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Back to the Mojave: The Pahranagat Valley

Rock Art of the Basin and Range National Monument II
Thursday – Monday, January 15-18, 2021

Even though my heart belongs to the Colorado Plateau, I do occasionally like to get out to the Mojave Desert at least once each year, especially during the colder months at home! Back at the beginning of last year I had started making plans to return to Death Valley National Park this holiday weekend, but since COVID is hitting California hard right now and they are asking for out-of-state visitors to stay away, I honored their request and decided to visit the Pahranagat Valley in Nevada instead. I got my first taste of the Pahranagat Valley on my way home from the White Mountains in September, but it was much too hot out for me at the time, so I vowed to return in cooler temperatures. I didn’t think I would be coming back so soon, but I was looking forward to returning again so I could explore this large valley where the northern Mojave Desert and the Great Basin intersect!


Cathedral Gorge State Park

As usual, I invited my friend Jerry along and he seemed eager to spend some time in the Pahranagat Valley, too. I left right after work on Thursday afternoon and drove west across Utah to Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada, where Jerry and I planned to meet up. It seemed like an easy place for us to meet and would cut a little driving time off of our initial drive, plus we would be able to check out the little slot canyons in the park on Friday morning before finishing the drive to the Pahranagat Valley. That sounded like a win-win situation to us! Jerry arrived at the Cathedral Gorge Campground first and grabbed a campsite for us, and then I joined him there a couple of hours later. It was getting late when I arrived, so we went to bed shortly afterwards.

It’s not that often that my feet get cold at night while camping, especially when I’m using my zero degree sleeping bag, but for some reason they were very cold this first night! I can only remember one other time when my feet felt this cold on a camping trip, and that was the night before my first backpacking trip into Salt Creek Canyon. When we woke up with the sunrise on Friday morning it was 14 degrees out, which was certainly not the kind of temperature I was looking for on this trip, since I’m sure it was probably warmer at home! We warmed up a little bit and then headed over to check out the slot canyons on the other side of the Cathedral Gorge. I thought this would just be a quick stop on our way to Pahranagat Valley, but the slot canyons were so much more interesting than either of us were expecting and we spent a lot more time exploring this area than I thought we would. We both thoroughly enjoyed this little park, even if our fingers were frozen for much of the morning while we were taking plenty of photos!

Morning light and texture at the Moon Caves, our first stop of the day.

Morning Light

There was nice reflected light in the first slot canyon I hiked into.

Narrow Light

Cathedral Gorge Peak

Cathedral Gorge Peak

Texture & Light

Canyon Light

I think that little connection at the top of the walls technically makes it a natural bridge…

Like An Arch

Walking and squeezing through narrow corridors.

Narrow Corridor

Looking up at a curve in the canyon.

Narrow Canyon Curve

Beautiful light on tall walls.

Tall Walls

Textured Walls

Textured Walls

Colorful Canyon Walls

Colorful Canyon Walls

Cathedral Gorge Sunrise

Cathedral Gorge Sunrise

Another entrance to another slot in the clay.

Slot Canyon Entrance

This was a fun little area to explore up above the slots!

Cathedral Gorge Sunstar

Cathedral Gorge Goblins

Cathedral Gorge Goblins

Jerry looking over the edge into a deep cavern.

Big Drop

This old water tower was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Cathedral Gorge Water Tower

Looking up from inside The Cathedral.

The Cathedral

Hiking down the stairs from Millers Point before we left the park and finished our drive to the Pahranagat Valley. We already had an amazing morning and were looking forward to start searching for rock art!

Millers Point Stairs


Rock Art of the Pahranagat Valley & Rainbow Canyon

For the next two-and-a-half days Jerry and I spent our time driving, hiking, camping and searching for rock art around the Pahranagat Valley and then we spent a few hours in Rainbow Canyon on Sunday afternoon. We saw a lot of petroglyphs and even a couple pictographs along the way. I’ll share some of my better photos below, although I took a lot more than this!

Our first stop was at the Crystal Wash Rock Art Site which was right along our route into the Pahranagat Valley.

On The Top

Crystal Wash Panel

Crystal Wash Petroglyphs

Next we wandered around the boulders of the Ash Springs Rock Art Site.

Ash Springs Boulder

Reaching For the Sky

Ash Springs Sheep Boulder

We still had a few hours of daylight left, so we headed north to the White River Narrows Archaeological District, which I had visited in September but Jerry had never been there.

Mask Site

Atlatl Petroglyphs

Narrows Panel

Very Busy Wall

Hand Panel

The first sunset of the trip was really nice as we were driving out towards the Mount Irish Archaeological District to find a campsite for the night. Thankfully, the temperature overnight only dropped down to 44 degrees which was more like what I was hoping for this weekend!

Pahranagat Valley Sunset

Jerry at Sunset

We spent much of Saturday wandering around the Mount Irish Archaeological District. Even though I had stopped by here in September, I didn’t have a lot of time that day and missed a lot of stuff, so I was happy to return!

Pahranagat Man

Pahranagat Man

Just like in September, it was nice to watch the warm light at sunrise strike the petroglyphs.

Petroglyphs at Sunrise

Petroglyphs at the Base

Pahranagat Man II

Sheep Wall

Flaking Away

Mount Irish Man

Morning Designs

I liked this small petroglyph of a sheep pecked inside this small pocket.

Sheep in a Pocket

Colorful Wall

Lichen Deer

Colorful lichen next to an oval-bodied sheep that was located high above many of the other petroglyphs in the area.

Oval Sheep

Sheep and a Deer

Sheep & Deer

There are a lot of petroglyphs of sheep around…

Lone Sheep

The Big Sheep Boulder. This was one of my favorite panels of the weekend. The sheep on the left is almost life-sized!

Big Sheep Boulder

Monolith Echo Panel

Monolith Panel

Logan Creek Designs

The Feet Panel

Feet Panel

After spending most of the day below Mount Irish, we headed over to the Shooting Gallery Game Drive District to spend the night, but we had a few hours of light left so we wandered around looking for petroglyphs until sunset.

This was the first panel I spotted that evening.

Upper Petroglyph Wall

Boulder in a Wash

Boulder in a Wash

Boulder Top

We even found a few decent pictographs.

High Pictographs

On Sunday morning we were up with the sunrise again and returned back into the Shooting Gallery to see what we had run out of time for the evening before.

Stick Figures

Sheep Rock

This design was hidden in a crack.

Design in a Crack

Sunstar Petroglyphs

This deer with a crazy rack was one of my favorites from the site.

Big Deer

While this small design was nothing special, the glow behind it was very nice.

Glyph & Glow

Little Guy

We left the Shooting Gallery early in the afternoon and then headed over to visit a few sites in Rainbow Canyon just south of Caliente.

Red Pictographs

Red Pictographs

Walking through a drainage tunnel.

Tunnel Vision

More red pictographs in Grapevine Canyon.

Grapevine Canyon Pictographs

The Sheep Boulder

The Sheep Boulder

Rainbow Canyon Boulder

Rainbow Canyon Boulder

We ended our drive at the old schoolhouse in Elgin and turned around.

Union Pacific


The Parowan Gap

After leaving Rainbow Canyon late on Sunday afternoon we headed back into Utah to the Parowan Gap where we found a campsite for the night nearby. I hadn’t been back here in almost ten years and wanted to catch the sunrise on the petroglyphs on Monday morning, plus we wanted to shorten our drive home a little bit.

Morning clouds over the Parowan Gap.

Parowan Gap Sky

Zipper Glyph Sunrise

Zipper Glyph Sunrise

Parowan Gap Boulder

Parowan Gap Boulder

Parowan Gap Designs

We stopped to visit a couple of dinosaur tracks nearby, but unfortunately someone has broken off the middle tow of this one.

Broken Dinosaur Track

I like the unusual design of this spiral.

Spiral Design

Upper Spiral Panel

Upper Spiral Panel

Red Hills Petroglyphs

Red Hills Petroglyphs

>> The Pahranagat Valley Photo Gallery


  1. Dan Norris
    Dan Norris January 22, 2021

    Incredible, Randy. Thanks much for sharing your adventures.

  2. gerald j otto
    gerald j otto January 23, 2021

    Thanks So much Randy! What a great time and another
    wonderful Adventr!!!

  3. Tim Boyd
    Tim Boyd January 1, 2023

    Hi Randy
    What resources did you use to hike around this area?
    Tim Boyd

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