What Is The Great Basin?

We are frequently asked questions about our name. How did we come up with it? What is the Great Basin? Where is it? Well, it’s a “great” question!

The Great Basin, broadly speaking, is a geographic area between the Sierra Nevada mountains on the west, the Rocky Mountains on the East, the Snake River on the North and the Sonoran/Mojave Deserts to the south. About 95% of the state of Nevada is in the Great Basin. About half of Utah falls within the Great Basin, as do small parts of California, Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming.

Great Basin Map    Greatbasinmap

Defined by Water

Depending upon the kind of scientist you talk to, and the parameters used for the definition, the boundaries of the Great Basin might be drawn with minor differences. But the major defining factor of the Great Basin has always been water, or the watershed of the region. A watershed is an area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins or seas. The defining attribute of the Great Basin is that precipitation falls within it’s watershed and never reaches an ocean – it drains to the salty basins and lakes of the interior intermountain west where it eventually seeps into the ground or evaporates. All water drains internally. The Great Basin is a 210,000 square mile bathtub with no drain.

Several river systems and lakes are of interest in the Great Basin. Lake Tahoe, a vibrant freshwater Sierra Nevada lake, flows down the Truckee River, quickly loses elevation and drains into the salty, geographic sink of Pyramid Lake. Other salty basin lakes that receive water form the Sierra Nevada range include Walker Lake, Mono Lake and the Carson sinks, all remnants of ancient Lake Lahontan. On the eastern side of the Great Basin the Great Salt Lake lies at the bottom of what was once Lake Bonneville. It is fed by the Bear, Weber, Provo and Spanish Fork Rivers. Sevier Lake in west-central Utah is fed predominantly by the Sevier river and gathers it’s water from South-Central Utah. The Humboldt and Reese River systems drain west into the Carson Sinks and join waters from the Sierra Nevada. What is the Great Basin?

Central_Basin_and_Range_ecoregion

The Great Basin is also referred to as the Basin and Range Province and Great Basin Province, though these definitions follow geographic features more than watershed. The term “basin and range” comes from the multitude of north-south mountain ranges, fault lines and valleys or “basins” in Utah and Nevada. Look at at map…you will see that they are longitudinally stacked one after another from central Utah to the Sierra Nevada mountains.

What is the Great Basin
Above: the Nevada Basin & Range. This photo is taken looking south-west. The Sierra Nevada Mountains are the dark strip seen in the upper RH quadrant, the pacific ocean in the extreme RH corner. Mono Lake is the circular lake (with island) at the base of the mountains, Walker lake is just below it in the photo. The white hardpan at center right is the Carson Sinks. Using your imagination, the mountain ranges in the center of the photo form the letters “UIP”. The Reese River flows north from the valley in the “P”, joins the Humboldt River in the shallow basins at the bottom of the photo and then flows west to the Carson Sinks.

Great Basin Seed headquarters sits on the eastern edge of the Great Basin Province at the foot of the Wasatch Plateau. It fascinates me to consider the wonder of this large scale watershed and geographic separation as I enjoy the lush, high mountains on our back doorstep, juxtaposed by the dramatic and seemingly barren and inhospitable landscapes below. If I stand on the mountain ridge line above my home and face south, I can straddle the water line between the Great Basin and the rest of the country. To my left, a fallen snowflake or drop of rain travels eastward down the mountain, turns south at the confluence of the Green River, joins the might Colorado River and eventually makes it’s way to the Gulf of Mexico. To my right, a different drop of water travels west, meanders between desert ranges and eventually drains into the ground or evaporates from the surface of a salty desert hardpan. A tiny gust of wind could land that snowflake or raindrop mere inches one way or the other and result is a very different fate. This process is not unique to the Great Basin by any means…the same process happens everywhere on the planet. In the Great Basin the result of this micro-event, multiplied by every drop of water that ever falls, results in a fascinating dichotomy. Dramatic geography, wildlife and plant life, culture, industry, travel and ways of life are all shaped by the process and are uniquely different from adjacent landscapes. What is the Great Basin?

Big Smokey Valley Nevada, Great Basin Seed, What is the Great Basin?
Big Smokey Valley Nevada, in the heart of the Great Basin

The Great Basin is our home. Our ancestors were among the first European settlers to set roots here. The Great Basin is where the vast majority of our native seeds are grown, harvested and produced. We grow and buy very large volumes of seed outside the watershed boundaries of the Great Basin, but this is home…its the heart of it all, and it’s where our name was born. What is the Great Basin?

Jason Stevens
Owner, Great Bain Seed