Nevada is a beautiful state filled with incredible public lands. There are 23 state parks, including seven with camping near Las Vegas.
On this trip, we set out for Cathedral Gorge State Park, a 2.5 hour trip from Las Vegas on serene and picturesque roads, past green farms and free range cattle lands.
Our adventure would end up taking us over 500 miles around southern Nevada and to six wildly different state parks.
When we looked into planning this trip, we knew we were taking a small risk that we wouldn’t have a campsite as Nevada state parks don’t take
We had called the visitor’s center to see if they had an idea what to expect. The first thing they asked was “Are you part of the star watching group?” On one hand, I was glad to hear there were going to be astronomers around, as we always love peeking through telescopes and learning from them. But on the other, that meant lots of campers diverging on the same, tiny, 15-space campground. “The campsites usually fill up by 1 p.m.” was the guidance we got from the ranger.
A plan emerged: Pack as much as possible the night before, wake up crack-of-dawn early, and hit the road. There was another concern - we were going to a concert the night before. Could we do get everything ready to go?
We gave our best effort, having everything laid out in the living room by 6 p.m.
On Thursday, I woke up at 6 a.m. to start hauling it out to the a-frame camper. The last thing to do was to pack lunch and grab the dog.
We were on the road by 9 a.m. - with an ETA of 12:30 p.m., hopefully just in time to get a site.
Our trip up was uneventful, aside from giant grasshoppers splattering like paintballs across the front of the Tundra.
We pulled into the Visitor’s Center right at 12:30 p.m. We stopped in briefly at the visitor’s center. After catching the ranger’s attention, she gave us a warning that we should probably go get our campsite first and come back for information later. She didn’t have to tell us twice.
We loaded back in, drove down the main road a bit, and pulled into the campground. There was one site at the end of the loop. We made it there without it getting snagged from someone else. It even had electricity!
After a relatively easy time backing up, it was pop up time!
I’m still amazing how easy it is to set up a-frame campers.
After we went through the set up routine - level, pop up, stabilize, organize, fill up with water, attach the grey water setup, admire our efforts - we headed back to the visitor center, grabbed some maps, and bought a full access annual parking pass. The full access pass gives us unlimited access to all Nevada state parks and includes camping fees (electricity fees are separate, but are only $10night extra, if you use them.) Yea, we’re going to use the heck out of this.
We made our way back to camp, stopping to check out the slot canyons and other scenery.
The landscape looks like it’d be soft, like beach sand, but the erosion deposits were surprisingly solid, like concrete.
The canyons were much cooler inside than out, dropping about 10 degrees. They trailed back into little mud pools, dirt soaked with the remnants of either the last rain or from water seeping out of the porous sandstone.
Inside, the slot canyons were nearly entirely devoid of life, with no plants growing on the steep walls that left only inches of ground to stand on. Only the occasional beetle appeared. The canyons stretched hundreds of feet above us.
Outside, lizards darted in and out of well-protected crevices, and Russian thistle tumbleweeds found nooks to pile in while they waited for the next wind. We went back to camp to relax and get some grub.
We discovered we had a problem when we went to set up the grill. At some point, DH (dear husband) had taken off the propane converter to check something and buy a newer version. It hadn’t made its way back onto the grill, however.
Fortunately, experience has taught me to always brick backup plans for backup plans. A set of cookware lives in the camper. So long as we have propane, we can cook.
Sheltered and fed, it was time to explore.
Unfortunately, our plans were about to change.
Going into the trip, we knew we would hit up Cathedral Gorge, but hadn’t planned much besides cooking and relaxing over the weekend. Whatever plans we had would change, when I was unfortunately bitten by a stranger’s dog at a trailhead.
After we napped up, we checked the map and found a trail that promised a moderate effort with rewarding views. It sounded perfect!
The Miller’s Point Trail took us through the desert wash, alongside the canyons, and up a few flights up stairs to Eagle Point, a plateau overlooking the park.
That part was uneventful, aside from the impressive geological architecture around us and the out-of-character green desert and wildflowers (we’ve have a great year for rainfall).
We reached the top and were greeted from some fellow travelers at a pavilion sitting next to a large parking lot. “They don’t tell you that you can drive to get here too, do they?” they quipped jovially.
A sign told us what we were looking at in the cavern walls below: A lake bed formed millions of years ago, dried out, and was slowly eroding back to the sea via the Colorado river, leaving the grand formations and slot canyons for modern visitors to explore.
The sign also said there was a nature trial at the edge of the other parking lot. Felt silly to walk all that way and not check it out, so we ventured over, enjoyed the walk, wildflowers, and views along it, and headed back to the trailhead to start back home.
As we hit the parking lot, a blue heeler trailing a purple leash came running across the 300 feet of pavement between us. A man started shouting at two more heelers by the pavilion alerted us there was more trouble ahead. The heeler coming at me seemed curious, but I didn’t see any warning signs of attack - no pulled lips, no flattened ears, etc.
I slowed down as it approached. DH veered to the side of the parking lot, a wise decision in the end. The dog reached me and sniffed at my feet - I furtively reached down and grabbed her leash. As a dog lover with an timid dog, I can’t imagine what I’d do if my dog got away from me. I’ve chased loose dogs across parking lots numerous times, trying to help unfortunate humans save their babies before. It never occurred to me to not grab this dog. So I did.
When I looked up, a second dog was coming at me. “Watch out for that one!” The owner hollered. “Is it not friendly??” I came back. “Not really.” Well, great. He whooped the dog’s name and it came back around to him, but stayed out of his reach and away from being leashed. A third dog ran around in the same way.
I moved forward, cautiously, with the dog in my hand. The man scrambled still, with the dogs coming closer to me, and ignoring his commands more. Eventually the pack caught up with me, which felt inevitable as I was holding one of them, and the man seemed to want to reclaim that one at the very least. While handing off the leash, the other two swarmed around my feet - and in a blink of an eye, one of the other two reached up and snapped quickly on my leg, just above my knee.
“Your dog just bit me!” I hollered.
The man seemed more urgently inclined to get his dogs together, now that one had attacked me, and collected the three of them off to the side of the parking lot.
I took off on my own mission - to document everything I could about this man, his dogs, and this exchange. There was only one car in the parking lot, with three blue heeler stickers on the windows. I took a picture of his license plate. He sat down at a picnic table and held his dogs. I asked him, “If you knew your dogs were dangerous, why did you leave them off leash??”
“I thought you’d left.” Was his only explanation.
I got his name, his phone number, and asked if the dogs had their shots. Just last week they got them again, he said.
I asked him to consider this the next time he took them out. He didn’t seem one bit fazed about having his dogs off leash. I have no doubt this man would leave his dogs off leash, exposing other people to danger, again. I’m glad we had left our lab back at the campsite. I’m glad there weren’t children around. I still can’t believe how reckless this man acted.
“I hope you’re okay.” He said, sincerely.
I hoped I would be too.
With nothing else to say to the stranger and his dogs, we set back off down the trail.
Our quick trip to explore the canyons had now become a minor medical emergency. We stopped a few hundred feet away to get a real look at the damage.
Unfortunately, I had no safety supplies in my bag - just water, a spare hat, and a supply kit containing a packet of electrolyte mix, chapstick, hand sanitizer, and an errant tampon. I poured water and hand sanitizer on the bite wound, and tried to wipe out some debris with the cotton tampon. I didn't have much faith in this medical care but was better than nothing.
I hobbled back, watching the bloody rust stain on my pants growing. It was nearly 6 p.m. by the time we got back, without a ranger in sight to report what had happened. I called the visitor center number and left a message nonetheless, knowing the guy had probably disappeared onto a highway back to New Mexico.
Back in the a-frame, I got to really investigate the damage. There was one deep puncture wound and a lesser one above it. Already I could see the area darkening as the blood settled to grow into a bruise. We weren't hooked up to a water supply, but had enough in the storage tank. The electric heater mod was on and so the water would even be hot.
Our shower wasn't connected to the grey water tank and getting it set up didn't seem worth the trouble, so I purged the cold water from the line into the dog's bowl and waited for the warm water to come out. I lathered the edge near the bite with a bar of homemade soap and cautiously spread the suds into the gash. It wasn't the most pleasant feeling. I rinsed the soap, dirt, and blood off to collect on a spare towel.
Our first aid kit furnished me with a gauze pad, but the medical tape had long since dried and been thrown away. A few bandaids served to seal the edges in its place. It'd have to make do for the night, until we could get into town for better care, or for more first aid supplies.
We set about making dinner (chicken thighs in the dutch oven, zucchini on the cast iron skillet inside - our go-to camping meal.)
Our campsite didn't have a fire ring, so we settled down to watch a movie (Thor Ragnarok played to the TV from my laptop via HDMI).
It didn't take long for me to fall asleep, despite the thoughts of infection, rabies, and even endless "I should have done this differently" scenarios rattling around in my head.
The night was cool but not cold. I don't think the heater even kicked on. The dog slept like a champ, despite it being his first ever night camping without his buddy. He may not have noticed it much, but I sure missed our old man's face a lot.
I hit the showers first thing in the morning to see how the bite wound had fared the night. I first went towards a newer campground building to grab a shower there. A ranger was out of his truck changing trash cans.
As I approached with my shower kit in hand, a nearby camper told me I'd be better off to go to the other building, since that one the showers were pay-to-play. Good to know.
While he was there, I grabbed the ranger's attention and started to tell him what happened. He signaled to another ranger in the truck to come over- this one bore a shiny gold badge. I told him the story and gave him the guy's license plate information. He warned me that I'd have to sign the citation if they ever found the guy. I told him I'd be happy to if they did see him, but we both knew it'd be a slim chance.
I was able to make it to the other shower (singular), which was actually pretty good. It was more of a home style shower, not your typical state park stall style, with a fiberglass surround. The water pressure was good. It felt nice to be clean.
From there, we made a quick breakfast (cut up deli ham and scrambled eggs) and debated what we should do for the rest of the day. I Googled the possibility of medical care (there was no T-mobile service, but a Straight Talk SIM card connected my phone, while DH connected to satellite Wi-Fi through the Nevada State Parks WiFi, which wasn't very cheap but reasonable enough.)We had a shiny new annual parks pass, and decided to go investigate the nearby parks for future camping destinations.
We checked out Echo Canyon, did a short hike up a nature trail in the campground, and got our second Nevada State Park stamp in our book.
Next, we headed north up to Spring Valley State Park. You almost couldn't tell you were in Nevada with the beautiful pastures, green meadows, and tall cottonwood trees lining rivers and lakes.
We passed by graffiti from the late 1800s, free range cows, and old cabins from the original settlers.
On the radio, the local high-school operated radio station detailed the history of the Gin Blossoms. We connected back to the main highway and headed down to Caliente. Our agenda there was to grab some medical supplies at the Dollar General (the one and only general store in Caliente, if you don't count the gas station).
From there, we decided to try to hit all the parks in the area. Next up was Elgin School House. 25 miles down a two-way highway, we couldn't predict the surprise in store for us there.
A family of turkey hens squabbled across the street in front of us just beyond the turn on to the road. We travelled parallel to creeks guarded by giant cottonwood trees, mountainous outcroppings, and train tracks. A few climbers prepared to ascend the mountain walls, but otherwise we didn't see a soul.
That is, until we pulled up into the driveway for the schoolhouse.
And who did we see in front of us... but the back car of the guy who's dog had bitten me.
I laughed at the irony of the world.
The universe is a terrific comedian.
The dog's owner his car to read the sign ahead of the schoolhouse. The attraction otherwise seemed closed.
There was no way he could know who we were - we were on foot the night before, but here, 50 miles from where fate had first crossed our paths, we were in the truck.
He pulled off to the side of the parking lot and we took our turn reading the sign from the car.
We got our parks stamp and left.
He held back.
Clearly, waiting to let his dogs out again.
I guess he hadn't learned his lesson.
We moved on.
After the school house, we ran up to park #5 of the trip: Kershaw-Rain State Park. I hadn't read ahead about this park, and it was a joyful surprise to arrive at an oasis in the desert.
The park used to be a private garden, with a collecting pool for wading in spring waters, and an old Conservation Core latrine (which, unfortunately, some people didn't get the message that it was not in service and decided to use anyway. Park rangers deserve better pay. )
An eastern towhee skittered through the bushes back into a tunnel created by vines growing alongside the mountain walls, chilled by the shade and cold spring water running through it, creating an environment where moss could grow in the driest desert in the country.
Fragrant mint plants grew alongside the mountains as water dripped down to wet their roots.
The desert holds many charming secrets.
We went back around to Caliente and had a great lunch at one of the town's three eateries. With a little time to burn, we grabbed a drink at the town's pub, with all its finest selections of boxed wine.
Our final destination of the day: Beaver Dam State Park, beckoned. We plugged in the coordinates and hit the gas.
We'd been near to the park a few times to hunt Pinion pine tress for Christmas centerpiece, but never made it out to the park proper. A few more desolate Nevada roads later, and we pulled into the rolling landscapes of Beaver Dam SP.
The park was higher in elevation, its terrain steep and covered in pine needles.
Remnants of bone-white limestone jut out from the forest, with an errant volcanic rock made us wonder how exactly it had arrived there.
We drove slowly through the campgrounds, examining them for future excursions.
Farther back into the mountains, a trail revealed a creek hundreds of feet below. The sun was low in the afternoon sky though, we would have to come back another time to visit.
Our speed round through the parks was complete.
Returning to camp, we crossed paths with mustangs, mountains, and meadows.
About a half hour later, we were back and camp and ready to get about the business of cooking dinner. Steak and camp potatoes in our dutch oven.
Or maybe not. I tried the CampMaid's coal tray and lid system, but the pan never heated up enough to sauté even one onion. I think we used too few coals. I love dutch oven cooking, but coal management is a major issue. Thankfully, my trusty Ikea cook set and the camper stove would save the day once again. The steaks came out beautifully in the trusty dutch oven, at least.
Sun set on our last night on this trip. We chatted for a while, and made our way over to the group campsite, where red lanterns beckoned us to come see what marvels they had in their scopes.
A hobbyist astronomer had scopes and laptops set up ready to bring the heavens to us. A click of a button, and 90 seconds later we were able to see incredibly faint galaxies, dozens of millions of lightyears away. If you ever have the opportunity to join a star party, grab your red headlight and jump on it. It's a great way to explore the night sky without any knowledge necessary.
We tucked in for another night and slept peacefully and comfortably.
The morning went uneventfully, as we reversed our routine and popped down, disconnected, emptied, and packed everything back in, to head home and wait for the next opportunity to foray out again.