2021 April: Nevada: Valley of Fire & Cathedral Gorge State Parks

In Nevada, revisiting Valley of Fire State Park stunned us with rainbow rock patterns. Driving 3 hours north reaches Cathedral Gorge State Park, whose subtle mauve-colored formations shone best at golden sunset.

Below is Kaolin Wash. Starting 150+ million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the colorful sandstone formations in Valley of Fire State Park.
Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

2021 April 19-20: Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The park adjoins Lake Mead National Recreation Area at the Virgin River confluence, at an elevation of 2000 to 2600 feet, 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Park entry from Interstate 15 passes through the Moapa Indian Reservation.

Valley of Fire State Park, Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: View from Rainbow Vista, in Valley of Fire State Park.

Fire Wave + Kaolin Wash + White Domes Trail loop hike

A delightful 3.5-mile spectacle-shaped loop (with 450 feet of gain and loss) starts at Park Turnout #3, goes to the Fire Wave, proceeds along the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash, completes the White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, repeats a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash, turns north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and returns to Park Turnout #3.

Below, we explore the Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park:
Hikers explore the Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park, Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above and next seven images below: Kaolin Wash

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: Hikers on the White Domes Loop Trail.
Rock patterns along the White Domes Loop Trail in Valley of Fire State Park, near the town of Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. A great 3.5-mile "spectacle loop" (with 450 feet of gain and loss) starts at Park Turnout #3, goes to the Fire Wave, proceeds along the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash, completes the White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, repeats a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash, turns north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and returns to Park Turnout #3. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Rock patterns along the White Domes Loop Trail in Valley of Fire State Park, near the town of Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. A great 3.5-mile "spectacle loop" (with 450 feet of gain and loss) starts at Park Turnout #3, goes to the Fire Wave, proceeds along the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash, completes the White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, repeats a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash, turns north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and returns to Park Turnout #3. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Orange pattern on white sandstone on the White Domes Loop Trail

Thunderstorm Arch in Valley of Fire State Park, near the town of Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. A great 3.5-mile "spectacle loop" (with 450 feet of gain and loss) starts at Park Turnout #3, goes to the Fire Wave, takes the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash westwards, completes the White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, repeats a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash eastwards, turns north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and returns to Park Turnout #3. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Thunderstorm Arch is a short side trip from Seven Wonders Trail.

Gallery show: “Nevada: Valley of Fire State Park” all images from 2021, 2011, 1999, 1995


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2021 April 20-21: Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park, near Panaca, Nevada.

Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, Nevada, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: A mud castle traps a tumbleweed in Cathedral Gorge State Park.

Inside a slot canyon at the Moon Caves in Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, Nevada, USA. Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park. This image was HDR-stitched from two photos to increase the dynamic range from light to dark with low noise. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Inside a slot canyon at the Moon Caves in Cathedral Gorge State Park. This image was HDR-stitched from two photos to increase the dynamic range from light to dark with low noise.

1930s CCC stone water tower at Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, Nevada, USA. The stone water tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s but is no longer in use. Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
The stone water tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s but is no longer in use, in Cathedral Gorge State Park.

Sunset colors clouds above mud towers in Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, Nevada, USA. Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Sunset colors clouds above mud towers in Cathedral Gorge State Park.

Gallery show: “Nevada: Cathedral Gorge State Park; Hickison Petroglyphs” all images from 2021, 2019, 1999


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Our complete trip itinerary 2021 Mar 21-April 22

In brief: Seattle > Chico family visit > Lake Tahoe > snowy Mono Lake > Bishop > Mojave NSP > Joshua Tree NP > Mecca Wilderness > Palm Springs > Hualapai Mountain Park > Grand Canyon rafting for 16 days > Valley of Fire SP > Cathedral Gorge SP > Seattle

In more detail:

  • Mar 21 Sun: depart Seattle.
  • Mar 22 Mon: visit family in Chico.
  • Mar 23 Tues: On Highway 32, we tour the Big Chico Creek Environmental Reserve (BCCER) to adopt acres for the Dempsey Endowment in Memory of David P. Dempsey. Our group includes family members, CSUC president Gayle Hutchinson, and BCCER staff.
  • Mar 24 Wed: Finally, my first visit to Dad & Mom’s senior living apartment since 15 months ago, isolated by the pandemic!
  • Mar 25 Thurs: drive from California’s Central Valley via Tahoe and snowy Mono Lake to a friend’s house at Round Valley, near Bishop.

[Read Tom’s article covering “2021 March: California desert: Kelso Dunes, Joshua Tree NP, Mecca Wilderness, Indian Canyons.”]

  • Mar 26 Fri: spectacular snowy Sierra peaks and warm Death Valley on drive to Kelso Dunes Trailhead Campground in Mojave National Preserve, to meet with nephew Griff & friend Marianna.
  • Mar 27 Sat: Kelso Dunes was a fun hike in Mojave National Preserve. Drive to Joshua Tree NP. Check in spontaneously at Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground (which had many available sites despite the big weekend traffic), a refreshing oasis with delightful duck pond. We drove the Park Boulevard loop counterclockwise, which was crowded on this spring weekend. We weren’t expecting the long lines of cars backing up the Park’s entrance and every available parking lot, until we remembered that this was the weekend of Palm Sunday and accessible as a day trip from the populous Los Angeles area. We admired a huge Parry’s nolina, Mojave mound cacti with red buds, and other natural botanical wonders. We walked to the dry Barker Dam on a warm afternoon (2.6 mi round trip lollipop-shaped loop, 110 ft gain.
  • Mar 28 Sun: 49 Palms Canyon Trail. The dense Cholla Garden is vibrant yellow. Drive south to camp overnight in BLM Dispersed Campsite along Painted Canyon Road with nice sunset view of badlands, albeit somewhat scarred by ORVs and litter.
  • Mar 29 Mon: Mecca Wilderness Area: Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail. Drive to Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park Campground for night 1 of 2.
  • Mar 30 Tues: Hike the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and loop back via Victor Trail. We do laundry in La Quinta. Stay at Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park Campground for night 2 of 2.
  • Mar 31: drive 4 hrs to the nice Hualapai Mountain Park Campground, on a paved road 14 miles south of Kingman. The 42 degrees F low overnight was warmer than expected at this 6300-foot altitude.
  • April 1: In Hualapai Mountain Park, we hiked East Potato Patch Loop Trail for 2.6 miles with 700 feet gain to pleasant views of surrounding desert, but ice on a cliff ledge turned us back. In Flagstaff, we stayed at Woody Mountain Campground for 2 nights.

[Read Tom’s article covering “2021 April: rafting Grand Canyon 226 gorgeous miles, Arizona.”]

  • April 2: Due to April temperatures in Flagstaff expected to be in the 20s degrees F overnight, we winterize our RV. We attend the Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) meeting at 7pm in preparation for boating 16 days.
  • April 3-18: With Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA), we boated for 16 days covering 226 miles by raft and dory down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park!

[You are currently reading the article that covers “2021 April: Nevada: Valley of Fire & Cathedral Gorge State Parks.”]

  • April 19: Drive to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, where we claim the last campsite in Arch Rock Campground around 4:00pm (first come, first served).
  • April 20: Starting just after sunrise at Valley of Fire State Park Turnout #3, we walked a great 3.5-mile spectacle-shaped loop (with 450 feet of gain and loss): first to the Fire Wave, then along the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash, then around the complete White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, then repeat a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash, then turn north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and then return to the parking lot at Park Turnout #3. Drive to Cathedral Gorge State Park Campground. Sunset walk 2.5 mi to Moon Caves, etc.
  • April 21: Cathedral Gorge State Park: 2.75 mile loop walk in morning, mauve formations. Stay at Farewell Bend SP Campground, Oregon.
  • April 22: Drive to Seattle.

2019 Sept: RV to Wyoming, Carhenge, Cahokia, Colorado, Utah

A diverse RV camping trip took us across the USA from Seattle to: Wyoming’s Wind River Range; Nebraska’s kooky Carhenge; Indiana family; Illinois’ prehistoric Cahokia Mounds; Colorado’s southwest corner; Utah’s Arches and Capitol Reef National Parks; and California family (September 4–October 20, 2019).

2019 Sep 4-Oct 20 favorites: RV to WY, NE, IL, CO, UT


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Below, see all images from the trip in galleries by location:

Wyoming: Wind River Range


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The Wind River Range lies in the Rocky Mountains southwest of Grand Teton National Park. Mostly made of granite batholiths formed deep within the earth over 1 billion years ago, the Wind River Range is one of the oldest mountain ranges in North America. These granite monoliths were tectonically uplifted, exposed by erosion, then carved by glaciers 500,000 years ago to form cirques and U-shaped valleys. We enjoyed several hikes and a backpacking trip in Bridger-Teton National Forest on the west side of the Continental Divide (which follows the crest of the “Winds”):

Green River Lakes day hikes

Glaciers scoured the terminal moraine which naturally dams the Green River Lakes, which are the headwaters of the Green River (chief tributary to the Colorado River). Upper Lake offers the best reflection of Squaretop Mountain (11,695 feet elevation), an iconic granite monolith. To acclimatize, we hiked a loop of 7.2 miles with 700 feet cumulative gain entirely around Lower Green River Lake, including the short side trip to Upper Lake.

A tougher hike took us from Green River Lakes Trailhead, along just the west side of Lower Lake, to Slide Lake (13 miles round trip minimum, with 2100 feet gain). Those with more energy can add the Natural Bridge in Clear Creek Valley and loop back via the east side of Lower Lake.

Photographer’s Point day hike

Above Pinedale, along the enjoyable day hike to Photographer’s Point (9.6 miles round trip with 1150 feet gain), view Wind River peaks rising above the popular Titcomb Basin backpacking area.

New Fork Lakes day hike

From Narrows Campground, we hiked a pleasant trail along New Fork Lakes just past the end of the lake (4.4 miles round trip with 400 ft gain). (The kokanee salmon were not yet spawning on September 12, 2019.)

3-day backpack to Big Sandy Lake: Cirque of the Towers; Clear Lake, Deep Lake, Temple Lake

Our spectacular two-night backpacking trip established a tenting home base at Big Sandy Lake Campground (11 miles round trip with 1000 feet gain going in, and 400 ft gain going out). On Day 2, we hiked with lightweight day packs from Big Sandy Lake to Clear Lake and Deep Lake below East Temple Peak, then looped back via the the Continental Divide Trail to Temple Lake, Miller Lake, and Rapid Lake (7.5 miles, 1060 ft gain). Every step of this day hike offers inspiring views, such as the sharp spire of East Temple Peak above Deep Lake, Cirque of the Towers in the distance, and more. On Day 3, two hours before sunrise, I departed from Big Sandy Lake to reach Jackass Pass viewpoint for Cirque of the Towers and Lonesome Lake (6.5 miles round trip, 1860 ft gain) on the Continental Divide Trail. Then I joined Carol hiking out to Big Sandy Trailhead (5.4 miles with 400 ft gain).

Nebraska (NE): Carhenge, near Alliance


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Carhenge replicates England’s Stonehenge using vintage American automobiles, near Alliance, in the High Plains of Nebraska. After studying Stonehenge in England, Jim Reinders recreated the physical size and placement of Stonehenge’s standing stones in summer 1987, helped by 35 family members. “It took a lot of blood, sweat, and beers,” said Reinders, who built Carhenge as a memorial to his father. 39 automobiles were arranged in the same proportions as Stonehenge with the circle measuring a slightly smaller 96 feet (29m) in diameter. All autos are covered with gray spray paint, and the “heel stone” is a 1962 Cadillac. The site was gifted to the Citizens of Alliance in 2013. In the surrounding Car Art Reserve, Reinders’ “Ford Seasons” consists of four Fords, inspired by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Jeske’s Over the Hill Campground conveniently welcomes campers adjacent to Carhenge.

Illinois: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site


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Who knew that the largest prehistoric earthwork in the Americas is right across the Mississippi River from St Louis: Monks Mound, near Collinsville, Illinois. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site preserves the largest prehistoric Native American city north of Mexico. Cahokia existed around 1050–1350 CE. The present park contains about 80 man-made earthen mounds, but at its apex around 1100 CE, Cahokia included about about 120 mounds and covered 6 square miles (16 km2) with a population briefly greater than contemporaneous London. Cahokia was the largest and most influential urban settlement of the Mississippian culture, which developed advanced societies across much of what is now the central and southeastern United States, beginning 1000+ years before European contact. Cahokia Mounds is one of 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the United States.

Colorado: Great Sand Dunes National Park


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Dunes rise up to 750 feet tall in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, on the eastern edge of San Luis Valley, Sangre de Cristo Range, south-central Colorado.

Mesa Verde National Park


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Now honored by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Mesa Verde National Park was established by Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 in the Four Corners region near the town of Cortez. Starting around 7500 BCE, Mesa Verde was seasonally inhabited by nomadic Paleo-Indians. Later, Archaic people established semi-permanent rockshelters in and around the mesa. By 1000 BCE, the Basketmaker culture emerged from the local Archaic population, and by 750 CE the Ancestral Puebloans had developed from the Basketmaker culture. The Mesa Verdeans survived using a combination of hunting, gathering, and subsistence farming of crops such as corn, beans, and squash. They built the mesa’s first pueblos sometime after 650, and by the end of the 1100s began building massive cliff dwellings.

Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, was built 1190-1260 CE by Ancestral Puebloans. By 1285, following a period of social and environmental instability driven by a series of severe and prolonged droughts, they abandoned the area and moved south into what is today Arizona and New Mexico. Cliff Palace was rediscovered in 1888 by Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason while looking for stray cattle.

Colorado: San Juan Mountains


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In 2019, we admired peak fall colors in late September and the first week in October in the San Juan Mountains. Silverton, Ridgway, and Telluride made great bases for hiking and touring in this spectacular southwest corner of Colorado.

Utah: Moab: Arches National Park

My brother Dave and I re-hiked a favorite trail: Devils Garden loop via Landscape Arch, Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, Double O Arch, Dark Angel, Pine Tree Arch (8 miles with 800 feet gain, with slight scrambling and exposure in places on the Primitive Trail portion, not for those with fear of heights).

Luckily for our group, the Devils Garden Campground host had left a paper note allowing us to grab sites left on October 10 by campers escaping cold 22-degree-F overnight temperatures, freeing sites which had been fully-booked 6 months in advance. Photographing sunset and sunrise around Skyline Arch was a joy! Below are photos of this and other-years activities in Arches National Park:


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Utah: Capitol Reef National Park

Dave and I hiked impressive sandstone gorges from Chimney Rock Trailhead over to Spring Canyon, under the looming shadow of Capitol Dome, then down to a car shuttle at Highway 24 (10 miles one way with 1100 ft descent and 370 ft gain). Wading across the Fremont River completed this spectacular, quiet escape from crowds elsewhere in the park. Below are photos of this and past-years activities in Capitol Reef National Park:


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Reference

Tom’s Southwest USA blog articles include Arizona, ColoradoNevada, New MexicoUtah, plus Texas. See also Midwest USA.

USA: NEVADA

Below, view Tom Dempsey’s favorite images of Nevada. Photogenic desert parks and sights near Las Vegas include: Valley of Fire State Park, Cathedral Gorge State Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and Hoover Dam.

Nevada favorite images


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Read my latest trip report: “2021 April: Nevada: Valley of Fire & Cathedral Gorge State Parks

Travel tips: Many cheap flights (Southwest Airlines) conveniently fly to Las Vegas from many US cities. Drive from Las Vegas just 2 hours to St George, Utah, or 3 hours to Zion National Park, Utah. Rent a recreational vehicle (RV) for campground comfort:

  • Jucy Rentals, jucyrentals.com (Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New Zealand): The Jucy “Champ USA” (a converted Chrysler Town & Country car) has back gate cooking, two double beds (one made up inside and one via outside ladder in a pop-up tent/storage on top), inside eating table, 17-20 mpg gas mileage, with off-season lower rates through March 31. (No toilet, no hot water, no hot shower.)
  • www.CruiseAmerica.com: fully-equipped 19-foot RV and larger.

My other Southwest USA articles by state include Arizona, ColoradoNew MexicoUtah, plus Texas.

Browse more-extensive Nevada galleries below:

Valley of Fire State Park


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site. The above photos from Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada include: Rainbow Vista, White Domes Trail, The Fire Wave, Kaolin Wash, colorful rock patterns, Atlatl Rock, Arch Rock Campground, fossilized sand dune patterns, eroding conglomerate rock, Beavertail Cactus flower blooms, barrel cactus, Desert Primrose/Dune Evening Primrose, golden sunset, and Petroglyph Canyon Trail to Mouse’s Tank. Tom captured the images in 2021, 2011, 1999, and 1995.

Cathedral Gorge State Park

In Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada, admire fanciful mud castles, eroded from million-year-old lake sediments. Camp overnight to experience colorful golden sunset and sunrise light on the intriguing natural monuments and pinnacles. Photos by Tom Dempsey.


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Also included in the above gallery are two images from Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area, near Hickison Summit, Toquima Range, Simpson Park Mountains, near Austin, Nevada.

Hoover Dam in Black Canyon

These photos of Hoover Dam in Black Canyon, on the Nevada/Arizona border (formerly known as Boulder Dam), were captured by Tom Dempsey from the pedestrian walkway on the new Colorado River Bridge completed in 2010 (also known as the “Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge”).


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Southwest USA favorites from Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada


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My Southwest USA articles include: UtahArizona, ColoradoNew Mexico, and Nevada.

Recommended Nevada guidebooks from Amazon.com

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2011: 2004:
2012: 2012: 2010: