Turkey Day Roadtrip Roundup: Mojave, Valley of Fire, Lake Mead NRA, and Death Valley

Some turkey on Winters peak, Death Valley
Some turkey on Winters peak, Death Valley

WHERE HAVE I BEEN?

Playing, that’s where. Much as we’ve done every Thanksgiving since moving to California, we piled the truck full of gear and supplies for a week in the desert and hit the road the Friday before Thanksgiving, hoping to get away from the holiday crowds and traffic before they’d even started. Over the next nine days we climbed eight peaks, hiked in four different parks, camped out under the clear desert sky, saw gobs and gobs of petroglyphs, watched the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas while gnawing on an excellent steak au poivre, and shared a no-less-than incredible Thanksgiving feast with friends.

Rather than write 50 long posts detailing each and every hike, I’ll just write one, and point you towards the photos which already have a lot of details in the captions. If you want more info here’s what you can read (and see) all about:

Cactus and view from the slope of Tortoise Shell Peak
Cactus and view from the slope of Tortoise Shell Peak
1. Woods Wash and Tortoise Shell Mountain, Mojave National Preserve

Woods Wash and Tortoise Shell Mountain are found deep in Mojave National Preserve, getting us about as far away from civilization as we could before the Thanksgiving crowds began. Although I had spent a lot of time looking at Google Satellite view to find the correct roads into the trailhead it was still a bit of adventure, with some 4WD fun and random dead ends. Eventually we got there, however, and on this ~6 mile hike we saw hundreds of petroglyphs, a large arch, an enormous variety of cacti, and one excellent view from the top of Tortoise Shell Mountain (a Zdon listed peak, dontcha know). It was a great start to kick off a week of desert hiking and peak bagging, and while storms raged on the west half of California we enjoyed sunny skies with white poofball clouds and perfect hiking temperatures.

2. Caruthers Canyon, Keystone Canyon, and New York Mountain (One), Mojave National Preserve
Caruthers Canyon
Caruthers Canyon

After Saturday’s hike we drove into Caruthers Canyon and found a campsite off the beaten track (it’s a popular place for backcountry camping in Mojave). On Sunday morning we drove up the canyon to the point where our Tundra was best left behind in favor of our own feet, and walked along the canyon to the ruins of the Giant Ledge Mine. From the mine we cut up a steep and scrambly ravine to the high point(s) of the New York Mountains range, New York One and New York Two. We ended up only bagging New York One, deciding to save New York Two for a bigger group with better beta. The ravine up to the summit ridge was a lot of fun (at least when we didn’t get off track) and I’d love to go back someday.

After our adventure in Caruthers we had just enough daylight left to explore the ruins of the old mine in Keystone Canyon.

Hiking the ridge to Shenandoah Peak
Hiking the ridge to Shenandoah Peak
3. Shenandoah Peak, outside Goodsprings, Nevada

We had reservations in Vegas for Monday and Tuesday night, so the hike I planned for today was a short one up Shenandoah Peak. The peak was nothing exciting but it got us into a new mountain range with some views we hadn’t experienced before. While on the summit we spied some interesting old mining ruins below us so on our way back we swung through the area, the old Yellow Pine Mining District. After the hike we stopped by the Pioneer Saloon for lunch and a beer, a place with a lot of character (both in the building and the people).

4. Valley of Fire Nevada State Park and Redstone Peak, Lake Mead National Rec Area
Atlatl Rock, Valley of Fire
Atlatl Rock, Valley of Fire

During our mid-week stopover in Vegas we still like to get away from the crowds and people (not our style, natch), so we headed out of town about an hour to Valley of Fire State Park. We’ve visited before so mostly wandered around with our cameras this time, focusing more on photography than hiking. After the morning at Valley of Fire we circled back to Vegas via Lake Mead North Shore. I couldn’t resist another peak so we pulled out at the Redstone scenic spot and headed up East Redstone Peak. The terrain was steep and loose in places so it wasn’t the greatest of climbs, but I really enjoyed the view of Lake Mead and the surrounding desert terrain from the summit. It was even better to go back to a shower and a great steak dinner on the strip after this hike!

5. Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge
Ash Meadows Crystal Spring
Ash Meadows Crystal Spring

Finally it was time to leave Vegas, fortunately in much better shape than Nicholas Cage. I can only take that town for so long. We worked our way out to Death Valley via Pahrump (and the Maverick gas station), then through Death Valley Junction via 190. But not before making an evening stop by Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge. I’ve always seen the signs and wanted to stop but we never have. It was beautiful! So many birds and so much water for the desert. The highlight was Crystal Spring, a clear, blue pool of water emerging from the dry desert floor. After our quick visit to Ash Meadows we headed to our campsite for the next four nights outside of the park where we’d meet our friends for traditional Thanksgiving festivities.

6. Eagle Peak, (just outside of) Death Valley National Park
Eagle Peak - route
Eagle Peak – route

OMG YOU GUYS THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST DESERT PEAKS EVER

By Thanksgiving morning Sooz and Robin had met us at camp so we decided to climb Eagle Peak, a standalone summit not too far from camp. It would be short enough that we could get back to camp in time to greet everyone else and prepare for our feast. I’ve had my eye on Eagle for a long time, its 3rd class summit ridge appealing to my desire to find more desert ‘scrambly bits’. Sooz had climbed it before and warned us to wear old clothes and bring gloves since the rock was so sharp and she wasn’t wrong! This was a super, super fun peak with steep slopes, exposed sections, and sticky, sticky rock.

7. Echo Canyon, Winters Peak, and Inyo Mine, Death Valley National Park
Gorgeous views from the summit of Winters Peak
Gorgeous views from the summit of Winters Peak

By the Friday after Thanksgiving the whole crowd had gathered and we set off to explore Echo Canyon in our 4×4 Toyota brigade (2 Tundras, 1 4Runner, and 1 Tacoma). After winding our way up a gravelly road through a narrow canyon we parked and started our loop hike of Winters Peak. This is a beautiful peak hike in the Funeral Range with, as expected, more jaw-dropping views into the rest of the range and Death Valley far below. Once back at the cars we drove another ~2 miles up the road to the ruins of the old mining town of Inyo, still populated by decaying equipment, rusty nails, and tilting wooden shacks.

Mount Perry
Mount Perry
8. Mount Perry, Death Valley National Park

For our final hike of the week we decided to hike Mt Perry, a high point on the northern end of the Black Mountain range above Badwater. This route follows a ridge and use trail all the way to the summit from the parking area at Dante’s View. Terrain-wise it’s a walk up, but the scenery is what makes this peak special. To the west, the range drops over a vertical mile down to Badwater, -282 feet below sea level. To the east, colorful canyons are like a hidden Artists Palette. This definitely comes in towards the top of my desert peaks favorites list. Also: whoever spray painted blazes on the rocks – you suck.

So, there you have it. Stay tuned for more desert adventures – I’m sure Christmas and/or the New Year holiday will find us down there once again!

Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Free range human. Mountain sports addict. Craft beer drinker. Tech nerd. The best days are those spent above 10k ft. Team OmniTen and Evernote Ambassador. Meet me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google +

  • Http://www.valley-of-fire.com

    Valley of Fire is always worth seeing! We love it out there!