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Cathedral Gorge State Park – Maze-like Slot Canyons and Eroded Hills

Eroded Scenery

Cathedral Gorge is a fun place to explore. Erosion has created a fun little playground in this remote area of Nevada, creating layered spires, knobby hills and narrow slot canyons that meander back into the rocks. It is impossible not to explore and will offer plenty of interesting photo opportunities.

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge

As so often is the case, Cathedral Gorge is not technically a gorge. Reminiscent of Badlands National Park in South Dakota in its style of beauty, it is a small park,

and you’ll likely need to spend only an hour or two to have your experience.

The area around here used to be an ancient lake many years ago. Once it dried up, the silt in the bottom began to erode, creating the landscape we see today.

Slot Canyons

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

While not formed like most slot canyons, the canyons in Cathedral Gorge are similar to experience. The soft siltstone has eroded into dozens of narrow passages with walls as high as fifty feet. It is a lot of fun to explore, and for the most part, able to be so by any age child. My kids were very young (2,4,6,8) the first time we visited and they had a ball.

Years ago, they used to perform Shakespearian plays here with backstage being in the slot canyons.

Also, don’t confuse Cathedral Gorge with Cathedral Valley, which is in Capitol Reef National Park 240 miles to the east.

Have a Careful Adventure

While the risks here are limited, the soft stone is still quite rough and will draw blood very quick if you scrape your skin against it. Also, while it is pretty easy to climb up on the fun-shapes in the hills, there are a couple of spots hidden high up in the rocks where there are some deep drops into slots that could cause some real injury. I wouldn’t recommend having younger kids walk the tops of the formations unescorted. The slots themselves were safe enough in my experience.

It is very hot here in the summer – if you visit that time of year, you can expect temperatures well above 90° Fahrenheit.  It rarely rains here, but if it has recently, the park becomes very muddy and would be hard to explore.

Pioche

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Nearby Pioche has a bit of history you can explore if you are a history buff or like geology. It was a mining town during the 1800s and was known as one of the most violent in all the wild west. Local lore says 72 men were killed in gunfights before the first natural death occurred here. The town had a population of 10,000 at that time, but now has only 1/10 of that.

Location and Services

Cathedral Gorge is located in the eastern side of Nevada – there is not much in the area around near Cathedral Gorge. The two small towns of Pioche and Panaca have a few options for food or lodging, but not much. More than likely, you’ll want to see Cathedral Gorge on your way to or from somewhere else.

One good way to see Cathedral Gorge is on your way to or from Great Basin National Park. Or you can circle over to it from Bryce Canyon National Park.

Nevada isn’t just for gambling or those hunting for Area 51. See some natural areas worth visiting here.

Cathedral Gorge is similar to experience to slot canyons. Read about the slot canyons I have visited here.

The United States is blessed with an abundance of scenic areas to experience. For a list by of great places to visit by state, with useful advice, go here.

Here are some hi-res pictures of the park to give you an idea of what you will experience at the park.

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada
View from overlook

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park – Mountains and Caves in Nevada Worth Exploring

Great Basin

The name of Great Basin National Park comes from the whole of the region between the mountains in eastern Utah (Wasatch Range) and those in California (Sierras). It comprises most of Nevada the northwest half of Utah and a bit of California and Oregon. The park didn’t get national park designation and protection until 1986.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park is one of the least visited National Parks, and you will enjoy the solitude as you hike the trails. It is most known for the Snake Range of mountains that tower above the park  and Lehman Caves.

High Country

The Snake Range of mountains, which include Wheeler Peak (12,305 feet) and Mt. Baker (12,298), are the main highlights of the park. These mountains are not remarkable compared to others in the Rockies, but what makes them unusual is how these mountains seem disconnected from the rest of the Rockies as they rise out of a mostly flat, desert environment. If you are visiting the canyon country of the area in the summer – places like Bryce Canyon National Park or Zion National Park, you will love the change of pace in this cool, mountain environment with cool temperatures and snow lingering in places well into June.

Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive

The main paved road that goes to the higher country is a great 12-mile drive that exceeds 10,000 feet above sea level. The road itself gains over 4,000 feet and offers many worthy opportunities at pullouts along the way. The diversity of life and terrain encountered is comparable to going from the desert to they frozen Yukon of the far north.

Along the drive, you’ll see a great variety of vegetation and trees, with noticeable changes as you gain elevation. Starting with sagebrush and pinyon pine, you’ll find Mahogany, fir and ponderosa pine. As you near the summit, the remarkable aspen trees will become common. Aspen trees are remarkable in that a grove of these trees may be one large organism as aspens reproduce by sending runners out underground to become new trees.

Great Basin National park
View along Mountain Lake Trail

Note that single vehicles or trailers in excess of 24’ in length are not allowed on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.

Nice Mountain Lake Trails

Like all national parks, Great Basin offers its share of trails. My favorites are those up near the mountain peaks. There are several nice hikes of differing lengths available to you from the top of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive with most starting near the Wheeler Park Campground.

Stella Lake

Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Stella Lake

My favorite spot in the park is Stella Lake. It can be reached via the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail which is 2.7 miles round trip with 600’ of elevation gain from a starting point of 9,800’. The lake is smallish, but is scenic and placed strategically for a nice view of Wheeler Peak across the lake.

Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves is a nice cave located within Great Basin National Park. Read my detailed article on Lehman caves here.

Summit Climbing

The mountains within Great Basin National Park offer some good high-country hiking if you are interested in that. I have not done that here, but most hikes can be done in one long day or two easier days. Check out some good information at summitpost.org.

Lexington Arch

If you have a good high-clearance 4WD vehicle and some skills with it, you can visit this unusual arch (I haven’t made the trip yet). There is about a 3 miles round trip hike to see it once you’ve made the trip along the unmaintained 12-mile dirt road. As is so often the case, Lexington Arch is probably misnamed and is actually a natural bridge. It is unusual in that it is comprised of limestone instead of the usual sandstone. This leads to speculation that it was once part of a cave system, and flowstone at the base of the opening lends support to this theory.  Read more about the arch here.

Location and Services

Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Mountain Lakes Trail

Great Basin National Park has minimal services available.  The Lehman Caves visitor center has a restroom and a simple café that mostly serves snack foods or simple comfort foods. There are several simple but nice campgrounds available.

The park is kind of in the middle of nowhere in eastern Nevada near the Utah border. There is a small town nearby named Baker that doesn’t have much in the way of food or lodging. More than likely, you’ll need to stay at Ely, which is 67 miles to the west. You’ll find numerous lodging and food options there, as well as the requisite casinos.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Baker Creek Trail

Want to see what you’ll find at Great Basin National Park? Check out my gallery of pictures.

Nevada isn’t just for gambling or those hunting for Area 51. See some natural areas worth visiting here.

The United States is blessed with wonderful National Parks. Read about my own advice on each here.

Great Basin National Park Map
Great Basin National Park Map

Great Basin National Park – Gallery to get you interested in visiting this little gem

Great Basin National Park is located in eastern Nevada near the border of Utah. It is a bit small for a national park and has few visitors. This is unfortunate, as it is a nice place to visit for a few hours or to overnight in the campground. The primary points of interest are Lehman Caves and the Snake Range of mountains, which include Wheeler Peak (12,305 feet) and Mt. Baker (12,298).

Note that all the pictures here are from our last trip that took place in early June.

At the bottom of the page are some useful links to my other articles on the subject.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Baker Creek Trail
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Baker Creek Trail
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Stella Lake & Wheeler Peak
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Stella Lake
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Mountain Lake Trail
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Mountain Lakes Trail
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Mountain Lake Trail
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Parkpg Lehman Caves[/caption]

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

See my detailed description of Lehman caves here.

Read my detailed article on Great Basin National Park here.

The United States is blessed with wonderful National Parks. Read about my own advice on each here.

Nevada isn’t just for gambling or those hunting for Area 51. See some natural areas worth visiting here.

Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves is a nice cave located in eastern Nevada within Great Basin National Park. It is a pretty easy walk thorough rooms that feature a great variety and quantity of formations. You would be hard pressed to find a cave with so much variety in such a small area. The rooms themselves are on the smaller side, nothing like the huge rooms found in Mammoth Cave or the massive great room at Carlsbad.

There are many stalactites, including fragile soda straws that managed to not be damaged by early visitors. Smaller columns, flow stone and draperies as well as decorated stalagmites. Other, more rare formations include Cave Shields, Cave Bacon and Cave Popcorn.

Cave Shields

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Cave Shields

Lehman has a lot of greatly varied cave formations, collectively referred to as speleothems. A speleothem is any cave decoration that formed after the cave itself finished forming. Lehman has many kinds of speleothems, but it is most known for having a large concentration of Cave Shields. These normally rare speleothem forms when calcite-rich seep water is under pressure and is forced from a tiny crack in the cave wall or ceiling. The seep deposits calcite as parallel extensions to the cracked walls. They are often afterward further decorated with stalactites.

Cave Bacon and Popcorn

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Cave Bacon

Lehman Caves also features many good examples of Cave Bacon – layered flowstone speleothems that resemble strips of bacon attached to the walls. Even the color looks right. Cave Popcorn is also present. It is formed when mineral rich water is splashed on a spot and then leaves behind small bits of minerals forming clustered nodules resembling popcorn.

History

Lehman caves was discovered in the late 1880’s. There are over 40 differing stories as to its discovery but the most likely is that it was found by Absalom S. Lehman, his brother or one of his ranch hands. Not long thereafter, groups began to explore the cave and they broke through formations to get to other portions of the cave. Souvenir hunters broke off formations as keepsakes. Wagonloads of cave formations appeared at the state fair in Reno. Interest in the cave died off when Absalom died in 1891. It was renewed after World War I and in 1922, it become protected as a National Monument, but oversight was nearly non-existent for many years. Great Basin National Park was created in 1986 to include Lehman Caves.

By 2007, over one million visitors had gone through the cave and the damage was becoming evident. This is why the quantity of visitors is now kept to a much smaller number and restoration is ongoing.

Tours

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves may only be entered with a guide. Tours are offered daily every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. The tours are led by park rangers who share history, ecology and geology information with the small groups (20 is the limit) they lead. There are two different tours offered, and they sell out regularly so it is recommended to book in advance via Recreation.gov.

The Lodge Room tour lasts for about 60 minutes and goes 0.4 miles. It works well for families with small kids. The longer Grand Palace Tour goes everywhere the Lodge Room tour goes but lasts for 90 minutes with 0.6 miles traveled. Minimum age on the latter is 5 years old. Prices to both tours are very reasonable compared to private caves.

Accessibility

The trail is paved throughout and is not difficult, but there are a few stairs to navigate and a steep grade at one point. The entrance is the historic one and is not ADA-approved. It would be plausible for someone in a non-motorized wheelchair to visit if they have family members or friends able to assist. Not that the cave generally does not have large passages and someone who is claustrophobic might not like it.

Location and Services

Lehman Caves is located within Great Basin National Park. You do not need a pass to the park to access the cave but Great Basin is worth spending some time at. Read about it here.

At the Lehman Caves visitor center, you’ll find a small exhibit as well as restrooms and a small snack bar that is the only food available within the national park.

Lehman Caves are kind of in the middle of nowhere in eastern Nevada near the Utah border. There is a small town nearby named Baker that doesn’t have much in the way of food or lodging. More than likely, you’ll need to stay at Ely, which is 67 miles to the west. You’ll find numerous lodging and food options here, as well as the requisite casinos.

See a gallery of pictures from Lehman caves here.

See a ranked list of my favorite caves in the United States here.

Nevada isn’t just for gambling or those hunting for Area 51. See some natural areas worth visiting here.

Lehman Caves Gallery

Lehman Caves is a nice cave located within Great Basin National park in eastern Nevada. The cave tour visits a half-dozen rooms on a nice, easy paved pathway. Lehman Caves has a great variety of formations and a large quantity as well.

Below are a few pictures to give you some idea of what to expect. Tripods were not allowed, so I had to do the best I could without one.  At the bottom of the page are some useful links.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park, where Lehman Caves is.Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Good examples of Cave Shields
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Cave Shields

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Bacon? I smell bacon.
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Soda Straw Stalactites

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Typical passage size in cave

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

See my detailed description of Lehman caves here.

See a ranked list of my favorite caves in the United States here.