Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Where in the West: Wheeler Peak

I'll be away when this post comes out, hiking and camping on Wheeler Peak. Since I already posted pictures of this peak, and because coconino already correctly identified it and the formations making up the peak, I won't have a regular July Where in the West.

Wheeler Peak is in the Snake Range of eastern Nevada, not very far west of the Utah border. It reaches an elevation of 13,063 feet, making it the second highest peak in Nevada, a close second to Boundary Peak at 13,141 feet.

Wheeler Peak is inside Great Basin National Park, which was created in 1986, some 8 years after I first drove up the paved road that goes to the upper campground while on days off from a helicopter camp in Caliente. The upper campground is at an elevation 9,886 feet, in a wonderful aspen grove and meadow, with Lehman Creek gurgling by on the south side of the camp. The Bristlecone, Glacier, and Wheeler Peak Summit Trails all begin at the campground, although I'd recommend parking at the upper trailhead for the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail, thereby cutting off about 300 feet of elevation on an already strenuous and long hike. The combined Bristlecone and Glacier Trail goes to a Bristlecone Pine grove and to the only active glacier in Nevada, a rock glacier. [The Glacier Trail is a continuation of the Bristlecone Trail, the entire journey from trailhead to glacier and back to trailhead being 4.6 miles.]

[Correction: it is a small glacier that is active or has been within the last decade or two, not the rock glacier - see later posts.]

The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, 12 miles of paved road that switchbacks and winds up the mountain at up to 8% grades, provides several scenic overlook stops of Wheeler Peak itself, and also of the distant basins and ranges in Utah. If you carefully stop in the right places, you can also get a good view of the northern Snake Range decollement or detachment fault. The photo header for this blog, Looking for Detachment, was taken from the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.

While winding up the mountain on the scenic drive, you will pass through late Precambrian to early Cambrian Prospect Mountain Quartzite, and possibly through a bit of Osceola Argillite. I'm not that familiar with the Osceola Argillite, but it's part of the late Precambrian McCoy Creek Group, described here. The Osceola Argillite is one of coconino's favorite rock formations.

Of course, a lot more could be said about the Wheeler Peak area and Great Basin Park - don't forget Lehman Caves or the nearby Osceola mining district. Osceola produced the largest gold nugget in Nevada [archived], which weighed in at 25 lbs and was valued - at the time - at $6000.

Hopefully I'll have a few photos when I return! In the words of California's erstwhile governator, "I'll be Bach."

Some geologic maps:

Miller, E. L., Gans, P. B., and Grier, S. P., 1994, Geologic map of Windy Peak 7.5' quadrangle, White Pine County, Nevada: USGS Open-File Report OF-94-687.

Miller, E.L., Brown, J.L., Miller, D.M., Crane, M.P., and McCarthy, P.T., 1993, Minerva Canyon, Nevada; Wheeler Peak, Nevada: Stanford University, scale 1:24000.

Elizabeth L. Miller, Phillip B. Gans, and the Stanford Geological Survey, "Geologic Map of Wheeler Peak and Minerva Canyon 7.5'Quadrangles, White Pine County, Nevada," Unpublished USGS Open FileReport, somewhere in the USGS CR, 1993. Draft available via web.

Miller, E.L., Grier, S.P., and Brown, J.L., 1995, Geologic map of the Lehman Caves quadrangle, White Pine County, Nevada: U.S. Geological Survey, Geologic Quadrangle Map GQ-1758, scale 1:24000.


Thermochronic said...

Excellent post, you make me homesick for the west. Even though I've worked on rocks from the Snake Range (and Deep Creek range to the south), I've never had a chance to actually visit, which is obviously borderline unforgivable!

coconino said...

Silver Fox - You are so lucky to be there! The eastern and northeastern ranges of Nevada are some of my favorite places. I try and camp in the Rubies (Lamoille Cyn) whenever possible, and miss both my field camp and vacationing experiences in the Schell Creek Range, the Snake Range, and the White Pine Range. I also spent time with my ex in his field camp down near Pioche and Caliente. I'm in and near some pretty awesome mountains where I am now, but really enjoyed my time and experiences in Nevada and have very fond memories of those areas. I hope you have a magnificent time!

Garry Hayes said...

Have a great time! I always thought Wheeler Peak got a bum rap as the second highest peak in Nevada...Boundary Peak is just a knob on the side of a higher mountain in California. They should have traded a few acres and leave Boundary in California so Wheeler could enjoy some more attention. Great Basin National Park is a mostly under-appreciated treasure.