Monday, January 21, 2019

ROADTRIP: Spring Valley State Park

Spring Valley State Park
Spring Valley State Park is tucked away in eastern Nevada.
Spring Valley was one of those I'd never heard of until we made a point of visiting all of Nevada's State Parks, but that could be because I am not an avid lake fisher... person. For being tucked away in eastern Nevada, the park was busy when we visited in late May.

More photos

The drive to Spring Valley State Park is worth the trip in itself. Gorgeous rock formations line both sides of the paved road, and sagebrush and other desert plants give way to trees, promising water just around the next bend. In fact, the plants hug so tightly to the water running along the roadside wash, their presence is the only giveaway until the road unwinds along Eagle Valley Reservoir.

Though the reservoir is just the entrance of the park, the main campground, boat launch and day-use areas are here. The park is a haven for birds, the reservoir is stocked with a number of different trout, and boats are allowed. There are also plenty of walking and hiking opportunities, including around the reservoir and through historic remnants of the area's ranching past.

Globemallow blooms in Spring Valley State Park.
The campgrounds were already crowded on the weekday afternoon when we visited. Horsethief Campground, located right across the road from the reservoir backed up against a beautiful rock wall, looking out over the water, and the grounds were planted to provide some cover. Because most people seemed to be visiting to fish, boats were also crammed into the relatively small spaces. We stayed at (sort of) nearby Echo Canyon, which was much less busy (but catered more to an RV crowd -- hence their tent campground was nearly empty).

This is a gorgeous area, and we'd love to go back. I think this might be a winter destination for us as the more southern location would still make for great hiking weather, and it might be less crowded (maybe).

Recommended: drive, fishing, hiking, birdwatching

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

ROADTRIP: Cathedral Gorge State Park

Cathedral Gorge State Park
Sun shines into a crevice at
Cathedral Gorge State Park.
I am willing to bet, when people think of Nevada, they do not think of world-class parks, but some of the most iconic landscapes are in the Silver State. While Cathedral Gorge State Park might not be quite as known as Valley of Fire, people usually recognize the unique pillars of ash, formed when sediment eroded in a now-dry ancient lake bed.

More photos

Millions of years ago, volcanic eruptions spewed ash, which settled in a nearby lake. As the lake dried, the sediment eroded and not only can the result be seen today, you can actually walk into and explore the narrow -- sometimes claustrophobic -- crevices between clay pillars towering above. It's breathtaking to venture into these roofless caves, especially as the temperature plummets, and I felt it was a testament to visitors as well: People have been coming here for more than a hundred years, and we're still allowed to touch.

There are two entrances to the park, and they are connected by a hiking trail. Driving up to the formations is also permitted in some areas. The north entrance provides an overlook to see the formations in the ancient lake bed from above. We got to the park late in the evening and visited the overlook before deciding to come back exploring the next day. For photographers, the light is tricky in the canyon, and having the preview from the overlook helped a lot for planning the next day's visit. We also didn't get to explore the path down from the overlook as it involved stairs and one of us was still recovering from a broken leg.

Cathedral Gorge State Park
We also opted to stay in nearby Echo Canyon State Park as the campsites had more cover. There are campsites in Cathedral Gorge, located in the middle of the canyon, and day use areas, but because of the landscape and location, they have minimal cover and likely would be very hot and crowded in the middle of the day.

Unlike some of the parks we visited on this trip, Cathedral Gorge is well known, easy to get to and boasts a unique landscape, so the services and personnel were more plentiful. The nearby town of Pioche was also worth driving through and somewhere I know we'll be back to explore. Plus, as pointed out in this great video from Nevada State Parks, the formations are constantly changing, so you never know how it will look when you visit.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

ROADTRIP: Angel Lake

Angel Lake is located near Wells, Nevada, and is a beautiful spot for fishing, camping and swimming.

One of the great things about visiting all the Nevada State Parks is getting to hear where all the parks staff likes to go in the areas we visit. On our recent trip to Wild Horse State Recreation Area, we had the pleasure of talking with Andrew about other places we should visit in the Elko area, and he mentioned Angel Lake.

Angel Lake is located just south of Wells in the Humboldt Range of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Andrew warned us that Angel Lake fills up fast and it's easy to see why. The road up to the lake is a beautiful paved drive that climbs to 8,000 feet, which deadends right at the lake ($6 to park). The week we visited, temperatures were climbing past 100 in Fernley, so the cold, clear water of the glacial mountain lake were more than welcome.

The area is a strange mix of jurisdictions, with most of the area being USFS, and the two campgrounds subcontracted to private companies. When we were there, they were only marginally maintained, and not as well as when these facilities are more professionally staffed as with the state parks. We stayed at Angel Lake Campground, the facility located directly adjacent to the lake, which was obviously more heavily used than Angel Creek Campground, located farther down the hill, and paid half price ($8.50) for a site because there was no water available (no explanation was given).

Angel Lake Campground
Angel Lake Campground. See more photos.
So for the price, this was a great site, and the view was spectacular. My complaint with campgrounds holds with this one: They are too close together and you can hear everything. The people closest to us had a loud talker and I have a loud snorer, so we cancelled each other out, but it's annoying. There are no trees for cover either, so you can really see everything as well. The bathrooms were clean and neat, but there were bags of trash piled at pretty regular intervals along the road; I'm not saying the flies were hella crazy only because of this, but it certainly didn't help. Also, the host's area was really... not welcoming, and you are instructed to "see host" before you take a site, so that's not so fun.

Angel Lake Campground
Angel Lake Campground. See more photos.
But all in all, so beautiful and a wonderful mid-week escape from the desert heat. The lake is stocked with trout, but it's really small, so I don't think they probably get to any great size. Boats are allowed without a motor, but again, you aren't going to get a lot of people out there without running into each other. The morning I went out, I was all alone (except for about 50 ground squirrels lined up on the bank drinking), the melting glacier water running down the mountain side and tiny trout babies biting my toes. Heaven.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

ROADTRIP: Beaver Dam State Park

Beaver Dam State Park Nevada
Cactus blooms in Beaver Dam State Park. See more photos.
Nevada State Parks has a really lovely passport they give out that has suckered us nicely into trying to visit every park in the state (well done, NSP). Not like it's a hardship; the Nevada State Park system is incredible; our state is diverse and beautiful, and the parks are no exception.

Recently we set out to see the parks we hadn't been to yet along highways 80 and 50 in eastern Nevada, but after getting out, we turned south, and ended up getting eight parks knocked out in the three days we were gone.

Beaver Dam State Park was one of the most surprising. As far as we could tell, the park was completely deserted. We were traveling the third week of May, to avoid Memorial Day traffic, so it was still a little early in the season, but as far as the heat goes, I wouldn't want to go any later into the summer. As an added bonus, and another reason not to delay into the summer, wildflowers and cacti were in full bloom all over.

More photos

The road in to Beaver Dam is dirt/gravel, but it was not heavily used, so there is no need for four-wheel drive or a high-clearance vehicle. Honestly, the road was nicer than many of the paved roads we drove during this trip. Once in the park there were some areas where high-clearance was nice, and during the winter months the roads would probably be difficult for cars.

Beaver Dam State Park Nevada
Waterfall Trail crosses a creek before heading toward the Utah border.
We didn't get a chance to do a lot of exploring, but we'll definitely be back as the area was gorgeous. The campground looked well maintained, and was in a really beautiful area overlooking the water. The sites were very close together and the brush was sparse, so neighbors would be visible/audible if the site was crowded, and you can't reserve sites. We also noticed port-a-potties, so I'm not sure if the regular bathrooms were closed if there was other construction or renovation going on.

This is a pretty primitive park in that they don't cater to RVs or ATVs and your phone probably won't work; this is more for the hikers and fisherpeople. The area is rocky and mountainous, so the hiking trails are fun, if on the more strenuous side, especially if it's hot outside. All in all, a great, out of the way place where we can't wait to spend some more time.