Springtime Hike, Bike, and Float in the Mojave Desert, Nevada

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14051A, Lodge


  • Hike among stunning red rock formations and desert wildflowers
  • Bike part of the River Mountains Loop Trail and the Historic Railroad Trail to Hoover Dam
  • Float through Black Canyon on the Colorado River


  • One-day bicycle rental
  • One-day river rafting ticket
  • All lodging, park admissions, parking fees, meals and commissary


DatesApr 6–12, 2014
StaffSteve Carriger

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Spring is the perfect time to visit the Mojave Desert (also known as High Desert), which covers portions of southeastern and central California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah, and northwestern Arizona. Named after the Mohave tribe of Native Americans, its boundaries are generally defined by the presence of Yucca brevifolia (Joshua trees). During the spring season, depending on rainfall, we can expect to witness a variety of desert wildflowers like desert marigold, indigo bush, and desert mallow coming to life.

While most visitors come to this region to enjoy the glitter, gold, and bright lights of Las Vegas, this trip offers an opportunity to take the road less travelled and experience the stark beauty of the Mojave Desert, Lake Mead, and the Colorado River in early spring, when the temperatures range from the low 50s to the low 80s.

This trip reveals a fairly well-kept secret to participants—southern Nevada features some of the West's most dazzling red rock country. Everyone thinks of Utah as the home of gorgeous red sandstone, but Nevada has it too—and practically on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Just west of the city we'll visit the magnificent Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area—no gambling needed to marvel at its beauty. To the east are some astounding pockets of scintillating red sandstone formations, such as the delightful "Bowl of Fire," tucked in a hidden corner of the National Park Service's expansive Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and beyond that area is the justly famed Valley of Fire State Park, which offers us numerous short but dazzling walks. We’ll visit Anniversary Narrows, an amazing ¼-mile carved out narrow.

We will river raft one day, bike the River Mountains Loop and Historic Railroad Trails another day, and enjoy hiking around 5-7 miles over undulating terrain on three days.


Day 1: Our trip begins Sunday, April 6, at the Boulder Dam Hotel in Boulder City, Nevada, where we will stay for the duration of the trip. We will meet at 5:00 p.m. for a social, introductions, and orientation.

This trip covers a mix of fantastic scenery, whether exploring Valley of Fire State Park to see red sandstone formations, petroglyphs, and ancient trees; rafting the Colorado River in the Black Canyon Wilderness, where we'll relax, snap photos, and enjoy scenic vistas; or bicycling easy trails to Hoover Dam. Each day will be filled with activity and evenings will be free for relaxing or exploring historic Boulder City.

Day 2: We'll hike in the scenic Red Rock National Conservation Area.

Day 3: We'll hike in Valley of Fire State Park and Lake Mead National Recreation Area. We’ll hike into Anniversary Narrows.

Day 4: We'll bike part of the River Mountains Loop Trail and the Historic Railroad Trail to Hoover Dam.

Day 5: We'll hike in the Lake Mead area on Liberty Bell Arch Trail.

Day 6: Dramatic Black Canyon on the Colorado River is our highly scenic destination for our guided rafting trip. (This is NOT whitewater rafting, but the high-walled, beautiful canyon is quite a treat in its own right.) It's usually possible to see desert big horn sheep on the steep banks of the river.

Day 7: On the last day—Saturday, April 13—we’ll eat breakfast, say our farewells, and check out of the hotel.

Full details will be given in pre-trip correspondence. All hikes and programs are subject to change depending on a variety of factors, including trail conditions, permits, and weather.



Getting There

Travel to and from the hotel and trailheads is the responsibility of each participant. The nearest airport is McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ride sharing from the airport to Boulder City is encouraged. To facilitate this, the leader will provide a participant roster. Additional information regarding travel options will be provided. Do not make any transportation reservations until the leader approves you for the trip.

Due to insurance regulations, all transportation to Boulder City, trailheads, or other activities is the responsibility of each trip member. Leaders are not permitted to arrange carpools for participants.

Accommodations and Food

The first trip meal will be dinner on Sunday evening and the last meal will be breakfast on Saturday morning. Hot breakfasts will be served each morning in the dining room at the Boulder City Hotel. Participants will prepare their own sack lunches each morning. Lunches will consist of chips, fruit, cookies, and a variety of sandwich breads, meats, cheeses, and spreads. There will be plenty of food; however, persons with dietary restrictions or personal preferences may provide some food items of their own. Dinners are included and will be at various local restaurants. While meals will include vegetarian options, we cannot promise that local restaurants will be able to accommodate strict vegans.

Trip Difficulty

This is a good trip for seniors or those who would like to experience a variety of outdoor activities in a wilderness setting, but return to a hot shower and a comfortable bed at the end of the day. The minimum age for trip participants is 18 years. We’ll be staying and hiking at elevations from 300' to 3,000' so we won't have to be concerned about acclimatization. Hikes will be easy to moderate in difficulty, 5-7 miles in length, and only a few hundred feet in elevation changes. Our pace will generally be leisurely, with plenty of time for photography, admiring views, and identifying flora and fauna. Our bike excursion will be on a mostly level or downhill 10- to 13-mile section of the River Mountains Loop Trail and the Historic Railroad Trail that terminates at the Hoover Dam.

Equipment and Clothing

You will need to supply your own personal hydration system, a small, basic personal first-aid kit, and any prescription and over-the-counter medications you may need. Bring well-worn-in hiking boots, a day pack, and clothing that can accommodate a range of weather, and don't forget your camera and field glasses. Bicycles and helmets will be provided by a local outfitter.

As soon as you are approved for this trip, the leader will send you a more detailed list of items to bring.






The Mojave Desert is home to Lake Mead, located on the Colorado River about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas. It is the largest reservoir in the United States, formed by water impounded by Hoover Dam. As this urban region has grown, the Mojave Desert has suffered. Lake Mead supplies 90% of Las Vegas water. A 12-year drought and increasing demand has caused the water level to drop at a fairly steady rate, threatening both wildlife and commerce.

Lake Mead was last full in the year 2000. Since then, the lake’s surface level has dropped about 100 feet. Today, it is about half-full—displaying a distinctive white mineral "bathtub ring" between the low and high water lines.

The Sierra Club’s outings program provides high-quality outdoor adventures led by volunteer Sierra Club members. The Outings objectives are to encourage members to see firsthand the land the Club seeks to preserve and protect, enjoy the fruits of past conservation victories, and support and champion conservation efforts.

Sierra Club founder John Muir discovered an essential truth: If you want people to go to bat for the environment, he realized, you've got to get them out into the wilderness. "If people in general could be got into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish." While water, or the lack thereof, is the main conservation issue in this region, urban sprawl, mining, dam construction, and wilderness preservation are other issues to consider.

We'll have a participatory environmental/conservation session during our trip, when we will share environmental issues—both challenges and successes—in our home regions and discuss environmental issues in this ecosystem.

We will learn and practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace to minimize our impact whenever we choose to explore nature. At the hotel, we will model recycling, conservation, and minimal use of disposable products.

Since any traveling leaves a carbon footprint, check out the information the Sierra Club offers about carbon offsets at:

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Bureau of Land Management (Red Rock/Sloan Field Office).



Steve Carriger has had a life-long love of the outdoors, but became a hiking enthusiast after his wife began planning their vacation trips. Since then, Steve has hiked in several national parks including Glacier, Olympic, and Yosemite, most recently summiting Half Dome in August 2008. He is an active volunteer at the Indian Creek Nature Center near his home, and he is a volunteer firefighter with both Firefighter 1 and First Responder certifications. Steve currently lives in Walford, Iowa, where he is a member of the Cedar-Wapsie Sierra Club Group.

Assistant Leader:

Susan Elsner is a life-long resident of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who likes to be outdoors, hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing as often as possible. Her passion for spending time outdoors began as a need to bring balance to the demands of her professional life in Information Technology and has developed into a deep appreciation of the natural environment that continues to grow with each additional year she spends in it. An experienced hiker, she has been involved in many Sierra Club Outings, first as a participant and then as a leader, and she looks forward to sharing her enthusiasm for the outdoors and the 'Outings experience' with you.

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