87°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
Seven Magic Tires
“Seven Magic Tires,” created by Las Vegas artists Justin Favela and Ramiro Gomez, substitutes piles of tires for hefty boulders to recreate the scale model. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Warehouse fire in North Las Vegas
North Las Vegas Fire Department PIO Nino Galloway gives an update on the fire at a warehouse on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Woman's memoir reflects on her fresh start in Las Vegas
Etta Baykara, 91, who plays accordion in a polka band, wrote a memoir that includes growing up on a farm to her move to California and then Las Vegas where she claims she is the happiest. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas pinball wizard Spittin' Jerry Kaczmarek
Jerry Kaczmarek, also known as “Spittin’" Jerry, talks about his days as a pinball hustler in Vegas in the 60’s and 70’s. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Behind the scenes at Broadacres Marketplace
Evelyn Sanchez, Broadacres Marketplace marketing and event director, talks about the offerings at the dynamic swap meet in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Teen talks about alleged sexual assault at Las Vegas grocery store
A 17-year old says she was groped and then sexually assaulted by a loss-prevention specialist at an Albertsons store in east Las Vegas. The subject's voice has been distorted to protect her identity. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson officials tried to lure Arizona Diamondbacks from Phoenix
Henderson officials tried to lure Arizona Diamondbacks from Phoenix with four potential stadium sites in mind, including one behind the future home of the future Raiders headquarters. Discussions between the team and the city stalled out, but Henderson still wants to attract professional sports to the area.(Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Grasshoppers swarm Las Vegas Strip
The Las Vegas Strip is swarmed by pallid-winged grashoppers on July 25, 2019. The grasshoppers have infested the Las Vegas valley after an unseasonably wet winter and spring, experts say.(@365inVegas/Twitter)
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)
Grasshoppers invade Las Vegas
The grasshoppers came out at night in northwest Las Vegas on Thursday. Lights at a local gas station attracted hundreds of the insects. (David Guzman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CCSD superintendent says dean positions will not be eliminated
Clark County School District Superintendent Dr. Jesus F. Jara discusses budget adjustments for the district after listening sessions with principals, teachers and support professionals. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson rain
Rain falls in Henderson on Wednesday, July 24, 2019.
Monsoon season begins in the Las Vegas Valley
Rain dropped in Henderson on Wednesday morning as monsoon season begins in the Las Vegas area. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson Fire Department on checking back seats in the heat - Video
The Henderson Fire Department talks about double-checking car seats in the Las Vegas heat to remember children who may be in the car. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Take the Red E Bike tour of Red Rock Canyon
The Red E Bike tour of Red Rock Canyon outside of Las Vegas starts at the visitors center for a three-hour, 17-mile ride. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Steve Meriwether talks about his son, who was killed by a drunk driver
Retired Metro sergeant Steve Meriwether talks about his son, Garrett Meriwether, who was killed by a drunk driver. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Earthquake might have caused Pahrump man's death
Officials in Pahrump believe that the recent Fourth of July earthquake caused the death of resident Troy Ray as he was working on his car. If true, it will be the first earthquake-related death in the state in recorded history, according to research geologist Craig dePolo. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Earthquake-related death reported in Pahrump
The Nye County Sheriff's Office investigated a man's death reported on July 9 that may have been related to a Southern California earthquake that occurred on July 4 and was felt in Southern Nevada. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Fire in Arts District in downtown Las Vegas
Fire in Arts District in downtown Las Vegas on July 6, 2019. (Angus Kelly)
10th Anniversary of Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health
The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is celebrating its 10th anniversary in the coming week. Director Marwan Sabbagh talks about what the center offers, what they've achieved and what is next in the work of degenerative brain disease. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Highway Patrol pulls over hearse in HOV lane
A Nevada Highway Patrol trooper pulled over the driver of a hearse, which was carrying a body, in an HOV lane in Las Vegas, July 1, 2019. (Nevada Highway Patrol)
Bellagio Conservatory unveils Italian summer exhibit
The Bellagio's Conservatory & Botanical Gardens have opened the gates to its summer display. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Summer In Las Vegas
Summer In Las Vegas (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Train derails in Northern Nevada - VIDEO
A train carrying ammunition derailed near Wells in Northern Nevada on Wed., June 19, 2019, closing part of Interstate 80, authorities said. (Michael Lyday/Twitter)
Fire damages an office complex in central Las Vegas - VIDEO
A fire causes heavy damage to an office complex at 3900 Paradise Rd. in Las Vegas on June 17, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Crash closes Las Vegas Blvd. near Fremont Street
A vehicle fleeing police crashed in the area of Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard in downtown Las Vegas on Friday, June 7, 2019. (Courtesy Andy Herrera)
Clark County's third poet laureate
Heather Lang-Cassera, who will be Clark County's third poet laureate on June 1, is interviewed at the Writer's Block bookstore in Las Vegas, Friday, May 24, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
One dead, two critical in Henderson shooting
One person is dead and two juveniles are in critical condition after a Friday morning shooting in Henderson, police said. During a briefing at the scene on Friday, Lt. Kirk Moore said the preliminary investigation has revealed that this incident is likely narcotics-related.
A man whose wives were found dead 8 years apart under similar circumstances is denied bail - VIDEO
Alan Sylwester, the man suspected of killing his wife, was denied bail again Wednesday morning during his preliminary hearing in Henderson.
Chief deputy district attorney: “Justice was done” in child pornography case - VIDEO
Clark County Chief Deputy District Attorney James Sweetin speaks with the media after the sentencing of Christopher Sena, the man who was found guilty in February of multiple counts of sexual assault with a minor, incest, use of a minor in the production of pornography, lewdness with a child younger than 14 and child abuse. (Michael Quine/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.

Petroglyph Canyon packed with hints at region’s history

Some art is best viewed by plopping yourself down on desert gravel under a big blue sky and gazing upward. That was my approach at the Gallery in Petroglyph Canyon earlier this fall. After a moderately difficult hike, my reward was spotting hundreds of the gallery’s approximately 1,000 American Indian designs and images displayed on two rocky canvases stretching about one-tenth of a mile.

Many Henderson breakfast spots easy to bike or walk to

Henderson boasts hubs of tempting breakfast eateries and the accompanying paths to lead you in their direction. Why not earn your breakfast with a ride or walk, as long as you don’t cancel out the calories your exercise might have just burned off?