Great Basin National Park
in Nevada, the Great Basin is one of the last great open spaces in North
America. It is a huge place extending from the foot of the Sierra Nevada
in California to the base of the Wasatch in Utah from the outskirts of
Las Vegas north to Southern Oregon.
The defining characteristic of the Great Basin is a pattern known as internal drainage. The water that exists in this region does not flow to the ocean. In most places water always, eventually, flows into the ocean. For example in the Las Vegas Valley, the water always flows east into the Colorado by its tributary, the Las Vegas Wash.
In contrast, the Great Basin exists from a drainage system which does not flow into the ocean. It flows into places like the Humboldt Sink, Great Salt Lake, Pyramid Lake, Hawthorne Lake and countless other places that collect the meager rainfall and try to keep it.
In the past this fact had created places like Lake Lahonton and Lake Bonneville. During the last Ice Age, the Great Basin was filled with hundreds of lakes due to the increased rainfall at that time. The flora and fauna of the Great Basin had to adapt to decreased rainfall and increased temperatures after the end of the Ice Age.
This resulted in plants and animals that were adapted to the higher rainfall and lower temperatures to seek a similar environment. The Great Basin, due to its unique 'Basin and Range' topography provided environments in each of its mountain ranges that these flora and fauna would adapt to.
The mountains of the Great Basin can be divided into environmental zones some of which are similar to ancient environments. As the climate got warmer after the Ice Age, plant and animal communities followed the retreat of more temperate zones 'uphill'. That means the temperate environments that existed at lower altitudes before, now moved to higher altitudes bringing their plant and animal communities with them.
The lower altitudes were surrendered to the desert environments that we have in moderns times. This resulted in the isolation of species the eco-zone 'islands' that were created by this isolation. In the 10 millennia, or so, that have passed since this process began, certain species have felt the influence of the processes of adaptation and selection. In many areas there are species unique to just that area and environment.
This is one of the unique attractions of the Great Basin area, numerous micro-environments with one of a kind inhabitants.
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