Imagine a vista that looks like a cross between Bryce Canyon, The Slots (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park), drip-castles we made out of watery sand at the beach, and something totally other-earthly. Something you’ve seen in a movie about another planet. This is only a vague way to describe Cathedral Gorge State Park in eastern Nevada. Here, towers, hoodoos, and fins of red/white bentonite-like clay soar into the sky out from the canyon edge. It is totally magnificent, especially around sunrise.
To get to the state park from the north, take US 93 south 8 miles from Pioche to the sign for Miller Point or the road to Cathedral Gorge State Park. From the south, take US 93 north 2 miles from Panaca (15 miles north of Caliente) to the road for Cathedral Gorge State Park or Miller Point. What’s the difference between Miller Point and the state park? Well, Miller Point is a rest area run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) while Cathedral Gorge is a state park run by the state of Nevada. Outside of the state park is an information center, where you can get information about the park. The state park charges a day-use rate of $7 per vehicle ($5 for Nevada residents), and offers visitors picnicking facilities, restrooms, water, camping, and sightseeing opportunities, including the best of the formations, the 4-mile Juniper Trail, and a nature trail. Miller Point, being run by the BLM, doesn’t charge an entrance fee, and offers visitors picnicking facilities, two awesome viewpoints, restrooms, and a nature trail.
We opted to park at Miller Point and then hike the 1 mile (I don’t think it’s really that long) trail to the best of the formations. The trail starts just beyond the gazebo-like structure at the end of the parking lot. Before you go, take a look at the map and other displays; the park seems to have a dearth of information available, so we took what we could get (including the last brochure out of an information board at the entrance to the state park—I hope they restock often).
The trail descends 120 stairs to the canyon bottom through an array of towers and spires pointing skyward. This would be really nice in the morning, with the early morning light coming over the formations. In the middle of the day (when we started our hike) the sun was too high in the sky for good pictures. In the evening, when we came back, there were too many shadows in the canyon for good photographs. So, you might want to plan this for the morning.
The trail winds its way down the canyon, and comes out at a picnic area at the end of the state park road. Here you can access the best of the formations in three “caves”: Cathedral Caves, Canyon Caves, and Moon Caves. These are not really caves, but instead are side canyons that are filled with amazing formations. You can walk right up into the formations, too, and into the labyrinths of “tunnels” though the formations. It’s really cool in there in the afternoon. Afternoon is also the best time to view these formations as they are in the sun at this point. Be careful if you decide to climb on the formations, as they can be slippery and crumble underneath your feet.
This is a great place for children to play. Our children had a blast running through the “tunnels” and around the caves. If you pay to be in the state park, you can basically drive right up to the caves, so you wouldn’t even have to hike far.
The history of the gorge is also interesting. Originally called “Cathedral Gulch”, the townspeople would come here to put on pageants and plays. At one event, colored lights were hung from the formations, giving it an other-earthly feel.
Near the picnic area is a restroom that was build by the CCC. They also made a water tower that is between Cathedral and Canyon Caves. The water in the well under the tower was too alkaline, so it is no longer in use.
There are several other trails in the park. There is a ½ mile nature trail that goes from the picnic area in the state park to the group campsite, and another nature trail up at Miller Point. The Eagle View Trail to the Miller Point Overlook is a ½ mile trail that starts on the access road to Miller Point. The nature trail branches off of the trail to the overlook. Another popular trail is the Juniper Loop Trail, located within the state park. This 4-mile loop will take you past most of the formations, and would be best hiked in the morning. There is also a trail between the campground and the Caves.
So, to sum it up, if you’re anywhere nearby, stop at Cathedral Gorge State Park and take in the awe-inspiring towers. You won’t regret it.
Fees: $7 if you park in the state park; none if you park at Miller Point
Wednesday Wed Dec 13 0%
Clear. Lows overnight in the upper 20s.
Thursday Thu Dec 14 0%
Sunny. High 52F. Winds NNE at 15 to 25 mph.
Friday Fri Dec 15 0%
Generally sunny. High 53F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.
Saturday Sat Dec 16 0%
Partly cloudy skies. High 51F. Winds N at 15 to 25 mph.
Sunday Sun Dec 17 0%
Sunny. High around 45F. Winds NE at 10 to 20 mph.