OverviewUPDATE April 24, 2012: Big changes are in store. Huge powerline towers are being constructed along the west side of the range, near the base of the mountains, as part of the "green energy" initiative. Rumors are that the access roads to the towers will be blocked off. The failed Coyote Springs development, just N of the Arrow Canyon Range, may be turned into a PV solar facility. The developer is in hot water for illegal campaign contributions and alleged embezzlement, but the wheels of change are set in motion. Access will be uncertain in future years, and the view of the mountains from route 93 will certainly be scarred. Now, back to our previously scheduled programming.
The Arrow Canyon Range rises dramatically above the route 93 valley, just north of Las Vegas. The west face is composed of light and dark siliceous limestone bands, with one layer of tan-white quartzite, all arranged in imposing cliffs. Numerous canyons cut the west side; perhaps only three yield class 2 access to the ridge crest. The other canyons require class 3 or class 4 scrambling, or end blindly in towering cliffs well below the crest. Once on the ridge crest, any travel north or south varies from a class 1 walk over obstacles, to “easy” class 4, to possible class 5 north of Peak 5219T. There are registers on at least three of the peaks, with few entries; for example, the south 5219T peak was visited in 1994, then in 2001, then in 2006.
The newest USGS Topographic map is the 1:24000 “Arrow Canyon” quad from 1986. This is a provisional map, superceding the 1958 USGS 1:62500 version; yet the newer map contains many of the red herrings common to provisional maps, such as marked “permanent streams” that may flow once a year at best. The ridge contains at least 8 summits over 5000’, spread over 4.5 miles. From north to south, these peaks are marked 5146T, Hidden 5026, Arrow 5205, 5226T, 5195T, 5219T, 5083T and 5098T on the 1986 map. A side ridge, SSE of Hidden, contains another peak dubbed 5008T. There is just one benchmark (Hidden 5026), and a third-order vertical control (Arrow 5205); the “T” elevations are for spot checks, and given the recent vintage of this map, may never have been processed with anything more than a photogrammetric analysis.
Even though the ridge itself rises dramatically, few of the peaks are especially dominant, and there has been much confusion over location of the highpoint. There are several large survey cairns on the ridge, possibly remnants of the 1958 elevation spot check. The 1958 map placed the highest measured elevation, 5226’, in the south part of the range, and indicates this elevation was checked by survey; however, the 1986 map established this same point as 5219’, and assigned the 5226’ elevation to a point 1.25 miles farther north. The latter point does not have a survey cairn, and its elevation may derive from a photogrammetric analysis, which could easily have an error of +/- 10 feet. The Desert Peaks Section of the Sierra Club (DPS) visited in 1967, and left a register at the current 5226T; the DPS report from that outing describes a trip south to what appeared to be a higher peak, but it is unclear where they intersected the ridge. The 1967 DPS trip worked from a 1:250000 map with little detail. Then the DPS revisited in 1994, leaving a register 1.25 miles south (at the point currently marked 5219T), proclaiming that summit as the “Peak 5,226 [Highpoint of the Arrow Canyon Range]”. The same person signed into both register books, and his comments are confusing. However, by that time, the USGS assigned 5,226’ to the peak 1.25 miles away. When viewing the ridge from the west, the confusion is entirely understandable; one sees a dramatic, high cliff wall, serrated on top, with numerous canyons that blend into the dark background. The serrations are rugged, but they are typically just 800 to 100’ high and are shielded by each other, so it is almost impossible to distinguish individual peaks from the road.
The bottom line: if you wish to claim that you have visited “the highpoint”, it would be best to visit both the current 5226T and 5219T peaks.
Most of the route is fairly open, with sparse nasty plants; the cheat grass is the most obnoxiously persistent herbage. There are a few catsclaw acacias on the ridge; else there are sparse cacti and agaves to avoid. I’ve scared up mountain sheep, rabbits, and a few chipmunks. In the spring of a wet year, the desert is full of beautiful flowers.
This range is an easy drive from Las Vegas. From the intersection of i-15 and us95, take i-15 for 21 miles northeast. Then take the ramp onto us93 north, and drive an additional 18.5 to 23 miles north, depending on the desired peak. Access is by 2WD; one simply parks on the side of us93, as far off the shoulder as possible (to avoid getting a notice from the highway patrol). Then there is a cross-desert trek east, of 1 to 1.5 miles, before entering one of the canyons on the steep west side of the range. The desert terrain is fairly open, but the cheat grass has been bad this last year (2005), filling sock tops with annoying sharp seeds, so desert gaiters are recommended.
I have been able to get Verizon cell phone service for the entire range above 5000’, though the service is sometimes intermittent and may require numerous attempts for connection.
None so far, except that you will get a non-fine notice from the highway patrol if you are not off the “used” parts of the highway. Perhaps it would help to leave a notice for the patrol on your dash or left window. I’ve parked there four times, and received a notice only once, when I was not parked in a turnout, but just on the far right shoulder.
When To Climb
This is definitely a late fall to early spring hike. This area has essentially no shade, no water, and is brutally (fatally) hot in summer. Check the weather forecasts for Las Vegas; if temperatures will be above 80F in Vegas on the day of the proposed hike, go somewhere else. Carry all your own water, and take a lot.
This is a desolate area, without many nearby camping facilities. One could camp at the Valley of Fire State Park on i15; but it would probably be faster to “camp” in a cheap motel in Las Vegas. There is also a state campground at Cathedral Gorge, some miles north on route 93. You could backpack a ways in from the road, but you would have to bring all water, and I can’t imagine the situation would be comfortable.
Use the weather in Las Vegas as a guide.