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Eldorado Canyon holds history, rugged scenery

Ruggedly beautiful Eldorado Canyon lures visitors seeking unique outdoor experiences close to Las Vegas. Its somewhat lurid past adds Old West flavor to such activities as touring the area’s oldest mine, horseback rides through striking backcountry, exploring the Colorado River’s coves by canoe or kayak or heading upriver by motorized raft. The area also attracts hikers, birders, photographers, off-highway enthusiasts and anybody looking for a satisfying short scenic drive.

Eldorado Canyon lies off U.S. Highway 95 south of Railroad Pass. Follow us U.S. 93/95 toward Boulder City. Near Railroad Pass, head south on U.S. 95 and drive 10 miles to the junction with Nevada Route 165. This road climbs 11 miles to a 3,000-foot pass near old Nelson, where weathered remnants of buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s mingle with modern residences. The highway then drops into the colorful canyon named for the fabled city of gold that Spanish explorers sought for centuries.

The highway follows a major wash with unusual eroded rock monoliths as it winds seven miles to a viewpoint overlooking the Colorado River where Nelson’s Landing once served the sturdy little steamboats that plied the river. For some 40 years, steamboats putting in at Nelson’s Landing provided a lifeline for the remote mining camp and surrounding mines before there were highways and long before dams harnessed the river’s flow. Hikers, horseback riders and off-roaders use the area’s old mine roads to explore the hills and river coves.

The road through Eldorado Canyon often boasts more spring wildflowers than elsewhere in our area. Even in dry years like this one, visitors enjoy a fair showing of blossoms at this time of year. Roadside perennials like brittlebush crowd the pavement, their mounded gray-green foliage topped with golden flowers. Purple fiddle-necked phacelia, blue spires of lupine, red Indian paintbrush, orange mallow and fucsia penstemon paint the desert landscape. Beavertail cactus bearing hot pink flowers are the earliest among several varieties. For a closer look, find a place to park well off the pavement and stroll about.

Fascinating glimpses of the past await those who visit the underground adventure offered by Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours at Nevada’s oldest mine, the Techatticup. Long before American acquisition of the desert Southwest, native people and early Spanish explorers dug for prized minerals in Eldorado Canyon. When American explorers reached the area, prospectors soon followed. By the 1860s, promising claims drew miners to the canyon. Soon the Techatticup and other nearby mines employed about 300 men in unruly camps far from the reach of the law. Order had to be kept by federal troops, who came up the river from Fort Mohave in Arizona Territory and deployed for a while at their own camp.

Spend an hour underground exploring the past with a well-informed guide. Mine tours are offered daily from
9:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., as often as at least four people wanting a tour arrive at the tour center on the left side of the highway. Tours cost $12.50 for adults and $7.50 for children 12 and younger. The mine tunnels remain at about 70 degrees all year. Wear closed shoes. The family-owned enterprise also offers self-guided blue-water river excursions by canoe or kayak. Rentals range from $25 to $30 for the first day and $15 to $20 each day thereafter. For either adventure, reserve online at eldoradominetours.com or call

The mine tour should soon be part of a new tourism package starting in April. The operators of the popular Black Canyon Raft Trips will bring their tourist vans to the mine for the tour before putting their rafts in the water at Nelson’s Landing and heading upstream to Willow Beach. Return will be by van with a stop at Hoover Dam. Call 294-1414 for information and reservations.

The old roads and washes around Eldorado Canyon make for good horseback riding. Guided rides start at
9 a.m. from a stable just down the canyon from the mine tour center. Riders pay $129 for a half-day ride with a picnic lunch and round-trip transportation from Las Vegas. Call 527-8342 for more details.

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

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