This small natural box canyon located just outside of Pahrump, NV was once filled with stained glass windows, Victorian style streetlamps, religious icons, a man made waterfall and replicas of the Golden Gate Bridge and Christ the Redeemer. Now, after years of vandalism, looting, and neglect, only a few empty stone alcoves and a horribly desecrated, headless Christ are all that remain. Welcome to Cathedral Canyon.
Cathedral Canyon was the dream of Roland Wiley. Originally from Iowa, Wiley moved to Las Vegas in 1929 to practice law. In 1939, while serving his first and last term as Clark County District Attorney, he gave his approval to construct the El Rancho – the first gambling resort on what would later become the Las Vegas Strip.
In 1936, he bought the 14,000 square foot ranch in Pahrump where the canyon would later be built.
Within the ranch, there are numerous box canyons, epic mesas, and rolling hills hidden throughout. This inspired him to name the estate Hidden Hills Ranch.
The sign that used to greet visitors…
…is long gone.
Tires greet you as you pull into the parking area.
The foundation of the 200ft suspension foot bridge…
…that used to span the canyon.
Built so that visitors could view the canyon from above.
It was modeled after the Golden Gate Bridge…
,,,but you wouldn’t know that from looking at it now.
Cathedral Canyon is about one-third of a mile long, from 50-to 200-feet wide, and perhaps 50-to 60-feet deep. Roland graded the canyon floor and built two trails, one up the canyon from its mouth, the other from the rim to the floor.
Then: The original stairway down into the canyon.
Now: The stairway ruins down into the canyon.
Roland got the idea to create Cathedral Canyon in 1955.
A visit to Guatemala after an earthquake provided the inspiration for the canyon. By the mid-1970s, Cathedral Canyon was fully functional, although Roland continually added to and modified the landmark.
The Christ statue that still overlooks the canyon is a smaller replica of Christ the Redeemer of the Andes.
The once beautiful icon is now headless, armless…
…and riddled with bullet holes and shotgun pellets.
Beautiful stained glass windows were once set in the canyon walls…
…but empty alcoves are all that remain now.
Small statues and art objects sat in niches in the walls along the canyon’s length.
Along the trail that wound its way through the box canyon, Roland hung scores of steel-framed boards featuring quotes and poems expressing his philosophy and advice for living. They were both religious (nondenominational) and secular. One framed message set in large black letters against a white background read, “I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
Another read: “Too much blood has run under the bridges, and down the canyons of the world to keep on believing that only one road is right.”
“Be considerate of every man my young fellow, whether he is black, brown, white, red, or yellow. Of all the billions born on earth, Not one child did choose its birth.”
“For what are we all in our high conceit, When Man in the Canyon with God may meet.”
There were quotes from Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesus himself.
At the east end of the canyon was a man made waterfall that transformed the dry walls of the box canyon into a lush grotto.
The original homage to “The Sermon On The Mount” can still be made out (if you squint really hard).
Looking out from pool where the waterfall once cascaded into.
Some of the original steps can still be seen at the east end of the canyon.
The canyon attracted thousands of visitors each year. There was no admission, and you were free to enjoy it at your own pace.
Visitors from around the world made comments in the registration book Roland maintained, with many saying the message and serenity found there were better than any church. Several people even said it was more enjoyable than visiting Las Vegas.
Don’t worry, it looks like guests were provided with proper sanitary facilities when it was operational.
Hopefully, all those wasp nests clinging to the walls weren’t around then. Ouch!
Interviewed for a newspaper article in 1993, Roland was asked why he wanted to build it. “I think everyone is possessed, subconsciously, by certain impulses, you know,” he told the reporter. “They think we’re always led by what we see, but we’re pushed from behind sometimes, by instincts that we’re totally unaware of.” Wiley said he first felt these “subconscious instincts” when he was hospitalized with tularemia, aka rabbit fever, and had a near-death experience.
The entrance gate featured a hanging lamp and sign that read, “PLEASE NOTE: NO ALCOHOL, DOGS, CARS OR PICNICS ALLOWED IN CANYON – THANKS”…
…of course, both of those are now long gone.
After Wiley’s death in 1994, his surviving family members tried to keep his vision alive and preserve the canyon. A caretaker watched over it for a few years but that was not enough to prevent the vandalism, looting and neglect that came to the canyon in the following years.
The family did offer to sell the canyon to the Pahrump Valley Chamber of Commerce, but they didn’t have the funding to make the purchase.
It is a shame that future generations will never experience the wonder that was Cathedral Canyon. While the ruins are still worth a visit, it would of been nice to have seen Roland’s original vision.
“Lest we forget, the true value of our coming to this place lies not in finding a new landscape but in having new eyes. It is my hope that this cathedral under the skies will give to you a set of new eyes, and a whole new way of seeing things.”
– From a sign at Cathedral Canyon written by Roland Wiley