The flowers are blooming, and you can enjoy them over a longer distance as the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive in Great Basin National Park is plowed this month. During the winter it is open only to Upper Lehman Creek Campground, but as conditions allow, it is opened to the Osceola Trail parking, then Mather Overlook, then the Wheeler Peak Summit parking, then the Bristlecone/Alpine Lakes trailhead, and finally the Wheeler Peak campground is opened, often around Memorial Day weekend or the first week of June.
For hiking, with snowshoes and hiking poles, you can get to the alpine lakes or bristlecones for a very snowy view. Snowshoes can be rented at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. If you want a break from snow, another good hike is up Hendry’s Creek in the North Snake Range. Last May the globemallow put on a spectacular display on the way to the trailhead. The creeks are running a little high due to snow melt, so bring footwear you don’t mind getting wet and a hiking stick to help cross them. Hendry’s Creek trail crosses the creek several times as it heads up to The Table, and that will still be snow-covered in May, so it’s probably better to plan on a shorter hike for May. If you’d like a totally dry hike, the trails at Sacramento Pass Recreation Area next to Highways 6 and 50 are great. They also allow mountain biking and dogs, something not allowed in the national park. There’s no fee to access trails in any of these areas. Sac Pass also has free camping and a fishing pond.
Additional tours of Lehman Caves are added for the summer, but with increased visitation, the tours often sell out. You can reserve spots ahead of time on recreation.gov. If you want to go underground, another option is Crystal Ball Cave, about 35 miles north of Baker near Gandy, Utah. They have just started doing regularly scheduled tours on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with tours on Tuesdays through Thursdays by appointment. The cave is decorated with nailhead spar, making it feel like you’re walking inside a giant geode. There aren’t any lights in the cave, so you bring your own flashlight or headlamp. See their website for more details. (And if you go, check out nearby Gandy Warm Springs.)
May is also the time for lots of baby animals: last May we saw baby great horned owls, marmots, deer, gopher snakes, and more. The temperature is variable in May, but not too hot, so it’s a great time to get out and explore. Local businesses are ready for visitors with expanded hours and more services.
The settlement depended for its prosperity on the railroad, and on the mines that blossomed and wilted along the slopes and side canyons of the Reese River Valley all the way to Austin, 90 miles to the south. Galena, Jersey City and Lewis were three of Nevada's most prominent mining camps in the 1870s, all of them served by the railroad at Battle Mountain, as was Pittsburgh in the 1880s and Dean in the 1890s. After the turn of the century the mines at Hilltop, Bannock, McCoy and Betty O'Neal all shipped by way of Battle Mountain.
Battle Mountain was the last stop for W.J. Forbes, a famous Nevada newspaperman of the l9th century. He was remembered by Carson City journalist Sam Davis: "Pioneers still laugh about his quips and fancies. Writing under his pen-name Semblins he discoursed on every subject known to man, and his shafts so often hit the mark that he became popular with all classes of readers." Forbes edited and published a dozen newspapers in California and Nevada, and in 1873 started the short-lived The New Endowment in Salt Lake City. "Returning to Nevada," Davis wrote, "he started Measure for Measure at Battle Mountain. It was a wonderful paper, but it did not pay, and a friend found him on the morning of October 30, 1875, lying stiff and cold across his shabby bed. He had fought a fight against all odds all his life, was one of the brightest geniuses the coast had ever seen, but he lacked the faculty of making and saving money and lived in communities where his mental brightness was more envied than appreciated."
In 1880 the Nevada Central Railroad was completed through the length of the Reese River Valley to the south, connecting Austin with the transcontinental line, and in the following year a short line was built to the mines at Lewis. One of the Nevada Central's officials was James H. Ledlie, a former Union officer in the Civil War who had disgraced himself at th Battle of the Crater outside Petersburg Virginia in the summer of 1864. A siding near the southern end of the route through Reese River Valley was named in his honor, and Ledlie was a familiar visitor to the railroad.