Caves, Caverns, and Catacombs—Oh My! Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, NV

While there’s not much hiking to be done here (a grand total of 5.5 miles if you hit all 5 trails), what you will find is an otherworldly playground of caves, caverns, and catacombs. Between the spires and bluff-colored cliffs, you can follow one slot canyon into the next in aMAZEment.

One of Nevada’s first four state parks, Cathedral Gorge was established in 1935 as a geologic preserve. It features dramatic, other-wordly landscape of eroded soft bentonite clay that covers close to 2k acres. The amazing spires, cliffs, and slot canyons are the result of millions of years of geologic activity sparked by volcanic eruptions that dispersed layers of ash hundreds of feet deep to the region. Faulting formed a valley over time, which eventually filled with water and became a freshwater lake. Over the centuries, this prehistoric lake began to gradually drain, and erosion began to expose and form the ash and pumice.

Enjoy the incredible views from the Miller Point Overlook gazebo (originally constructed by the CCC) and then create your own adventure in the abundant caves, slot canyons, catacombs, and slot canyons. 

The formations at Cathedral Gorge remind me of the sand castles that my brother and I used to create by squeezing wet sand through our hands and letting the drips accumulate into peaks of various heights and girths. Indeed, the firmness and stability of the formations in Cathedral Gorge vary substantially so you must be alert at all times, taking care that you don’t break through the surface or fall into a chasm. (The trail guide included stats on trail firmness and stability.) Yes, it’s a bit sketchy, but totally cool. Kids would be amazed by this place and entertained for hours. For safety’s sake, I’d suggest that you keep them and pets on a tight leash!

Address: 111 Cathedral Gorge State Park Road, Panaca, NV 89042, a must-do, easy day trip from my base camp, St. George, UT, and about 2.5 hours northeast of Las Vegas on Highway 93,

Notes: $5 day use fee, camp at one of the 22 camp sites for $15 per night (first-come, first served), each with a table, grill and shade. Electrical hookups are available for an additional $10. Water and flushing restrooms with coin-operated showers are open year-round, with handicap-accessible sites available. Pets must be kept on a leash of < six feet.

Hiking Guide:

Happy trails!

Luke Warm on Valley of Fire State Park, Overton, Nevada

Why luke warm? I’ve seen some spectacular photos of Valley of Fire on social media–sometimes it’s hard for real life to live up to the hype—even in nature. The day I was there the light was not magnificent and the place was overrun with humans. The park’s close proximity to Las Vegas (55 miles) makes it an easy road trip for many (too many). (Granted, I made the rookie mistake of going on a weekend.)  Also, I was disappointed by the hikes—the majority were short—just park and walk a mile or so on heavily stomped paths. Basically, you can see most of the park without much effort, which is great for families and those who can’t or don’t like to walk far.

I covered 7 of the hikes/ attractions in a half day. There were a couple of longer hikes that interested me, but 1 had signs warning about the trail not being marked, and the other 2 were slogs through deep sand. Since I was solo, I opted out of the poorly marked hike, not wanting to become another hiker lost, wandering in the desert…

Elephant Rock Loop (1.25 Miles) At the East Entrance of the park, Elephant Rock can be seen from your car. Like me, you may opt to stretch your legs and take a hike here. (Note half of the hike runs parallel with the road with the road visible so it’s a tad anticlimactic.)

Clark Memorial and [Charlie’s Spring (4.6 Miles RT, Natural Arches Trail] The Clark Memorial commemorates Sargent John J. Clark, a pioneer traveling cross-country who died of dehydration at the spot. There are 2 trailheads for longer hikes on the right side of the road. Both invite you to slog for miles through deep sand in either direction for negligible rewards. (The sign at the beginning of the Arch trail notes that the arch has crumbled and Charlie’s Spring starts with a tunnel under the road and offers a spring at the end…) While I wanted to a longer hike, I wasn’t enticed by the prospect of slogging through deep sand. Perhaps after a rain if the sand firms up instead of muds up?  I went a half mile on through the tunnel into the wash on the Charlie’s Spring hike before I opted out.

Petrified Logs and historic CCC cabins Another roadside stop, this attraction features logs from an ancient forest of 225 million years ago. You can keep driving another ½ mile or so, or hike from the petrified log site to the historic native sandstone cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1930s to provide shelter to travelers.

White Domes (1.36 miles) This was the most scenic of the hikes that I did. Several western movies were filmed here. There are arches, cool rock formations, and even a slot canyon to discover here.

Fire Wave (1.74 miles) This rock formation is most likely one of the most popular in the park. Since I’m accustomed to seeing this type of formation where I live, I was underwhelmed by the sight and overwhelmed by the crowd.

Rainbow Vista (1 mile) Single track stroll to a colorful rock overlook.

Mouse’s Tank (.78 Mile) This interesting little trail takes you to some of the best petroglyphs I’ve seen.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of breathtaking sights to see and lots of variety in the half dozen short hikes I mentioned, and more if you venture beyond. I’m just spoilt-rotten because but I happen to live within a couple miles of a similar stunning destination—Snow Canyon State Park, St. George. ( See Scout’s Cave, one of my favorite hikes.) Personally, I won’t go out of my way to return, but if it’s on your way—go for it.

Exploring Trona Pinnacles, a Natural National Landmark Near Ridgecrest, CA

If the other-worldly landscape of Trona Pinnacles seems strangely familiar to you that’s because it’s been the setting of many films, including Battlestar GalacticaStar Trek V: The Final Frontier, Disney’s Dinosaur, The Gate II, Lost in Space, and Planet of the Apes and numerous car commercials.

 

Trona7

This unique geological landscape in the California Desert Conservation Area consists of more than 500 tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, that rise from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake Basin. Composed primarily of calcium carbonate (tufa) from deep beneath the lake, the pinnacles vary in size and shape from squat and thick to tall and thin. The tufa here date back 10,000 to 100,000 years ago, forming over 3 ice ages. There are distinct in their age and elevation and are referred to as the northern group (youngest), middle group (110 spires and highest tower), and southern group (200 formations and up to 100k old). If you’ve been to Mono Lake, you’ve seen more recent formations. The expanse of desert in every direction and the stark mountain ranges on either side create a dramatic landscape.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

trona cave

Trona native
Ran into a local

You can drive around the area or hike around it. Temps are triple digit in the summer so be prepared.

Getting there: ~ 20.0 miles east of Ridgecrest. Via a 5 mile BLM dirt road (RM143), usually accessible to 2-wheel drive cars, that leaves SR 178, about 7.7 miles east of the intersection of SR 178 and the Trona-Red Mountain Road. Note: The road may be closed after heavy rains.

Note: This is BLM territory so camping in this barren, impossibly hot, desert landscape is free. It’s also a great spot for offroading & ATVs.

Not sure I’d drive hours to see it, if it’s on the way as it was on my way back from my Mt. Whitney adventure, it’s worth it.

Exploring Kyoto’s Nishiki Market, a feast for foodies and shoppers alike.

Most would agree that a trip to Kyoto isn’t complete unless you visit the Nishiki Market. Known to locals as “Kyoto’s Pantry”, the traditional, four-centuries-old Nishiki Food Market is a feast for the senses. The narrow, five block long shopping street is jam-packed with exotic (to the Westerner) items and approximately 130 food stands and restaurants. Bring your appetite to try something new for an unforgettable foodie experience. There are plenty of opportunities to taste samples or to buy snacks as you explore. Expect to be elbow to elbow with a big crowd of locals and tourists alike.

20160410_121849

History

The origins of the market date back to around 1310 when it was established as a wholesale fish district. Over time, it evolved into the bustling kaleidoscope of colorful stalls, shops and restaurants that it is today.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Getting There

Less than a five minute walk from Shijo Station on the Karasuma Subway Line (4 minutes, ~$2 from Kyoto Station) or via Karasuma or Kawaramachi Stations on the Hankyu Line. The market is parallel to Shijo Avenue, one block north of Shijo Avenue in downtown Kyoto

Other Top Things to Do in Kyoto

Explore the historic Arashiyama District

Visit the magnificent Kiyomizudera temple and Old Kyoto’s Higashiyama District

Go back to the ancient time of shoguns Nijo Castle

Go take a hike up Mt. Inari under 10 thousand Torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine

Get away from it all in the nearby hamlets of Kibune and Kurama

Dinosaurs, Mastodons and Saber-Tooth Tigers —oh my! Galletta Meadows Field Trip, Anza Borrego.

Thanks to the owner of Galleta Meadows Estate, Dennis Avery, there’s an incredible al fresco metal art sculpture exhibition to be discovered in Anza Borrego. Over 130 metal sculptures created by artist/welder Ricardo Breceda seem to appear out of nowhere in the barren, dramatic landscape. With a little imagination, you’re transported to the prehistoric times of dinosaurs, mastodons and saber-tooth tigers.

20151214_090425_001

20151214_090125_001.jpg

20151214_092407.jpg

The exhibition spans about 10 square miles. Many of the sculptures can be seen from the road; others require some driving, hiking or mountain biking in on sandy roads. Some are in clusters, others quite spread out. You never now what kind of creature you’ll encounter next. Highlights include a giant scorpion, a 350 foot-long sea dragon and so many more. I’ll leave you to discover the rest yourself. My favorites, as you can tell, were the prehistoric sculptures.

It’s definitely worth seeing and no doubt a blast for the kids.

Getting there: Take the S22 into Anza Borrego and cruise the valley looking at both sides of the road. (If you want a guided map for the sculptures, you can pick one up at the visitor center in town.)