Visiting Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

While I was moving to college, my family and I stopped for the night in Caliente, Nevada and spent time in Cathedral Gorge State Park. After a long day of driving, it was nice to be able to get out and stretch our legs in such a beautiful area. We were lucky to get there around sunset, so we had some amazing views.

Part of Cathedral Gorge

Cathedral Gorge is on the eastern side of Nevada and is home to many unique clay formations made from years of continuous erosion, creating very photo worthy orange and yellow hues. There are many open areas, as well as sever slot canyon areas. Make sure to keep track of where you are as it can easy to get lost in them!

Inside some of the trails

There are numerous hikes to take, including Miller Point Trail, Eagle Point Trail, and Juniper Draw Loop, the longest being three miles. Most of the trails are fairly easy for most people and great to take kids on. If you are low on time, simply parking by and exploring the Cathedral, Canyon, and Moon caves will give you plenty of opportunity to see the slot canyons and formations. Of these, I particularly enjoyed the Cathedral caves. If you do explore the caves, note that there are certainly possibilities of seeing bats and make sure to wear study shoes as the terrain may be uneven.

Looking back on some of the caves

There are also some historical structures nearby, including some built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The water tower and outhouse are no longer in use (don’t fret though, there are functional bathrooms nearby), but stand to serve as a thank you to those who helped develop the park during its creation in 1935.

The CCC’s water tower

If you are looking to stay the night, there are 22 $15 camping spots with an additional $10 fee for electric hookups. Each spot has a grill, table, shaded area, and access to a bathroom with showers. There are quiet hours from 22:00 to 07:00 and the visitors center is open from 09:00 to 16:30.

Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for very long, but what we saw was gorgeous and I would love to return, if only to take a few more photos.

Peeking out into the valley

Have you been to Cathedral Gorge, or passed by while driving to Caliente? Would you like to? Leave your thoughts the comments!

Hassan II Mosque: Casablanca’s Most Gorgeous Sight

On the Atlantic coast, one of Moroccan’s most stunning buildings is nestled in amongst the resorts and office buildings. Finished in 1993, this mosque was the combined work of 10,000 men and boasts both incredible architecture and carefully detailed artwork. It holds over 100,000 people, of which 25,000 fit in the main building and another 80,000 can participate on the gorgeous grounds.

Hassan II Mosque

After the death of Mohammed V, King Hassan ordered the construction of the mosque in order to give the people a beautiful center of worship, as well as help Casablanca prosper as a city of beauty. The King funded the mosque himself, as well as through public donations. It was designed by Michel Pinseau, a French architect and built by highly skilled artists over the course of seven years. Most of the materials were sourced from Morocco itself, except for the chandeliers, which are made of Venetian glass.

Moroccan stone arches

The Hassan II Mosque also happens to be the third largest mosque in the world and the largest in Africa. It also has the tallest minaret at a whopping 210 meters. The total grounds include the mosque itself, as well as a library, madrasa (school), and the visitor center/museum. The mosque is partially built over the ocean, whereas the other buildings remain slightly more inland. When visiting, make sure to stop by all of the buildings, as each are intricately built. The exteriors alone have so much to take in with all the detailed carvings and tile work.

The detail in some of the arches

If you want a more in-depth experience, the mosque offers tours in between prayers that are available in an array of languages. Times vary depending on the time of year and day of the week (make sure to check the website for more information). We took out tour early in the morning, which was a great option as the lighting was phenomenal and it wasn’t overly busy. Keep in mind, if you visit the interior, one’s knees and shoulders should be covered, although a headscarf is not necessary. Upon entry, everyone is asked to remove their shoes (bags are provided for safekeeping) and then everyone is divided into their language for the tour.

Details of the interior

The first stop in is the prayer hall which is a large space with the front facing towards Mecca. Here is where people will gather to worship, led by the imam. The area is incredibly spacious with heavily detailed pillars and ceilings. The stone is all handout and featuring Moorish design. The same goes for the cedar, which was chosen due to its natural insect repellent and resistance to the salty ocean air.

Ceiling artwork

In the center of the room are glass floors that provide a glimpse of the absolution rooms. Towards northwestern side, there are picturesque views of the Atlantic. However, one of the most fascinating parts of the mosque is the retractable roof, which opens to allow in fresh ocean air. It is especially helpful during Ramadan when the mosque reaches its highest capacity. This feature is incredibly unique and with any luck, visitors may be able to see it opened.

The rooftop

Underneath the main hall are the absolution rooms, where people wash before prayer. The area is filled with gorgeous tiles and engravings, including some Arabic calligraphy. The marble fountains are especially gorgeous and beautifully designed.

The tour was ended after the visit to the lower level. Overall, I found visiting this mosque an exceptional experience and a great opportunity to understand the religion of Islam and Moroccan design. Our guide was phenomenal and the sights were stunning, creating a definite must-see in the area of Casablanca to the point where I have to add some more pictures:

Have you ever visited the Hassan II Mosque? Is it on your bucket list? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

A Day in Casablanca

Casablanca was the introduction into my time in Morocco and Northern Africa! Many people fly in and out of the white city on their way to explore the other pieces of the country, such as Fez, Marrakech, Ourrzazate, or Meknes as the flights are usually cheaper. This being said, Casablanca is easily worth the one day trip if you can squeeze it in and here’s how I would spend it:

Casablanca from my hotel view

I would start by first visiting the Hassan II Mosque early in the morning. This Mosque ended construction in 1993 and is the third largest in the world and the largest in Africa. It is also one of the few mosques that non-Muslims may visit during times between prayer. Almost all of its materials have been sourced from Morocco itself, which gives valuable insight to the beauty of the country, as well as its natural diversity. Its construction was completed by modern day specialists in each craft, from the tiling to the carving to the painting and collects aspects from Moorish and Islamic design, along with more local Moroccan aspects.

Hasan II Mosque

The mosque leads insightful tours conducted in a number of languages, including English. Our guide was incredibly kind and offered plenty of information on the construction of the building and the religion itself. For instance, she told us that much of the woodwork is cedar, due to its natural insect repellent and its resistance to the salt and harsh conditions from the Atlantic. She also told us that the roof opens (not unlike a car sunroof) to let in natural air and help with crowding during busier prayer days, especially during Ramadan. This was something I had never seen or heard about in any sort of mosque, church, synagogue, or other place of worship and frankly I thought it was pretty incredible.

Details in the ceiling

The prayer room is at ground level and is a large space that may hold up to 25,000 people. The walls and ceiling around the area is heavily detailed with impressive mosaics, carvings, and paintings. There is some view of the Atlantic Ocean as well, which also brings in soft natural light.

Gorgeous mosaics on the outside of the building

Underneath the prayer hall are the absolution rooms where people may wash before going to prayer. The rooms are separated by gender, but both look identical. Like most of the building, much of the room is made with local marble and Arabic calligraphy is be found on the walls.

Calligraphy in the absolution rooms

After visiting the absolution rooms, the tour is over. However, being there early in the morning gives one the ability to take more pictures outside and explore some of the nearby areas, including the fountains and the shore. The place where one buys entrance tickets is worth a second stop to revisit the samples of the designs and overall history of the building.

Beautiful artwork

After visiting the mosque, I would then take the time to stop for lunch somewhere along the coast. Casablanca, while still having common moroccan food just as tagine and cous cous, also has a large amount of seafood. We stopped at a small, quiet restaurant called Restaurant Essaâd (مطعم السعد ير حب بكم) where we enjoyed much of the local twists on tajine and sandwiches. Typically, olives and bread are served as appetizers and mint tea is incredibly common as well.

Restaurant Essaâd

After grabbing a bite to eat, one could stop at the Casablanca Cathedral. Unfortunately some event or construction was occurring when we visited, so we were unable to enter. However, it is labeled a must for visiting Casablanca, even though it stopped being a center of worship around 1956. Be sure to check times and entry prices because they apparently change.

Instead of the cathedral, we went to pigeon park, or Mohammed V Square. There are by far, many more pigeons that I have ever seen in my entire life. They crowd around the fountain and bathe in the waters. Nearby, there are lots of families hanging around and small rides for the children.

Mohammed V Square

Right across the street from the square is a store called Exposition Nationale d’Artisanat (العرض الوطني الصناعة التقليلدية). It has a few different floors full of souvenirs, from poufs to camels to shoes. Not all of it is artisan, nor would I recommend this place for more expensive purchases, such as leather goods or carpets, but it gives an idea of what can be purchased in the markets and what a reason price would be for that product. Also, there are a lot of smaller trinkets that you can find cheaper here than in the markets, such as mini tajines, post cards, and magnets. Either way, exploring here is a wonderful experience.

After that, we went to some more specialized shops. Our first stop was a carpet shop. When we walked in, we were warmly greeted and asked to sit in a large area. There were carpets stacked everywhere I could see. After getting the customary mint tea, the owners started rolling out carpets made of camel hair, agave, and sheep wool of all sorts of shapes and patterns. The man explained how each type is made and different features of them. Once each carpet was explained, we were asked to give a “no” or “maybe,” to each. Both parties in my group narrowed down to a carpet we wanted and then the bargaining began. As is typical, we were given a collective starting price. Unfortunately, I was the only one that ended up reaching a deal and I left with a multicolored camel hair carpet.

Make sure that you aren’t in a rush when visiting carpet shops, as it can take a few hours, especially if you find some you like. Also, from my experience, Marrakech had cheaper options, but Casablanca had more agave carpets if that is what is of interest. My last piece of advice is to certainly not take a starting price. It’s typically considered rude not to bargain and prices are set high to begin with. Even if don’t make a purchase, the experience is very unique to Morocco and worth having.

Carpets galore!

After that I would take the remaining hours to explore the older part of town. This part is the best glimpse of what Casablanca looked like before French colonization. Our hotel, Hôtel Central, was in the middle of the medina, the old, walled part of the city and provided easy access to the port and markets nearby. This area is easily reached by foot and offers excellent views of the ocean and is a great place to visit!

The stairwell at our hotel

Some of the markets have great options for gifts and food. We got so many wonderful items, from a camel leather pouf to a “magic” box that there was a trick to unlocking. There were plenty of clothes, leather products, and souvenirs available. Most of the vendors were friendly and willing to help us find the products were looking for. There are a number of places offering Moroccan street food, including several types of meat and vegetables in the forms of wraps, sandwiches, kebabs, and more. The best part is the fresh squeezed orange juice. There are so many people selling fresh squeezed fruit juices from watermelon to avocado to oranges and more, definitely a must buy.

Overall, Casablanca is a great place to spend a day exploring and taking in the sights. Between Mohammed V Square and the Hassan II Mosque, it is worth the day trip or more if you can make it!

Have you ever been to Casablanca? Or tried tagine? Or explored Moroccan markets?