Cathedral Gorge State Park - Trip Notes for 10/18/2017

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This page last updated on 10/18/2017


(Ref. A)
Park Description: Cathedral Gorge State Park is a public recreation and nature preserve area featuring a gorge eroded through soft bentonite clay near Panaca, Nevada.  In 1935 it was established as one of the four original Nevada state parks. The park sits at an elevation of 4,800 feet above sea level, and is typically arid with semi-hot summers, and very cold winters. The state park covers more than 1,600 acres along U.S. Route 93. Refer to (Ref. A - the boundary map on the right).  A majority of Meadow Valley was covered by a freshwater lake nearly 1 million years ago during the Pliocene Era. The richly colored canyons of Cathedral Gorge (seen in Fig. 01 above) are remnants of this ancient lake-bed. Over centuries, the lake began to gradually drain. Erosion began working away at the exposed portions of sediment and gravel that once composed the lake bottom. Rainwater and melting snow carved rivulets in the soft siltstone and clay shale, splitting tiny cracks and fissures into larger and larger gullies, caves and canyons.
(Ref. B)


10/18/2017 Trip Notes: On the return of a recent trip to Pioche, Nevada, Harvey Smith and I decided to visit Cathedral Gorge for a second time to capture a few more pictures. I find the unique geology of this park to be fascinating and always worth a stop. A short side road from the highway leads to a picnic area opposite the Cathedral Caves, closer to the edge of the gorge (refer to Ref. B). Brightly-colored cliffs and spires rise quite steeply ahead (Fig. 02). I think the spires and hoodoos in this picture almost resemble the 'pipes' of a large pipe organ. As we walked around this area, we hiked into several of its many 'caves' with many narrow crevices at the outer edge of the cliffs. The walkways of these caves are often only 2 or 3 feet wide but extend inwards for up to 100 yards. There are usually many side-winding side-branches. The walls tower high overhead and the effect is very much like being underground. The further in you walk the steeper the walls become (Figs. 04 thru 06). Figure 02 above shows the entrance to one of the largest caves we entered. Most passages end abruptly, a characteristic feature of the rock, in a circular shaft with daylight visible far above (Fig. 03). These mini canyons are formed when rainwater runs off the nearby land and is channeled down the shaft, causing the 'caves' to gradually erode further back into the cliffs. The 'caves' run anywhere from 25 to 75 feet deep into the cliff side. Looking up, there are openings at the top of these caves whose walls stretch as much as 100 feet high (Fig. 03). By the time you reach the end of a cave, the temperature is 15-degrees cooler than the outside temps. By the end of our exploring, I ended up with a treasure trove of interesting pictures. (notes con't below)

Trip Notes Continued: As I were editing these pictures, I got to thinking how some of them might look in black and white versa color. I think some of them bring out the textures of the soft bentonite clay more in black and white (Figs. 07 thru 09). View thhis page to see more of these pictures converted to black and white ... B&W Images of Cathedral Gorge. As you can see in Figures 08 and 09, some of these shots almost have the look and feel of a moonscape. Figures 10 and 11 are two shots taken at the Cathedral Caves site (refer to Ref. B).

Though we did not walk the short 1-mile Miller Point trail (see Fig. B) which links with an alternative northern entrance road to the park at Miller Point (Ref. B), we did drive to there. Even though several parts of the cliffs of the 'caves' have particularly fine formations, those at the north end are even more unusual. The overlook at Miller Point (Fig. 12) provides fine views southwards over the valley. From the point there are a series of steel chairs and a trail that leads to a cliff edge (Fig. 13) that overlooks a stunning view filled with hundreds of hoodoos and spires (Fig. 14). Here the main streamway branches and several forks wind through deep, narrow ravines, very much like slot canyons except that the softness of the rock often results in the flood waters eroding several passageways on different levels, forming short caves, abrupt elevation changes and strange surface textures. If you look closely at this area (Fig. 15), the grouping of hoodoos and spired cliffs almost appear like a grouping of mosques, pagodas or temples. Totally void of the typically sage-brush-rich Nevada desert vegetation, this unique and diverse landscape makes you feel like you are looking at another world. The views are just amazing. There is so many trails here that I have yet to hike, I would like to go back here again.                  

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