Great Basin Highway’s name based in valley’s description

The naming of Great Basin Highway is twofold: how the artery got its name and where that name actually came from. The highway got its name in the late 1990s as a result of a request from the city of Ely, White Pine County commissioners and the Commission on Tourism to promote travel to Great Basin National Park, according to Damon Hodge, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

Great Basin National Park, near the town of Baker along the Nevada-Utah state line, connects with Las Vegas by U.S. Highway 93 with the special designation. U.S. 93 takes on the Great Basin Highway name after it passes the Las Vegas Beltway heading north.

But the Great Basin name dates back much earlier. Clark County Museum administrator Mark Hall-Patton said the name refers to the entire region for its geographical characteristics. John Fremont was the first person to refer to the area as the Great Basin in 1844, Hall-Patton said.

“It was more of a geographical descriptor name like Vegas,” Hall-Patton said. Most sources simplify the translation of Las Vegas to “the Meadows,” but the word is more specific than the more common Spanish word for meadows, “prados.” “Vega” usually refers to low-lying fertile ground, often along a river.

The national park was not established until 1986.

Betsy Duncan-Clark, chief of interpretation at Great Basin National Park, said the process for Congress to officially recognize the area as geographically significant began in 1922. It took 62 years to get the designation, and it became a public law on Oct. 27, 1986.

The National Park Service said the Great Basin region has been home to American Indians for thousands of years as well as ranchers and farmers and Mormons in more recent years. The service reports that the region has been lived in by people for more than 12,000 years.

The park and the region range in elevation from 5,000 to 13,000 feet, according to the service and include everything from deserts and mountains to fossils, caves and creeks. With its large range in elevation, the region has a unique level of diversity among plant and animal species for those that can live in the desert and those adjusted alpine environments. The National Park Service said the park and region have 11 species of conifer trees, 73 species of mammals, 18 species of reptiles, 238 species of birds, eight species of fish and more than 800 species of plants.

“It’s a large basin, and it ended up taking on that name,” Hall-Patton said.

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