Nevada’s Photo-Worthy State Parks
Inspiring desert beauty at Cathedral Gorge and Valley of Fire.
Clear out your memory card, reorder the missing lens caps, and try to remember how that tripod works again: it’s time to dive into two remarkably photogenic state parks.
A thin, white layer of limestone runs along the cliff-like perimeter of Cathedral Gorge State Park. Although the white line is high above the valley floor, it marks where the bottom of an ancient lake once was. After the lake dried up, wind and rain carved deep gouges into the soft lakebed, forming this incredible alien-like landscape.
At around 2 square miles, Cathedral Gorge is a relatively small park, but this experience packs quite the punch. The valley is brilliantly painted in earthy hues ranging from powder white to dark rust, and erosion has left cliffsides with innumerable facets of shadow, forests of spires, and snaking slot canyons.
In the early 1900s, the scenic valley became a popular tourist destination for hikers and picnickers. In the 1930s, the park’s facilities—including a charming stone water tower—were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Cathedral Gorge is a dog-friendly park, and your four-footed friends are invited along for trail hikes and camping adventures. Just remember to pick up after them and not leave any waste bags behind.
Cathedral Gorge’s gorgeous scenery is near a wealth of experiences in southeastern Nevada including old mining towns, trilobite and petroglyphs sites, forest hikes, and scenic backroads. The park is also within about an hour’s drive of five other state parks and two and a half hours from Valley of Fire.
VALLEY OF FIRE
Wandering dunes spilled into a dry lakebed once brimming with Jurassic-era life. As the desert grew, its own weight squeezed layers of sand into bedrock. Eons passed, and grinding continental plates propelled the land upward, exposing blood-red sandstone, which nature sculpted into towering pillars, narrow canyons, and delicate arches.
Humans have long inhabited the breathtaking 6-mile-long gorge located just above Nevada’s notch-like southern border. Around 4,000 years ago, Valley of Fire was home to people belonging to the Basketmaker culture. Beginning in 300 BC, the Ancestral Puebloans moved in and farmed the region for more than 1,000 years.
When Nevada became a state, the valley sat along the prospector-blazed Arrowhead Trail—also known as the Sunshine Highway. In the early 1900s, the trail was developed into an important road between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, and the beautiful drive through Nevada’s portion became a popular attraction. Inspired by the craggy skyline’s incandescent red glow when backlit by the sun, the area was formally branded the Valley of Fire in the 1920s.
In 1935, Valley of Fire was designated a state park. Although the legislature granted this honor concurrently with three other locations—including Cathedral Gorge—Valley of Fire opened one year ahead of schedule and is thus able to claim bragging rights as Nevada’s very first state park.
Before filling up your camera’s memory card, stop in at the Visitor Center to become familiar with the park’s top destinations and study up on the area’s fauna, geology, and first inhabitants. From there, 24 square miles of rainbow-hued desert awaits exploration.
The stunning dual-tower formation features perfectly preserved petroglyphs including the rare depiction of a stone age superweapon: the atlatl.
A popular site for weddings, these boulders sit like the ruins of rusted columns decaying in the desert.
White Dome Trail
A mile-long hike guides visitors through narrow, wind-carved canyons and scenery that look like somewhere straight out of a Hollywood Western—which they are. White Dome was a shooting location for the 1966 Burt Lancaster film “The Professionals.”