Sep 25 2017

Cathedral Gorge State Park

One of Nevada's Best Kept Secrets

Categories: Hiking, Nevada, Road Trips

In far Eastern Nevada, next to the tiny town of Panaca, is a hidden gem of a State Park called Cathedral Gorge. From Las Vegas it’s a 2.5 hour drive. From the St. George, Utah area it’s about 2 hours. It’s important to note that Panaca is so small it doesn’t really have anywhere to eat, so it’s better to bring your own food or try to find one of the limited options in either Caliente or farther down the road in Pioche.

We had decided to take a look at the park on the way back home from Pioche. With just over an hour before sunset, we found ourselves wanting more time for this tiny but complex park. The sediments are made out of Bentonite Clay, infamous when wet for being both incredibly slippery and super sticky at the same time. The sediments were originally deposited as volcanic ash long ago when there was one or a couple of super volcanoes in the area. Several other areas nearby exhibit similar erosional ash features.


Because we came from Pioche we entered the park from the North Entrance. Approaching from the south avoids any stairs.

If you didn’t know it was there you’d drive right by it. The landscape around the gorge is very flat.

The Gorge is maybe a mile long and a quarter mile wide. There is a loop hiking trail that basically goes along the base of the cliffs on one side of the park and then after a certain point makes a horseshoe back along the other side of the valley. Both sides of the valley are very interesting and chock full of an endless array of fractal erosional patterns. The trail is almost completely level.

We had a great time walking around and could have gone further if the sun hadn’t begun to set. I got the impression that it might be worthwhile to come back during a full moon.

In the bottom you spend a few minutes walking through a mud canyon.

The main valley is wide and sunny.

You might be able to find a few mud caves, like this one.

As you walk up the canyon you encounter and endless array of spires and fractal variations.

Maree checks out a dome room.

A skylight inside to dome. It appeared that some owls made it a home.

Below where the owls lived were piles of little bones in the dirt.

The walking is easy and occasionally you may find the oddly placed bench.

Not much can grow on the Bentonite Clay but there are some hardy plants trying.

When the sun gets low the colors really begin to come out.

The west side of the canyon is very alien planet looking.

There is a little bit of sand blowing up the valley.

I’m always fascinated by the natural sorting of pebbles in places like this.

Maree walks along the mud canyon.

We headed back up the primitive stairs towards the north end of the park.

Sometimes the formations look almost like fossils or creatures.

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