My wife Deb and I love to explore canyons. Fortunately, we live in southwest Utah where you can hardly spit without hitting one. Occasionally we venture from home territory to investigate Nevada’s canyons. While canyons in the Silver State are not generally the flowing, deep, red rock typical to Utah, they have their own appeal. For this excursion we chose the Colorado River/Lake Mojave canyons a few miles east of Nelson. It was Deb’s birthday and we needed a new adventure.
The Colorado River/Lake Mojave canyons are located in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The nearly 1.5 million acre recreation area, administered by the National Park Service, follows the Colorado River corridor from the westernmost boundary of Grand Canyon National Park to just north of Laughlin.
The life blood of southern Nevada is the 1,450 mile long Colorado River winding its way through Black Canyon and the Mohave Valley. The river flow is controlled by a series of dams providing recreational opportunities, water for human and agriculture use, and hydroelectric power. Davis Dam near Laughlin creates Lake Mojave.
We began our journey in mid-September. It is easy getting to our destination from St. George, Utah. First, drive south on Interstate 15 to Las Vegas and then take Interstate 515/95/93 south to Henderson, a two hour drive. Since it we Deb’s birthday, we spent the night in Henderson, won some money playing video poker, and had a nice dinner.
Early the next morning we returned to Interstate 515/95/93 south and drove about ten miles to the junction with Highway 95 south. After another ten miles on Highway 95 south we turned east (left) onto paved Highway 165. From here it was 18.1 miles to the end of the road and the trailhead.
Eleven miles along Highway 165, at the west entrance to Eldorado Canyon, is the small burg of Nelson, population 37 according to the 2010 census. Originally called Eldorado by the Spanish, the Nelson area was the site of one of the first major gold and silver strikes in Nevada around 1859. Within two years several mining camps were established in the vicinity—the mines eventually produced several million dollars of gold and silver. At its height, the area established a reputation for being rough and lawless. Nelson was named for a camp leader who was killed along with four others in 1897. The mines were active until 1945.
A little more than one mile from downtown Nelson we encountered the mining camp of Techatticup. Established in 1861, the camp contains an open-for-business general store, a bunkhouse, non-functioning gas station, a stamp mill, several other structures, old mining equipment, and many vintage vehicles in various stages of decomposition. There are also tours of the mine. The buildings are being restored and the location is a destination point for ghost town aficionados. On the way back from our hike we stopped and explored Techatticup.
Approximately 5.5 miles beyond Techatticup is Nelson’s Landing and the terminus of Highway 165. Nelson’s Landing, at the mouth of Eldorado Canyon, was a Colorado River steamboat port beginning in the late 1850s. Because the Eldorado mining region was so isolated, the port was vital for the existence of the mines.
The end of the highway is a circular parking area on a promontory above the Colorado River/Lake Mojave. (Do not take the right turn (south) downslope road toward Nelson’s Landing.) There are no fees or permits necessary for this hike, and no facilities at the parking area except a large trash bin. The trailhead elevation is 730 feet and the temperature was in the high 80s as we began our trek—by the end 2 ½ hours later it was in the mid 90s.
There are no established trails to the canyons. From the trailhead/parking area are a couple of faint user trails. We headed north (upstream) along the river and explored the coves, canyons, and ravines as we came to them. Along the entire hike we were treated to views of the greenish-blue Colorado River with the rough Black Mountain Range dominating the east side in Arizona.
The mouth of each wash was clogged with willow and tamarisk, making it slow going (beware the thorns). The walls of the ravines and canyons are mostly conglomerate, a brown-gray, rough textured, mixture of rocks, pebbles, and sand. The main canyon we explored is about ¼ mile from the trailhead. The canyon soon divided and we examined both forks. Afterward we continued north along the river for about ¾ mile.
We returned by hugging the ridges above the river and circling around the point to the north and above Nelson’s Landing. Then up a steep hill back to the parking area.
Except for getting a bit warm, this was our kind of hike—interesting desert formations contrasting with the river and encountering no other people along the trail in this isolated region. Our round trip was almost 3.5 miles as we wandered and explored. Due to the faint trail, gaining and loosing elevation almost all on loose gravel, crossing several ridge slopes with ten or more feet drop offs, and scrambled over rock barriers, I rate this as a moderately strenuous hike.
Whether it is your birthday or not, the Colorado River/Lake Mojave canyons and Techatticup ghost town are worth a visit.
The author: Tom Garrison is now retired and enjoying libertarian life in beautiful St. George, Utah with his wife Deb and two cats. His latest book, Hiking Southwest Utah and Adjacent Areas, Volume Two is available at Amazon.com and the Desert Rat outdoor store in St. George. firstname.lastname@example.org