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.
Park Origin & History
Close to 2000 acres of land that was once home to the Fremont, Anasazi and Southern Paiutes, is now a state park preserved for visitors to experience and enjoy. In 1924, Governor James Scrugham set aside the area for preservation. Cathedral Gorge became one of Nevada’s first four state parks in 1935.
The original picnicking facilities built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s are still in use today. The stone water tower and the stone rest room facility seen when entering the park’s day-use area, also constructed by the CCC, are no longer in use.
The spires and buff-colored cliffs are the result of geologic processes occurring over tens of millions of years. The beauty enjoyed today had violent beginnings, starting with explosive volcanic activity that, with each eruption, deposited layers of ash hundreds of feet thick. The source of this ash, the Caliente Caldera Complex, lies to the south of Cathedral Gorge.
About five million years after the eruptions ceased, block faulting, a fracture in the bedrock that allows the two sides to move opposite each other, shaped the mountains and valleys prevalent in Nevada today. This faulting formed a depression, now known as Meadow Valley.
Over time, the depression filled with water creating a freshwater lake. Continual rains eroded the exposed ash and pumice left from the volcanic activity, and the streams carried the eroded sediment into the newly formed lake.
The formations, made of silt, clay and volcanic ash, are the remnants of that lake. As the landscape changed and more block faulting occurred, water drained from the lake exposing the volcanic ash sediments to the wind and rain, causing erosion of the soft material called bentonite clay.
During your stay, be on the lookout for black-tailed jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits, packrats, kangaroo rats, mice and gophers.
Animals with more nocturnal habits, like mule deer, coyotes, kit foxes and skunks may be seen in the evening or early morning hours, but later in the day their tracks may be seen in the sand. Several species of non-poisonous lizards and snakes are abundant spring through fall and you may even spot a rattlesnake.
Birds are plentiful, and it is common to see ravens, kestrels, robins, sapsuckers, flycatchers and sparrows around the park. You may even catch a glimpse of Nevada’s state bird, the Mountain Bluebird, a red-tailed hawk or golden eagle.