pines and Archaeological sites where fossils are commonly found. The wastelands of Nevada hold treasures of times gone by. Left to decay in the extremes of the desert, many buildings and towns are slowly melting back into the landscape. Included here are a couple of the hundreds of homes and businesses that still stand today.

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