weather icon Clear

Plenty of wide open spaces not far from the city

Huge tracts of largely untouched open space lie within minutes of Las Vegas, adding to the appeal of living in Southern Nevada. Those desiring down time away from the stresses of urban life do not have far to go to find solitude in scenic places such as Cottonwood Valley.

Running between the southern Spring Mountains near 8,500-foot Mount Potosi and the rugged hills on the Bird Spring Range, the area seems as removed from civilization now as when frontier travelers followed the nearby Spanish Trail. Traveled today as a back-country route to Goodsprings, a 16-mile road over 4,900-foot Cottonwood Pass accesses wild horse and burro trails used by hikers and cyclists, as well as horsemen. This route often brings some of the best wildflower displays in our area. The region lies south of Highway 160 to Pahrump. Access it either from Interstate 15 or from the extension of Charleston Boulevard through the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area which junctions with Highway 160 near the village of Blue Diamond. From that junction, continue west about six miles. Watch for a set of power lines and a well-defined graded road cutting south. It has a washboard surface eroded by rains and roughened by traffic.

The first couple of miles include several rudimentary pullouts and parking for horse trailers and vehicles off-loading mountain bikes. Several trails following narrow horse paths and old two-track mining roads converge near these parking areas. The trails explore many miles of washes, canyons and foothills.

Passenger vehicles judiciously driven may negotiate the first few miles of the road. As it continues south, it gets worse, dictating use of high-clearance vehicles. It crosses through washes, diverts briefly to a splendid overlook on a cliff top and climbs over rocky areas in the pass before joining a maintained mine road as it approaches Goodsprings. Swept often by wildfires, the valley no longer contains the cottonwoods for which it was named. The absence of competition for sunlight and nutrients by large vegetation and the enrichment of soils by ash create favorable areas for wildflowers. The region supports flowers found in the Intermountain West, the Sierras, the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin and a few specimens found only in the Red Rock area.

Terrain varies along the route, providing different habitats for plants. The grassy, rolling landscape along the first miles of the road comes as close to prairie as you’ll find in Nevada, with many kinds of flowers vying for attention. Watch for blue spires of lupine, coiled purple phacelia, orange mallow, lavender Mojave aster, red Indian paintbrush, golden sunrays and brittlebush and penstemons in pink, red, and an unusual yellow. Wild hyacinths push up clusters of pure blue blossoms. Delicate mariposa lillies atop slender stems twine through sturdier plants to support their pale flowers. Hillsides turn pink when phlox is in bloom. Sandy areas suit white dune primrose, pink sand verbena and tall yellow primroses.

In the washes, redbud trees distinguished by heart-shaped leaves bear masses of sweet-scented fuchsia blossoms. Among the cactuses of the area, the beavertail is the showiest with its crown of hot-pink flowers. Such variety promises a flower show lasting from April at lower elevations well into summer higher up. Those who get out on the trails will see the best wildflower show, but even those who never leave their vehicle can miss the blossoms on plants crowding the road or vying for a place in the sun on nearby slopes.

The Cottonwood Valley Road primarily transverses lands within the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, administered by the Bureau of Land Management. As it climbs over the wooded pass, it runs through a portion of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. For more information on plants and features of the area, seek information at the BLM’s visitor center in Red Rock Canyon.

Take time to visit the overlook. Park and walk to the edge for an expansive view of the city filling the wide valley. You used to be able to watch mustangs come for water far below near the cliff base, but most of these are gone now.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Hike, bird-watch, shop, nibble at China Ranch Date Farm

A verdant oasis hidden in a secluded canyon, China Ranch Date Farm near Death Valley National Park is an excellent cool-seasondestination.

Utah ghost town is rich in pioneer history

Surrounded by serene pastures and stately groves of trees with the soaring cliffs of Zion National Park for a beautiful backdrop, tiny Grafton ghost town invites visitors to step into its pioneer past.

Bring home priceless memories on a Christmas tree cutting adventure

If you’re pining for a freshly cut Christmas tree this holiday season, you could go to one of the pop-up, tented tree lots that dot the Las Vegas Valley this time of year. But if you’re feeling more adventurous, you could round up the family and make a day of it by traveling to more forested parts of Nevada, as well as Utah, Arizona and California, to search for a perfect tree to harvest yourselves.

Holiday trains make for memorable excursions in Southern Nevada

Southern Nevadan families seeking special experiences for their youngsters should consider a holiday train ride. Long after memories of other holidays fade, most children fondly recall the year they rode the train with Santa.

Now is the best time of year to visit Death Valley

The hottest, driest and lowest national park, Death Valley is well-known for its blistering summer temperatures. For that reason, the best time of year to visit is what’s considered the offseason in most other parks: mid-October to mid-May.

Side road through Moapa Valley leads to scenery, history

Autumn is a prime time to explore Southern Nevada’s side roads into places bypassed by our busy freeways and major highways. State Route 169 through Moapa Valley provides just such an enjoyable drive.

Beatty Days festival salutes town’s history

The three-day event, planned for Nevada Day weekend, celebrates Beatty’s founding in the early 1900s and its heritage of mining and ranching. It draws hundreds of visitors to the community of about 1,200 people located 115 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Fall is a fine time to visit Spring Mountain Ranch

Mellow autumn days linger late in the season at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park in the scenic Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area west of Las Vegas.