100 Days Journey: Part 6 – Nevada to Arizona
After saying goodbye to California, I took a break at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada to relax and explore a bit without any specific agenda, then continued south into Arizona. Enjoyed some unstructured time hiking, camping and wheeling around the Sedona area, before picking up with the next set of events later in the month. (Click through the images below for each day’s notes)…
Note this map provides an overview of the sixth segment of the journey–covering the trail routes and locations around Lake Mead, Nevada, and Sedona, Arizona, as well as the route taken from Nevada to Arizona. The route on this map shows the overall direction of travel and key “stops” but does not include any detailed GPX tracks for backcountry trails, etc…
KEY LOCATIONS: Desert Waypoints
Lake Mead National Recreation Area encompasses 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys and two vast lakes, straddling the Nevada-Arizona border. It also includes nine separate wilderness areas. Nine developed areas are spread along the shores of the lakes and there are plenty of opportunities to explore the backcountry, including 800 miles of dirt roads and Jeep trails presenting drivers with a variety of access and challenges. Created in 1964 as the nation’s first national recreation area, Lake Mead NRA stretches along nearly 140 miles of the old Colorado River channel between Nevada and Arizona. It includes both Lake Mead, created by Hoover Dam, and Lake Mohave, created by Davis Dam. Three of America’s four desert ecosystems—the Mojave, the Great Basin and the Sonoran Deserts—meet here. As a result, this seemingly barren area contains a surprising variety of plants and animals, some of which may be found nowhere else in the world. Lake Mead is home to desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountains lions, coyotes, kit fox, bobcat, ringtail cat, desert tortoise, numerous lizards and snakes, and a wealth of bird species. Archeological and historical sites and remnants are evidence of 12,000 to 13,000 years of human occupation. The park’s namesake, Lake Mead, is the largest reservoir in the United States in terms of water capacity, providing water to nearly 20 million people in the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada. However, the lake has not reached full capacity since 1983 due to a combination of drought and increased water demand.
The Tonto National Forest, encompassing 2,873,200 acres, is the largest of the six national forests in Arizona and is the fifth largest national forest in the United States. The Tonto features some of the most rugged and inherently beautiful land in the country. Sonoran Desert cacti and flat lands slowly give way to the highlands of the Mogollon Rim. This variety in vegetation and range in altitude — from 1,300 to 7,900 feet — offers outstanding recreational opportunities throughout the year, whether it’s lake beaches or cool pine forest. With a southern boundary near the Phoenix metropolitan area, Tonto is also the most visited “urban” forest in the United States. One of the primary purposes for establishing the Tonto National Forest in 1905 was to protect its watersheds around reservoirs. The forest produces an average of 350,000 acre-feet of water each year. Six major reservoirs on the forest have the combined capacity to store more than 2 million acre-feet of water. Management efforts are directed at protecting both water quality and watershed and riparian area conditions.
Coon Bluff Recreation Area is part of the Tonto National Forest, adjacent to the lower portion of the Salt River 17 miles north east of Mesa. It is a lush riparian environment, where stands of mesquite provide welcome shade and is a popular river-access point for tubers. The mesquite woods and the towering cottonwood trees along the marsh hold a wealth of bird life. And the bluff itself offers excellent views of the Sonoran desert and the river below. The Salt River wild horses can often be found along the banks of the river here.
Sedona, number one on USA Weekend’s “Most Beautiful Places in America list,” is surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest land, with great jeep trails that wind in and out of a rugged landscape defined by pinnacles, spires, buttes and domes. Sedona’s main attraction is its array of red sandstone formations. The formations appear to glow in brilliant orange and red when illuminated by the rising or setting sun. The red rocks form a popular backdrop for many activities, ranging from spiritual pursuits to the hundreds of hiking and mountain biking trails. Sedona’s red rocks are formed by a unique layer of rock known as the Schnebly Hill Formation. The Schnebly Hill Formation is a thick layer of red to orange-colored sandstone found only in the Sedona vicinity. The sandstone, a member of the Supai Group, was deposited during the Permian Period. The early settlers were farmers and ranchers. John J. Thompson, who moved to Oak Creek Canyon in 1876 is considered the area’s first Anglo settler. In 1902, when the Sedona post office was established, there were 55 residents. In the mid-1950s, the first telephone directory listed 155 names. Some parts of the Sedona area were not electrified until the 1960s. Sedona began to develop as a tourist destination, vacation-home and retirement center in the 1950s. Most of the development seen today was constructed in the 1980s and 1990s. As of 2007, there were no large tracts of undeveloped land remaining. Sedona has played host to more than sixty Hollywood productions from the first years of movies into the 1970s. Stretching as far back as 1923, Sedona’s red rocks were a fixture in major Hollywood productions—including films such as “Angel and the Badman,” “Desert Fury,” “Blood on the Moon,” “Johnny Guitar,” “The Last Wagon,” and “3:10 to Yuma.”
KEY LOCATIONS: Lake Mead Area
The Pinto Valley Wilderness consists of the upper canyons of three major washes which drain from the edge of a plateau east toward Lake Mead. The canyons are rugged. Elevations range from 2,700 feet along the southeast side to a 4,700 foot ridge on the northern end. Low mountain brush species vegetate the land. Scenic views of Iceberg Canyon and the lower reaches of the Grand Canyon are visible from here. The wilderness measures 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. Known water sources are Cottonwood Spring and Sandstone Spring. In the south the volcanic Black Mountains border Lake Mead and the north is defined by titled carbonate ridges with sandstone outcrops. Between them are gypsum mud hills which provide evidence of ancient lakes.
Redstone, in the Pinto Valley Wilderness, is found just off of Northshore Road at mile marker 27. This “island” of giant red rocks is actually the remains of ancient petrified sand dunes which have eroded into a series of strangely shaped formations. There are two ways to explore this geological wonder. The easiest is to take the short well marked loop trail trail, which is basically level and meanders through the sandstone relics. For a more immersive experiece, there is a a more difficult-to-navigate discovery loop hike.
St. Thomas is a ghost town in Clark County, Nevada, near where the Muddy River flows into the Colorado River. Once a Mormon settlement, it thrived as a stopping point between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City along the Arrowhead Trail. The town was abandoned as the waters of Lake Mead submerged it to a point higher than 60 feet above the tallest structure in the 1930s. However, when the level of Lake Mead began dropping due to severe drought in the 2000s, the ruins of the town resurfaced. Now visitors can roam what remains of a true western ghosttown. The peak population of St. Thomas was around 500 people. There was a school, post office, grocery stores, church, soda fountain, and several garages for the new invention of the automobile. In 1928, President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill authorizing the building of the Hoover Dam. This dam would create a large lake behind it, Lake Mead, and as the waters rose, areas that had been high and dry along the Muddy and Virgin Rivers would be inundated by the lake. The residents of St. Thomas were told they would have to relocate, and that the government would reimburse them for their property. The filling of Lake Mead started in 1935. As the waters rose, slowly the town was overtaken by the lake. One of the last residents to leave was Hugh Lord, who paddled away from his home when the rising waters lapped at his front door in 1938. St. Thomas lies in the northern part of the Lake Mead Recreation Area and can be accessed via three miles of bumpy dirt road after turning off the scenic byway.
Boathouse Cove Road is a remote trail that runs 7.3 miles from Northshore Road south to the Virgin Basin of Lake Mead. It is an easy drive in favourable dry conditions, but also has the potential to be a very difficult muddy and slippery track–and at times impassable–after wet weather. The road starts out fairly flat, it gets a little more adventurous as it progresses, with just one place where 4 wheel drive may be required—a washed out rut that should be pretty easy to navigate. Although there isn’t much of a beach area at the cove, there is plenty of opportunity to get your feet wet and cool off for a while. As with most of the trails in southern Nevada, summer temperatures can be extreme, so plan accordingly.
KEY LOCATIONS: Sedona Area
Schnebly Hill Road is one of the premier drives in Arizona, a steep, twisty, unpaved and wonderfully scenic route that climbs more than 2,000 feet from the wonderland of Sedona to a wooded mesa. The trail climbs moderately and steadily up the west face of Schnebly Hill with some magnificent red rock views along the way. The Schnebly Hill Vista overlooks the whole Sedona landscape and is one of the most spectacular views in Arizona. The drive itself is not difficult but it is steep and bumpy and requires a high clearance vehicle.
The Jerome-Perkinsville Road starts from within the old mining town of Jerome along Highway 89A heading north to Perkinsville and then continues on to Williams. It is a 47-mile journey one-way. Along the route there are amazing views of the Red Rock Country and the rolling desert hills just east of Chino Valley. As it goes north from Jerome the road follows the edge of the Woodchute Mountain Wilderness Area before reaching Perkinsville and crossing the Verde River. It begins as a narrow winding dirt and gravel road carved out of the hills that follow the old United Verde & Pacific Railway bed and the whole valley spreads out below. Approaching Perkinsville the landscape becomes a dry series of hills leading to the one-lane bridge that crosses the Verde River. Perkinsville itself is more a ranch than an actual town and continuing north the route begins to climb again. The juniper, oak and mesquite transition to Pines as the road meanders through the Kaibab National Forest before finally turning back into pavement and arriving to the colorful historic district of restored saloons and bordellos in Williams which was once a rough-and-tumble ranching, lumber and railway center.
The Robbers Roost hike is a short, lightly-trafficked scenic hiking trail accessible via Forest Road 525C. The hike begins on the eastern side of the parking area and winds through the beautiful Sedona landscape of red rock and juniper before beginning the breathtaking cliff climb. The main attraction is a large, open cave assumed to have inspired the trail’s name. It’s easy to imagine outlaws using it as a vantage point from which to plan their next move. While the trail is easygoing up until this point, proceed with extreme caution when heading to the entrance of the the cave, as it’s situated along a steep narrow ledge.
Broken Arrow is the most popular Jeep trail in Sedona, and the only one that allows you to put your vehicle through a test of its rock-crawling capabilities. The drive goes through panoramas of towering rock spires and unique geological formations surrounded by juniper and cypress, and ends with a nearly vertical descent down a natural staircase of rock, ruts and roots. Several eroded spots require careful tire placement and a decent amount of articulation to get over. Most aggressive SUV’s with high clearance and 4-wheel drive can make this trail. The trail is only 3.6 miles round trip but will take anywhere from 1-3 hours to complete.
The Honanki Heritage Site, along with its sister site, Palatki, were the largest cliff dwellings in the Verde Valley, and were occupied between AD 1130-1280. The Honanki ruins sit at the base of Loy Butte on the sheltered west-facing cliffs. The site originally contained about 60 rooms. The Sinagua, ancestors of the Hopi, lived here preparing meals, raising their families, and making tools from stone, leather, and wood. Nearby they hunted for deer and rabbit, tended various crops, and gathered edible wild plants. The cave is rich with pictographs; some date back to 2000 BC, long before the the cliff dwellings. Most of the pictographs are from the Sinagua and date to AD 900-1300. Others by the Yavapai or Apache date from 1400-1875. The ruins were first described by Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes, famous turn-of-the century archaeologist from the Smithsonian Institution, who gave them the name “Honanki,” which means “Bear House” in the Hopi language.
Montezuma Well is a sub-unit of Montezuma Castle National Monument. As with Montezuma Castle, the label “Montezuma” is a misnomer: the Aztec emperor Montezuma had no connection to the site or the early indigenous peoples that occupied the area. When European-Americans first observed these long-abandoned sites in the 1860s, they named them for the famous Aztec emperor Montezuma in the mistaken belief that he had been connected to their construction. The “well” is actually a natural limestone sinkhole through which some 1,500,000 US gallons of water emerge each day from an underground spring. The Well has a diameter of 386 feet from rim to rim and contains a near-constant volume of spring water even in times of severe drought. The land around the well has been home to many prehistoric groups of people since as early as 11,000 CE. The ruins of several prehistoric dwellings are scattered in and around the rim of the Well. The inhabitants belonged to the indigenous group archaeologists refer to as the Sinagua. The Sinagua intensively farmed the land surrounding the Well using its constant outflow as a reliable source of irrigation. Beginning about 700 CE, the Well’s natural drainage into the immediately adjacent Wet Beaver Creek was diverted into a man-made canal running parallel to the creek. Estimated to have been nearly seven miles in length, the canal drained into a network of smaller lateral canals downstream, supplying perhaps as much as 60 acres of farmland with water. The first Anglo-Americans to settle at Montezuma Well were Wales and Jennie Arnold in 1870. They operated a mail station and used the prehistoric irrigation canal to water their land. The land then passed through a series of ranchers, farmers, and business people until the Back family converted Montezuma Well into a tourist attraction for the first time. The Backs charged for tours, displayed artifacts found at nearby archeological sites, and later operated campgrounds, picnic areas, and a resort. Eventually the Backs agreed to sell the land to the US government and Congress approved the legislation in 1943, with Montezuma Well becoming part of the National Park Service in 1947. The Montezuma Well site is still considered sacred by many local tribes–the Yavapai people believe it is the place through which they emerged into the world.