Thursday, October 05, 2006
Journeying to Nevada's Miniature Grand Canyon
There really is a place in Nevada called the “Miniature Grand Canyon.”
While the name is perhaps a bit of hyperbole, the site is noteworthy for being one of those hidden, largely unknown scenic gems that occasionally can be found in remote parts of the state.
In this case, the Miniature Grand Canyon is located high in the Monitor Range on the east side of the Monitor Valley in Central Nevada.
I discovered the Miniature Grand Canyon last year while researching potential trips for Reno public TV’s “Wild Nevada” program. The show’s former producer, Jack Kelly, and I were studying maps of the Monitor Valley and spotted the intriguing name on an atlas map.
We checked around to see if anyone had ever been there and discovered from a National Forest Service staffer that it was, indeed, a real place. Our informant, who had been there, said it was quite lovely but small, hence the name.
So, we headed out to the wilds of remote Central Nevada to find this lilliputian landmark. To reach the Monitor Valley, we headed east on U.S. 50 to Austin (about 171 miles from Carson City), then continued east for another 35 miles to a dirt road on the south side of the highway.
We turned onto the dirt road, which is in fairly good shape, and continued south through the center of the Monitor Valley. After driving for about an hour and half, we turned onto a road heading east and climbed into the Monitor Range to find the Miniature Grand Canyon.
Since there aren’t any road signs indicating exactly how to reach the canyon, consult a good road atlas such as the Nevada Road & Recreation Atlas by Benchmark Maps.
The road wound through juniper and piñon forests before finally reaching the site. Coming from the west, we encountered a wide, fairly steep box canyon that opened up adjacent to the road. A small wooden sign indicated that it was the Miniature Grand Canyon.
While this spot was pretty, it only served as an appetizer for what was below. We decided to climb down the hillside, below the sign, and entered the canyon from the west side. This involved wandering through clumps of juniper trees, then crossing a couple of expanses of loose, shale-like rock to reach the canyon opening.
A small creek ran from the canyon mouth, so we followed it through thick underbrush for a couple of hundred yards before encountering the truly best part of the canyon. Here, the canyon narrowed into a small (only about a 100-feet wide) opening with steep vertical walls of perhaps 50-feet.
The creek trickled from above, and we could see that when it had more water (in the Spring or early summer) it fell over two or three rock benches, which created a small series of waterfalls.
Inside this opening in the canyon’s moist rock walls, there were patches of lush vegetation. The result was that the place seemed like a tiny Garden of Eden, with its green grasses, mosses and shrubs growing amidst the trickling waterfalls.
After making this discovery, we wondered what it looked like from above, so we returned to the road, and then hiked to the spot from above. From there, we could see that over many, many centuries the small creek had carved a steep channel through the rock walls, including the opening at the mouth of the canyon.
The process, in fact, had been similar to the way in which the real Grand Canyon had been formed.
So, it really was a Miniature Grand Canyon. And without the crowds.