Although Nevada and Utah experienced significant growth in the 1970s and 80s, the Great Basin remains one of the least populated areas of the United States. In recent decades, its traditional economic activities, mining and ranching, have been superseded by manufacturing and tourism. In addition, several military installations, including a nuclear testing site in Nevada, have been established since the 1950s and a concentration of aerospace, defense, and electronics firms has sprung up around them.
The mining industry in the Great Basin traces its roots to the 1850s, when gold and silver were discovered in Death Valley; the discovery of silver at the Comstock Lode near Virginia City, Nev., in 1859 attracted a new influx of settlers. The output of gold from mines in both Nevada and Utah remains high. Mercury and barite are also mined in Nevada; in Utah, beryllium, uranium, molybdenum, and silver are mined. Copper mines, formerly the mainstay of the regional economy, began to decline in the 1970s and have largely fallen into disuse. A variety of commercial salts are processed at chemical plants near the Great Salt Lake. Intensive forms of cattle production, based on irrigated feed crops, are concentrated along the Humboldt and Reese rivers and along streams draining into the margins of the Great Basin from the Wasatch Mts. and the Sierra Nevada. Great Basin National Park (77,180 acres/31,258 hectares) is located in the South Snake Range of E Nevada. It has exceptional scenic and geologic attractions, including Lehman Caves and Wheeler Peak (the highest point in the park, with Nevada's only glacier and groves of bristlecone pines, the oldest living trees). It was designated a national park in 1986. See National Parks and Monuments (table).