Week 46.2: Great Basin National Park

After a short-but-sweet visit to Salt Lake City, we headed south along I-15. It was smooth sailing through the valleys between Utah’s many mountains, but we soon turned off towards the west, to the tiny town of Delta, UT – population 3,500. Delta is at the absolute end of civilization, sitting on the edge of a vast desert wasteland.

On the other side of that wasteland? Our destination, Great Basin National Park.

Mad Max: Utah

“Great Basin” is the name of a national park, but it really describes a much larger area. The Great Basin is a desert, and it encompasses almost all of Nevada and some of surrounding Utah, Idaho, and Oregon. Situated between the Sierra Nevada and Wasatch mountain ranges, the Great Basin is unique because it drains internally – none of the (little) water flows out to any ocean.

Great Basin National Park is in Nevada, 100 miles from Delta, but with a speed limit of 80 mph, it wasn’t such a long drive. It certainly was memorable, though. The terrain was utterly fascinating, a unique and alien landscape which defines “barren.” There are no towns in that 100 miles, frankly no people at all, and the desert was often utterly flat and empty. Then, out of nowhere, we would encounter a shimmering salt lake or a jagged mountain range – which we would zoom by, and then back to nothing.

It was a good place to pretend to be in a Mad Max movie. Also: thank goodness for podcasts.

Oldies But Goodies

Aside from cinematic fantasies, the reason we made the trek through the wasteland was to see the world’s oldest trees – Great Basin’s bristlecone pine trees. Bristlecone pines aren’t particularly lovely – they’re small, twisted, and gnarly – but they are particularly good at surviving. Their age was actually unknown until 1964, when a grad student cut one down and counted the rings.

And discovered he had killed a 4,862 year old tree, one of the Earth’s oldest.  Whoops!

Today, bristlecone pines are better protected, but we never actually got to see them. Even though it was mid-May, the mountaintop where they live was still closed due to snow. (In fairness, that mountain is 9,000 feet high.) We had to settle for some amazing views from a nearby overlook.

Underground Vandalism

With no bristlecone pines, we decided to visit the other major attraction at Great Basin, the Lehman Caves. We’ve been lucky enough to see some beautiful caves on this trip – most notably the Caverns of Sonora – and the Lehman Caves could have been one of the best.

Sadly, however, they have been horrifically defaced. The original owners of the cave used to sell stalactite pieces to visitors, so many of the features are clipped off halfway down. In another room, visitors were encouraged to leave their name on the ceiling via candle burn marks. The ranger leading our tour suggested that the defacement of the caves created a new cultural significance, but we couldn’t help but feel sad for what was done there.

Speaking of the ranger, here’s a story that we just have to tell. The ranger leading our tour, Ranger Steve, was a seasonal ranger, meaning he had only recently arrived to work during the summer season. Steve was friendly and started out strong, but over the course of our ninety minute tour, his discussions gradually became more and more rambling.  By the end, he was almost incomprehensible.

That was strange, but things soon got stranger.  Our group ended up heading out of the caves around the same time as another group. The ranger of that group (lets call him Alan, because we don’t remember) asked Ranger Steve if they should merge the groups. Steve seemed genuinely terrified to answer and deferred to Alan, who then took charge of both groups. As we walked out of the cave entrance, Alan thanked everyone for coming and suggested we all come back for another tour sometime.

Which sounds innocuous, except that what Alan actually said was that we “should come back sometime and get a different experience with a different guide,” while staring directly at our (Ranger Steve’s) group.  The implication was clear: Steve was the worst, and we should try again sometime with someone else.

Ranger Steve just stared at the ground and said nothing.

Friends, this raised so many questions. Was Ranger Alan doing some sort of subterranean bullying of Ranger Steve? Or maybe Ranger Steve really was a terrible ranger, and even he knew it? Was Ranger Steve even a ranger?

So strange. The last puzzle piece of weirdness, though, is that all of this was only Jake’s experience. Heather didn’t observe any of these interactions between the rangers. Her experience was just that Ranger Steve and Ranger Alan were both “very nice.”

So… did any of this even happen?  Or was it all some kind of cave madness?

Was Ranger Steve even real?

We may never know.

Roadtrip Time Travel

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Still in Pittsburgh, moochdocking with friends.  Thanks, Jamie and Chris!

Next location?  Dunno.  We are beginning to regret including this field in each blog post.

Follow Us On Social Media


Latest Posts


Week 37: Pinnacles of Hiking

After a wet week in Morro Bay, we headed up the California coast on Highway 101.  Our destination was the 59th and newest national park, a place that most people probably haven’t even heard of: Pinnacles National Park.

Spoiler alert:  It’s awesome.

Exactly Like The Stone Age

Pinnacles is more or less in the center of California, fairly close to a lot of population centers, but it felt very remote.  Highway 101 is about a half-hour away, connected by beautiful, curvy roads that might have been our favorite RV driving of the entire trip.  Our campground at the park had electric hookups, which is somewhat rare and very welcome for a National Park, and it was spacious and empty.

The one drawback – if it is a drawback – is that Pinnacles has no cell service whatsoever.  We’ve stayed in some fairly remote places, but the Internet blackout at Pinnacles was the most complete yet.  Even Death Valley and Big Bend had service sometimes.  The lack of Internet terrified us at first, but to be honest, it was actually kind of nice.  It’s so rare to be able to silence the outside world completely, and we found that not having the Internet as a time-waster made us incredibly productive.

In three days, we wrote six blog posts, deep-cleaned our living space, made a video tour of our RV, and went on two mind-blowing hikes.  Incidentally, we got about 95% of the way through editing that video tour, but then we got our Internet back, and never finished.  There is probably a lesson to be learn-

ooh, Facebook notification!  Better check that out.

To The Batcave!

The primary thing to do at Pinnacles is hike.  The park area is fairly small, so unlike most of the national parks we have visited, we actually got to see most of it.  On our first day, we hiked down to some talus caves, which are essentially canyons that have been roofed over, incompletely, by boulders.  While some sunlight enters the caves through cracks, other places are completely dark. Bats apparently love them.

The talus caves at Pinnacles blew us away.  They were too dark for good pictures, so here’s what it was like: we were completely alone inside the caves (it was a weekday afternoon), hiking over and through a swollen stream that ran down the center of the trail.  The dim, inconsistent sunlight, along with our dim, inconsistent flashlights, created dramatic shadows that jumped and flickered as we went deeper into the cave.  We heard – and felt – a roaring waterfall, hidden in the darkness, glimpsed only through the occasional beam of illumination.  It was wet, disorienting, and utterly amazing.

We climbed a narrow metal staircase alongside the waterfall and emerged, blinking, into the sunlight.  The wet and wild caves receded, and we continued on.  Soon, we found ourselves walking an ancient stone stairway, underneath a boulder…

… alongside another waterfall – and yes, it was as awesome as that sounds.

There was a lot more, including beautiful views of a reservoir and some adventurous cliff-side photo-taking, but no need to type it out.  Take a look at the pics below.

The Pinnacle of Pinnacles

After exploring the talus caves, we figured things couldn’t get any better, but we were wrong.  The next day, we embarked on a long hike through the center of Pinnacles National Park, walking the top of a ridgeline for miles.  It was definitely a tough hike, but the views were staggering.

The beginning of the hike switchbacked up a lush mountain trail, where we caught views of the rocky peak that we would soon be hiking along. The sky was ridiculously blue, the grass was super green, and there were pretty wildflowers everywhere.

Eventually we reached the top, and enjoyed views in every direction from the ridgeline.  Continuing on, we came to our favorite part, the High Peaks section.  The trail here featured iron bar ladders, narrow pathways, and tiny, hand-carved stone steps.  These are fun hiking features in general, but on the top of Pinnacles, you navigate them just a few feet from thousands-foot high cliffs.  With the wind blowing like crazy, it definitely got our blood pumping!  But we’re all about adventure, and friends, it doesn’t get much more adventurous than this.

Definitely one of our favorite hikes of all time.

Flora and Fauna

Two final things before we sign off.  First, Pinnacles is known as an endangered condor nesting ground / sanctuary, and birdwatchers were extremely common throughout the park, excitedly binocularing the birds soaring around overhead.  That’s all fine, but you know what?  We saw about a million condors while on the West Coast, and we saw them absolutely everywhere, except at Pinnacles!  Weird.

Second, there are some really big pinecones at Pinnacles.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Moab, Utah, getting “caught up” on our blog posts.

Next location?  We had to give up on our plans to see Monument Valley, where the Westerns were won, due to extreme heat, so we’re just going to chill here for a few more days.

Follow Us On Social Media


Latest Posts


Week 16: Adult Distractions in Austin

After much fun in San Antonio, we departed to spend a few days checking out Austin – a city high on our pre-trip list of “places we might live.”  We certainly found a lot to like there, and in some ways, the city was really cool.  Unfortunately, it was less cool in other, more literal ways.  Austin was brutally hot while we were there, with record temperatures for mid-October in the mid-90’s (and humid).

Weather aside, we had a great time exploring Austin, and it’s definitely on our list of places to visit again.

Straight and Narrow Sprawl

Since we’ve been driving everywhere, we’ve come to notice and appreciate (usually) the little quirks in the roadways in different areas. Vermont had endless rolling hills, while Louisiana’s highways were built on incredibly long, flat, straight bridges through the bayou. The West Texas desert had beautiful, perfectly-maintained roads, while the roads in Southern California are in such bad shape they sometimes seem closer to gravel. In New Mexico, you can sometimes go 20 miles at a time without a curve in the road. You get the idea.

Well, one Texas quirk is that the highways leading in and out of the cities tend to be lined with businesses for miles and miles, long past where people actually live. They are typically clustered right by the highway on frontage roads (another Texas quirk – they love frontage roads), with giant billboards every few feet, but there’s nothing at all behind them.  A mile wide and an inch deep, you might say, and nowhere was it more apparent than on the drive between Austin and San Antonio.

The drive between the cities is relatively short, about an hour and a half in our RV, but it’s pretty empty, population-wise, by the time you get to the midpoint. Except… the businesses never really stopped. There were no towns, not even really houses, but still, we drove past an endless row of billboards and fast food joints and mechanics and car dealerships and gas stations and everything else you can think of. It was definitely a unique experience for us, since we grew up where trees cover everything and the towns have gaps between them. But hey – seeing new things is why we’re on this trip!

We Missed You, Nature

We met up with friends in Houston and San Antonio, and although we were excited to show our RV off to them, the RV parks we were staying in at the time weren’t ideal.  They were cramped, with neighbors parked as close as possible to each other, and very little in the way of trees or shade.  Unfortunately, this is a fairly common occurrence, especially close to big cities, where space is at a premium.  Houston was particularly bad, since there was almost nothing by way of nature around to see.

That’s why we’re happy to say that our campground near Austin was awesome.  Like all of our favorite spots, it was located in a park, not a commercial RV campground, and it was gorgeous.  We had a spacious, shady spot underneath the trees, completely surrounded by vegetation so it was utterly private.  (First picture in the slideshow below.)  Plus, we were still quite close to Austin!  We have stayed in all sorts of places on our trip so far, but McKinney Falls State Park remains one of our favorites, even if the falls were non-existent when we were there.

Going Downtown With Burt Reynolds

Austin is known as a very fun city, and it definitely lived up to its reputation.  On our first day in town, our friend Brian was visiting as well, so we wandered around downtown and stopped in at a random local bar, called HandleBar.  It turned out to be a wise choice, as we got to enjoy a friendly bartender, great beers, many mustache-related decorations, and a rooftop full of “adult distractions,” like a see-saw and giant Jenga blocks.  Drinking and toys?  Sign us up.

After a while, we headed downstairs and checked out the back room.  There were pinball machines, a vending machine selling fake mustaches, and best and weirdest of all, a giant picture of Burt Reynolds lying naked on a bearskin rug.  Crazily enough, that was the second time we had seen that picture in a bar in about three days.  At our friend’s wedding afterparty in a swanky nightclub just a few days before, the ladies’ room also featured a giant picture of Burt Reynolds lying naked on a bearskin rug, except that one was backlit!

Burt Reynolds – still going strong in central Texas.

There are a lot of other cool things to do in the city as well, but we didn’t have time for much.  The live music scene is famous, and we are happy to report that it was going strong when we visited.  Nearly every bar featured a band of some kind, even on a Thursday night.

We stopped for some tacos at the original Torchy’s Tacos, which started as a food truck before becoming a successful (and insanely delicious) local chain.  Note the jugs of water in the photo below – they were giving it out to people standing in line so nobody died from the heat!

Mmmm, Red Planet

We also caught a film at the Alamo Drafthouse, another local Austin business that has hit it big.  The Drafthouse is a pretty awesome place to see a movie, with unique promos they create and show in place of previews; we saw The Martian, and they showed very entertaining parts of so-bad-its-good Mars-themed B-movies.  This was followed by an amazing montage of people chowing down in competitive eating contests, with the audio track replaced by soaring speeches about going to space and achieving human greatness.  5 stars for the juxtaposition alone!

Speaking of eating, the Alamo Drafthouse serves food and drinks, including beer, delivered at any time during the movie.  You simply place a note in a little stand in front of your own personal table, and black-clad ushers quickly quietly bring whatever you ordered without disturbing the other patrons.  So while Matt Damon was almost starving to death on Mars, we were sipping some frosty, freshly-made peanut butter-chocolate milkshakes.  How’s THAT for a juxtaposition?

Texas Cave Country

Our final destination in Texas was the Longhorn Caverns, a series of gorgeous caves in Texas Hill Country with an interesting backstory. This area is beautiful, by the way, with endless rolling hills, more greenery than you’d expect, and interesting scenery around every turn. The Longhorn Caverns themselves have seen many uses, serving variously as a Native American meeting place, a hideout for bandits, and a tourism destination – sometimes at the same time.

Later, during Prohibition, a stage was built in the largest cavern, and it housed a popular speakeasy and restaurant. That ended with Prohibition, but, in the 1930s, the caverns were renovated by the Civilian Conservation Corps into their present form. As we understand it, this “renovation” was primarily about “removing a million boulders by hand,” so we’re grateful as always to the formerly-young men of the CCC. (If you’re not familiar with the program, it’s worth reading about. Probably half of the parks we’ve visited were improved by the CCC!)

Nowadays, you can tour the caves, have dinner and get married on the stage, and maybe even hide out from law enforcement. We opted for the first one (with a little bit of the third), and the Longhorn Caverns were quite a spectacle, although they paled in comparison to our next stop. It didn’t hurt that we had a fantastic tour guide, a former drill sergeant whose love of showing off the features of the cave was second only to his love of intensely bad puns.

He really rocked.

One of the buildings constructed by the CCC, made out of rock quarried from the park.

Modern entrance to the caverns. During the prohibition, smaller entrances through the "ceiling" were used.


The walls are covered with quartz crystals.

A non-blurry photo of the quartz crystals.


"Waterfall" rock formation.

This is not a sculpture of a dog. This is supposedly a naturally formed rock formation!

The main room, where they got their party on during the prohibition. Today, concerts and weddings are held here. There are great acoustics in this room.

These smooth limestone walls were carved millions of years ago by underground streams.



What’s now:  We immediately extended our stay in San Diego because weather.

What’s next:  Heather is still trying to make us leave San Diego to try to catch the wildflowers blooming in Death Valley.

Obligatory social media self-promotion:  If you want to follow along and you haven’t yet, please Like us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter (@NothingMundane) and/or Instagram (NothingMundane) to make sure you get all the updates.  Feel free to steal your friends’ and loved ones’ phones and sign them up, too – we’re not that picky.

Shamefully missed a prior post?  We made a list of the most recent ones, just for you.  To see every road trip blog post, click here.