Our first trip together as Desertislanders is a throwback to March of 2004, the date of our first self-documented camping trip together and entry number one in our short-lived childhood “Camping Diary”—Cathedral Gorge State Park in Lincoln County, Nevada.
As a state park with designated campgrounds, this trip was a little cushier than some our fathers’ hardcore bushwhacking expeditions deep into BLM land. As Shelby observed in our entry from March 20th, 2004:
“Our camp is way more modern than I would have liked. We have real bathrooms and a table. We also have a spout we can get water out of.”
Flushable toilets and picnic areas aside, however, Cathedral Gorge is located in a truly remote region of southeastern Nevada: Lincoln County encompasses an area larger than the state of Massachusetts, yet had a population of only 5,345 as of 2010. The park itself also offers plenty of opportunities for adventure. Cathedral Gorge is made up of eroded soft clay formations full of slot canyons and caves, which makes it the ultimate playground for both kids and adults. As Shelby conceded in our diary,
“Its not so bad though, the scenery is great and its fun to explore . . .”
As kids, we took our explorations of these canyons seriously and drew up a map of the park, giving the formations names like “Camel Hills,” “Packrat Apartments,” and “The Rock Chapel.” Part of our goal on this first Desertislanders trip was to find the locations on this map, and, although the scale of the map was pretty inconsistent, we were able to find most of them by taking the two main hiking trails through the park.
The only place on the map we were unable to find was a cave we named “Caveman’s Lair.” According to my entry from March 21st, 2004,
“Today we found a new cave around Caveman Hills, but we couldn’t go in it. We got dad [Ryan] to come with the flashlight, but he wouldn’t let us go in.”
Without any parents around to keep us from making bad decisions, we had hoped to explore the cave on this trip. But after hiking around the “Caveman Hills” for an hour or so we were unable to find it, although we did snap some great photos of the scenery.
Another poor decision which we were determined to make this time around was climbing the 20-foot rope we remembered dangling from a ledge in one of the canyons on the east side of the park. But when actually presented with this faded rope anchored to who-knows-what (there are no trees and the soft clay of the canyons crumbles in your hands) we chickened out, although Shelby climbed up about halfway. I guess this means that we’re grownups now, because as kids our dads had to hold us back from scrambling up cliffs.
As kids, we tormented our parents with an uncanny ability to make a mess in any environment. On our 2004 trip, my dad was baffled when we were able to find what was probably the only mud for miles and somehow get it all over ourselves, the tent, and the car. The recent rainstorms this year meant that a lot of the slot canyons in Cathedral Gorge still held a bit of water and mud, and Shelby painted some on for old time’s sake. The color and texture would actually make for a pretty good natural makeup.
On our first camping trip here we caught two horny toads and named them (embarrassingly) Keepsake and Sargent. We didn’t find any horny toads this time, but we did see a lot of desert wildlife including jackrabbits, cottontails, collared lizards, and bats. Shelby caught a great picture of a bat in one of the caves we came across. And just as we were about to leave the park, Shelby spotted a 4-foot gopher snake sunning itself near our campsite, which made my day since these are my favorite Great Basin reptiles to play with.
While in Cathedral Gorge, we had to take the 15-minute drive to Pioche, the county seat of Lincoln County. This quirky old silver mining town is one of my dad’s [Ryan’s] favorite places in Nevada; if he ever wins the lottery he’ll probably move there to become an eccentric millionaire recluse.
One of the highlights of Pioche is the “Million Dollar Courthouse,” which actually cost $75,000 when it was built in 1938 and now functions as a museum rather than a courthouse. The museum is filled with with artifacts from Pioche’s early, more prosperous days, but it is also full of slightly creepy wax figures that surprise you at every turn.
Pioche has two cemeteries: a respectable Catholic cemetery and a “Boothill” cemetery for less reputable corpses (turns out a lot of old western towns had Boothill cemeteries for criminals, vagrants, etc). Shelby and I opted to visit the latter, and a lot of the gravestones made for some interesting reading with their distant birth dates and locations. However, the most interesting cemetery in the area is the Bullionville cemetery just outside Cathedral Gorge. The cemetery is the only remaining trace of this ghost town. Many of the graves had wooden markers that have now faded or rotted, leaving no clue to who is buried beneath the mounds. As a bit of a graveyard connoisseur I found this one satisfyingly eerie with its crumbling gravestones and empty desert surroundings. It’s easy to miss from the highway, which is probably why Shelby and I had never been there before, but it was a great find.
Our first adventure as Desertislanders was a nostalgic one; we revisited the sites on our childhood map, re-explored Cathedral Gorge’s slot canyons and caves, and visited my dad’s favorite town. But it was also a new adventure, because this time it was just us out on our own braving the West Desert, even if there were real bathrooms and picnic tables. In the spirit of our childhood cartography, we plan to go on to make more of our own discoveries and memories and to record them here on our upgraded “Camping Diary,” so stay tuned for more canyons, caves, ghost towns, graveyards, and whatever else we find out there in the Great Basin.