Question of the Day May 5, 2016
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Q:What is/are the name(s) of the mountain range(s) that ring Las Vegas? Is Mount Charleston the highest peak and, if so, what it its official height?
A:Although the Mount Charleston massif is only the eighth-highest peak in the state it is the highest in Clark County and dominates the Spring Mountain range, standing 11,916 feet at its summit. Its peak is usually snow-capped well into the spring.
If one looks at the Las Vegas Valley clockwise, three ranges run perpendicular to the valley at its apex. Going from west to east, these are the Sheep Range, Las Vegas Range, and Arrow Range, nestled between I-15 and Highway 35. Most prominent to the east is Sunrise Mountain (although the best views of it are to be had at sunset, when the waning solar rays are reflected off Sunrise Mountain's western slopes). It is separated by a pass -- navigable by car -- from Frenchman Mountain. Further to the northeast lie the Muddy Mountains, a vast semicircle completed by the shores of Lake Mead at its eastern terminus.
Directly east of the city is the River Mountain range. More prominent, though, is Black Mountain, which towers over the city of Henderson, its height accentuated by the main broadcast towers which sit atop it. Black Mountain is the northern end of the McCullough Range, an extensive series of mountains that runs parallel to I-15 toward the California border.
To the west of Sloan is the southernmost bulk of the Spring Mountain Range, capped by Mount Potosi. The latter has particular notoriety among movie buffs because it was into Mount Potosi that Carole Lombard's plane -- the TWA Skysleeper -- crashed, killing all aboard, during a War Bond tour on Jan. 16, 1942. Moving northward from Mount Potosi, the Spring Mountain Range encompasses the La Made Range of mountains, as well as the iconic Red Rock escarpment, before swinging northwest to culminate in the Charleston Mountains.
While giving relatively short shrift to the La Madre Range in his Hiking Southern Nevada, author and avid mountain climber Branch Whitney writes that Red Rock is "nearly 200,000 acres of multicolored sandstone, ancient limestone, canyons, mountains, washes and waterfalls … The 2,000-foot-high sandstone walls make the canyons in Red Rock unique … Unlike many other sandstone mountains in the United States, the peaks at Red Rock Canyon can be climbed without using ropes."
According to Whitney, the Spring Mountain Range "gets its name from the numerous springs hidden deep inside the mountains; it … extends for 50 miles. No other major city and mountain range within such close proximity have such a difference in elevation. When you stand on Charleston Peak, you'll look down almost 10,000 feet to Las Vegas, yet you're only 30 miles from the Strip."
For those who want to climb, yet stick to the well-visited sites, Whitney's heftier, more colorful Hiking Las Vegas is recommended. It restricts its coverage to Mount Charleston, Red Rock Canyon, and the Lake Mead area. However, it offers a greater profusion of trails to follow and in generous detail, too. Both books are invaluable resources for the Vegas-area hiker.