Nevada has a Grand Canyon — sort of
If you study the Nevada Atlas for too long, you’ll find some unusual places. For example, a couple of years ago I was scanning a state atlas, looking at places to explore near the Monitor Valley, and stumbled across an intriguing name: the Miniature Grand Canyon.
The site was tucked high in the Monitor Range on the east side of the Monitor Valley in Central Nevada. Of course, with a name like that, it was also a place that just begged to be seen. And it turns out it’s a real place.
To reach it, head east of Fallon on U.S. 50 to Austin (about 110 miles), and then continue east for another 35 miles to a dirt road on the south side of the highway. This road, which is in fairly good shape, will take you south to the center of the Monitor Valley.
After driving south on the dirt road for about an hour and half, turn onto a road heading east and climb into the Monitor Range to find the Miniature Grand Canyon. Since there aren’t any road signs indicating exactly how to reach the canyon, it’s best to consult a good road atlas such as the Nevada Road & Recreation Atlas by Benchmark Maps.
The road wound through miles of juniper and piñon forests before finally reaching the site, which was just below a wide, fairly steep box canyon that opened up adjacent to the road. Fortunately, a small wooden sign indicated that this, indeed, was the Miniature Grand Canyon.
While this box canyon was pretty, it only served as an appetizer for what was ahead. During our visit, 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 more water flowed, 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.
It really was a Miniature Grand Canyon — but without all those crowds.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.