Friendly Caliente serves as a gateway to several recreation sites

U.S. Highway 93 — Nevada’s first designated scenic byway — accesses historic towns, recreational areas and splendid scenery on its route along the length of the eastern side of the state.

Typical of the friendly small towns along U.S. 93, Caliente welcomes travelers with visitor services and access to many regional attractions, including five state parks within easy reach.

Caliente is 150 miles from Las Vegas by way of Interstate 15 north to the U.S. 93 turnoff.

This rural Nevada community deserves a closer look. At first called Dutch Flat, the site of the future town lay on a ranch started by the Culverwell brothers near the confluence of Meadow Valley Wash and Clover Creek in the early 1870s.

After changing hands several times, the site was selected as a railway service point when the Union Pacific planned a connection between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.

The new town was named Calientes after the natural hot springs at the site. When postal authorities dropped the last letter, the town appeared on maps as Caliente.

When the line opened in 1905, Caliente became a busy watering stop for freight and passenger trains. In 1923, the railroad built a handsome Spanish mission-style depot.

Caliente straddles the rails with the highway, businesses and residential areas west of the tracks and the old commercial district and more housing on the east.

No trains stop in Caliente these days, but the railroad is still prominent. The two-story depot now houses city offices, a library and an art center.

Drive the quiet streets to get a feel for the town’s history, particularly noting the row of craftsman-style company houses built more than a century ago to house railroad families.

Most of the commercial buildings were rebuilt after fires in the 1920s. Now many decades old, their replacements have an aura of yesteryear.

Caliente serves as a portal to several recreation sites within 50 miles, such as Beaver Dam, Cathedral Gorge, Echo Canyon and Spring Valley state parks, which draw campers, hikers, horsemen, mountain bikers, anglers and boaters. Pioche, the picturesque and historic county seat, and neighboring Panaca, an early Mormon settlement that is the oldest town in the region, are a half-hour drive north of Caliente just off U.S. 93.

The entrance to a small scenic gem lies about two miles south of Caliente on state Route 317, the road through beautiful Rainbow Canyon. Kershaw-Ryan State Park, at the site of an old ranch, occupies a verdant box canyon off Rainbow Canyon. Cliffs several hundred feet high enclose the little valley shaded by many kinds of trees, including remnants of orchards planted by settlers.

Visitors are never far from the sound of running water. Numerous springs and seeps create hanging gardens at the end of the box canyon. Trickling water gathers in a pool and hurries away in a small creek. The entrance fee is $7, or $5 for Nevada residents.

Picnic facilities are scattered among shade trees and along a main hiking trail. A 15-unit campground includes tent and RV sites, tables, grills, fire pits, water and access to restrooms with showers and an RV dump station. Regular campsites cost $17 per night. Group areas can be reserved.

Other facilities include areas for horseshoes and volleyball, a wading pond for children and a playground. Two loop trails explore the park on short routes that may involve some steep sections.

When you leave the park, consider following state Route 317 south, a local favorite that is partially paved with the rest graded. This scenic alternate route uses Kane Springs Wash to connect to U.S. 93, cutting 25 miles off the return to Las Vegas.

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

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