by Tom Garrison
© 2017 Tom Garrison
My birthday falls in mid-January. My wife Deb and I have a long standing tradition of birthday hikes for both our birthdays. Since mine is in the dead of winter, we need a warm location. Maybe a little fire to warm things up? No, how about a whole bowl of fire? Our destination is Bowl of Fire in the overlapping Muddy Mountains Wilderness and Lake Mead National Recreation Area located approximately half way between Las Vegas and Overton off Northshore Road (aka Highway 167).
The Bowl of Fire hike is located in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The nearly 1.5 million acre recreation region, 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 trail also enters the 48,019 acre Muddy Mountain Wilderness. The wilderness is dominated by a range of limestone mountains, cliffs, and canyons. There are areas, like Bowl of Fire, where the limestone is eroded and underlying red sandstone revealed. People have lived in and passed through the wilderness region for at least 4,000 years, leaving rock art panels, roasting pits, rock shelters, and stone flakes.
Since our objective is low desert, the winters are mild—just what we need to escape the relative cold of St. George. My wife Deb and I, along with our friends Jim and Julie Kuhns and their intrepid hiking dog Kona, left St. George early on a chilly mid-January morning (temperature in the mid-30s) and headed south on Interstate 15. About 28 miles south of Mesquite, we took Exit 93 (State Highway 169) and followed it south through Logandale and Overton. After approximately 20 miles Highway 169 turns right (west) to Valley of Fire State Park; don’t go there. Continue south on now Highway 167/Northshore Road. At 29.6 miles from the Valley of Fire turnoff (approximately 50 miles from Exit 93) turn right (north) onto Callville Wash North Road/Road 94 at mile marker 16.
While Road 94 is a good dirt road, I recommend four-wheel drive and a high clearance vehicle because dirt road conditions can easily change. Within 200 yards of leaving the paved Northshore Road, Road 94 goes down a short but relatively steep ramp into Callville Wash. (Just above the ramp on the left is a parking area if you do not want to risk taking a low clearance, two-wheel drive vehicle up the wash.) The road quickly forks, stay on the left. After .2 miles from the turnoff, the road once again forks, keep going straight, do not take the left fork, Anniversary Mine Road/Road 94A.
At 1.8 miles from Northshore Road we encountered yet another fork and took the left option. At about two miles in, we came upon a cleared trailhead parking area at the mouth of a large wash coming from the north—last stop, Bowl of Fire Trailhead at 1,770 feet elevation.
The closest red outcroppings of Bowl of Fire were barely visible to the north. We assembled our gear and headed north up the wash, which is the trail. Initially the wash is wide and open, it constricts and deepens approaching two hills. We knew we were on the correct path as we passed a layer of green mudstone (volcanic ash). Staying in the wash, we came to a narrow approach between two hills slightly more than ½ mile from the trailhead—the “entrance” to Bowl of Fire.
Guarding the entrance is a jumble of large boulders with a massive white streaked red sandstone formation in the background. We easily scrambled over them but they can be passed to the right if one is so inclined.
Cresting a small hill, we came to the Bowl—the area was alive with red, pink, and orange heavily eroded sandstone hills, cliffs, and outcroppings. Included was a cornucopia of small arches, rounded cavities, and small pinnacles. You’ll feel like you stepped into another world—striking red sandstone formations contrasting the somewhat drab surrounding Mojave Desert mountains.
We followed a faint user trail to the left (west) and wandered around in a clockwise direction. Our small troop examined whatever caught our eye—and a lot did. We explored a side canyon to the north and scrambled up a fairly steep slope for magnificent 360 degree views. While we only spent a little over two hours on our 2.2 mile hike, that could easily double in time and distance.
In contrast to the increasingly popular Valley of Fire State Park about 30 miles to the north, this is an adventure for those who desire splendid solitude—we only saw one small group of hikers in the distance during our trek. And considering it was mid-winter, the conditions were grand, temperatures in mid 50s to low 60s with stunning blue sky. This hike is also free and no permits necessary.
After our exploit, we finished the day in a Mesquite casino celebrating our hike and my birthday with drinks, gambling, and dinner. What a day.
This is a well-worth-it day trip, especially in winter. It is an easy hike that can be much longer if you have the time. If only for a few hours, escape the cold and warm up in the Bowl of Fire.
An avid hiker for more than 25 years, Tom’s latest book, Hiking Southwest Utah and Adjacent Areas, Volume Two was recently (September 2016) awarded 2nd place in the non-fiction category of the League of Utah Writers published book contest. It is available at Amazon.com and the Desert Rat outdoor store in St. George. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org