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Arches Loop: Virlis-Fisher Arch and Natural Bridge
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Trailhead (view N along Nelson Road)

Overview

This somewhat contrived traditional route runs about 5.0 miles through a geologically interesting area to Virlis-Fisher Arch, Bridge Spring, and Natural Bridge. Hikers could walk a shorter route to the arch (see the map and the description of the Natural Bridge route), but the direct route is so short that a bit of extra hiking makes the drive worthwhile.

The traditional route starts down washes to the north, then turns southeast following washes to a saddle on the high ridge to the east. Crossing rolling terrain across the next valley east leads to another ridge, this one with Virlis-Fisher Arch high on the side. Getting under the arch require some Class-3 scrambling with a bit of exposure.

Returning back across the valley and climbing again onto the saddle, the route turns south into Natural Bridge Canyon. The route then runs down the shrub live oak-filled canyon past Bridge Spring to Natural Bridge. The arch is about 25 feet long and 10-feet thick at the center -- quite impressive. The route then loops back to the trailhead.

Link to map or elevation profile.

Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers going down the washes (view NE)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this off-trail hike is fairly safe, but be extra careful on the Class-3 scrambling up to the arch, and be careful on the smooth and water-polished boulders near the natural bridge.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this hike goes into remote country, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials. This hike is just outside the El Dorado Wilderness Area, so pay extra attention to respecting the land.

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located south of Las Vegas near the town of Nelson, just outside the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and adjacent to the El Dorado Wilderness Area.

Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers above a wash (view NE)

From Las Vegas, drive south on Highway 95 towards Searchlight to Nelson Road (Highway 165) (Table 1, Site 0913), on the left. Drive east on Nelson Road for about 9.5 miles to the trailhead (Site 0910). Watch for a "steep downhill road ahead" symbol sign, and then a dirt parking area on the left. Park here; this is the trailhead.

The Hike

From the trailhead adjacent to the pavement (Table 2, Waypoint 01), the route runs north into a wash (Wpt. 02) parallel to the roadway. Following the wash downhill, the road and wash gradually diverge. The vegetation community here is unusual; it is dominated by Mojave yucca and California buckwheat, with little else.

The wash eventually merges with another large wash (Wpt. 04), and the route turns back to the right to head up the large wash. At the next fork in the wash (Wpt. 05), the route stays right, and at the next (Wpt. 06), the route stays left.

Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers going down a wash (view NE)

The wash bends to the right and arrives at yet another fork (Wpt. 07) and stays right, generally continuing southeast. The wash eventually bends left (Wpt. 08) to run more to the east.

At this point, the wash is running directly towards the major saddle on the ridge to the east. Heading in that direction, the route leaves the sandy wash when the wash bends left (Wpt. 09). Climbing over a low ridge into the next wash, it appears a bit easier to walk down the wash to the next confluence (Wpt. 10), then turn up that wash, all of this with the goal of climbing onto the saddle (Wpt. 11).

On these ridges, the vegetation is sparse, but more diverse than at the trailhead. Along here, the shrubs include species such as creosote bush, Nevada ephedra, and indigo bush; plus some bitterbrush in gullies. There are also several species of cactus here, including teddybear cholla, buckhorn cholla, strawberry hedgehog cactus, and beavertail cactus.

Virlis-Fisher Arch
Confluence of washes (view E)

From the saddle (Wpt. 11), Virlis-Fisher Arch is visible about 0.8 miles as the crow flies to the ESE (110 degrees true). There are lots of possibilities for getting there: directly crossing a ridge (Wpt. 12) or more round-about by staying in the wash a bit farther and swinging north around the ridge. Regardless, this is rolling terrain, so there is no easy route.

Hiking across the valley, the natural tendency is to approach the arch from the north, and this is a fine route, but it requires some steep 3rd-class scrambling on rock with a bit of loose scree.

It might be better to climb up under the arch, cross below it to the south, and then climb a somewhat easier and safer gully (Wpt. 13) that bring hikers up to the south side of Virlis-Fisher Arch (Wpt. 14).

The arch is high on the side of the ridge and provides views sweeping from the southwest to the northwest. Through the high saddle hiked over, Mt. Potosi can be seen in the distance.

Virlis-Fisher Arch
Turning up a wash (view SE)

Descending from the arch, the route returns to the high saddle (Wpt. 11) and continues over the west side, this time turning hard to the left and heading south. Hikers can traverse the high slopes or drop into the main wash (Wpt. 10) below the saddle, as both lead in the right direction.

Following the wash south (Wpt. 10), the wash gradually bends left and eventually merges into Bridge Wash (Wpt. 15). Continuing down the wash, the route enters the canyon and runs past many shrub live oak trees to Bridge Spring (Wpt. 18), which is high on the south hillside. The canyon is choked with shrub live oak, skunk bush, and other shrubs here, and a use-trail cuts around the north side of thicket, bypassing where water from the spring hits the wash.

Scrambling around boulders in the bottom of the canyon, the route continues the last few yards down to Natural Bridge (Wpt. 10). The rock here is volcanic tuff: gray-brown and full of black flecks. The bridge spans the canyon, which is about 20-25 ft wide. The bridge is about 10-12 ft thick in center. Around the bridge, the vegetation is dominated by shrub live oak on the sides of the wash and squaw waterweed (Baccharis sergiloides) in the wash.

Virlis-Fisher ArchHikers following wash (view S)

After contemplating the geologic and erosional forces that created such a place, hikers begin the return to the trailhead. Hiking back up the canyon, past Bridge Spring, a use-trail (Wpt. 17) exits the wash to the south. This use-trail can be followed southwest and then west, or hikers can stay in the wash.

Following the wash upstream, the route passes the confluence (Wpt. 15) where the route merged Bridge Wash, and then it curves gently to the southwest, passing an open area with few landmarks (Wpt. 20) to a cairn (Wpt. 21) where the use-trail leaves the wash. If hikers get lost crossing this area, they can just hike west (towards the sunset) and hit the paved road.

Following the use-trail (Wpt. 21) right, the route heads west onto a low saddle (Wpt. 22), then contours around to the left and back north following the ridgeline. A trail junction is passed (Wpt. 23) as the use-trail climbs onto the next low ridge (Wpt. 24) from where the end of an old dirt road (Wpt. 25) can be seen below. Dropping onto the dirt road, the route runs back towards the pavement and the trailhead (Wpt. 01), completing the loop.

Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers following wash (view S)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Turning up a wash (view NE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers following wash (view E)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Crossing hillsides towards the high saddle (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers at the high saddle (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers descending past the high saddle (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Virlis-Fisher Arch in the distance (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Virlis-Fisher Arch in the distance (zoom; view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Crossing rolling terrain (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Crossing rolling terrain (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Crossing rolling terrain (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Crossing rolling terrain (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Crossing rolling terrain (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Look back down on hikers climbing towards the arch (view NW)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers on ledge system below Virlis-Fisher Arch (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers on 3rd-class approaching the arch from the north (view E)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers at Virlis-Fisher Arch (view N)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers descending from the arch to the south (view S)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Crossing rolling terrain (view NW)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Crossing rolling terrain (view NW)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Crossing rolling terrain (view NW)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Crossing rolling terrain (view NW)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Approaching the high saddle (view NW)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Heading south towards Natural Bridge Canyon (view S)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Natural Bridge Wash (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Natural Bridge Wash (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Natural Bridge Canyon (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Natural Bridge Canyon (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers below Natural Bridge (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Canyon below Natural Bridge (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Natural Bridge (view N from above)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers below Natural Bridge (view NW)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Natural Bridge (view SE)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers on rolling terrain (view W)
Virlis-Fisher Arch
Hikers returning to the old road (view NW)
more to come ...

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

Site Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Latitude (N) Longitude (W) Elevation (ft) Verified
0910 Nelson Road at Natural Bridge Trailhead 35.72983 114.83081 696188 3955953 3,482 Yes
0913 Highway 95 at Nelson Road 35.82849 114.93654 686394 3966691 1,821 Yes

Table 2. 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 696198 3955973 3,489 0.00 0.00 Yes
02 Wash 696216 3956091 3,461 0.09 0.09 GPS
03 Washes Merge 696255 3956450 3,431 0.29 0.38 GPS
04 Confluences of Washes 696336 3956595 3,363 0.11 0.49 GPS
05 Wash Forks 696446 3956462 3,374 0.12 0.61 GPS
06 Canyon Forks 696483 3956355 3,395 0.08 0.69 GPS
07 Wash Forks 696552 3956350 3,432 0.07 0.76 GPS
08 Wash Bends 696667 3956186 3,465 0.13 0.89 GPS
09 Depart Wash 696878 3956163 3,478 0.14 1.03 GPS
10 Confluence of Washes 697001 3956098 3,465 0.11 1.14 GPS
11 Saddle on Ridgeline 697196 3956171 3,513 0.16 1.30 GPS
12 Crossing Ridge 697553 3956061 3,440 0.27 1.57 GPS
13 Bottom of Gully 698386 3955749 3,525 0.70 2.27 GPS
14 Virlis-Fisher Arch 698399 3955775 3,599 0.03 2.30 GPS
11 Saddle on Ridgeline 697196 3956171 3,513 1.01 3.31 GPS
10 Confluence of Washes 697001 3956098 3,465 0.16 3.47 GPS
15 Confluence of Washes 696964 3955764 3,419 0.23 3.70 GPS
16 Big Boulder in Wash 697070 3955738 3,392 0.08 3.78 GPS
17 Trail at Wash 697153 3955690 3,378 0.06 3.84 GPS
18 Bridge Spring 697244 3955690 3,375 0.07 3.91 GPS
19 Natural Bridge 697345 3955650 3,359 0.10 4.01 GPS
15 Confluence of Washes 696964 3955764 3,419 0.29 4.30 GPS
20 Open Area 696669 3955660 3,468 0.20 4.50 GPS
21 Cairn in Wash 696621 3955601 3,478 0.05 4.55 GPS
22 Top of Ridge 696498 3955638 3,531 0.08 4.63 GPS
23 Trail Junction 696394 3955673 3,493 0.11 4.74 GPS
24 Ridge 696345 3955719 3,531 0.04 4.78 GPS
25 End of Old Road 696310 3955737 3,508 0.03 4.81 GPS
01 Trailhead 696198 3955973 3,489 0.17 4.98 Yes

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 140513

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