Whole Life Magazine

June/July 2019

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20 wholelifetimes.com Cool Places for Warm Summer Days Visit Great Basin National Park & Mammoth Lakes BY GENIE DAVIS S ometimes in the height of summer, you're looking for a cool place to be; a place to enjoy the beauty of nature without experiencing the latest heat wave — or summer crowds. Both Nevada's Great Basin National Park and California's Mammoth Lakes region fit the bill. While Mammoth Lakes is a comparatively short five-hour drive from LA, Great Basin, and the small community of Baker, Nevada, nearby almost necessitates a stop in Las Vegas or a quick flight and car rental there. However, a scenic drive between the two spots is just five and a half hours via Highway 6, an essentially traffic-free route with views of trees, mountains, and desert plains. A 25-minute side trip will take you to Silver Peak, a picturesque ghost town. Or break up the drive halfway with a stop in Tonopah at the classic Mizpah Hotel, circa 1907. The historic, old-west hotel is a few minutes' walk from the Tonopah Historic Mining Park and the Central Nevada Museum. Luxuriously renovated in 2011, the reportedly "haunted" hotel also offers dining and cocktails in an elegantly decorated-from-the-past setting. However you structure a visit to Great Basin and Mammoth Lakes, both experiences give you the perfect antidote to an urban summer. Nevada's Great Basin National Park offers sweeping vistas of the basin itself and the 13,000-foot Wheeler Peak summit. Located on the Utah-Nevada border, the park received only 168,000 visitors — and that was a record — in 2017. Hike through ancient bristlecone pines or star gaze in a sky that is almost devoid of light pollution and take in the Milky Way. In fact, it became an official International Dark Sky Park in 2016. And don't miss the underground-cool of Lehman Caves. The caves are spectacular, both in terms of color — gold, white, red, and green appear in the rocks — and the formations. To explore the caverns, you'll need to sign up in advance for one of two guided daily tours; tours do sell out. The Lodge Room Tours are 60 minutes and traverse a quarter mile; the 90-minute Grand Palace Tour is for guests ages five and up and covers 0.6 miles. We took the latter and learned a great deal of history about the caves' formations and its uses over the years — even as a dance hall venue at one time! Beautiful Stella Lake is another must-see, with crystal clear — and chilly — waters reflecting mountain peaks. It's found along the park's Alpine Lakes Loop Trail. Aspens and pines dot the trail. A stop at the Mather View Overlook offers a clear idea of the volcanic activity that shaped the basin itself, and of Mount Wheeler. Less active pursuits are also pleasurable — drive the 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive along the base of the South Snake Range Mountains winding up to a vista point above it, and an elevation 10,000-feet above the desert floor. After a day of exploring, the desert floor is exactly where you'll want to return, however. While there are campsites available within the park, a more comfortable — and delicious — place to stay and dine is the Stargazer Inn and Kerouac's restaurant in the very small town of Baker, Nev., population 68. The ten- room roadside motel was once a nearly abandoned property, but it was purchased and reopened in 2017 by Jake Cerese and Kate Claeys, who together have more than 30 years of hospitality experience, including superior skills in creating beautiful, fresh cuisine and craft cocktails. The couple left busy professional lives in New York to reopen the spot. When we visited, motel rooms were small but spotless; a charming courtyard made the perfect spot to sip a glass of wine and look up at the wonderful stars, and the front entrance bloomed with person-high sunflowers. We stayed in the group of rooms adjoining the restaurant and motel office; others are located across the street a few minutes' stroll away. While the stay was comfortable and quiet, it's the dining that draws This page: Bristlecone pines grow at high altitude in arid regions of the Western United States. They are known for attaining great ages. / Photo by Genie Davis. Opposite page, top: The famous parachute shield of Lehman Caves. / Photo courtesy of the National Park Service. Bottom: View of the Milky Way, Great Basin National Park. / Photo by Sydney Martinez, Travel Nevada, https://travelnevada.com.

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