By Tom Garrison
It always feels good to finish a project. A few years ago, my wife Deb and I decided to explore and hike the five Nevada state parks (out of 23) located within 40 miles of Panaca, population 963 (2010 census). Through the years, we visited Cathedral Gorge, Beaver Dam, Kershaw-Ryan and Echo Canyon. Spring Valley State Park, and its Stone Cabin Trail (aka Overlook Trail) is the last of the five and the topic of this story.
Archeologists believe the Spring Valley area was occupied as long ago as 5500 BCE. Because evidence of permanent dwellings is lacking, the region was most likely used for seasonal hunting and gathering. Mormon pioneers settled in this part of eastern Nevada in 1864. Due to the scores of springs in the area (there may be as many as 150), the valley was named Spring Valley. Several ranch buildings from the 19th century still exist in the park.
Agriculture continues to be an important factor in Lincoln County’s economy and was the reason for the construction of Eagle Valley Dam in 1965. The 65-acre Eagle Valley Reservoir, located at the southern end of the valley, is the main attraction of the state park. The reservoir’s 5,000-plus feet elevation
means the lake area is a somewhat less hot in the summer than surrounding lower desert. The 1,281- acre state park was designated as such in 1969.
Many of the light gray, white and orangish rocky outcroppings upstream from the reservoir were formed by volcanic activity. Volcanic tuff, a very soft rock, is volcanic ash deposited when hot and welded together. Little grows on its slopes due to the poor soil and constant erosion. Throw in millions of years of erosion and the result is the stunning geology of Stone Cabin Trail.
A variety of animals including squirrels, rabbits, coyotes, skunks, bobcats and deer inhabit the region. Their reptilian friends include lizards and snakes. We saw a few squirrels, rabbits and many bird species on our hike. The reservoir also attracts waterfowl and you might spot the occasional eagle or hawk.
Deb and I began our adventure in early July. We said good-by to Molly and Bob, our cats, and headed out at 8 a.m. From the Bluff Street (aka Highway 18)/Sunset Boulevard intersection in St. George we traveled north 48 miles on Highway 18 past Vejo and Enterprise. After a left turn (west) at Beryl Junction onto Highway 56 (which becomes Highway 319 in Nevada), and 46 miles later, we passed through Panaca and to the intersection with Highway 93. We turned right (north) onto Highway 93 and after 11 miles (in Pioche) turned right (east) onto Highway 322. The park entrance is 18 miles from the junction.
Or, from Mesquite travel south about 30 miles on Interstate 15 to the Glendale exit (exit 91) and head northwest on Highway 168. At the Highway 168/Highway 93 intersection, proceed north on Highway 93, follow it to Panaca, and then use the directions above.
We arrived at the park about 10 a.m., paid the $6 daily use fee, and drove 1.7 miles to the clearly signed “Historical Stone Cabin and Trailhead” on the left (west) side of the road at the northern section of the park past the reservoir. While the road to the park is paved, once in the park it becomes a good gravel road. There is a small parking lot at the Stone Cabin, or park along the road as we did. The trailhead elevation is 5,761 feet and the temperature in the mid-80s as we began our trek under impossible blue sky. (How did that deep blue Utah sky appear in southeastern Nevada?)
Stone Cabin is just that, a stone cabin. Now fully restored, it was originally built in the 1870s by George Moody using blocks of the surrounding volcanic tuff rocks.
From the Stone Cabin Trailhead to the Ranch Campground terminus is about 2.6 miles. Walking back to Stone Cabin along the road creates a loop, adding another .8 mile to the hike for a total of 3.4 miles.
The first section of the trail crosses a short wooded flat area. We soon began climbing more open slopes, ultimately gaining about 220 feet elevation. Along this part of the trail to our right stretched a long high cliff composed of three very distinct orangish and white layers topped by puffy softly eroded tuff—one of the strangest large formations I’ve ever seen in 30 years of desert hiking.
We soon reached the top of a large mesa. Here the trail snaked around offering views of huge tuff formations to the north and east. The one to the east was across Spring Valley.
As the trail headed west we encountered another bizarre sight—a large section of whitish tuff backed by a field of orangish mounds. Well, that doesn’t sound too odd. The odd part was a several feet deep perfectly horizontal slash in the whitish tuff. Nature seldom creates such lengthy straight lines in solid rock.
The trail led us north and then east to the Ranch Campground. From here we walked back along the road to the southern trailhead.
We ended this adventure with lunch at the Silver Café (673 Main Street) in Pioche. Established in 1907, the food was great at this cozy diner.
Stone Cabin Trail is a pleasant 3.4-mile easy hike (with some up and down elevation changes) with an advantage that can’t be beat—solitude. We were on the trail for almost 2 ½ hours and did not see another hiker. Not that I don’t like my species, but sometimes an adventure with your sweetie/hiking partner is called for. I highly recommend this hike for those of you who enjoy a little alone time in a gem of weathered volcanic rock.
An avid hiker for more than 30 years, Tom’s latest book, Hiking Southwest Utah and Adjacent Areas, Volume Two was (September 2016) awarded 2nd place in the non-fiction category of the League of Utah Writers published book contest. It is available at Amazon.com and the Desert Rat outdoor store in St. George. He can be reached at: email@example.com