Here's the deal. I like remote places, and GBNP is nothing if not remote. The least visited of all the national parks, it sits 100 miles west of Delta, which is saying something since Delta itself is hardly on the proverbial beaten path.
To get to the park, you drive through a sea of low-growing shrubs, and if you're lucky and the weather is fine, you'll enjoy the sight of October light glancing off the sage and cinnamon- and burnt-wheat-colored grasses. When you finally arrive, you'll get out of the car, stretch your legs, look around — and realize that you're standing at a crossroads where history and prehistory comfortably intersect beneath a sheet of cobalt sky.
I enjoyed everything about our trip, including the tour of the Lehman Caves, whose jagged formations make you feel as if you're standing in the belly of some great clammy limestone beast. Our guide, Ranger Karen, shared all kinds of interesting information with us, including the fact that people used to have dinner parties in the larger rooms of the cave, which made me very glad (frankly) that I don't know people who like to have dinner parties in caves.
I also enjoyed searching for pictographs on stone walls and watching the lazy flight of an occasional raven. But the thing I loved the most were the bristlecone pines.
What are bristlecone pines, you ask? And if you're not asking, you should be, because they're amazing.
Bristlecone pines are really, really, really old trees. They are, in fact, among the oldest living organisms on the planet. Before the government shut down last year or Steve Jobs sold the world on Apple or Alan Shepard hit a golf ball on the moon or the Beatles stormed the states or the Allies bombed Hiroshima or lives were lost in Flanders Fields or the French invented the guillotine or Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue or the English forced Bad King John to sign the Magna Carta or the Vikings perfected the fine art of pillaging or Muhammad and Jesus and Buddha were born or the Great Wall of China was built or the last of the pyramids were completed, the grove of bristlecone pines stood on Wheeler Peak 11,000 feet above sea level.
Thick and twisted with trunks the color of bleached bones and limbs like mammoth antlers, bristlecone pines grow on the rocky ridge of an exposed, unloving mountain. The harsher the environment, the more these defiant trees seem to thrive. You can almost imagine them sneering a little at the universe. "Seriously? You call that a storm? You'll have to try a lot harder than that, you wimp."
For me it was humbling to stand in that ancient grove because in Bristlecone Pine Time, I am less than an infant. But it was oddly comforting, as well — to know that long after we have ceased to matter on this planet, these lives will go on and on.