Top 10 Things to Do in Snake Valley 1. Visit the Bristlecone Pines. Bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) can grow more than 4,000 years, and they survive best when only part of the tree is alive to conserve resources. The easiest accessible bristlecone pine grove in the area is found on the bristlecone trail (2.6 miles round trip) in Great Basin National Park. The oldest bristlecone in the world, Prometheus, was once found here, but was cut down by a researcher in the 1960s. Most bristlecone groves are found on limestone rock, but this one is on quartzite, which is falling from the surrounding high mountains. The cold winds that blow off the remnant glacier (located at the end of the same trail), help provide the intense environmental conditions in which the bristlecones excel.
Alternatives: The bristlecones on Mt. Moriah’s Table (Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest) are also spectacular, stretching out across the high elevation plateau. Accessible via 4WD from the west side and a short hike, or a longer hike from the east side (Snake Valley). Another notable bristlecone grove is the one found near Mt. Washington, also in Great Basin National Park. Accessed via the west side of the Snake Range in 4WD vehicle or on foot, some of these bristlecones were burned in a 2000 fire, lending an even eerier cast to the scene. When the snow hits the ground and the higher elevations are not easily reached, a young bristlecone pine can be seen between the parking lots at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. 2. Venture Underground. The Great Basin is not widely known for its caves, but this area has an interesting array: horizontal and vertical, wet and dry, plain and well-decorated. In this last category falls Lehman Caves, through which you can take a National Park Service guided tour for 30, 60, or 90 minutes. Open year-round and a pleasant 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the cave is famous for its numerous cave shields, bulbous stalactites, and other speleothems.
Alternatives: Crystal Ball Cave, located 30 miles to the north of the Border Inn, also is open for tours (by reservation only; contact Jerald and Marlene Bates at (435) 693-3145). More primitive than Lehman Caves, bring a flashlight and good walking shoes to traverse the natural cave floor. When you are in Crystal Ball Cave, you feel like you are in the middle of a geode, with sparkling nailhead and dogtooth spar coating nearly every surface. These crystals formed when supersaturated calcite water sat in the cave for a long period. Paleontological excavations in the cave have revealed a vast number of animals in the cave that no longer occur in the area such as camels, short-faced skunks, sabre-toothed cats, large-headed llamas, and more. They frequented the area during wetter periods, when Lake Bonneville filled the adjacent valley. A great side-trip after your cave tour is a soak in nearby Gandy Warm Springs. Coming out of the same mountain that Crystal Ball Cave is located in, the 82-degree water is just the right temperature for cooling off on a hot summer day.
3. Visit the Baker Archeological Site. The Fremont Indians created a village, sometimes referred to as the Baker Village, about 700 years ago. Located about two miles from the present-day town of Baker, they farmed what used to be a wetter area. Over 15 buildings were constructed in an unexplained complex design, and were uncovered during 1991-1994 archeological excavations. An interpretive sign and self-guided trail are available, along with periodic guided tours offered by Bureau of Land Management volunteers.
Alternative: The Fremonts (and other Native Americans like the Shoshones) went up to higher elevations to hunt and collect pine nuts. One record of their presence is at Upper Pictograph Cave near Baker Creek. Most of the pictographs are on the outside of the cave; to enter the cave you need to get a permit. During the fall you can collect the tasty pine nuts.
4. Listen for Bugling Elk During the fall rutting season, you may hear the loud bugles of elk in the Snake and Deep Creek Range canyons as they battle for the right to mate. A lot more wildlife abounds, too. The list of charismatic fauna includes: Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (found usually near Mt. Moriah’s Table, Old Man’s Canyon, and Mt. Washington), pronghorn antelope (on the benches (area between valley bottom and trees of the mountains)), yellow-bellied marmots (along Baker Creek road), mule deer, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, kit fox, red fox, gray fox, rattlesnakes, horned lizards, and Bonneville cutthroat trout (in many streams of both the Snake and Deep Creek Ranges).
5. Meet the Locals at Snake Valley Days. Snake Valley has two great events for meeting locals: the Snake Valley Festival in June and Snake Valley Days on Labor Day Weekend. The Festival includes a parade, booths, auctions, entertainment, great food, and much more. The Snake Valley Volunteer Fire Department sponsors Snake Valley Days with a barbeque and dance with the help of the Border Inn.
Alternative: On Fourth of July, the nearby community of Eskdale holds an impressive musical program followed by a fireworks show that equals many of towns that have 50 times the population. Announcements of upcoming events are posted on the bulletin board at the post office in Baker, and major ones are also posted on the home page of Protect Snake Valley. 6. View the Milky Way. The night skies in Snake Valley are spectacular due to low humidity, high elevation, and little light pollution. The Milky Way Galaxy, along with myriads of other celestial objects, is visible from just about anywhere in the valley. Not sure where to look? Great Basin National Park holds an annual Astronomy Festival, along with additional night sky viewing parties every summer, with astronomers coming to give lessons and allow peeks through their high-powered telescopes.
Alternative: Fascinated with the extraterrestrial? According to this website, a UFO crashed in a dry lakebed near Garrison, Utah in 1953. Extraterrestrials took refuge in the area; perhaps you will be lucky enough to find one. 7. Hike Wheeler Peak. The second highest peak in the state, Wheeler Peak, is located just outside of Baker. Rising to 13,063 feet, the peak is accessible from a fairly good trail that begins near the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. The trail gains about 3,000 feet in four miles and takes 3-5 hours to ascend.
Alternatives: Mt. Moriah at 12,067 is the highest peak on the north Snake Range, and Ibapah Peak in the Deep Creek Range reaches 12,050 feet. Both hikes provide spectacular views and a good workout.
8. Visit a Ghost Town. The nickname for Nevada is the Silver State, due to the copious amounts of mining that occurred all over the state. One of the better-preserved ghost towns in the area is Osceola, located about 15 miles west of Baker and reached by marked turnoffs on Highway 6/50. Gold was found in Osceola in 1872, but it reached its heyday when placer mining developed. Due to a lack of water, ditches were built on both sides of the Snake Range to divert water from several creeks to Osceola. With a population of more than 500 in the mid-1880s, the town boasted a “ride-in” saloon (among several saloons), the first telephone in Nevada, and one of the first electrical systems. Nevertheless, the gold petered out, the water proved to be insufficient, and fires demolished parts of town. Today a few collapsing structures and foundations remain, along with a cemetery. More recent mining activity is found on the west side. One other nugget of information: the largest gold nugget found in the state of Nevada came from Osceola.
Alternatives: Many other mining towns and districts came and went in the Snake Valley area. One that still has a few people living in it is Goldhill, located a scenic two-hour drive north of Baker. As you might guess, gold was found here, along with an array of other minerals, and transported out via the Deep Creek railroad. On the way to Goldhill, you will cross the historic Pony Express Trail, which linked Missouri to California. The short-lived venture, which carried mail 1,500 miles in only 10 days, was amazing in the coordination and infrastructure that it required. The ride is recreated every June near the time of the full moon. 9. Mountain Bike or Explore with an OHV. The lower mountains in the area provide great locations for exploring via mountain bike or off-highway vehicles (OHV). One location is the Sacramento Pass Recreation Area, with about 35 miles of roads leading to Osceola, Weaver Creek, and Black Horse. Designated OHV trails in the Burbank Hills (98 miles) and around Conger Mountain (127 miles) are marked and traverse an often-overlooked part of Snake Valley. Many of the roads are also suitable for high clearance vehicles. Maps can be downloaded or requested from the Delta Chamber of Commerce.
Alternative: Hike, bike, or ride a horse on part of the 6,800-mile long American Discovery Trail, the only coast-to-coast non-motorized recreation trail. The trail follows a combination of roads and trails, entering the area next to Crystal Peak, crossing the Ferguson Desert to Garrison, ambling up the highway to Baker, then out along Highway 6 & 50 to Weaver Creek and Osceola and into Spring Valley. It was first completed in its entirety in 2005, with a trail journal detailing the trip.
10. Find Fossils and Gemstones One of the best things about the Great Basin is that there aren’t many trees in the way of the ground. The geology is varied, and a large number of fossils and gemstones can be found within a couple hours’ drive. Some of the best known places are Fossil Mountain (Trilobites), Topaz Mountain (Topaz), Antelope Springs (trilobites), Crystal Peak (White Quartz), Sunstone Knoll (Sunstones), Painter Springs (Garnets, Pyrite, Muscovite, Quartz), Conger Springs (Crinoids, brachiopods), Black Rock (Black Obsidian), Drum Mountains (Agate), Indian Pass (brachiopods, horned coral), Skull Rock Pass (graptolites , trilobites, brachiopods, echinoderms), and Fish Springs/Dugway (Geodes).
Alternative: If you’d rather look at rocks and minerals rather than search for the, the Great Basin Museum in Delta has a nice selection, along with exhibits about the early history of the county and information about the nearby Topaz Internment Camp.