The most complete guide to Southern Nevada's mining history.
Rocky Gap Road
Las Vegas, Nevada
We've attempted to locate the source of the creek many times without success. It appears to just start. No visible hole in the bedrock. You see a little grass and the creek just starts. Usually a spring creek begins at a hole or crack.
Speaking of holes and cracks, we found out that this area is a popular spot for nudists in the warmer months. We've encountered them numerous times over the years while hiking up the creek. It's not a designated nudist area, but it does seem to be a well-known meeting spot for many. In most instances, we didn't see vehicles parked nearby and the closest parking area is about 1.6 miles away. That's a lot of effort to lay around naked.
They were far more relaxed than we were. Having a conversation with an unexpected naked person can be uncomfortable but, without exception, they were all friendly and non-threatening. Before you head out there for the sole purpose of seeing naked people, think back to your grade school days. Imagine your typical school bus driver or school lunch lady. Now, imagine them naked.
The natural and typical wildlife you'd expect to see along the trail would be: mule deer, bighorn sheep, coyote, and fox. Back in 2013 we saw a mountain lion and her cub towards the west end of the trail. A few people have reported seeing mountain lion tracks in snow.
It's during those winter months where food is scarce and carnivores, like mountain lions, may become more aggressive. Maintain control of your pets and small children at all times, but especially during the winter.
The park is beautiful all year, but is gorgeous to another level in the winter. Rocky Gap Road is not maintained during the winter. Roads are not cleared of snow and the offroad trail is often closed. If the trail remains open, and you are unfamiliar with the hazards on a clear day, you may want to avoid the snow covered trail.
We've been out there during snow storms. While there is the temptation to take your time and enjoy the view, there are many hazards with snow. Even the best snow tires can get coated with snow reducing or eliminating all steering and braking. Since the trail has many quick elevation changes, you may slide over one of the many cliffs. If you get stuck, it's a long walk back to the paved parking area.
Take a break from the Strip and take your time exploring the Rocky Gap Road. You'll always find something new there. Within two miles of the trail there are 14 natural springs. Spring Mountains. Get it? Go find a few and have fun!
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Most of the trail is maintained like what you see above, but there are the occasional spots that require careful driving and extra clearance. When you reach the west border of the park, the trail becomes more difficult and impassable to most stock vehicles.
When you reach these coordinates from the east: 36° 7'42.59"N 115°32'37.61"W or these coordinates from the west: 36° 7'40.41"N 115°32'48.56"W, you'll encounter the worst section of the trail. It's 320 yards of wash with some boulders over two feet tall. An experienced driver with a mindful spotter can pass these obstacles, but you should not attempt this without some vehicle upgrades like a suspension lift and tires.
If you reach this part of the trail, it would be best if you got out and surveyed that section on foot before attempting. We've come through this section from both directions several times. East to west is slightly easier since it's downhill, but there really isn't a good way.
At that point, you're only about 1.5 miles from the Lovell Canyon Road. Now when we go to Rocky Gap, we usually turn before we reach the rock garden. It's not worth the damage and, other than a sense of accomplishment, you wouldn't be missing much on the other side anyway.
While there, we usually spend most of our day at Switchback Spring located here: 36° 9'32.88"N 115°31'13.06"W. This is a natural spring that flows year round. Many who have been through Rocky Gap Rd. never noticed the spring and creek even though they drove right over it. Just before the creek reaches the road, it widens and flows through the gravel trail just out of view and collects into a concentrated stream again just below the trail .
From the trail, it's nice to see water flowing, but easy for it to get lost in the rest of the scenery. If you park, give it a little effort, and follow the creek uphill, you'll come across the tallest natural waterfalls in Las Vegas that flow year round.
Before we became aware of all the mining history and trails, this was about the only good offroad trail we knew of close to town. We used to live near Summerlin and this trail was so convenient we were there at least once a week. Even though we know where every embedded rock is in the trail, there's always something new to see and it has never become boring.
We're often asked by tourists and people new to off-roading to recommend a nearby trail and Rocky Gap is usually the first we recommend. It's not a technical trail if you stay closer to the Red Rock Canyon side. There are some optional technical obstacles along the way that you can avoid or accept. The further west you go, the more difficult it becomes. The first portion of the trail is so easy, you'll often pass tour vehicles along the way.
Some locals know of and refer to Rocky Gap Road as Potato Ridge Trail. The most plausible genesis to the Potato Ridge Trail name was suggested by a local Professor who said that a plant called a "Banana Yucca" (Yucca Baccata) used to be plentiful in the area. Regionally, this plant is often called "potato blossom" and "desert potato". In bloom, this plant produced large fruit that resembled and even tasted like a sweet potato when roasted. Just know that if someone refers to Potato Ridge Trail, it's the same as Rocky Gap Rd.
Most of the time in the valley, you don't really get a good sense of the seasons. It's either hot or it's cold. We've taken people who have lived in Las Vegas their whole lives to Rocky Gap Road to touch snow for the first time. To provide a better narrative of the changing conditions, I included images of the same scenes just a few months apart.
There is an east and west entrance to Rocky Gap Rd. Reaching Rocky Gap Road from the east is through the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area. From I-215 West, head west on NV-159 / West Charleston Blvd. In 5.2 miles, turn right onto Red Rock Visitor Center Rd. ( 36° 7'54.00"N 115°25'17.13"W)
There is a $7 fee per vehicle, but we highly recommend you get the "America the Beautiful" National Parks Pass. You can purchase the pass online or at the park entrance. Bring cash. Most parks are not setup for credit or debit cards. The cost for this annual pass is $80 and allows you unlimited entrance to all parks operated by: National Parks Service, US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Army Corp of Engineers. Discounts and waivers are available for seniors, active duty military, and those with disabilities.
Locally and nearby, that would allow unlimited access to: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Death Valley National Park, Great Basin National Park, Zion National Park, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park . That is a lot of entertainment for $80. We get more than our moneys worth at the lake in a month. Valley of Fire is not covered with this pass since it's a State Park.
The east trail to Rocky Gap Rd. begins here: 36° 9'41.69"N 115°29'58.16"W. For about the first half mile up to the La Madre Spring sign, be very mindful of hikers. Most aren't looking for vehicle traffic , so drive slow and don't crowd pedestrians. Some think the trail is closed to motor vehicle traffic like all the other trails within the park. Some of them will give you stink eye, the finger or a few words. I usually try to ignore them.
If you feel like hiking uphill to the spring, it can be found here: 36°10'51.41"N 115°30'14.47"W. Along the same foot trail are the remnants of the old stone miners cabin located here: 36°11'12.75"N 115°30'25.84"W and the foundations from the newer homesteads located here: 36°10'36.25"N 115°30'16.54"W and 36°10'35.45"N 115°30'12.87"W.
After La Madre Spring, most hikers turn back and beyond that point, anyone you see will most likely be in another vehicle. This is a single track trail, but there are places along the way to pull over so others may pass. Proper trail etiquette dictates that those heading uphill have the right of way, but don't expect others to know or respect etiquette.