Spring Break 2017: Great Basin National Park Lehman Cave

I don’t often visit National Parks when I’m out traveling. It’s not that I hold the No Puppy Service in low regard but Sprocket’s my adventure buddy and quite frankly, I’ll skip the crowds for BLM or Forest Service land just outside the park to hang with him.

Since he didn’t join me for this trip, I was free for National Park adventures! I spent some time in Arches but my next stop was Great Basin National Park. I’ve been wanting to go to Great Basin and visit the bristlecone pines for ages (and more recently, I’ve really wanted to climb Wheeler Peak); these high mountain adventures were on hold though since the upper slopes of the park were still pretty packed in snow. Instead, I signed up for the Grand Palace Tour in Lehman Cave.

Reservations for the tours are highly recommended so I made mine about a week and a half before I left on my trip. I’m not much for specific time points to be places but I’m really glad I made space for this! The cave tour was just the right length and our ranger was really informative.

This wasn’t my first tour in a limestone cave (I visited Shasta Caverns in 2009 and Carlsbad Caverns in 2010) but I was impressed. The cave was beautiful and the tour was really interesting.

I really liked this cave bacon:

I was having a really hard time making all of my knowledge of western geology come together while trying to fit in the formation of the cave. The final answer was: I don’t know anywhere near enough about Great Basin geology and I need to fix that before I come back to Nevada. #sciencenerdproblems

I’ll definitely be back to Great Basin in a different time of year to check out the upper part of the park!

Topaz Museum and Historic Site

A cursory Google of my intended route had turned up the (free) Great Basin Museum in Delta, Utah. I figured I could use a leg stretch when I arrived after driving across the state so I pulled in behind the visitor center and walked around the corner.

Before I reached my intended museum, I noticed the Topaz Museum sign. This gorgeous building, with its exterior clad shou sugi ban style, stood out in the plain western Utah town. I’m a little embarrassed but I wandered inside partially not knowing what to expect and partially expecting a rock museum.

It only took me a few minutes of wandering around the lobby to understand what this museum was about. I was confused about whether there was an entry fee and about where to go. Eventually, a woman came out and ushered me into a group with a docent that had started just minutes before me.

We watched two films before the docent ushered us into the start of the exhibits. The first was about the history of Topaz and how it fit in with the rest of the internment camps in the western United States. The second was footage actually shot in Topaz by someone who was held in the camp. An administrator had helped him acquire a camera but didn’t fully give him “permission” to film. This is one of only two home movies to be housed in the Library of Congress.

I was nervous about taking photos of all of the museum exhibits but within minutes of entering the museum I had a sad sinking feeling in my gut. I attempt to not be overtly political on this blog but it is clear that our country has elected someone who is unclear on how much internment is in conflict with true American values and that underscored how important it is that we recognize how we failed ourselves in the 1940s.

The Topaz museum is astounding. The exhibits are incredibly well designed. Housed within the museum is a residence for four people and outside the backdoor is a recreation hall moved from the site. There is furniture from the site that was constructed from found wood and photos showing how Topaz interacted with Delta once it was realized that the internees were not actually a threat to our country.

The last piece of the museum is a discussion of how the internment was handled in the courts after it happened. This didn’t feel like the end of the story to me so I decided I should head out to the actual site of the camp, just outside of town.

I only made it to the memorial before I sat down on its sunwarmed granite and cried. I hadn’t even entered the site yet. The museum had so well laid the foundation for an understanding of how the internment of Japanese-Americans fit into our history and into our present that I couldn’t help but feel the moment so acutely.

While I was in the museum, one of the docents commented how terrible it was that they were confined to such an ugly place. I couldn’t help myself when I responded, “It’s only ugly if you’re stuck.” On the very edge of the great basin, I was struck by the mountains and the sky. But to imagine being trapped in such a space was unthinkable.

I grew up near the Puyallup Fairgrounds which had been an assembly point for those of Japanese ancestry while waiting to be sent to their permanent camps further inland. In elementary school, we’d had a presentation by the author of Baseball Saved Us, Ken Mochizuki, and we learned about internment camps and how important baseball had been.

Standing behind what had been the backstop of one of the baseball fields, I finally started to feel some peace. I’m not sure if its the idea of baseball being “America’s game” or if its just that my long association with the game makes me feel closer to people or what. I sat on the hard dirt and looked out to the northeast, just like ball fields are supposed to, for a bit and collected myself to move on.

 

While my visit to Topaz wasn’t expected and it certainly wasn’t easy, I really recommend a stop. The museum is located in Delta, Utah right on the main highway and the camp is a relatively short drive outside of town. 

Spring Break 2017: Crossing Utah

Departing from Katherine and her friends, I headed north towards I-70. Although I detest driving on the interstate, I must say, Green River to Salina is actually pretty damn amazing. Just outside of Green River you cross up and over the San Rafael Swell and then cross through some pretty mountains before descending into Salina.

Views of the Book Cliffs from US-191:

Approaching the Swell:

I got off the interstate near the crest of the swell to hike out to San Rafael Knob. The beta I attempted to follow lead me to the edge of a cliff. I’m pretty willing to scramble a lot of things but I couldn’t quite figure out how to get back on track for the route. After a bit, I abandoned the hike (fortunately its right off I-70 so making it back here isn’t hard).

It was a nice ramble along the canyon rim even if I never did find a way to penetrate its defenses.

Just after the hike, I started to descend from the swell before heading up into the mountains.

From Salina, I headed around Fishlake National Forest to Delta, Utah. (Delta was mindblowing so it gets its own post…until tomorrow!)