79°F
weather icon Clear

Las Vegas-area hiking comfortable under cover of darkness

Updated July 31, 2019 - 11:03 am

Pack your bravery and leave your sunscreen behind when preparing for late-summer night hiking.

August in Southern Nevada can be a month of air-conditioned hibernation for hikers, unless they drive an hour to the cooler climes of Mount Charleston or opt for a closer path of darkness.

Recently, the nighttime route I chose was a rocky loop of moderate difficulty in Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area. A true believer in the safety-in-numbers night hiking philosophy, I picked a group hike led by seasoned trekkers. Still, I had to summon the courage to face what I feared I’d eventually hear: staccato clicking sounds from rattlesnakes warning me to stay away.

Our group of 14 started hiking at the Shadow Canyon trailhead near the Anthem Hills neighborhoods of Henderson. We wore hiking shoes, used trekking poles and each had a headlamp that we didn’t intend to use during our moonlit Sloan Canyon hike. The idea was to let our eyesight adjust as the light faded to twilight and then to semi-darkness. The full moon would light our path back to the parking lot 2 ½ hours later.

As we started out, a stunning sunset was in the making with some clouds gigantic and stormy and others wispy and sky-tall. While we marched along the Park Peak trail on Route 403, fuchsia and peach cloud hues mixed with gray, blue and gold. Creosote bushes offered up scant yellow flowers among their thousands of fluffy white seeds. The bedraggled Beavertail cactus had already given up its bloom for the year. The sunset’s colors deepened and then darkened, and soon millions of Las Vegas Valley lights began brightening up.

With our gain in elevation, we discovered along the trail an occasional Joshua tree, whose silhouette added an artistic flourish to the twinkling lights below.

As we approached Park Peak, the sky was getting darker and the terrain rockier and more uneven. Absentmindedly looking around for pretty details in nature was no longer an option. Not paying attention might mean tripping in such a low-vision venue. So I kept my eyes fixated on the dusty trail in front of me, and my ears were tuned in to any and every nonhuman noise. Snakes were out there, among the volcanic rocks and Mojave yuccas. Speckled rattlesnakes were poised for suppertime strikes, but we ended up not seeing them because their appetite for avoidance is stronger than ours.

However, a 5-inch desert hairy scorpion crossed our path. It stayed still long enough for a photo under red light, which adds illumination but allows your eyes to remain adjusted to the dark. Some hikers had a red light option on their headlamps. We all had but didn’t use bright standard flashlights, headlamps and phone lights, in case we ran into difficulties. We also carried plenty of water and snacks.

In the Mojave Desert darkness, a lone bird called out, and possibly coyotes, too. The clicking noises I continued to hear likely belonged to members of the insect family, but I was still cautious and nervous. My snake anxieties weren’t the only reason I kept looking over my shoulder. The not-yet-visible full moon was illuminating clouds from below the McCullough Hills ridgeline, and it was expected to rise and peek over the peaks at any moment.

Rather than complete the Park Peak loop in the dark, our party took a return path to the parking lot via the connector trail Route 402 to Route 404, walking in the opposite direction of Black Mountain. That’s when the full moon finally began breaking the ridgeline. A hazy dome of intensifying cloud brightness was replaced by a fierce bleach-white moon sliver that grew into a half-moon and quickly became full. The gleaming disc 238,900 miles away appeared to rest on a hilltop for a few seconds before climbing higher and hanging with a visible Jupiter in the night sky.

Through binoculars, we spied the moon’s craters. We spent a few moments taking in the full moon’s beguiling beauty before tackling the remaining steps of our more than 3-mile night hike. The moon was our loyal companion as we walked through its lighting on the Mojave Desert floor.

Several Southern Nevada group night hikes have been scheduled for August. Registration is usually required. These hikes are popular, so call and make a request for more dates if they fill up. More information can be found at the links provided below.

City of Henderson, Aug 10 (1.8 miles) and Aug. 24 (8 miles): bit.ly/2YdDrPa

Mount Charleston, most Friday nights for the remainder of the summer season: bit.ly/2ykPLOj

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, most Monday evenings for the remainder of the summer season: bit.ly/2K3qD5v

REI ($15 for members, $35 for nonmembers), Aug. 15 and Sept. 14: bit.ly/2SOk0Xh

Natalie Burt, a former news reporter at the Review-Journal for 11 years, spends as much of her free time as possible enjoying Southern Nevada’s outdoors. She’s now a teacher and has lived in Henderson for 18 years. Email: nvburt@gmail.com.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Local Videos
Jeopardy! James competes with G2E attendees
Jeopardy! champ James Holzhauer, appears at the G2E IGT booth to help celebrate launch of Jeopardy! slot machines and compete against attendees in mock games of Jeopardy!
Security guard killed in Las Vegas shooting honored
ERICK SILVA WAS KILLED PROTECTING OTHER DURING THE MASS SHOOTING AT THE ROUTE 91 FESTIVAL. HE IS BEING REMEMBERED TODAY AND A PLAGUE WAS PRESENTED IN HIS HONOR AT THE EAST COMMUNITY CENTER
Lucky's unexpected surprise
The Ball family, who already deals with challenges most families don’t, got an unexpected surprise from a security systems worker, who brought more than just peace of mind, he brought love to one lucky little boy.
Gilcrease pumpkin patch is open - VIDEO
Gilcrease Orchard's pumpkin patch is now open for the season. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas firefighters battle a fire in a commercial area - VIDEO
Clark County and Las Vegas firefighters battle a fire in a commercial area at 824 E. Sahara Ave. in Las Vegas on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Time lapse of RiSE Las Vegas festival - VIDEO
This is a time-lapse video during the sixth annual RiSE Las Vegas festival at the Jean dry lake bed on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Lanterns released into Nevada desert as part of RiSE Festival - VIDEO
Thousands of spectators released giant lanterns into the sky at a dry lake bed near Jean, Nev., Sunday night as part of the RiSE festival. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Halloween Parade at Downtown Summerlin - VIDEO
Halloween festivities are in full swing at Downtown Summerlin with the first week of the month-long parade. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Funeral procession for Robbie James Pettingill - VIDEO
A motorcade of Henderson fire and police personnel escort the body of firefighter Robbie James Pettingill past Fire Station 82 and Fire Station 97, where he was last assigned, to Central Christian Church on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Failure not an option for Mayor Carolyn Goodman facing breast cancer - VIDEO
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and her oncologist talk about Goodman's second bout with breast cancer. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hacienda bridge closures for events at Allegiant Stadium - VIDEO
The bridge at Hacienda Avenue over Interstate 15 will be closed during major events at Allegiant Stadium. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Backyard Adventures at the Springs Preserve - VIDEO
"Backyard Adventures" is the latest temporary exhibit at the Springs Preserve. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Parents of teens who were killed in California crash visited the crash site - VIDEO
Parents of Las Vegas teens who were killed in a fiery crash last year in Huntington Beach, Calif., visited the crash site on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutefsya
Bani Duarte convicted in California crash that killed 3 Las Vegas teens - VIDEO
Bani Duarte, the drunken driver who caused a fiery crash in Huntington Beach, California, last year that killed three Las Vegas teens, was convicted of second-degree murder on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wrap-up of Oct. 1 observances - VIDEO
A wrap-up of memorials and observances on the second anniversary of the mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, Oct. 1, 2019. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Victims of Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas remembered - VIDEO
Remembrance video honors the 58 people who were killed at the Route 91 Harvest festival on Oct. 1, 2017, on the Las Vegas Strip. (Clark County)
UNLV music program rings bell 58 times to remember victims of Oct. 1 shooting - Video
UNLV music students will ring a set of chimes 58 times in honor of the victims of the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Memorial bench unveiled at North Las Vegas park to honor Route 91 victims and survivors - VIDEO
The family of Route 91 victim Neysa Tonks worked with the city of North Las Vegas to erect a memorial bench overlooking a pond at Craig Ranch Regional Park. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gov. Steve Sisolak and Joe Robbins Speak at Oct. 1 Remembrance Ceremony - Video
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and Joe Robbins speak to the crowd at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater to remember the victims of the 1 Oct. shooting that occurred in 2017 at the Route 91 festival. (Michael Quine and Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Day 6 of Bani Duarte trial in California
Police say Bani Duarte, 29, was drunk when she drove into a car carrying four Las Vegas teens, killing three, in Huntington Beach, California on March 29, 2018. She is being tried on murder charges in Santa Ana. (Renee Summeropur/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Troy and Shannon Zeeman talk about life after Oct 1 shooting - VIDEO
Troy and Shannon Zeeman of Garden Grove, California, discuss life after Oct 1 shooting in Las Vegas. The couple started Security Consultant Zeeman, dedicated to active shooter preparedness training. (Elizabeth Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Reflecting on Oct. 1: How Metro officers saved a life
Oct. 1 was the second day on the job for Officer Brandon Engstrom who saved a critically injured woman amid the chaos of the Route 91 shooting. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Healing Garden remains a gathering place
It's been two years since the mass shooting of Oct. 1, and the Healing Garden has grown and evolved. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police investigate fatal crash - VIDEO
Las Vegas police investigate fatal crash at the intersection of West Sahara Avenue and Steve Rigazio Court in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Reflecting on Oct. 1: How one officer saved a life
Oct. 1 was the second day on the job for Officer Brandon Engstrom who saved a critically injured woman amid the chaos of the Route 91 shooting. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
76 animals confiscated from North Las Vegas home - VIDEO
Service dogs, birds, a pig and other animals were confiscated from the North Las Vegas home of an animal activist and former actress. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mother, child and 41 dogs rescued after North Las Vegas house fire - VIDEO
North Las Vegas PIO Patrick Walker talks about a house fire in North Las Vegas where a mother, her child and 41 dogs were rescued on Sept. 24, 2019. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Miracle Flights greets patient ambassador Michael Perrino in Las Vegas - VIDEO
The Miracle Flights team welcomes 16-year-old Michael Perrino and his family to Las Vegas for their annual Swings for Wings fundraiser at TopGolf. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Storm Area 51 Day 3 Update 1
Area 51 Basecamp in Hiko is canceled after a lackluster Day 1, according to event executive producer Keith Wright. Alienstock in Rachel will go on for its third day. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Live music and EDM dominate the night on day 2 of A’Le’Innstock
After sunset bands rocked the crowds at A’Le’Innstock in Rachel, Nevada on the second night of the event.
Cat survives 15-mile commute in car bumper
A Las Vegas Review-Journal employee was surprised to learn she had a passenger during her 15.5-mile commute to the office on a September Sunday. (Tony Morales & James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Shortages of OB-GYN doctors in the Las Vegas Valley - Video
Dr. Michael Gardner discusses the shortages of OB-GYN doctors that will happen and what steps are being taken to entice them to come or stay in the Las Vegas area.
Southern Nevada is in a West Nile virus hot zone - VIDEO
Southern Nevada, along with Central Arizona and Southern California, make up a “hot zone” that is reporting the highest number of mosquito-borne West Nile virus cases in the country. The Southern Nevada Health District recently reported 28 cases of West Nile virus in Clark County. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Paul Browning Released from Ely State Prison - VIDEO
Paul Browning greets his mother, Betty Browning, after being released from Ely State Prison. Browning served 33 years on Nevada’s death row. (Rachel Crosby/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mother upset over her child's cornea donation being sent overseas - Video
Lindsey LiCari, the mother of Ayden and founder of Ayden's Army of Angels, is upset that her child's corneas were sent overseas and was told that she would be able to see her son's eyes again. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Aviators splash pad lets fans stay cool
Las Vegas Ballpark’s splash pad area is the perfect place to keep cool while enjoying the game. (Cassie Soto/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Want to see Lake Mead flowers? It’s now or next year

For much of March, a light blanket of what looked like green felt covered hills and rocky fields along Lakeshore Road, where bright yellow brittlebush thrives. Very recently, Lakeshore’s abundant beavertail cactuses started their fuchsia bloom, and they should continue to dazzle for the next couple of weeks.

Nevada Naturalist offers in-depth lesson on Mojave Desert

Over the next two months, this spring’s Nevada Naturalist program participants — that could include you — can expect to get smarter about all things Mojave Desert. The nature education program for adults, offered through the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, begins March 25 and runs through May 25.

Henderson-area snow, desert make for unusual trail mix

Each winter, once the holiday bustle is in the rearview mirror, I cherish the opportunity to pull on my warm boots and go hiking in the quiet and crisp cold of the snowy mountains near my Henderson home.

Running on E on Henderson trails? Electric bikes a solution

The tires of my loyal, fully human-powered bicycle had helped me log 13 of the 34 miles that make up Southern Nevada’s River Mountains Loop Trail. Sadly, that had only amounted to flirting with this paved path of challenging hills and epic views of the Las Vegas Valley, Lake Mead and Boulder City. Biking the entire loop would remain the stuff of my Mojave Desert dreams, unless I began a rigorous daily training routine. That’s when the epiphany of e-biking struck.

Outdoor dining a Southern Nevada park perk

Food tastes better outdoors, and plenty of empty picnic tables are just waiting for you and your PBJ sandwich or homemade Dutch oven dinner or curbside pickup pasta and chicken feast.