Great Basin Highway leads to history, adventure


In Nevada, where it’s been dubbed the Great Basin Highway, scenic U.S. Highway 93 runs from the Arizona border to the Idaho border, along the way accessing historic towns, several state parks, hundreds of miles of off-highway vehicle trails and numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation.

To reach this rural route into the Nevada outback, drive north about 20 miles on Interstate 15 to the U.S. 93 turnoff near Apex.

The highway runs north into Lincoln County, passing the Pahranagat Lakes near Alamo. It climbs Oak Springs Summit, where off-highway vehicle enthusiasts can access trails that connect with the 240-mile Silver State Trails network. For trail information and maps, visit LincolnCountyNevada.com.

U.S. 93 descends into the old railroad town of Caliente, where it begins to follow the Meadow Valley Wash. This water-rich region drew a series of nomadic native cultures starting about 10,000 years ago. Meadow Valley also attracted the area’s first permanent settlers when Mormon pioneers colonized the farming community of Panaca in 1864.

It was named for the Panacker Ledge, the site of the area’s first silver ore discovery. The claim drew interest that led to more mineral discoveries. Soon, boomtowns such as Pioche, Castleton and Bullionville sprang up around busy mines. Of those rowdy mining camps, only Pioche survives, still serving as the seat of Lincoln County.

Panaca is about a mile east of U.S. 93 on state Route 319, a road that leads to Cedar City, Utah. The oldest town in the southern portion of Nevada, Panaca remains a quiet farming community. Its wide, tree-lined streets invite visitors to cruise slowly while admiring remnants of 19th-century architecture. The little Mormon chapel on Main Street, the oldest building in Lincoln County, was built in 1867-68 and is still in use.

When settled, Panaca was part of Utah, but a congressional action in 1866 made it part of Nevada. Panaca today is home to fewer than 1,000 people, many of them descended from original settlers. It has schools, a health clinic and a few businesses, including a market and minimarkets with gas pumps.

Panaca is Nevada’s only “dry” town, with no bars or alcoholic beverage sales. Like Boulder City, it prohibits gambling.

Panaca has no hotels or motels, but an attractive residence called the Pine Tree Inn now serves as a bed-and-breakfast with its own bakery. It offers four rooms in the main house and a fifth in a cabin on the property. Guided horseback or all-terrain vehicle tours are available. Rooms are comfortably furnished, reasonably priced and often booked well in advance. For reservations, visit pinetreebnb.com.

Return to U.S. 93 to visit Cathedral Gorge State Park, one of the state’s first parks created in 1935. This year-round park preserves more than 1,600 acres of unusual geological formations eroded into the buff-colored Bentonite clay of a lake bed that was laid down a million years ago. The park entrance road is on the opposite side of the highway from the turnoff to Panaca.

The Regional Visitor Center along the park entrance road offers exhibits, a glimpse of regional history and recreation information about several parks and other public lands in the area. The visitor center is open daily, except for winter holidays, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The entrance fee at Cathedral Gorge is $5 for Nevadans and $7 for nonresidents.

Visitors may picnic free of charge at sites built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s.

The park offers camping on a first-come basis at a 22-unit campground for a nightly fee of $15 for Nevadans and $17 for out-of-state visitors. Sites have shaded tables, grills and room for RVs up to 40 feet long. Centrally located water and restrooms with flush toilets and showers close with freezing winter temperatures.

Popular activities at Cathedral Gorge include hiking on several park trails, wildlife watching, stargazing and photography.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.