Backpacking 500 miles in the Mojave Desert (part 5)

In November and December of 2000 I backpacked from my house in Palm Springs to Lake Mead and back.

Part 4 can be viewed here.

Mojave 500 mile map

I purposely had a short day as I left the shore of Lake Mead. I needed to stop at the Alan Bible Visitor Center and research the next section of the hike. I would be heading south generally following the course of the Colorado River. My conundrum was whether to walk on the west of east side. I knew the Black Canyon Wilderness Area just below Hoover Dam was rugged and access to the river for water wouldn’t be worth the effort. So I had to walk around it.

DAY 16

I sat at the visitor center for at least an hour waiting for it to open.

Once inside, there were many topo maps in the display area for browsing, but in the end they did not have the two I needed in stock for purchase.

Boulder City, where I was, has an elevation of around 2,500 feet. If I hiked the west side of the river I would need to climb about 1,000 feet in elevation on the way to Searchlight, Nevada and then drop down to around about 500 feet elevation just below Laughlin, Nevada, a descent of 3,000 feet. The elevation changes would be gradual over several days. Given my physical condition, the elevation variation would be minimal on my body, but mentally I would know the difference. My house in Palm Springs is also at an elevation of around 500 feet, but the entire walk from Lake Mead to home would feel like I was almost always traveling at a slight and constant incline.

An east side of the Colorado River route would be gradually downhill and there would be more access to the river for water.

I finally decided on the west route, it would be a little more scenic and probably a little quicker. Part of this route would be a section along Lake Mojave and then walking below Davis Dam down to Laughlin for a re-supply. I took detailed notes and drew maps for this section. By far, without good topo maps, it wasn’t the smartest thing I had ever done.

From the Visitors Center I walked into the small town of Boulder City, stopping at the local Albertsons for food and got some water at the Shell station behind the shopping center, and continued walking down into the Eldorado Valley, a stark desert environment. For the next several days Highway 95 would be on my right, but most of the time out of sound range. Soon I was gaining elevation and heading towards a pass in the El Dorado Mountains. Dirt roads would wind through this area, which seemed to be an old mining district although a few mines seemed to still be in operation.

As I progressed, I stayed as close to the El Dorado Mountains as possible and as far away from the highway as the mountains would permit me. There were many dirt roads and some utility access roads under electrical transmission lines. I kept my time under the power lines to a minimum as the long cables were an eyesore. In the afternoon the wind kicked up and I was often walking in windblown sand. Finally I gave up around 4 o’clock, set up my shelter and called it a day.

DAY 17

I awoke to blue skies and no wind. I packed up and took off at a fairly quick pace. I wanted to make as many miles as possible in case the wind picked up again. The miles clicked by and soon I was headed uphill among my old friends, the Joshua Tree. A lush forest of green twisted arms, which many say reminds them of a Dr. Suess book. Not me – I think they are regal; this is why many of our trips are in the Mojave Desert where the Joshua Tree is my favorite photographic target.

One both sides of the highway, on my left and my right, I was surrounded by mountains. The forms and shapes were intriguing and just begged for further exploration, something that would have to wait until another day. What was interesting is that when the mountains on one side became unspectacular, their cousins on the other side of this valley were the alter-ego impressive towering landscape. Between wondering where some of the dirt roads led to, looking into canyons, enjoying Joshua Tress, and generally having a great time, I was soon in Searchlight Nevada – the old place of a couple gas stations and small buildings. I picked up some snacks and refilled my water and then headed down… yes the terrain was finally losing elevation. I walked passed some sort of sewage treatment plant and once I had left the smell and sight of it I stopped for the night. Out of sight. Out of smell.

DAY 18

Today was the day I would hike to Lake Mojave, man-made lake formed by the Davis Dam on the Colorado River. I studied my notes and hand drawn maps carefully. I was confident that it was a good route, I would just have to pick the right jeep trails to get there, and there were many chances to take the wrong one(s).

I slowly angled southeast and the followed a long dirt road that eventually wound its way up into the Newberry Mountains. The road forked into Empire Wash and I as finally got a look at the lake, I followed another 4WD road across White Rock Wash and down to the lake. Night camp was on the shore close to a little cove, which I think was probably the mouth of Pipe Spring Canyon.

DAY 19

This was the day that had me a little worried about navigation. I wanted to try and stay along the shore of the lake, half expecting that at places it would be too steep with canyon walls becoming the shore line.

Leaving my night camp, I continue on the 4WD road until it petered-out on a promontory overlooking the lake. I was maybe 100 – 150 feet above the water. From here I just followed the contour of the lake probably averaging around 100 feet above the water level. It was a twisty and time consuming route for 3 hours or so. When I got to Grapevine Canyon, I knew I had to hike away from the lake, as the mountain would get steep as I neared Davis Dam. A network of dirt roads moved me past the steep canyon walls and around the dam, where I dropped down onto the main road into the little gambling town of Laughlin, Nevada.

It had been over a week since I had a shower a day off from walking. I had planned on spending a day in Laughlin to rest and eat. Fortunately the last two days of hiking had gone according to plan, so I checked into a hotel. Two nights were only $38 plus tax.

Part 6

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