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Lime Canyon Wash
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Gold Butte National Monument, Lime Canyon Wilderness Area
Lime Canyon
Lime Canyon
Lime Canyon Road (view W from Byway)

Overview

The Lime Canyon Wilderness Area, designated in 2002, includes the long, disjointed, and sparsely vegetated carbonate Lime Ridge, deep canyons that cut through the ridge, and desert bajadas that overlook the Overton Arm of Lake Mead.

The geology of the area is complex, but the main feature is the ridge (or system of ridges) that was caused by the tilting and uplifting of carbonate sedimentary rocks. The uplifted ridges blocked existing drainage systems and formed a lake, but eventually the lake overflowed the ridge and cut a new water course. As the ridge continued to lift up, the water continued to cut down, resulting in the deep, narrow canyon we see today and some odd geologic structures.

Link to hiking map or elevation profile. For photos of the return, click here.

Lime Canyon
Cable fence at Lime Canyon trailhead (view W)

Lime Canyon makes for a fairly easy and interesting route that cuts across the southern end of the wilderness area. Initially the canyon is narrow and rocky, then it gets narrower and winds about, opens into a wide desert wash, takes an odd twist in an area of colorful mudstones where the canyon actually forks going downstream, and finally runs over the bajadas into the Overton Arm of Lake Mead.

There is no established trail, but this is an easy hike with no predetermined end; just walk until your time runs out, then wander back to the trailhead. If you are like me, bring a headlamp.

Lime Canyon
Hiker at cable fence (view W)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a safe hike, but the area is wild and remote. I encountered no unusual hazards, but be careful out here because even a twisted ankle could be serious.

This is a wild and remote area without services of any kind (no restrooms, no water, no gas, no food). Bring what you need to survive. Be prepared and be self-reliant. Someone will find you eventually if you stay on a main road, but be prepared to survive alone for a day or two. Cell phones only work along parts of the paved road.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this is a remote hike, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials. This hike goes into a federally designated wilderness area, so pay extra attention to respecting the land.

Lime Canyon
Cable fence stretches across the wash (view S)

Getting to the Trailhead

Lime Canyon is located out in Gold Butte National Monument at the northeast end of Lake Mead, about 3 hours northeast of Las Vegas in a wild, remote, and scenic area.

From town, drive out to Gold Butte National Monument. From Whitney Pocket, continue on the unpaved Gold Butte Road 20 miles to Gold Butte Townsite.

From Gold Butte Townsite, drive north on Red Bluff Spring Road. At about 3.4 miles out, a sign on the left announces the Lime Canyon Wilderness Area. Lime Canyon Road branches left to run west 1.0 miles and dead-ends at the start of the Line Canyon Narrows. Park here; this is the trailhead.

Lime Canyon
Wilderness Area boundary sign (view W)

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 1, Waypoint 01), the route starts through the gate and into the canyon. Just around the first bend, carsonite signs announce the wilderness area boundary, and big boulders in the wash block most off-road vehicles from coming up the canyon.

The canyon is deep, winding, and fairly narrow with spectacular carbonate cliffs that rise hundreds of feet to the crest of Lime Ridge. The vertical walls the border the wash never are truly high, but they are pretty high, and every now and then the canyon narrows a bit such that there are several "narrows" in the canyon.

As is typical for carbonate-cliff country, the canyon walls are nicely layered, and the ledges provide habitat for California Barrel Cactus , Johnson's Fishhook Cactus, and a few shrub species. Vegetation in the wash is more diverse, and the more common species include Catclaw Acacia, Desert Willow, Nevada Jointfir, Desert Almond, Paperbag Bush, Indigo Bush, Buckhorn Cholla, and a variety of composites (sunflower species). Where there are rocky slopes between the wash and the cliffs, vegetation also includes Joshua Tree, Mojave Yucca, Engelmann's Hedgehog Cactus, and Utah Agave.

Lime Canyon
Wilderness Area boundary benchmark

The rocks look as if they should be fossiliferous, and I did find some curiosities, but the best fossils were at the trailhead and not far below there. It seems that there is only one rock layer, near the top of the series, that is particularly full of paleozoic fossils.

The upper part of the canyon winds back and forth quite a bit, and it takes about 1.6 hiking-miles to go 1.0 air-miles. This, however, gets hikers through the canyon and out onto the west side of Lime Ridge (Wpt. 04).

On the west side of the ridge, the canyon opens up into a broad desert wash between rolling hills. This part of the wash gets a fair bit of off-road vehicle use, although most riders seem to stay in the sandy bottom of the wash and do little permanent damage. There are feral burro trails on the bench along the south side of the wash that provide fairly easy walking.

Lower in the canyon, low red cliffs farther down the wash come into view. Then, about 2.9 miles out and just before the red cliffs, there is a 15-foot pour-over where water falls into a slot in the floor of the wash (Wpt. 08).

Lime Canyon
Another Wilderness boundary sign

This area is geologically curious. The top of the pour-over and the slot are in a layer of conglomerate rock formed from what appears to be riverine alluvial materials. This conglomerate layer overlies a layer of mudstone deposits, and the interface of the two is a mixture of river cobbles and red muds. The mudstone layer is colorful, mostly composed of bright reds, but with yellows, light purples, and dark purples scattered about. When the area is wet from rain, the colors are striking.

Standing atop the pour-over and looking downstream, the wash continues westward for another 250 yards or so following the same line that it has been following for the last mile, but then instead of bending slightly to the right and continuing northwest down what appears to be the main canyon, the wash abruptly turns left and runs south down what looks like a side canyon. This appears to be an unusual case of a canyon forking going downstream, probably caused by uplift of the carbonate cliffs that form the south side of the "main" canyon.

Lime Canyon
Boulders block the canyon (view W)

Following the wash, the route passes the conglomerate pour-over on the north side using animal trails or the old road, then drops back into the bottom of the wash.

Continuing down, the wash curves south into the "side wash" when it hits the base of the carbonate hills (Wpt. 09). The colorful canyon runs narrow for about 0.3 miles to a narrow slot (Wpt. 10).

Passing through the narrow slot, the route arrives atop a pour-over (Wpt. 11) that appears to be an imposing 25-feet-high when viewed from above. The vertical fall is only about 12 feet (they always look higher from above), and the pour-over can be passed with a bit of 3rd-class downclimbing. From the top of the pour-over, follow ledges left, then down to the dirt slopes below.

Lime Canyon
Boulders block the canyon (view W)

In the lower part of the canyon, the red muds give way to yellow mudstones and gray limestones with layers of borate material mixed in. Most of the borates lie in parallel layers, but in some places, fractures perpendicular or oblique to those layers produced places where borate materials create a cross-hatched or checkerboard pattern in the canyon walls. In some places, the rocks record what looks like mixed layers of mudstone, limestone, and borates, perhaps indicating rising and falling water levels in some ancient lake.

Below the last pour-over, the colorful canyon continues for another 0.3 miles, then begins to open into a broad wash (Wpt. 12). This is a far as I went (3.7 miles out), but hikers can continue down the wash for 1.5 to the boundary of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and from there another 3.1 miles to the old high-water mark at the edge of Lake Mead.

From wherever hikers get, return to the trailhead by retracing your route back up the wash. Be sure to leave more time for going back than it took you to get here -- it's all uphill on the way back.

Lime Canyon
Enormous catclaw acacia tree
Lime Canyon
Lime Canyon (view NW)
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Lime CanyonHiker looking at fossils Lime Canyon
Fossils
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Lime CanyonNarrow wash begins to open into broad valley (view W) Lime Canyon
Wash in broad valley (view W)
Lime Canyon
The wash takes an odd jog south at the arrow (view W)
Lime Canyon
Pour-over in the wash (view W)
Lime Canyon
Canyon makes odd turn southwest
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Red mudstones low in Lime Wash (view S)
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Narrow passage between mudstone walls (view N)
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Mudstones and limestones low in Lime Wash (view N)

Table 1. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Time (hrs) Location Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi)
01 1250 Trailhead 746813 4022003 2,921 0.00 0.00
02 1320 Big crook in wash 746236 4022095 2,789 0.44 0.44
03 1327 Top of next narrows 746062 4022434 2,717 0.34 0.78
04 1347 Below the narrows 745357 4022734 2,576 0.79 1.57
05 1400 Wash 744646 4023177 2,442 0.58 2.15
06 1407 Old animal trail 744353 4023364 2,398 0.22 2.38
07 1413 Back in main wash 743991 4023723 2,333 0.35 2.72
08 1416 Slot canyon with pour-over 743757 4023858 2,303 0.17 2.89
09 1402 Maximum point north 743558 4024013 2,271 0.16 3.05
10 1433 Deep and narrow narrows 743338 4023727 2,203 0.26 3.32
11 1435 12 ft pour-over 743319 4023683 2,199 0.03 3.35
12 1444 End of my trail 743094 4023311 2,123 0.32 3.67
01 1250 Trailhead 746813 4022003 2,921 3.67 7.34

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 151102

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