Backcountry Jeeping in Southern Nevada
Las Vegas, the city of a million lights, is replete with lavish casinos and mega trade shows; it's the original sin city. When someone mentions Las Vegas, these are the things most people think of. What you may not know is that just a few miles beyond the bells, whistles, and flashing lights of the strip is a network of some of Nevada's best four-wheel-drive trails.
Long before the glitter and neon lights appeared, the arid southern Nevada desert known as the Las Vegas Valley had a long history of backcountry travel. Rugged individuals traversed the area on the Old Spanish Trail en route to California and the Indian territories. With expanses of open desert, countless lost canyons, and one of the routes to Old Mexico, the area provided a safe haven for an assortment of outlaws, confident men, and other undesirables. It's even rumored that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid took safe haven there while heading to Mexico. Enticed by the opportunity to trace the footsteps of such men and experience some great four-wheeling, we hooked up the crew from Jeep Jamboree USA for their first annual Red Rock Canyon Jamboree.
The eastern foothills lay silhouetted by the pre-dawn light as the sun crested the horizon. The crowds had long since retreated to their rooms and the neon lights surrendered to daylight. "Clark Gable had coffee right here once," the waitress told us as we grabbed a cup of Joe and shuffled past rows of slot machines onto Freemont Street where 80 Jeeps sat in a long row. Grand Cherokees, XJs, Wranglers, TJs, CJs, and Flatties staged curb to curb, ready to head out to four different trails. Jeep Jamborees have a long history of great family events, offering a variety of trail rides ranging from mild to wild. The Red Rock was no exception. For day one, we opted to saddle up with the gang heading for the Bowl Trail.
Our group rolled out and headed northeast on I-15 about 35 miles to the North Muddy Mountains. Pulling off the pavement, our trail leader Blake Monk of the Vegas Valley Four Wheelers informed us on the CB when we were crossing over the Old Spanish Trail. The open desert terrain slipped behind us, turning to folding rifts of sandstone and loose, sandy washes. The trail skirted the Muddys, dropping into Weiser Wash and then a narrow canyon. Monk added that back in the day, an old renegade Indian named Three Toes used the canyon as a hideout and occasionally bushwhacked passing settlers.
We made our way north toward the New Mexico border, dodging in and out of sand washes and red rock canyons, climbing and descending numerous vertical ledges. As the mercury pushed its way toward the century mark, we reached an obstacle called the S-Turns, where the group bivouacked in the shadow of a vertical ledge for lunch. At the S-Turns, the sandstone canyon walls narrow to a vehicle-wide slot, requiring a bit of negotiating. Most rigs backed into the first turn in order to gain proper alignment for the second. A collection of paint and bondo chips lay at the base of a vertical crag on the passenger side. Combined with a 30-degree sandstone wall to the left and a drop-off to the front passenger side, it was a recipe for carnage. Vast expanses of the Nevada desert played backdrop for an afternoon 'crawling over boulders, playing in a maze of red rock canyons, and twisting our way through narrow slot washes.
On day two, we opted for a much more scenic trail; one that was less likely to wreak havoc on soft body parts. Heading north on I-95, we veered west to the Spring Mountains in the Toiyabe National Forest. Just a few thousand feet above the arid valley floor, the landscape transitioned to a world of cooler temperatures, natural springs, pines, and junipers. Entering Wheeler Canyon, we snaked our way up to the summit near Charleston Peak, where we enjoyed lunch and panoramic vistas to the east and west.
The afternoon was spent wandering through old ranches and skeletal vestiges of days gone by, the most notable being several still-standing charcoal kilns. Sliding down the east side of the range through Wallace Canyon, the trail opened into long, winding sand washes lined with protruding rock formations.
By day's end, we were heading back to town. The clank and clatter of old buckboards and wagon trains has been long silent, and the only bandits to watch out for have one arm, bells, and flashing lights. However, there are still a few nuggets to be found. If you're in Las Vegas and looking for jackpots of the four-wheeling type, the Red Rock Canyon Jeep Jamboree might be for you. For information, contact: Jeep Jamboree USA, Dept. 4WDSU, P.O. Box 1601, Georgetown, CA 95634, (916) 333-4777, www.jeepjamusa.com.