Adventure slide show week of November 26, 2023
This is a counterclockwise circuit of Landmark Bluff beginning at the intersection of Lovell Canyon and Salt Grass Roads on the Northeast end of the bluff, circling the wild North end of the bluff, connecting with the unpaved (unmarked and nameless) road system on the West side of the bluff, taking a powerline maintenance road along the South end of the bluff and finally returning along the East side via a mysterious, little-known wash road that runs parallel to Lovell Canyon Road.
The pathless North end of Landmark Bluff contains the most unique wilderness area. You’re passing through a climate transition zone between the stark desert of the South and West sides populated with Joshua Trees, Yucca Plants, Sage and Cacti and a lush Juniper and Pine forest. The North end of Landmark Bluff is a magical mix of all this flora.
It’s impossible to list all the great reference points and wilderness areas you will see during this circuit, but here are some of them:
You’ll see all these great wilderness locations and more from the unique perspective on the North and West sides of Landmark Bluff.
Go for Fall through Spring. Mid-Summer temperatures can rise to near 100 degrees. You may experience some snow during the mid-Winter months, but not throughout. You might want to pick a day with a lot of sunlight for this lengthy adventure.
Take Hwy 160 from Las Vegas toward Pahrump. The highway ascends over a “hump” (the Potosi Mountain area). There’s a saying around here, “Over the hump to Pahrump”. Well, you’ve just traveled over that hump. Around 4-5 miles from the point where the highway begins to descend toward Pahrump there is a well-marked sign on the right for Lovell Canyon Road.
Lovell Canyon Road is a beautiful stretch passing through a Joshua Tree forest that soon becomes populated predominately with junipers and pines. There are ridges and meadows and many camping pull-outs along the way. This stretch reminds me a lot of the high desert area around Bend Oregon. Very open and majestic. All the while you’re looking up at the Spring mountains with Griffith Peak standing prominent. The road has very little traffic and would make a great bike, walking or running route. In fact, what an awesome backdrop for a marathon (pretty easy to add 2 miles to the 24-mile out and back stretch)!
Proceed about 3 miles to the intersection of Lovell Canyon & Salt Grass Roads. Park there are head West (left) up Forest Road 25913 (the road opposite Salt Grass Road).
Head up Forest Road 25913. It appears to be part of the Smooth Brome Road loop around the camping area on the Northeast side of Landmark Bluff (you’ll never see a marker that reads “Smooth Brome Rd”, so look for the forest road #). On this road you’ll rapidly ascend to the Northeast base of Landmark Bluff, passing some incredible campsites along the way. There are even campsites at the summit of the road with most of the spectacular views mentioned earlier. It’s dispersed camping. No reservations are required. It’s “first come first served”. Bring everything you need as the only amenities are a cleared, leveled space and a fire ring. You can stay for up to two weeks. The entire area is beautifully forested with Junipers and Pines, unlike the area along the base of Lovell Canyon and the vast desert wilderness areas to the East and West of the canyon. This region, along with the region on the North side of Landmark Bluff is a mountain forest oasis.
As you pass through this untouched wilderness area in the shadow of the majestic Northern cliffs of the bluff, prepare to go against the grain of numerous ridgeline spurs descending from the cliff base. It’s up and over each ridge, down to the gully between, up the next ridge. There’s a strategy to help even out the elevation gains and losses. This strategy works for traversing any system of ridgelines anywhere in the wilderness. Zig-zag your way over the ridges by diagonally ascending each ridge away from the mountain height above and diagonally descending each ridge toward the mountain height. You’ll save energy this way for the long adventure ahead.
There is a potential fairly gradual but steep, loose rock summit route on the Northwest end of Landmark Bluff. In the video I headed a third of the way up that route to get a closer look. It looks doable, but a bit dicey near the summit. At this point I decided to make the complete loop of Landmark Bluff, identifying additional summit routes with the intention to return and summit by the most favorable.
There is a network of unpaved, unmarked roads along the Western side of Landmark Bluff. The main road is CC Spring Road which makes a wide circuit of the West side of the bluff, continuing onward to connect with upper Lovell Canyon Road about 2 miles below the upper end of that road. More importantly for the Landmark Bluff Loop, there is an unmarked split-off road that runs along the Western side of the bluff much closer to its base. I call this the “Westside Road”. Two roads split off this road dead-ending in canyons on the West side of the bluff. The Southernmost split heads into Mule Spring Canyon. The next split North heads into the canyon North of Mule Spring Canyon.
From the Northwest spur on Landmark Bluff, you can descend, angling toward the Southwest through an opening in the lower hills (see the video or slide show). Once through that opening you’ll cross the split-off road that heads into the second Western bluff canyon from its Northernmost canyon. Cross this road and continue to traverse a number of low ridgelines until you finally land on the Westside Road at Mule Spring Canyon. As you’re approaching the Westside Road, you’re skirting a long section of Landmark Bluff that promises to have the most gradual summit approaches. It’s here that I will return for the Landmark Bluff Summit Adventure.
Mule Spring Canyon has a number of potential gradual summit approaches to Landmark Bluff. However, there are some low to moderate ledges to navigate. It’s possible to weave around those ledges for an easy, gradual, but fairly steep loose rock summit approach.
All along the Westside Road there are target shooting pullouts. On active target shooting days (mostly weekends and holidays) you want to stay on the Westside Road to avoid being in the up-range line of fire between the Westside Road and the Western slopes of the bluff. It may be dangerous to traverse the area between the Westside Road and the bluff.
There’s a pretty large cave opening in the Southernmost Westside Canyon. The opening is about half-way up a steep slope. There is a road that splits off from the Westside Road and actually ascends the steep slope to the cave opening. How any vehicle can manage this final slope to the cave opening is a mystery to me. But the cave promises to be a great future adventure. Not having been in that cave, I can’t vouch for its safety. Like other limestone caves, there may be confusing twists and turns in the dark with unexpected ledges. Good lighting and some caving experience may be helpful.
On the opposite side of the canyon there are a couple of summit approach gullies I took on a previous adventure. They lead to the South summit. Passage to the main summit area is partially blocked by some cliffs.
Take the Westside Road all the way to Highway 160, then take a left onto a great powerline maintenance road that parallels highway 160 along the South side of Landmark Bluff. In an earlier adventure on the bluff I traversed the South side at a much higher elevation. But today was an active target-shooting day, so I stuck to the Powerline Maintenance Road below.
There is a good summit approach gully on the West side of the bluff’s South end. However, once you’ve achieved the South summit ridge, further advance to the main summit ridge is potentially blocked by the upper cliffs mentioned earlier.
Just before the Powerline Maintenance Road arrives at Lovell Canyon Road, you are faced with two options:
If you head up Lovell Canyon Road (option #1), you’ll be on a narrow shoulder dodging RVs and noisy motorcycles.
If you take the canyon wash road (option #2) you’ll still hear some traffic noises and you’ll wind around a bit in the wash, but you have the fairly level wash completely to yourself. I chose the canyon wash road. It will take you all the way to your starting point at the intersection of Lovell Canyon and Salt Grass Roads.
There is one potential summit approach on the otherwise cliff-guarded East side of Landmark Bluff. It’s toward the North end, just below the Northern high point. Looks steep, loose rock, like all the other bluff summit approaches, but it’s most convenient to Lovell Canyon.
The Lovell Canyon Bluff Circuit, nearly 20-miles when all the weaving around is taken into account, is an amazing wilderness immersion, right at the lower opening of Lovell Canyon and convenient both to the canyon’s day visitors and to those staying at the many great campsites in lower Lovell Canyon.