Morey Peak, in the Hot Creek Range of Nevada, is certainly obscure. The southern and southeastern faces of this volcanic plateau present an impressive palisade of cliffs and steep gullies,
and multiple steep summits. The roads are troublesome for even 4WD vehicles. Yet the registers on Morey and its (possibly higher) immediate neighbor contain a surprising number of signatures. It turns out that Morey is on several peak lists, and was also lauded by John Hart in his excellent summary, "Hiking the Great Basin".
Hart's descriptions of Morey are still basically correct; but since his book was last reprinted in 1991, the access has changed significantly. The purpose of this mountain page is to update Hart's description, and to add details and illustrations to the route descriptions.
There is a very slight controversy about which peak in the Hot Creek Range is actually the highest. A note in the register claims the peak 0.25 mile NNE of Morey benchmark is actually the highest; so plan to climb it too; and to be honest, it’s a nicer summit. Whichever summit you are on, the other will look higher! The USGS topo shows both peaks have a final closed contour of 10240’, and the area enclosed in that contour is about the same for both, so the elevation difference cannot be great.
The descriptions below should contain enough information to help you find the route "the old-fashioned way". However, if you are not opposed to modern conveniences, you might download this GPS file (gpx format).
Getting ThereSept 22, 2012 update: the road in on the NE side was washed out recently-- badly!
The description below is as if one were starting the trip from Las Vegas, Nevada. The route is broken into two choices for the paved roads, and two for the gravel roads. All of the gravel road routes, and all waypoints, are shown in the overview map below.
Morey Waypoint Map
Paved Roads 1 (via Tonopah)
From the intersection of I-15 and route us95 in Las Vegas, take us95 NW ~205 miles to the town of Tonopah. (There are often speed traps in the towns of Indian Springs, Beatty and Goldfield, so SLOW DOWN when you approach these towns, and believe the "reduced speed" signs.) Travel west through Tonopah to the intersection with route us 6 (wayoint W-US6). Turn right (N) on us6, and travel N then ~NNE for 59 miles to a gravel road on the left (N; waypoint WG1). (You will pass through the "town" of Warm Springs just 9.7 miles before the WG1 turn.) There are semi-abandoned-looking, military-style barracks and storehouses on the N side of the road at this turn.
Paved Roads 2 (via Rachel)
From the intersection of us95 and i-15 in Las Vegas, travel 21.7 miles NE on i-15, to the off-ramp for us93. Take the off-ramp for us93, turn L under i-15, and travel 85.4 miles N on route us93, to a left turn onto state road 318 (NEP1). (Just BEFORE you get to this turn, you will pass through the towns of Alamo and Ash Springs; gas up at either of these towns; as of 2009, there was not another gas station on the rest of the route.) From the left turn onto route 318, travel only 0.6 miles and bear left (really straight) onto state road 375 (NEP2), the "Extraterrestrial Highway". In 98.4 miles, route 375 will intersect us6 (waypoint NE3). Turn right on us6, and travel 25.3 miles roughly NE to the left turn (waypoint NEG1) onto the Moore's Station Road (This road was signed in 2009).
Note that you could also use this approach to reach the “west side” gravel roads. Instead of traveling NE 25.3 miles on us6, travel just 9.7 miles and take the left turn at WG1.
Dirt Roads 1 (W side of range)
From WG1, travel roughly NW for 4.1 miles to waypoint WG2, an intersection (which may look like a fork, as one of the legs leading south is a bit decrepit). Take the right fork, and travel 11.4 miles to WG4, which is in the middle of a ranch. (WG3 marks where another road branches L and travels to the W side of the ranch.) You will need to open (AND CLOSE!) a gate just before the ranch, and a gate after you leave the ranch. From WG4, turn R and travel 0.57 miles to waypoint WG5. At WG5, turn L and travel 3.5 mile, roughly NE, to waypoint WG6b (you can also turn L at waypoint WG6a, which is about 0.2 mile or less before WG6b). Up to this point, the road has been pretty good; it is about to get worse.
From the left turn at WG6b, travel roughly NW and NNW to the mouth of Sixmile Canyon. You will pass some fairly well-preserved charcoal kilns at various places in the canyon.
I was able to get my 2003 Subaru Outback 7.5 miles past WG6b, to an elevation of ~7500’ at W-CAMP; but I have skid plates on the front and rear of the car, and they took quite a few hits. I stopped at this site because there was a substantial washout farther up the road. (There are some small camp areas on the W side of the road, under the trees, and a steep embankment down to the streambed.) The rangers at Tonopah may tell you that this road is “maintained”, and it was listed as “suitable for passenger vehicles” as late as 2002; however, in 2008, there were 3’-tall weeds growing in some sections of the road, and there were many, many washouts. In July 2008, I made 21 crossings – with water – of the stream. The plants hang low over the stream at the crossings, and are sure to scratch up the paint of taller vehicles. In 2006, a 4x4 was found abandoned in the middle of one stream crossing, apparently stuck. In short, this last section is not a road to be taken lightly.
If you can get past the washout near 7500’, continue traveling N on Sixmile Canyon Road to WG7. At WG7, a fainter road travels NE then E toward Morey Peak. This road looked decently navigable in 2008 (I could have taken the Subaru up at least 0.1 miles), and has some decent camp areas among the pinyon pines.
Dirt Roads 2: (NE Side of Range)
From NEG1, travel N and then NW 12.15 miles on the Moore’s Station Road, to NEG2. (At 11.9 miles, you will turn NNW and descend steeply down to the valley floor.) At NEG2, turn sharp R, (~NE). This is the intersection claimed by Hart to have a full set of stop signs; but there were no signs in 2009. Continue another 2.35 miles to NEG3; initially the road will head NE to the edge of the valley, then will travel ~N. There was a substantial washout in this section in 2009, but we were able to break down the banks of the gully with just a shovel, and then could drive our vehicle over without incident. At NEG3, bear left up the less distinct road. Travel up this rougher road ~NW for 2.85 miles, to NEG4. At NEG4, there is an indistinct right across an open area; DON’T go R, but instead turn slightly L, initially W and then roughly WSW, for an additional 2.42 miles to some old shacks (the remains of the town of Morey). You can park here, or if your car is willing, continue W on the road for a few tenths of a mile, to some nicer campsites amid the pinyon pines.
The road between NEG3 and NEG5 is rough, with many chances to ding your undercarriage. I’m reasonably sure I could get my 2003 Outback up here, but a HC vehicle would be better.
Waypoints for Roads
The waypoints described above are given below in decimal degree format
, relative to WGS84
NEP1,37.528919,-115.2199,,L turn from us 93 onto state road 318
NEP2,37.532044,-115.231142,,Veer L onto route 375 (from 318)
NEP3,38.190904,-116.369988,,Town of Warm Springs (intersection of 375 and us 6)
NEG1,38.479776,-116.098054,,Turn N off us 6 onto Moore's Station Rd
NEG2,38.626613,-116.190017,,Sharp R (NE) at intersection
NEG3,38.655263,-116.178592,,Veer L at fork
NEG4,38.678185,-116.217438,,Keep L near old drill site
NEG5,38.671292,-116.256578,,Abandoned Morey townsite
W-US6,38.062673,-117.222512,,"Turn N (R) form N-bound us 95, onto us 6"
WG1,38.309796,-116.276358,,"Turn NW onto secondary road, from us 6"
WG2,38.351496,-116.329595,,Bear R (N) at fork
WG3,38.506246,-116.341283,,Approaching ranch; head toward S gate.
WG4,38.511018,-116.342885,,In ranchland; turn R (NE)
WG5,38.511542,-116.333452,,Turn L (NE) at fork
WG6a,38.542257,-116.29101,,Optional turn directly N to enter canyon mouth
WG6b,38.544898,-116.286578,,"Default turn, NW, to canyon mouth"
W-CAMP,38.631989,-116.323075,,Area to camp (~7500') if can't get past washout
WG7,38.638049,-116.314539,,Old road toward Morey branches E then NE off Sixmile Rd
Two approaches are summarized in the map below. Neither “trail” is maintained or even goes all the way to the summit. The western approach is shown in purple
, and the NE approach in red
24K Topo Map of Hikes
Depending on the starting point, this hike is ~6 miles RT, with 3000’ accumulated elevation gain if you try both highpoints. The dryfall (which can be avoided) is class 3+, else nothing is worse than class 2.
From WG7 (or farther east, if you camped up the road), continue following a faint dirt road to waypoint WT1, where you will cut R (SE; i.e., don’t follow the other branch that trends ENE). Head roughly SE to WT2; between WT1 and WT2, there are portions of old roads. At WT2, you have a choice; either continue E up the gully (brushy at times, with thorny plants), or climb ~400’ vertical on the hill to the SE, then contour along the S side of the valley. Both routes meet at WT3.
View from West, Smoky Day
Meadows on West Side, through Smoke
2-Track on West Side
Intrusive Dikes, West Side
At WT3, you have another choice; either go directly up toward WT5 (the NW side of the highest peak), or take the more southern route to WT4, which is closer to the official Morey benchmark. Travel to WT5 will bring you to one class 3+ dryfall.
Dryfall, West Route
WT4 and WT5 are on the ridge; the route to the top of Morey Benchmark is pretty obvious from here, and there are very
occasional cairns. Nothing need be more than class 2, with the possible exception of a brief tree-aided descent near the summit of Morey Benchmark. The route to the higher summit is a bit more obscure; get to the NW side of the summit, and there is a largely class 2/3 route over the ledges.
South from Highest Peak
This approach is mainly over old two-tracks or fairly distinct herdpaths, down to waypoint NET12. After that, there are very
occasional cairns. The round-trip is ~13.5 miles, with 4000’ accumulated elevation gain. Look for a clear weekend; much of the hike is in the open, and there are no real escape routes should lightning develop.
(Hart describes a cross-country trip on the N side of the range; this "shortcut" is not necessary, as a distinct road continues to the same place.)
From the fields at the old Morey townsite (shown below), head NW up the old road, through NET1 (the road is still moderate, and could be driven to NET1, where there are better campsites among the conifers).
Do NOT take the R fork near NET1, but continue L up the main road, through several switchbacks and waypoints NET2 through NET5. After NET5, travel W and descend across a wet area in a gully. Continue uphill, soon SW, still on a two-track road, until making a sharp turn ESE at NET6. Travel to NET7, still on a road, and make another sharp turn WSW to NET8. At NET8, do NOT take the road up and to the east side of the hill, but instead curve to the L (SE) and head to NET9. The road becomes a somewhat obscure herdpath; follow the path over the ridge at NET9, down into the valley at NET10, and eventually back up onto the sagebrush and grass-covered saddle.
Morey Town Camp for NE Hike 2-track to Morey (NE Route)
The track is fairly distinct until you reach NET12 on the eastern shoulder of peak 10127; descend slightly SW, traverse the E side of another peaklet, and climb the hill to NET13 and WT5. When you reach WT5, you may want to climb the highpoint from the NW side. Morey benchmark is visible from the shoulder of the highpoint (WT5), and the route is as described for the western approach.
NE Route to Morey Tableland North of Morey NW View across Volcanic Cauldron
View N from Morey Benchmark
The Lichen Peaks
Morey is actually rather unimpressive, compared to the steep, rugged Lichen peaks
to the SE. Regrettably, weather and time schedules have kept me from ever reaching these summits. The route to the Lichen Peaks is described in John Hart’s book; probably the access is best approached from the west, otherwise it would be a very long day to reach that area. Direct access from the SE may be possible, but the steep canyons and ridges on that side look technical.
Waypoints for Hikes
WT1,38.635279,-116.305128,,Keep R (don't follow old road up hill)
WT2,38.628198,-116.296488,,Decision point for valley vs. hillside
WT3,38.629405,-116.290456,,Decision point for N or S routes to ridgeline
WT4,38.628769,-116.286556,,Ridgeline nearer Morey Benchmark
WT5,38.630948,-116.286305,,Ridgeline nearer highpoint
NET1,38.675497,-116.261405,,Take L fork
NET2,38.6762,-116.26434,,turn of switchback
NET3,38.674608,-116.263391,,turn of switchback
NET4,38.674246,-116.268936,,turn of switchback
NET5,38.672975,-116.267408,,turn of switchback
NET6,38.66759,-116.291464,,turn sharp left up hill on last road switchback
NET7,38.666467,-116.284601,,"on ridge, head WSW"
NET8,38.664112,-116.294555,,"Gradually turn SE, and follow less distinct herdpath"
NET9,38.661779,-116.293222,,"Ridge on herdpath, start slight descent"
NET10,38.660152,-116.295353,,"Lowpoint of herdpath, in valley"
NET11,38.653291,-116.293328,,Pass in open sparse field
NET12,38.639345,-116.285123,,"Shoulder peak 10127; descend slightly, to SW"
NET13,38.632402,-116.287512,,"Edge of highpoint, turn SE"
After poring over google earth and other photos, I'm convinced it should be possible to climb the mountain from the east. The route looks steep, but dryfalls aside, mainly class 3. The access, however, is unknown; the route should avoid the Faultless site, and the roads look fairly good. The starting elevation would be low (~6400'), but there are few intermediate lumps to climb on this side. This route would be much kinder on vehicles.
Flora and Fauna
In general, the best flowers are in the wetter areas down by the streams. While there is a significant stream across the NE approach road (at least, earlier in the summer), the west side approach is more consistently damp, and is greener and lusher.
Irises near Morey Lupines near Morey Wild Roses near Morey
Primrose Palmer Penstemons Scarlet Columbine
Purple Penstemons Lavender Penstemons Red Penstemons
“Wild” (feral) horses roam the high fields, and down on the edges of the mountains, pronghorns graze. I saw elk scat, but saw no elk. I saw lots of jackrabbits on the W side, and two eagles.
"Wild" Horse on Morey Pronghorns in Distance
This area is tough on the pronghorns, as they share graze and water sources with cattle, and there are many fences in the area. Pronghorns run incredibly quickly (70 mph), but they don’t jump well.
The most obvious mountains are composed of densely-welded ash-flow tuffs (quartz latite) and rhyolite intrusives, mainly from the Oligocene epoch, perhaps 25-30 million years ago (Boyle et al., 2005; John, 1987). This time frame was the cusp of the Basin and Range orogenies, and the original volcanic landscape was extensively faulted throughout volcanism, so the original volcanic features are not easily inferred. The edge of the Hot Springs Cauldron – where the rocks collapsed after evacuation of a magma chamber – is just west of Morey Peak (John, 1987). If you take the western route, you will traverse younger, less-welded tuffs and volcanic intrusives, before hitting the densely-welded tuffs of the higher peaks. The edge of the cauldron corresponds roughly to the steep cliffs on the western edge of the Hot Springs Range, and on the east side of Sixmile Canyon.
Recently, there has been in interest in redeveloping gold mines N of the town of Warm Springs.
The Faultless Site
If you chance to drive up the Moore’s Station Road near sunset, you may notice very bright lights, illuminating a spot of desert that appears to contain nothing but a peculiar pattern of roads. This is the site of the Faultless underground nuclear test,
performed in 1968, with one of the highest-yield weapons ever exploded in the continental USA. You can actually drive very near the marker, by continuing straight, rather than turning, at NEG2. Descriptions of the Faultless test -- most of which are publicly accessible on-line -- are actually some of the best sources of information on the regional geology.
The motivation for the Faultless test – in this location – is murky. Rumor is that Howard Hughes did not want such large explosions in the Nevada Test Site (NTS)
, which is just about 80 miles from Las Vegas. As the story goes
, his main concern was that the casinos might not survive such ground motion.
The Faultless test produced a few surprises. The ground dropped a lot more than expected, based on experience from previous tests at NTS, so the site was deemed unsuitable for future testing.
The state of Nevada and the Desert Research Institute (DRI) are working together on a performance assessment (PA) to predict the migration of radionuclides from the site (Boyle et al., 2005). Considering Nevada’s opposition to nuclear waste, one might expect limited cooperation; but the test here already occurred and spread radionuclides underground, so the state may be inclined to convince users of the nearby land and aquifers that all is well. Issues that are normally hot-button topics – such as the failure to model colloidal transport and the use of just 4 stable isotope analogues to model all radionuclides – have not alarmed the state.
The PA for the Faultless site is actually quite simple compared to other sites with potential contamination; DRI has done a good job keeping the work at a level that can be understood by the state regulators. There are curious ambiguities about critical issues, like where the water in the relevant aquifers is actually headed; initial pre-test reports gave a fairly simple picture, but recent studies have suggested rather different flow patterns (Pohlmann et al., 1999a, 1999b).
Ironically, some of the most obvious environmental monitoring in the area has nothing to do with the blast itself. Back in the 1960s, miners, drillers and military projects were rather heedless about the dumping of hydrocarbon wastes and fuel. Thus there is a BLM monitoring site for hydrocarbon contamination.
These peaks are all on USFS land. There are no restrictions, other than the common sense requirements that camps be apart from water sources, and that fire use be restricted in times of drought.
On the NE route, there are near-level sites at the old town of Morey; better sites are found just a short way to the west among the conifers. On the W route, there are slim sites near the west side of the road at 7500’; there are much better sites on the two-track east of waypoint WG7.
Carry all water. While there are often streams and bogs in the valleys, the tableland is dry, and the mountain rainfall seems to sink rapidly into the volcanic soil.
What to Bring
Water! These are mainly class 1-2 hikes, with a few rougher sections; you could do most of the NE hike in comfortable athletic shoes. The NE route could be quite miserable in the rain, and rain storms can arise quickly up here, so take adequate rain gear. Most of the NE route should be skiable in a good winter.
Boyle, D.P; Lamorey, G.; Bassett, S.; Pohll, G. and Chapman, J. (2005) Development and Testing of a Groundwater Management Model for the Faultless Underground Nuclear Test, Central Nevada Test Area. DOE/NV/13609-41. (Available via http://www.osti.gov/bridge/ .)
Hart, J. (1991) Hiking the Great Basin, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco. ISBN0-87156-639-7.
John, D.A. (1987), Geologic map of the parts of the Morey and Fandango Wilderness Study Areas, Nye County, Nevada: U.S. Geological Survey, Miscellaneous Field Studies Map MF-1847, scale 1:62500. (Available on-line at USGS Publications Warehouse.)
Pohlmann, K; Chapman, J.; Hassan, A. and Papelis, C. (1999a) Evaluation of Groundwater Flow and Transport at the Faultless Underground Nuclear Test, Central Nevada Test Area. DOE/NV/11508–41.
Pohlmann, K.; Hassan, A. and Chapman, J. (1999b) Description of hydrogeologic heterogeneity and evaluation of radionuclide transport at an underground nuclear test, J. Contaminant Hydrology 44, 353–386.
Appendix: Register Entries
Morey Highpoint Register
I've redone the page to include the above register entry. I can't imagine why this is important, but I was criticized for not including pictures of the register.