Las Vegas is known for it's dirty thrills and free eye candy on the strip. Few people realize that the same can be said for the hills and deserts surrounding Sin City. This place simply is underrated as a mountain bike destination - especially in January when shorts, t-shirts, and fingerless gloves are considered proper attire. We lived in Vegas for 3 years, and I was continually surprised at how much good and varied biking there is. We jump at every excuse to go back for a visit. Last week it was a "business trip."
Above: view toward Las Vegas from the top of the Dead Horse Loop.
It was tough deciding between the 3 popular Vegas riding areas - they all have their pros, but with only one day to ride, I had to go with Cottonwood Canyon. Some 60-plus miles of singletrack weave their way through some stunning scenery in and around the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This is a classic desert ride with Joshua Tree forests, wild burros, abandoned mines and there are even parts of the trail that follow the exact horse-hoof-beaten path of the the Old Spanish Trail.
Above: a lightning-sparked fire at the foot of Mount Potisi has really darkened an already sun-charred desert.
Above: evening shadows begin to stretch away from massive cliffs of Aztec Sandstone.
Here are a few photos from rides-past at the other Las Vegas fat-tire hot spots.
Above: Bootleg Canyon is extremely dissimilar to Cottonwood in terms of riding conditions and scenery.
Why such a difference even though both are within a few miles of the city? Geology, of course. At Cottonwood you're riding mostly on unconsolidated alluvial fan deposits lending to a rolling, relatively smooth ride with an occasional outcrop of ledgy Permian-age limestone to keep things interesting.
The trails at Bootleg on the other hand, traverse the deeply incised guts of ancient volcanoes. There is nothing smooth about Bootleg trails - 90% of the time you are riding right on very sharp, chaotic, and unforgiving outcrops of volcanic rock. Riding here will greatly improve your technical skills in a hurry. In the photo above, you can see a black mountain of lava on the left, and red lava rock on the right. These lavas were sourced from two different calderas or large volcanoes.
When Vegas has an extra wet January and February, Bootleg is the place to be in early Spring. The normally drab mountain comes to life with colorful knee-high flora. Oh, and desert sheep are all over out here.
Last, but not least, are the Cowboy Trails. Very challenging riding up on a raised block of Permian Limestone with stiff climbs and white-knuckle descents with plenty of drops.
Above: the sandstone crags of Red Rock Canyon captures your attention on the way to the top.
Below: view toward a smoggy Las Vegas from the top of the Cowboy Trails.
So, what's it like cruising through the Sonoran Desert, riding single-handed on a narrow trail, dodging spear-like yucca? Click below to get an idea.
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