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Bristlecone-Glacier Trail

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

The pristine beauty of Great Basin National Park is particularly highlighted along the Bristlecone-Glacier Trail, a combination of the Ice Field Glacier Trail and the Bristlecone Interpretive Trail. If you choose to hike both trails, and you really should do them both, your roundtrip hiking distance will be 4.6 miles from the parking lot near the Wheeler Peak Campground. The Bristlecone Trail leads to a side trail, an interpretive loop, 1.4 miles from the trailhead, which winds through an ancient bristlecone pine grove where signs explain the lives and significance of these ancient trees. One sign reads: Born 1300 B.C. Died 1700 A.D., describing a tree that lived 3000 years and is still standing, its twisted trunk burnished to a sweet golden brown, much like wood that has been painstakingly polished by a carpenter. Bristlecone pines are the oldest living trees known in the world, and they are found near timberline in the mountains of Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, and northern Arizona. Standing in the presence of these gnarled old trees brings out a reverence in just about everyone who visits a Bristlecone grove, where you can’t help but feel respect and awe for something that has graced the face of the earth for so many years. After visiting the pines interpretive site, continue on the path towards the glacier. The two trails rejoin at a signed junction, and the Bristlecone-Glacier Trail continues up the moraine. The only trees that survive here are bristlecone pine, limber pine, and Englemann spruce. Tundra plants are the only other vegetation that can survive in this stark canyon carved by ice. Keep hiking and you will soon be surrounded by a glacier-hollowed valley enclosed by sheer cliffs, this is the Wheeler Cirque with the summit of Wheeler Peak in full view. At the far end lies the glacier, the Great Basin’s only permanent glacier and one of the southernmost in the country. If you make the effort to reach the Bristlecone grove, do yourself a favor and make the extra effort to reach the glacier—we were surprised to see people turn around at the interpretive trail. It is just another mile to the glacier, a short way to walk to see an amazing phenomenon, a permanent icefield just a few miles from the desert.

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