Why Visit Cathedral Gorge State Park? Slot canyons, hiking trails, biking trails, and a campground with pull-thrus, electric hook-ups,. Geology, Natural History, and Climate First, Cathedral Gorge is not a true gorge. Meadow Valley Wash and its tributaries cut through the area, but the ravines are not often much more than 50 feet deep. They do, however, become quite narrow in some places, resembling caves or slot canyons.
Cathedral Gorge State Park Slot Canyons×
Cathedral Gorge Slot Canyons
The formations have been protected since 1935 when the gorge became a state park, one of the first four such places in Nevada. The park is 165 miles north of Las Vegas and 83 miles west of Cedar City in Utah.
Map of Cathedral Gorge State Park and Panaca
'Gorge' is a slightly inappropriate term as nowhere do the branched ravines formed by the creek exceed a depth of much more than 50 feet - the uniqueness of this place is a result of the many narrow water-created passageways and caves at the edges of the valley, which is half a mile wide at the entrance but tapers towards the north end, and has several side canyons which become quite narrow and enclosed. Besides rainwater, erosion is accelerated by climatic extremes; freeze-thawing cycles occur in winter when temperatures are often below zero, while the baking heat of summer, sometimes over 100°F, dries and cracks the rocks.
The scenic drive passes a self-pay fee station, information boards and a 22-site campground, and ends at a parking/picnic area near some of the main formations. A short side road leads to another picnic area, closer to the edge of the gorge; brightly-colored cliffs and spires rise quite steeply ahead, with many narrow crevices at the edge; these are often only 2 or 3 feet wide but extend inwards for up to 100 yards, usually quite winding and with many side-branches. The walls tower high overhead and the effect is very much like being underground. Most passages end abruptly, a characteristic feature of the rock, in a circular shaft with daylight visible far above; these mini canyons are formed when rainwater runs off the nearby land and is channeled down the shaft, and the 'caves' gradually erode further back into the cliffs.
Overlooks and Trails
Cathedral Gorge State Park Slot Canyon
Several parts of the cliffs in Cathedral Gorge State Park have particularly fine formations but the north end is even more unusual. This area is reached by an easy one mile trail which links with an alternative northern entrance road to the park at Miller Point, an overlook with a fine view southwards over the valley. 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. There is no official trail this far up the ravines, and some climbing is necessary to progress. A torch would be useful as some of the caves are sufficiently long and deep as to be completely dark. Near Miller Point, a 0.8 mile path heads southwest to Eagle Point, a similar though more secluded overlook. The only other extended trail in the park is the 3 mile (loop) Juniper Draw Trail that forks off westwards and leads towards more remote formations along the far edge of the main gorge, which continues another 2 miles to the north. There is also one shorter route (0.2 miles) near the park entrance, to the old Bullionville Cemetery, the main relic from a small settlement established here in the 1870s.
Cliffs and badlands
Extraterrestrial Highway (62 miles) - lonely road through UFO territory
Kershaw-Ryan State Park (19 miles) - spring-fed ravine, first cultivated in the 1870s
Spring Valley State Park (27 miles) - reservoir and historic buildings, in a remote valley
Coal Mine Canyon, Arizona - multicolored ravine on the Navajo Reservation
Goblin Valley, Utah - weird erosional rock formations with similar cliff features
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, New Mexico - erosional formations in volcanic tuff
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Cathedral Gorge State Park
Cathedral Gorge State Park Road
Panaca, NV 89042
Cathedral Gorge State Park is an impressive state park located in the southeast region of Nevada. It is two and a half hours away from Las Vegas and and two hours away from Great Basin National Park. The caves and cathedral spires are made of clay and were formed from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. I stopped at Moon Caves first to explore some slot canyons and get an up close view of the the clay formation. Next, I drove to Cathedral Caves, C.C.C. Water Tower Picnic Area, and took the Miller Point trail (1 mile) to the expansive overlook. Alternatively, you can park at the Visitor Center and walk a short distance to the same point.