One Of The Original Nevada State Parks
Cathedral Gorge is located in eastern Nevada, USA close to the state border with Utah and about 165 miles north of Las Vegas. In 1935 it became one of the original four Nevada State Parks.
As a gorge it really doesn`t compare to the majestic grandeur of places like the Royal Gorge or the New River Gorge. However, what makes the Cathedral Gorge State Park such a special place is the unique quality of its rock formations.
The gorge is to be found just to the north of the small railway town of Caliente NV close to the intersection of US Route 93 and State Route 319. The nearest town is a tiny place called Panaca, which was settled in 1864 by Mormon pioneers. They chose this high desert place because of the plentiful supply of water for livestock and crops.
Cathedral Gorge State Park covers 1,600 acres of land which is at an altitude of 4,800 feet above sea level. Here the Nevada weather can be very extreme. Daytime temperatures in summer can reach well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit while the winters can be very cold. Day and night temperatures can change by as much as 40 degrees. Sudden thunderstorms and heavy rain are fairly common.
It was the combination of water and rapid changes in temperature that sculpted this remarkable landscape.
Around a million years ago the area was a freshwater lake. As the climate altered and the lake disappeared the soft sedimentary rocks beneath the water were left exposed. Snow melt-water and rain over thousands of years have created a magical landscape of spires, caves, flutes and narrow gullies and canyons.
Nevada State Governor James Scrugham, who had visited the Cathedral Gorge in 1924, initiated the process of acquiring the land from the government and turning it into one of the first of the Nevada State Parks.
Nowadays visitors will find a modern reception center, with various interpretive displays together with information on the Cathedral Gorge State Park, and all the other Nevada State Parks. There is also a shaded picnic area and a campground with twenty two sites. A small charge is made to enter the park and this goes towards maintenance costs.
To call the place a gorge seems slightly unusual as the depth of the many gullies and canyons is rarely more than fifty feet. It is more like a valley than anything else.
The best way to enjoy Cathedral Gorge is to enter from the south. Here the cliff walls are about 800 yards apart. As you walk northwards it begins to taper dramatically.
There are gullies on both sides and it is possible to walk up some of them. The longest usually end after around 100 yards and they can become very narrow with the walls close on either side.
These gullies often end abruptly with a sheer wall. On a warm day the temperatures in them can be cool as the sun doesn`t penetrate down into the narrow crevices.
The further north you travel up the gorge the less pronounced is the trail.
At the very northern end of the gorge the flood waters have eroded the rocks in a wide variety of ways. There are canyons on different levels and many small caves, some deep enough to require a torch to explore.
A great way to view this part of Cathedral Gorge State Park is by taking the alternative park entrance signed to "Miller Point." There is a lookout here that gives a wonderful view of the gorge.
There are two trails that visitors can hike round to take in the sights that this Nevada State Park offers. One is a four mile loop that includes some of the remote parts of the gorge. The other trail is about a mile long and links the main entrance and the picnic area to the lookout at Miller Point.
The plant life within Cathedral Gorge is mainly Yucca, Junipers, Sagebrush and small shrubs. Surprisingly for a desert area there are no cactus. The Nevada weather of high temperatures in summer and freezing conditions in winter are not condusive to their growth.
The animal life consists mainly of small mammals such as the coyote, fox, gophers, rabbits, skunks, rats and mice. The occasional deer is seen but not very often.
However, the most wonderful bird you can spot scuttling along is the Roadrunner of cartoon fame.
Cathedral Gorge is a quirky place in the middle of nowhere.
But it is a gorge that is certainly worth a visit.
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