Cathedral Gorge State Park
|Cathedral Gorge State Park|
|Nevada State Park|
Columns and spires eroded into a bentonite formation
|- elevation||4,819 ft (1,469 m) |
|Area||1,608 acres (651 ha)|
|Management||Nevada Division of State Parks|
Cathedral Gorge State Park is a state park of Nevada, USA, featuring a gorge eroded through soft bentonite clay. The park covers 1,608 acres (651 ha). It is located in Central/Eastern Nevada 1 mile (1.6 km) north of the intersection of U.S. Route 93 and State Route 319, near Panaca. Cathedral Gorge was established as one of the four original Nevada State Parks in 1935. The park sits at an elevation of 4,800 feet (1,500 m) above sea level, and is typically arid with semi-hot summers, and very cold winters. In the summer, temperatures usually range from 95 °F (35 °C) in midday to roughly 55 °F (13 °C) at night. Rainfall is variable, and thunderstorms are prevalent. At one time, Shakespearean plays were performed with the clay formations in the backdrop. The various naturally formed crevices were used as dressing rooms and as a backstage where actors and actresses would prepare, awaiting their cue.
A majority of Meadow Valley (which lies along U.S. Route 93 from the towns of Caliente to Panaca) was covered by a freshwater lake nearly 1 million years ago during the Pliocene Era. The richly colored canyons of Cathedral Gorge (called the Panaca Formation) are remnants of this ancient lakebed. 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 and canyons.
In areas below the eroded escarpment (dubbed the "Badland") it is difficult for plant life to take root in the constantly eroding clay. However, away from the clay, the park's diverse soil types allow various plant associations to grow. Fragile sand dunes are held firm thanks to a wide array of wildflowers and grasses, such as Dune Primroses and Indian Rice Grass. Within the valley center, clay, sand, and gravel have melded to form a rich, granulated soil that encourages the growth of the following species: narrowleaf yucca, juniper trees, Barberry sagebrush, greasewood, white sage, shadscale, Four-winged Saltbush. Rabbitbrush finds sanctuary in disturbed areas, such as roadsides and walkways. Very few species of cactus can tolerate the climate in Cathedral Gorge, where temperatures in winter can fall below freezing, and rise above 100 °F (38 °C) in summer.
Other trees, not native to the park, have been planted around the campground to provide shade.
Small mammals form a majority of the park's animal population: black-tailed jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits, coyotes, gophers, kangaroo rats, kit foxes, mice, and skunks. Deer can be observed infrequently near Miller Point during the late fall and winter.
Birds are seen frequently around camp areas and near dense patches of shrubs. The natives include blackbirds, black-throated sparrows, finches, American kestrels, small hawks, ravens, roadrunners, American robins, sapsuckers, and introduced European starlings. Migratory birds include bluebirds, cedar waxwings, hummingbirds, and warblers.
The park offers camping, picnicking and two hiking trails. A Regional Visitor Center, located at the park entrance, has interpretive displays and information about other state parks.
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