Explore colorful scenery, history of Eldorado Canyon

With stunning scenery, a colorful past and plenty of adventurous outdoor activities, rugged Eldorado Canyon invites visitors to step back in time.

Travel through old Nelson, a tiny remnant of a once-thriving boomtown. Take a fascinating walk into the depths of a famous old mine. Visit a re-created Western village complete with antiques, vintage vehicles, historical photos and other vestiges of the past. Explore the area on foot, horseback or all-terrain vehicle, or in a kayak or canoe on the Colorado River.

Eldorado Canyon is one of the most accesible scenic areas in Southern Nevada. The canyon is close to Las Vegas, reached by good highways in less than a 45-minute drive. Head south on U.S. Highway 93/95 through Henderson to Railroad Pass. Turn south on U.S. 95 and continue 10 miles to the turnoff to Nelson and Eldorado Canyon on state Route 165. The road climbs about 11 miles into a little pass at Nelson and then continues seven miles down through the canyon to the river’s edge. As the road nears the river, it enters Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Because this mountainous area seems to pick up more preciptation that other parts of the desert, it often offers plentiful spring wildflowers. Visitors this spring will see a sparse show. Look for some spires of pink penstamon as you approach Nelson. Dependably, roadside brittlebush bears golden flowers. Look carefully for others such as orange mallow and lavender-blue lupine. You may soon see beavertail cactus with bright cerise blossoms. Thickets of teddybear cholla and scattered barrel cactus bear less obvious flowers.

Eldorado Canyon and neighboring canyons and washes finger down toward the river. Carved by flash floods, these channels are not places to explore when the skies are threatening. A flash flood in September 1974 swept away a small riverside resort and restaurant located near the historic mill site at Nelson’s Landing. Nine people died in that flood, causing the National Park Service to rethink the placement of campgrounds and other developments in flood-prone areas.

The canyon’s mineral possibilities drew the attention of Spanish explorers, who named it after a site of fabled riches. Discoveries in the late 1850s led to a mining boom that resulted in the removal of millions of dollars in gold, silver, copper and lead ore over the next century. Nelson grew up during the boom years. It is named for Charles Nelson, a prospector who was killed by the renegade Avote, one of two native murderers who preyed on lone victims over a period of years. The fear-inspiring outlaw in the area was named Queho.

Remote and out of the ordinary reach of the authorities, Eldorado Canyon attracted a lawless element, including a contigent of deserters from both Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War. War fever ran hot even that far from civilization, leading to miners organizing themselves into two warring camps. The situation was bad enough that soldiers were brought upriver by steamboat from Fort Mohave to maintain order and keep the mines operating.

Visitors who take the Eldorado Canyon Mine Tour hear much more about those early, tumultous times. The hourlong tour was developed by Tony and Bobbie Werly, owners of several historical mine claims in Eldorado Canyon, including the Techatticup, the oldest, richest mine in Southern Nevada. The guided tour of a mill site and the nearby mine tunnels is offered daily from 9:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Tours cost $12.50 for adults and $7.50 for children ages 12 and younger. Check online at eldoradocanyonminetours.com or call 702-291-0026 for information and reservations.

Other adventurous ways to explore the Eldorado Canyon area include guided horseback trail rides and ATV rides, both through beautiful desert and canyons to vantage points with views of the Colorado. Mention you are a local when calling for details, prices and reservations at 702-387-2457 for Cowboy Trail Rides or for ATV rides with Awesome Adventure Tours at 800-519-2243.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.