CATHEDRAL GORGE STATE PARK
Cathedral Gorge is located in a long, narrow valley where erosion has carved dramatic and unique patterns in the soft bentonite clay. Trails abound for exploring the cave-like formations and cathedral-like spires. Miller Point, a scenic overlook just north of the park entrance on U.S. 93, offers excellent views of the scenic canyon. Shaded picnic areas and a tree-shaded campground area are open all year. Hiking, picnicking, camping, nature study, photography and ranger programs are the most common activities at the park.
cathedral-like spires A Regional Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Cathedral Gorge, offering interpretive displays and information about all of eastern Nevada and seven state parks. The park and visitor center is located just west of U.S. 93, two miles north of Panaca.
The area is typically arid with hot summers and cold winters. Summer temperatures range from 95F at mid-day to 55F at night. Rainfall is variable and thunderstorms are common.
The buff-colored cliffs and canyons of Cathedral Gorge, called the Panaca Formation, are remnants of a Pliocene-era lakebed. About one million years ago, much of Meadow Valley (the area along US 93 from Caliente to Panaca) was covered by a freshwater lake. Sediments and gravel settled on the lake floor. As the climate changed over centuries, the lake gradually drained, and erosion started working on the exposed sediments. Rainwater and melting snow carved rivulets in the siltstone and clay shale, working their way down and widening the cracks into gullies and canyons. The "caves" area designated on the east side of the Gorge are not true caves but the canyon walls narrow down so much that explorers feel like they are in caves.
Erosion is a constant process and also occurs through the actions of freezing and thawing, heat expansion and contraction, and evaporation of moisture from deep within the rock. Visitors hasten erosion by driving off the roads; tire tracks compact soil and create new places for water to run. Once compacted, soils cannot recover, and gullying takes place. This is why off-road driving is prohibited in the park.
Remnants of the Panaca Formation may also be seen south of Panaca, on the east side of Meadow Valley.
The park's different soil types permit various plant associations to grow. The "badland" clay below the eroded escarpment does not permit many plants to take root since the clay is constantly eroding away. Small sand dunes are held in place by many kinds of wildflowers and grasses, like dune primroses and Indian rice grass. In the middle of the valley, clay, sand, and gravel have mixed to a loamy soil that is conducive to narrowleaf yucca, juniper trees, barberry sagebrush, greasewood, "white sage," shadscale, and four-winged salt-bush. Rabbitbrush grows in disturbed areas such as roadsides and walkways.
Several non-native species of trees have been planted at the campground and group use area to provide shade. Few cactus species grow in areas of climate extremes such as Cathedral Gorge, where temperatures may fall below freezing in the winter or rise above 100F in the summer.
Small mammals predominate in the park: black-tailed jack-rabbits and cottontail rabbits, coyote, kit foxes, skunks, packrats, kangaroo rats, mice and even gophers. Deer browse in the area around Miller Point and many venture into the Gorge during the late fall and winter.
Several species of nonpoisonous lizards and snakes are abundant, and in the summer, the Great Basin rattlesnake may be found.
Birds are common, around the campgrounds and in shrubby areas. Park residents include ravens, kestrels and small hawks, roadrunners, sapsuckers, robins, black-throated sparrows, finches, blackbirds, and starlings. Migratory birds include tanagers, cedar waxwings, warblers, bluebirds, and hummingbirds. An updated list of wildlife is available at the Regional Information Center.