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May 10, 2000

ALONG THE WAY: Cathedral Gorge


"At their highest point the Gothic spires rise no more than a hundred feet in the air. At other times they barely reach 15 feet. But there is a grandeur to them that exceeds their height. In the 1890s a lady used to enjoy coming out here and just wandering around. She said that it reminded her of God’s own cathedral.

Barbara Rhode, Park Supervisor
So she's the one that recommended that is be called Cathedral Gulch. And then the name was refined to Cathedral Gorge in the 1920's. And people used to come out here for picnics. The local citizens would put on open-air pageants and plays like the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City.

Barbara Rhode has been working out here for 13 years. She can tell you all about the history of the park, but She’ll also tell you that the Park has more in common with a cathedral than its beautiful geologic formations. Here you can find serenity. That’s a precious commodity for someone trying to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. If you’ve been looking for someplace to camp that’s close to Las Vegas and yet quiet, this is a great place to visit. It’s just a two and a half-hour drive North on the Great Basin Highway. It’s set in the bucolic farm lands of Lincoln county, and it may well be the easiest state park to access, yet hundreds of people pass by it every week without even knowing it’s there. And to hundreds of thousands of people in Las Vegas it is virtually non-existent.

For the novice camper it’s a great place to learn to camp in almost luxury conditions. There are hot water showers, flush toilets, two small towns within minutes, and just about every trail here is flat. And if you like to star gaze there is virtually no ambient light in the night sky.

But the most striking feature of this Park is the geology. And the most popular formations are commonly referred to as the Caves.

Barbara Rhode, Park Supervisor
Geologist would call these piping vents. They’re high in narrow slots that are wide enough for people to walk into and sometimes 70 ft. high above you.

And you wind back through these mud canyons but when you look up towards the ceiling its open at the top so you can see daylight from these. It's not like the true cave experience where you're out of daylight. When you look up in these mud walls you might seem lead flow stone formations or little mud stalactites high on the wall. It's just fascinating area.

But as you wind your way through this maze of vertical caves you’ll occasionally find something other than beauty.

Is that a bone sticking out of the side of the earth there?

Bill Johnson, Archeologist, Desert Research Institute
Oh yeah! Yeah! We've got bones sticking out all over.

Well, that’s a slight exaggeration. There aren’t bones EVERY where. But for years now Bill Johnson and a team of scientists from the Desert Research Institute come out one week every year to excavate bison bones from this park. And a lot of the bones were found by visitors.

But what’s the big deal? This is the wild west. Bison are just a part of the normal history here. Right?

Bill Johnson, Archeologist, Desert Research Institute
The last time bison were this far south was around 7000 years ago. But in this last 1000 years definitely, there was no indication anywhere in the literature that we had bison this far south…

The problem that Bill and his team have is that during the period that the buffalo roamed this area there was no other evidence left behind. So it’s been a real challenge to prove the existence of bison here around 600 to 800 years ago. Now you might be wondering how all of this would affect you as a visitor to the Park.

Bill Johnson, Archeologist, Desert Research Institute
In only bison sites number 2, 3, and 4 did we actually find the bison bones. In all other cases it's been other people wandering around in the park. So, I say wander. And find bones and let the park personnel know that you found bones in another area of the park and mark it somehow so that you get park personnel back to them. Then when we come back park personnel will let us know where the next site is and we go and investigate.

The quiet, the beautiful geologic formations, the camping amenities, and the possibility of being a part of an archeological dig, make Cathedral Gorge State Park a great place to stop Along the Way.

See discussion rules.


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