After a good night's sleep at Middlegate station, we continued East on the re-opened highway. Some rain rolled in, which must be a little unusual given the whole fire situation. I'm sure the firefighters welcomed it, and it brought out some fantastic desert sage smells as we drove through.
In Ely, Nevada the White Pine Museum had a surprisingly large collection of interesting relics ranging from old medical equipment to fossilized bear skeletons. My favorite was this this relevant little newspaper clipping, which seriously predates the current #vanlife movement.
We're keeping an eye on craigslist for a good price on a genuine Bradley auto sleeper.
A very helpful lady at the museum noticed that we were checking out the rock collection, and recommended that we take a trip to Garnet Hill nearby. She said that because of the recent rain there should be some exposed gemstones to find. We made the drive up the dirt road and started digging around in the rocks, not really knowing what we were looking for at first. Once we got the hang of it we realized that the best way to hunt for the stones was to find a place where water was likely to have flowed recently and just stare at the ground for a while. It takes the eyes a little bit of time to pick out the dark red gemstones, which look almost black until you hold them up to the light. We got back to the van and cleaned up our dozen or so findings, this one was the best:
From Ely we made our way to the far corner of Nevada by the afternoon and set up camp in the Great Basin National Park, where we prepared for a challenging hike the next day that would take us up to the tree line on Wheeler Peak, a 13,000ft mountain that is home to the state's only glacier. At around 11,000ft, when most of the other plant life has given up due to the high wind and harsh conditions of the mountainside, there are famous examples of some of the oldest living things on planet Earth - the bristlecone pines.
It was a difficult hike from where we had camped, but it was incredible to see once again how green Nevada could be, after crossing so much barren desert.
As we gained altitude the greenery thinned out and we were met with thunder, lightning, and heavy rain on the mountaintop just as we were reaching the ancient trees.
The harsh weather that we experienced is the same that shapes the gnarled trunks of these crazy organisms, which are so old that the outer layers of wood erode in the elements, more like stone than wood.
In this grove there were placards describing how scientists date the pines, usually by pulling long core samples and counting growth rings. Nearly all the trees visible here started their lives 2, 3, or even 4 thousand years ago.
Going just a bit further past the mountain's last holdouts, we saw sharp line where the trees ended, and then Rock Glacier.
Finally we hastened a quick retreat from the weather, back down the 5 miles to the van to rest our tired feet.
The next day we packed up and were bound for Salt Lake City!