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Black Mesa Route
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Hiking Lake Mead NRA
Black Mesa
Black Mesa
Beginning of route (view SE from trailhead)

Overview

Black Mesa holds a commanding presence over the Boulder Basin of Lake Mead and provides a fairly easy 4-mile loop to a summit with vast views over the entire region. In fact, this probably is the best view in southern Nevada with relatively easy access. Hiking the route in-and-out, thus avoiding the descent ridge, makes the hike considerably easier.

There is no trail, not even a use-trail or a game-trail, which is surprising because this was a popular hike and NPS Rangers even lead hikers to the summit. The edge of the mesa is steep and rocky (good rattlesnake habitat), but it is little more than steep Class-2 hiking where trekking poles are helpful and the danger of rockfall is minimal.

Link to route map.

Black Mesa

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this hike is fairly safe. There is nothing unusually dangerous about this route, but the steep sections have some loose rocks, and the rocky edge of the mesa top looks like good rattlesnake habitat.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. This hike is in a National Park area, so pay particular attention to respecting the land. This hike runs off-trail where nobody will find you, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials. Cell phones might work.

Black Mesa
Confluence of major washes (view SE)

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in Lake Mead National Recreation Area, about 45 minutes east of Las Vegas along Northshore Road.

From town, drive out to Lake Mead. From the intersection of Northshore Road and Lakeshore Road, drive north on Northshore Road for 10.5 miles to the Mile 10.5 Trailhead, which is shortly before the turnoff to Callville Bay. Park here; this is the trailhead.

Black Mesa
Route in broad wash (view E)

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 1, Waypoint 01), the route runs southeast across desert pavement towards the near edge of Black Mesa. The desert pavement eventually runs out onto low bluffs overlooking the confluence of two broad washes. The route drops into this confluence (Wpt. 02), then turns east along the northern base of Black Mesa following one of the broad washes upstream.

In the broad wash, watch for tracks and dropping in the sand. It seems that coyotes and desert bighorn often "use" the wash.

As the route runs out around the northeast corner of Black Mesa, the broad wash is joined by a side wash entering from the south (Wpt. 03). This is the first side wash on the south side of the broad wash.

Black Mesa
Route in broad wash (view E)

The route turns up the side wash and enters a narrow canyon that cuts through red mudstone highly dissected by veins of gypsum. The bottom of the wash is full of large stones and small boulders, making for less-than-easy walking.

Following the rocky wash, the route eventually climbs above the layers of red mudstone. The route continues south in the same rocky wash. As the wash plays out, the route climbs onto a ridge that turns out to be the edge (Wpt. 04) of a deep gully coming down from a cleft in the edge of Black Mesa.

Not climbing down into the gully, the route turns right (southwest) and climbs the steep, rocky ridge towards the top of the mesa. Fortunately, this is the shortest of the steep routes leading to the top of the steep part (Wpt. 05), and then the flat top of the mesa is only a few yards farther southwest.

Black Mesa
Confluence with side wash (view E)

From the top of the mesa top, the route runs south, bypassing the gorge that forms the cleft seen from below by walking a bit to the right of the most direct route. Alternatively, from the edge of the mesa, hike southwest towards the near highpoint (Wpt. 06). The top of Black Mesa is so flat that walking to an unnecessary highpoint is trivial, besides, it provides nice views to the northwest towards the Spring and Sheep Mountains, plus it provides a view of the descent ridge.

Continuing across the rocky surface of Black Mesa, the route eventually runs out to the summit (Wpt. 07), which is a few yards west of Benchmark La Mesa (main and two auxiliary markers). Often benchmarks take the name of the mountain, or vise versa, but the names differ here, which is odd.

Views from the summit (see panoramas below) are spectacular and are among the best in all of southern Nevada, and clearly the best available from a relatively easy hike. All of the major mountain ranges in the region can be seen, and the near-field scenery isn't too bad either.

Black Mesa
Confluence with side wash (view SE)

Making a loop for the descent, the route departs the summit (Wpt. 07) running northwest along the edge of Black Mesa heading for a steep, rocky ridge that provides the easiest route down the west side of the mesa (Wpt. 08).

The top of the descent ridge provides an overview of the route down. In general, the route runs down the face of the ridge to the northwest, but it is less rocky to stay left to catch the edge of a sub-ridge where bighorn sheep have somewhat improved the route. Below, the walking also is less rocky to the left than is dropping directly down the face of the hillside.

The route descends to the broad wash (Wpt. 09), below. The exact route doesn't matter, as downhill only leads to the wash, which is the same wash that drains the confluence of major washes (Wpt. 02) seen at the beginning of the hike.

Black Mesa
Ascending rocky gully through mudstones (view S)

The hike down is steep and rocky, but we found relatively few loose rocks and the danger of rockfall was minimal. There are some interesting mineral outcrops low on the ridge, but try to stay off the loose mudhills as footprints will probably show for years.

In the broad wash (Wpt. 09), the route turns north and runs upstream along the base of the mesa. The walking is easy, and there are some nice examples of gypsum eroding from the hillsides along the wash. It is surprising that miners didn't haul it away decades ago.

Heading up the wash, hikers can exit the wash (Wpt. 02) and walk across the desert to the trailhead, or they can continue upstream in the wash to the road, and walk along the pavement for about 150 yards (watch for fast-moving drunk drivers!) to the trailhead (Wpt. 01).

Black Mesa
Nearing the top of the red mudstone canyon (view S)
Black Mesa
Continuing up rocky wash (view S)
Black Mesa
Base of ridge, overlooking wash below cleft (view SW)
Black Mesa
Black Mesa Black Mesa
Black Mesa
Looking back (view NE)
Black Mesa
Edge of mesa (view SSE towards summit)
Black Mesa
Edge of mesa (view SE towards Callville Bay Marina)
Black Mesa
Edge of mesa (view NE looking back)
Black Mesa
Hiker starting across the mesa (view S)
Black Mesa
Hikers atop the mesa (view N)
Black Mesa
Four fresh bighorn sheep beds (arrows)
Black Mesa
Rocky top of the mesa (view SE)
Black Mesa
Rocky west edge of the mesa (view S)
Black Mesa
Rocky edge of the mesa (view NW)
Black Mesa
Hiker departing the highpoint (view N)
Black Mesa
Area atop mesa without rocks (view N)
Black Mesa
Hiker on the summit (view SW)
Black Mesa
Hiker on the summit (view SW)
yes
Hikers on the summit (view E)
yes
Hiker on the summit (view S)
Black Mesa
Summit (view NW towards Mt. Charleston)
Black Mesa
Summit (view N towards Sheep Range)
Black Mesa
1934 benchmark La Mesa (US Coast and Geodetic Survey)
Black Mesa
1934 locator mark with arrow pointing at benchmark
Black Mesa
Route off the summit (view NW)
Black Mesa
Route across the mesa (view NW towards the Muddy Mountains)
Black Mesa
Rocky route on mesa top (view NE)
Black Mesa
Rocky route towards mesa edge (view W)
Black Mesa
Rocky route towards mesa edge (view W)
Black Mesa
Rocky edge of mesa (view S)
Black Mesa
Rocky edge of mesa (view W)
Black Mesa
Rocky edge of mesa (view N)
Black Mesa
Rocky route below the mesa top (view W)
Black Mesa
Hiker descending rocky ridge (view W)
Black Mesa
Hiker descending rocky ridge (view W)
Black Mesa
rocky ridge (view E)
Black Mesa
Scenery while descending rocky ridge (view N)
Black Mesa
Black Mesa Black Mesa
Route down rocky ridge towards wash (view W)
Black Mesa
Scenery while descending rocky ridge (view N)
Black Mesa
Odd shards of red stone scattered about
Black Mesa
Rocky descent through wash (view W)
Black Mesa
Tongue of volcanic ash below descent ridge (view SE)
Black Mesa
Hiker at white spot that can be seen from mesa top (view SE)
Black Mesa
Approaching major wash (view N)
rocky ridge (view W)
In the wash, looking back up the route (view E)
Black Mesa
Major wash (view N)
Black Mesa
Route up major wash (view N)
Black Mesa
Red bluff with gypsum veins along wash (view N)
Black Mesa
Gypsum veins along wash (view E)
Black Mesa
Route approaching confluence of major washes (view N)
Black Mesa
Approaching trailhead via original route on desert pavement (view N)
black mesa
Approaching trailhead via wash route (view N)
Black Mesa
Returning to the trailhead (view N)
more to come ...
Black Mesa
 

Panoramic view from the summit: southern horizon (view SE [110 degrees] to W [270 degrees])

The view is dominated by (left to right) the toe of Hamblin Mountain, Black Mountains in Arizona (Wilson Mountain is highest peak), Fortification Hill (Arizona), Lake Mead disappearing down Black Canyon, the River Mountains, Mount Potosi (far distance), Las Vegas urban area, Red Rock Canyon cliffs, and Lava Butte.

 
Black Mesa
 

Panoramic view from the summit: northeast horizon (view N [350 degrees] to SE [130 degrees])

The view is dominated by (left to right) Muddy Mountains, Virgin Mountain (far distance), Northshore Peak, Hamblin Mountain, Bonelli Peak (far distance), and the Black Mountains in Arizona.

 

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

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Trailhead 700117 4005287 1,633 0.00 0.00 Yes
02 Confluence of Major Washes 700320 4005050 1,585 0.23 0.23 Yes
03 Confluence with Side Wash 700962 4005115 1,629 0.43 0.66 Yes
04 Base of Ridge 701024 4004716 1,801 0.33 0.99 Yes
05 Edge of Ridge 700881 4004608 2,021 0.13 1.12 Yes
06 High Point 700699 4004387 2,106 . . GPS
07 Summit 701078 4003445 2,198 0.81 1.93 Yes
08 Top of Descent Ridge 700456 4003764 2,028 0.47 2.40 Yes
09 Base of Descent Ridge 699994 4004018 1,538 0.47 2.87 GPS
02 Confluence of Major Washes 700320 4005050 1,585 0.73 3.60 Yes
01 Trailhead 700117 4005287 1,633 0.27 3.87 Yes

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 140904

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