Friday, June 10, 2011

Cathedral Gorge I

Cathedral Gorge is a small state park in southeastern Nevada, part of a lowlands that is hot in summer and reportedly cold in winter, though I have only stopped in the non-winter months.

It's a bit of a weird place, in a way, maybe because most pictures make the place look larger than it really is. The Pliocene Panaca Formation is soft, not hard, and it is eroded into a fabulous badland. I swear it used to be billed as the Grand Canyon of Nevada, or some such, but can find no references to that, so maybe my memory has slipped into Never Never Land (the good place, not the bad), or maybe I'm remembering some touristy postcards. The place lacks a decent sense of scale, so one has a difficult time getting a feel for the size of the fluted columns and spires and the cliff heights.
Most of the gorge is 1000 to 2000 feet from cliff base to top.
One neat thing I hadn't experienced before — at the end of the road, indicated by a loop near a water tower marked "Tower" on MSRMaps, and maybe in other places, also — you can find little hidden entries into what I'm assuming are the "cathedrals." (Google Maps location, and a photo with a person for scale.)
In places, the passageways are narrow enough that one has to squeeze through.
I've also seen these referred to as slot canyons, although they don't really lead anywhere other than by huge vertical jumps to a broad alluvial to pedimented plain surrounding the top of the gorge, and they are way too small to show up on the scale of a topo map. They are, nevertheless, fascinating and surprisingly spectacular.
Columns at the base... opening or cathedral at the top.
The whole thing.
Pillars and a narrow hallway. The board appears to be wedged in as an overhead bridge. The Panaca Formation is too old (Pliocene) to have a board weathering naturally out of it, so someone put it there for an unknown reason, maybe climbing?
The columnar end of one of the side trails.
The entire column or "cathedral," with a tumbleweed at the base.
And now it's time to find our way back out...

To be continued...


Lucy Corrander said...

An extraordinary place. Never seen anything like it.


Silver Fox said...

Lucy, surprisingly in all the several visits I've made to Cathedral Gorge, I didn't even know to look for these little side trails into the cathedrals. Well worth it! :)

David said...

That board is probably something that washed down from above and lodged in the wall. I have seen many similar types of lodged wood pieces in slot canyons in the southwest. These are not really slot canyons, but the same process is probably at work.

This formation looks similar to that found in sculpted Entrada Sandstone in the Cathedral Valley of Capital Reed Natl. Park. You access that area on a 55 mile dirt that loops through the north area of the park, and is amazing to visit. The Entrada in that area is softer than it is further south. There are also bentonite hills there, but they are softer and do not form the same vertical formations as in your pictures.

This also reminds me of Red Rock Canyon State Park in California (on St. Rte. 14 between Mojave and Ridgecrest).

Utemike said...

Regarding the board, it looks too intentional to have washed into that place. The placement reminds me of the stulls we placed when I worked in cut and fill stopes underground. They can be quite strong though one of mine failed once and I slid along the rock for ten feet before dropping into a 15' high drift.

any possibility of uranium in the formation? That could have prompted someone with a mining background to access a particular part of the "chimney". I think the climbing scenario most likely, but not sure why.

Silver Fox said...

I don't really know the answer to the Board Question - but the park was established in 1935, so it's unlikely to have been prospected for uranium. The board is pretty high up, maybe 10 feet or more.

I imagine that people have tried climbing, but narrow chimneys would be better than that particular one, imo.