Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada, my first encounter, was an unexpected astonishing surprise in the eyes of this explorer. From what I had heard, Lake Mead National Recreation Area seemed to be a place for recreational boating with a few short trails sandwiched between the bordering mountains and the lake. I had not expected to see any large untouched wilderness areas to rival places like the Mt. Charleston Wilderness, the La Madre Mountains Wilderness and the Sheep Range. However, I thought I’d give Lake Mead National Recreation Area a chance and travel the main driving route that skirted the lake, Northshore Road and look around from a wilderness perspective. I found there are huge untouched wilderness areas along that route that spans the Nevada side of Lake Mead. Among these are The Muddy Mountains Wilderness (1/3rd the size of Rhode Island), The Jimbalnan Wilderness and the Pinto Valley Wilderness. There are numerous high points in these wilderness areas from which the views should be incredible along with a lot of exploring to do along the way. The routes could easily be in the 10-20-mile or more distance range.
At the same time there are a number of shorter, popular trails and sites along Northshore and Lakeshore Road. We’ll eventually explore and document all of these. But for this first orientation adventure, the goal is to get an overview of this huge national recreation area and its surroundings. Of particular note is the unique inter-relationship between earth and water, the lake and the surrounding mountains and valleys. Mountains have routes and trails, but in this case, there is a rather famous waterway trail, the 30-mile Black Canyon Water Trail. Find all the official Lake Mead maps here.
My perspective on Lake Mead National Recreation Area will be to integrate both earth and water into the larger, continuous wilderness landscape around the greater Las Vegas area. Often these wilderness areas are seen and described as a patchwork of small areas each enclosed within a boundary managed by a particular entity. However, all boundaries are artificial and I like to see the entire wilderness as a unified whole. There are no lines out there. The lines exist only on maps. As we explore, we’ll first look at the landscape and identify natural high points from which to get a larger perspective. Then we’ll explore those high points along with the routes to the top. Finally, we’ll connect the dots to recognize the entire wilderness from any one high point.
Our overview adventure begins at the East entrance to Valley of Fire State Park. From here you can see to the South and West the expanse of the Northern ridge system of the Muddy Mountains and the Muddy Mountains Wilderness. Following a short 1-mile drive take a right at the Northern entrance of Lake Mead National Recreation Area and head South on Northshore Road. We’ll note landmarks by the mile markers on Northshore Road which begins at mile 45.1 and ends towards Hoover Dam at mile 0. You’re now traveling between the Overton Arm of Lake Mead on your left, and the Muddy Mountains Wilderness on your right. As you round the corner, you’re looking at the Northeastern edge of the Muddy Mountains Wilderness. This area is pretty well broken up by small canyons and washes, often referred to as “bad lands”.
Around mile 42 we cross a larger canyon that looks strangely familiar. This is the same canyon that empties Valley of Fire Wash into the Overton Arm of Lake Mead after passing through the Charlie’s Spring location.
A little further down Northshore road at mile 41.5 there is the turnoff to Stewart’s Point. The road to Stewart’s Point is at first paved, and we traveled to the end of the paved section, then ran the rest of the road to Stewart’s Point on the shore of the Overton Arm of Lake Mead. It didn’t look like more than a mile, but looks are deceiving in the desert – it was around 3 miles each way! There is very primitive camping at Stewart’s point – bring your car, RV or tent. I didn’t see any electrical hook-ups. But there was a well-kept primitive national parks restroom. Stewart’s point looks like a great place to launch a boat or kayak and travel South down the Overton Arm of Lake Mead.
Blue Point Spring desert oasis is a beautiful little stream bordered by palm trees and thick plants. You can look up toward Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada and see the tip of Silica Dome. When I was standing on Silica Dome I remember seeing what looked like cattle down toward the Overton Arm of Lake Mead. It was not cattle, but the palm trees of Blue Point Spring! Another feature of Blue Point Spring is that it is located right at the very tip of the Northeast corner of the Muddy Mountains and looks like a great jumping off point for an adventure in that area. Park at Blue Point Spring and head up the gradual incline into the Muddy Mountains there.
Just a mile further down the road from Blue Point Spring Desert Oasis we encounter an even larger more elaborate oasis, Roger’s Spring Desert Oasis. There’s a large parking area, restrooms and picnic area. The oasis itself is a beautiful pond at the base of the Muddy Mountains. You can see the rock from which 400 gallons of water per minute flow into the pond, heated by the rock deep under the Muddy Mountains to a year-round temperature of 80 degrees. This is the perfect temperature for an aquarium, and as you might guess, the pond is filled with colorful fish that look like the fish you’d have in an aquarium: Black Mollies, Convict Fish…at least similar in look…and others. But beware of jumping in yourself because there is a deadly parasite in that pond that enters through the nose and infects the body leading to fatality in some cases.
Roger’s Spring Desert Oasis is another great jumping off point into the Northeastern section of the Muddy Mountains. From a height just above Roger’s Spring you can look across the Overton Arm of Lake Mead to see the Virgin Peak and Virgin Peak Ridge, Gold Butte National Monument, Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Hualapai Peak and Mountains – all on the Arizona side of Lake Mead. On the Nevada side are views of the Jimbilnan Wilderness and the Pinto Valley Wilderness and, of course, Blue Point Spring just a mile away .
Echo Bay just a few miles down the road from Northshore Road, sits on the Overton Arm of Lake Mead and has a pretty elaborate RV camping area along with a more primitive camping area. There is a well-kept boat launch capable of launching a house boat, along with an ample fish cleaning station. The wash in Echo Canyon empties out into Echo Bay, and seems to be a dry wash except in times of flood. Across the wash there appears a great entrance way into the Jimbilnan Wilderness and mountains for a future wilderness adventure. There’s a good parking area, however with no facilities, at the intersection of Northshore Road and Echo Bay Road, along with a potential access point to the mid-Eastern section of the Muddy Mountains.
Continuing South along Northshore Road past the intersection of Echo Bay Road the distance widens to the Muddy Mountains on the right. There are extensive bad lands canyons and washes between Northshore Road and the Muddy Mountains, so this would not be a good access to the Muddy Mountains. You’re looking at the Jimbilnan Wilderness on your left and some potential access points, but no real spacious parking areas – just small viewpoint turnouts along the road. Continuing along you’ll see the Black Mountains on the left. The next real turnout is Redstone Dunes at Mile 27. Redstone Dunes has parking, picnic areas and restrooms, and would be a great jumping off point into the mountains above (I believe, the Black Mountains). The Redstone area itself has elaborate red rock formations reminiscent of Valley of Fire State Park and is a great place to explore and climb around for a few hours.
The Northshore Summit Trail is a short 1/4th-mile steep incline to the first viewpoint toward the Hoover Dam area of Lake Mead. However, there is not much of the lake in view. The area is bordered by red rock canyons to the East and a view of the Bowl of Fire area which is the Southeastern tip of the Muddy Mountains Wilderness. You can continue on beyond the Northshore Summit Trail to the Bowl of Fire.
The Bowl of Fire access area is pretty much an unpaved parking area in a canyon wash. From there, one can hike into the Bowl of Fire and then up into the Southeastern section of the Muddy Mountains. I will do this soon. For now, this is the extent of my first trip down Northshore Road. I did continue on to Lakeshore Road and then out the Hoover Dam area entrance of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. However, I was out of time for the more detailed exploration that will hopefully occur within a week or two. I will note that I stopped at the park’s main visitor center for a brief tour and was greatly impressed by the welcome I received from the personnel and the time and attention they spent answering my questions. In addition, there was a great room-sized interactive relief map of Lake Mead.