Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

On October 15, 2020, we left for a three-night stay in Cathedral Gorge State Park near Panaca, Nevada. We chose this location primarily for the warm daytime temperatures and the clear skies forecasted for astrophotography. The park didn’t disappoint. The daytime temperatures reached 80 degrees, the early morning temperatures were close to 40 degrees, and the night skies were clear and reasonably dark.

We first populated site 16. This site is a nice pull-through that will easily support 35-40 foot long RVs. It is a beautiful site with several shade trees. It was the last appropriately sized site remaining when we arrived. However, no location near the site is suitable for viewing the night sky. The next day we moved to site 6. Site 6 is well distanced from other campers, has a great tent pad, offers great night sky views, but doesn’t have much shade.

All of the campground sites have electrical hookups offering 20, 30, and 50 Ampere circuits. There are also water spigots throughout the park. Like many state parks, there are bathrooms with flush toilets, sinks with running water, and showers. There is a paved bicycle trail that runs from Panaca to Cathedral Gorge State Park. It would be a fun place to bring bicycles and enjoy the ride.

We arrived around noon on the 15th, set up camp, and then went on a 4-mile loop hike. We started the loop an hour before sunset, hoping to catch dusk and wildlife it might bring. We didn’t see any wildlife, but the scenery was interesting and beautiful.

We also enjoyed investigating “the caves” that aren’t really caves at all. They are narrow slot canyons that aren’t very long but quite tall. It’s a little like a cave without a ceiling. There aren’t very many of them, but it’s a fun activity. There are also a few ruins left by the CCC built in the ’30s. They also left a wood and mud sunshade that is now used as a picnic area.

On Friday afternoon, we took a short road trip through Caliente, Nevada to Kershaw-Ryan State Park. We stopped for burgers, fries, and drinks in Caliente and took them to the state park for a picnic. This park is an amazingly beautiful oasis in the middle of a very stark desert. You can see how arid the background of this photo is, but luscious vegetation can be seen in the foreground.

This park was once someone’s farm, and they grew fruit trees and grapes. There is a natural spring that still runs today. While it was beautiful when we were there, I can only imagine the relief from the heat this place yields summer visitors. After lunch, we took a couple of very short hikes around this tiny state park.

After leaving Kershaw-Ryan State Park, we went to Panaca Spring. This is a warm, not hot, spring that is used today to irrigate the nearby farms. However, before it escapes the initial pool, it is a fun place to swim. The water is clear, allowing good views of the numerous small fish. This time of year, the spring is about 4′ deep and about 84 degrees. It is certainly not a soaking kind of hot spring, but it isn’t a cold swimming hole either. It was perfect for a warm and sunny day swim.

One evening, I set up the telescope to show my son and wife some of the planets. We were able to observe Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. Uranus was just a dot like the stars, Mars wasn’t as red as they expected, but Jupiter and especially Saturn were very pleasing to observe. We also looked at several galaxies and nebula. It is nice to see the beautiful things that God made for our enjoyment. Later that evening, I connected a camera, computer, and other electronics to enable some astrophotography. I enjoy the combination of the awe-inspiring creation and the technology that enables its capture.

Saturday evening, I captured three deep sky objects: NGC 7293 or the Eye of God, M 45 or Pleiades, and several objects surrounding the Horsehead nebula. These objects are 650, 444, and 1375 light-years from earth, but with modest equipment and some post-processing can be seen in all their glory.

Cathedral Gorge State Park was a fun and relaxing place to spend a few days in the fall. The temperatures were great, the hikes and scenery were awesome, the outings were fun, and the astrophotography was rewarding. There are certainly darker spots for astrophotography, but I think the images are evidence that it is dark enough.

We’ve been to this state park before, but we’ll probably go again. Young children would really like “the caves,” and we can’t resist taking grandchildren to places we think they’ll like. I can’t wait to see and hear them among the rocks and crevices of Cathedral Gorge State Park.

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Porcupine Campground, Idaho

July 2019 Trailer Trip

On July 29, 2019, we headed to Porcupine Campground west of Bear Lake in Idaho. We left Smith’s Trout Haven late in the afternoon and headed east and then south a mere 78 miles. Porcupine Campground will be our last stop in Idaho on this journey, and the last two nights we’ll spend with our son and his family. Idaho campgrounds have been exceptional, and I wish Utah would step it up. However, the one thing I won’t miss about Idaho is the boat checks every time and place you enter the state.

We arrived before dark and took site 15 that we reserved earlier in the week. It was an excellent back-in site and quite private as long as you didn’t need to use the tent site that seemed to be adjacent to the neighboring campsite. Our son and family occupied a site a few places west of site 15. We spent most of our campground time at their site, where the children had their stuff, could be in the trailer, and didn’t have to walk down to our place.

On July 30, 2019, we went to the Minnetonka Cave ticket booth and reserved a spot on the morning tour for all nine of us. We then drove to the cave entrance and waited for our tour time. The cave tour was enjoyable, particularly the relief from the outside temperature. While this isn’t a Carlsbad Cavern or Lehman Cave, it is interesting. While there are a lot of stairs, the level of exertion did not exhaust the small children in our group.

After our cave tour, we went to the northeast corner of Bear Lake and swam and played at the beach. The water was relatively warm, and the beach was very gradual. I had to walk about 500′ out into the water to get waist-deep. This feature makes it great for small children and fun for the rest of us.

After swimming, we ate dinner out and headed back to Porcupine Campground, had a fire with the grandchildren and their parents, and ate smores. An enjoyable and exhausting day!

On July 31, 2019, we bid farewell to Idaho for the last time on this journey. We headed south to Evanston, Wyoming, to shop for food and propane, and then headed south to the Uinta Mountains of Utah. We were hoping to find a campsite in the Washington Lake Campground, but without reservations, we left with trepidations.

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Carlsbad RV Park and Campground, New Mexico

On July 20, 2017 we arrived at Carlsbad RV Park and Campground in Carlsbad, New Meexico. We arrived in time to check-in, park, hookup, and cook dinner. It seems funny calling parking with 100 other RVs hooked up to utilities camping, but it’s as close to camping as it comes near Carlsbad Caverns.

While the RV park sort of setting is not my idea of a great camping experience, the Carlsbad RV Park and Campground was clean, the staff was helpful and friendly, the pool was refreshing, the dog run was acceptable, and the park was quiet. It made for a good base of operations to see what we came here to see, the caves.

The next morning we rose early and left the trailer at about 7:30am to get to Carlsbad Caverns early enough to make our reserved cave tour at 8:15. While in Colorado we made reservations for a tour of King’s Palace. We would have loved to tour other parts of the cave, but other reservable tours were full. In addition, several of the other more strenuous tours require participants to be 12 years old or older. We’ll come back.

When we arrived at the park I took a look at my watch and was very unhappy that we had missed our tour time due to a time zone change. My phone confirmed the time. We went into the visitors center to see what could be done. It turns out that while we were in New Mexico we were up high on a plateau overlooking Texas to the south. My phone, and therefore my watch were getting their time information from a Texas cell tower broadcasting central time. We were early and happy!

From within the visitors center we took the elevator down about 800 feet and joined our tour group. The tour of King’s Palace was about 1.5 hours long, was interesting and quite beautiful. These caves were formed differently than others we’ve been in and learning about the process was interesting.

After our tour of King’s Palace we took the self guided tour of The Big Room. It was easy to get to because it’s simply another path leading out from the cafeteria / gift shop area 800 feet below the surface. The Big Room is well named, it is huge having an area equal to that of 14 football fields. The trail around the room is smooth, easily traversed and has many signs yielding information. The decorations are quite spectacular and when you take into account the sheer number of them, it is quite amazing. The trip around The Big Room took us about 1.5 hours, but that included several stops for pictures and to admire the handy work of God.

After our tour of The Big Room, we got in the five minute line for the elevator back to the surface. We were glad to have done this early in the morning because evidently later in the day the wait for an elevator can be as long as two hours.

At the surface we shopped at the gift shop and headed back to Carlsbad for lunch at Angie’s Mexican Restaurant and a peaceful afternoon.

On July 22nd we returned to Carlsbad Caverns and hiked down the Natural Entrance. We had been told that this is difficult, hot and a tough hike. It took us just 50 minutes and was none of the above. It was easy, but frankly less interesting than the other two tours. It was fun and worth doing, but not as decorated as the other parts of the cave. As you continue down you make the transition from full sunlight, to a partially lit area to complete darkness. Amazing to think that someone long ago found this entrance and struggled through the darkness to map a considerable amount of the known cave.

If we had this to do over again we would do things a bit differently. We would reserve more guided tours, but we would also do what we did in a different order. We would enter the Natural Entrance at 8:30 when it opens and walk down for the King’s Palace tour at 10am. After the King’s Palace tour we would walk around The Big Room and take the elevator back to the surface. This would give you a great sense of the cave in one day. It also allows you to enjoy the Natural Entrance without comparing it to other more spectacular parts of the cave. In addition, the guided tour before The Big Room would help you appreciate it even more.

At dusk we sat in the amphitheater and watched the bats emerge from the cave. It is interesting how they come out and circle in the entrance as they climb. When they reach the top of this “bat vortex” the leaders head south while more bats join the vortex at the bottom. This continues for 30-45 minutes until they’re all gone. Nice experience.

On Sunday July 23rd we attended the Carlsbad Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was nice to worship with the saints in Carlsbad. After church we hooked up the trailer and headed north to Roswell, New Mexico to see the International UFO Museum and Research Center. We knew we were nearing the museum when we saw aliens. 

One must visit the museum if you’re driving through Roswell, but I wouldn’t go out of my way again to see it. In fact, I wouldn’t cross the road to see it even if I found myself in Roswell again. The name alone is a stretch, but after you enter and pay your fine for being dumb enough to enter you’ll see nothing more than what you’ve seen on TV, in the movies or on the cover of the National Enquirer.

Having not been abducted by aliens we decided to drive west from Roswell towards Cloudcroft, New Mexico. We figured a trip back to 9000 feet would be cool and refreshing.

Along our path we came across the Tom and Pam Runyan Ranch. This is simply a family run petting zoo, fish farm and market on the side of the road. We stopped and petted animals, admired the huge trout in the ponds and bought a few edibles. I think we would have fished in their ponds, but you had to keep what you catch and we were on the road. It was everything I could do to keep my wife from grabbing those beautiful big trout. This was a beautiful spot that made the pain of the UFO museum fade and made the remainder of the day better.

We continued west towards Cloudcroft and arrived at Saddle Campground in the late afternoon. We had time to get settled in and then watched a thunderstorm blow through. It was cool enough to wear a light jacket and that was awesome!

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