A Few from the Great Basin

Dawn illuminates the eroded face of Crystal Peak in Western Utah

I’ve been wanting to do a couple thoughtful, philosophical posts about wilderness and sense of place, but they’re not coming together, I’m off to the rivers of Dinosaur and Idaho in just a few days, and I still have quite a few shots I want to share. So I’ll just put up some photos.

Morning view from Utah's Wah Wah Mountains to Nevada's Snake Range

My recent trip to Oregon inevitably involved a heck of a lot of driving. Spring is a lovely time for that trip, though, and this year’s huge snowpack throughout most of the West (except New Mexico – sigh…) made it really spectacular. The Colorado Plateau and the Cascades are grand and famous areas of course, always a pleasure to pass through. But my real love between here and the west coast is the Great Basin. I used to cross it a lot and explore it a bit (before my photography got serious, alas), and its vast, empty, mountain-studded expanses always call to me, promising solitude, massive views and secrets waiting to be found by the persistent.

Cloudy sunrise over the Silver Island Range

In some ways the drive was a torture of unfulfillable photographic temptation, and I was half hoping that our river trip would be cancelled and leave me with time to kill in Nevada. There was some consolation in the fact that the big ranges were plastered with snow, so exploration would be pretty limited in any case. But I arranged my driving schedule to spend a night each way off pavement in the Utah west deserts. People who speed through on I-80, heading to California as fast as possible, tend to think the whole Basin is scruffy, dusty and drab, but they’re missing out. I got to see dusks and dawns at gorgeous and remote locations: one of the largest cliffs in North America, the geologic oddity of Crystal Peak, and the Silver Island Range (was there ever a more romantic name?) protruding from the “sea” of the Wendover salt flats. And these places aren’t even particularly obscure by Great Basin standards. There’s a lifetime of delight and photography to be had out there.

First glow of dawn on Crystal Peak

Crystal Peak is 30 miles off pavement, which I drove in the dark. What a pleasure to camp in cold desert under perfect stars, then awake to my first sight of the peak’s bizarre honeycombed face beginning to glow in the first touch of dawn! I took photos until sun-up, tore myself away to make some miles towards Oregon, and found that my car didn’t want to start. A dead engine two days’ walk from pavement in one of the least populated regions of the lower 48 will put your heart in your throat. But a little coaxing convinced a weak battery to get its act together, and I headed into Nevada with a great sense of relief.

Morning in the Utah West Desert

Notch Peak is one of those objects that’s so amazingly huge (like Mt. Shasta, which I passed the next day) that you can forget about capturing its scale in a photo: your mind can’t even comprehend its scale while you’re standing there. I’d love to return for some sunset shots from up above (the back side of the range is considerably more scalable than the giant west face).

Light and shadow on the face of Notch Peak

I do feel a little bad in that these photos may reinforce the stereotype of the Great Basin as only harsh desert, but it was still essentially winter out there and the deserts were my only option. With a little luck, I hope to make it through again in July and offer up some views of its lusher pockets.

Spotlight on Notch Peak, Utah West Desert

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2 thoughts on “A Few from the Great Basin

  1. Boy, I don’t know…for a post where you couldn’t come up with the words you were looking for, the images lot. Those are some beautiful mountains–Notch Peak looks like something out of the Wind Rivers.

    Gorgeous images…I really like them.

    • Thanks Greg! Never would have made the Wind River comparison myself, but I see what you’re getting at, and it’s certainly a complement to a worthy peak. Though I must say that my personal tastes run more towards stripey Great Basin limestone than monolithic Wyoming granite.

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