One of the most picturesque landscapes that can possibly be imagined is located in the Great Basin Desert near Pioche, Nevada. Describing Cathedral Gorge is difficult to do, because this place is so unlike the surroundings encountered in an average day to day existence. The Cathedral Gorge landscape is often described as being other worldly or like being on another planet. This heavily eroded ancient slick rock gorge certainly is weird enough to leave visitors spellbound long after the sun goes down!
Cathedral Gorge State Park is located in a little place called Panaca on U.S. Highway 93, which is just a few miles south of Pioche. Panaca only has a gas station county store, but modern accommodations can be found in the towns of Pioche and Caliente. Camping in the beautiful Cathedral Gorge setting is the best option for overnighters, but the summer monsoon season can bring a few rain storms.
Cathedral Gorge is a great destination for a day trip, but the drive can take a few hours from any of the major metropolitan areas in this region. For this reason, Cathedral Gorge does attract commuters that need to take a break from the road when driving back and forth between Las Vegas and Carson City. It is all paved roads getting to Cathedral Gorge and the access road within the State Park is well maintained dirt road.
The nice thing about Cathedral Gorge being in a remote location is there is rarely any overcrowding problems at this State Park. I have been to this destination on a rainy day and a sunny day, yet on both occasions I was the only person there for most of the day. Plenty of elbow room can be found in this peaceful place and this is part of the attraction.
There are facilities and shaded picnic areas near the parking zones in Cathedral Gorge. A ranger station is located on site and plenty of information is posted about the hiking trails at the kiosks. Cathedral Gorge State Park definitely is camper friendly, because the campsite fees are about half of what a National Park charges. RV enthusiasts will be happy to know that there are electric hookups on site, so this can be a nice little extended stay vacation spot.
As mentioned earlier, Cathedral Gorge is difficult to describe with words alone. This is one place where a photo truly says far more than what words can express. The eroded clay rock formations are so intricate that they are mesmerizing to gaze upon. There are so many holes, crevasses, ruts and ravines on the walls of this gorge, that the mind actually starts to play tricks. From one angle, the view of columns of eroded rock starts to look like gothic castles in a fairy tale. From another angle, the columns of eroded rock start to look like eery animated creatures. Soon one starts to wonder if this is an ancient sacred place, because the visual experience leaves so much to wonder about. The word “ominous” certainly is a good choice for describing the experience!
The clay rock strata of this entire region is the result of an ancient gigantic lake bed that eventually hardened like rock. Cathedral Gorge is a spot where the ancient dry lake has erode from water the rolling down the hilly landscape. The different colors of layered clay rock are exposed and each layer has a different hardness. Eons of seasonal rain caused the slick rock to erode unevenly and this intriguing landscape was the result.
I visited Cathedral Gorge during the peak of the desert monsoon season. This region is known for severe thunderstorms and one doozy of a storm just ended when I arrived at the park. Rain brings all of the colors of the desert to life and the same can be said about the eroded Cathedral Gorge rock strata, which looks faded on a sunny day. The photos of Cathedral Gorge with the storm on the background definitely show what a spectacular site this place is during the monsoon season! If a visitor is lucky, the towering clouds will darken the sky at sunset and the landscape will be painted with a deep blue light. As can be seen in the photos, Cathedral Gorge looks even more out of this world when this kind of desert weather phenomena occurs.
Rain may bring out the color of the desert, but rain also brings flash floods. Fortunately there are no high mountains surrounding Cathedral Gorge, but the ground can still catch enough water to turn a hiking trail into a knee deep stream, so it is best to use caution when hiking in this park if storms are near. Rain and clay rock strata also means slick and slippery hiking conditions. In the west, the natives refer to this kind of ground surface by the name “slick rock” or “slippery rock” and for good reason. I was wearing non-slip shoes the day I visited and I still lost my footing on the slick clay rock a few times. One slip did result in a fall on the hard slick rock surface. Overall, the experience of walking on the rain soaked slick rock was literally like walking on oil coated polished marble, so care must be taken when visiting this park after a recent rain storm.
Cathedral Gorge certainly is a captivating place to be and this majestic destination truly boasts one of the most unique landscapes in Nevada. Not matter whether you are planning a vacation getaway or are just passing through, this Nevada State Park is well worth checking out. Be sure to bring a good camera along for the ride and do a little rain dance shortly before arrival, because the photos of Cathedral Gorge after a rain storm will simply leave viewers in awe!
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