From a slot canyon to rocky mountain highs, the Muddy Mountains hike has it all
Poor Lake Mead. Seen the photos viraling about lately on the Internet? Pure disaster porn: Before-and-after pictures showing dramatically receding waters, the bathtub ring (actually now a bathtub band) more jarringly white than ever, beached boats and go-nowhere piers stuck in the cracking mud.
Don’t let it get you down. Remember that there’s more to the lake than visions of slow, grinding apocalypse. To wit, nine — count ’em, nine — federally designated wilderness areas within the Lake Mead National Recreational Area, which — to dispel the notion that wilderness means keep out — are open to hikers. This particular jaunt into the Muddy Mountains Wilderness Area takes place northwest of the lake, where a slot canyon leads to a steep, vigorous uphill hike to a saddle ridge. The reward: sweeping, spectacular views of the Bowl of Fire sandstone formations to the east that give Valley of Fire a run for its money.
Anniversary Narrows is considered one of the best slot canyon hikes in Southern Nevada for a couple reasons: One, it’s comparatively easy to reach and, two, it packs a lot of visual drama (and, okay, a touch of claustrophobia) in a roughly .3 mile hike. Created by thousands of years of geologic topsy-turvy, wind and rushing waters, Anniversary Narrows’ soaring walls curl, swoop and curve as though in silent testament to the drama that created them. You don’t so much hike through the narrows as sort of keep your feet moving while the ribbed and banded limestone formations unfurl around you like tapestry. The loose, sometimes beachy gravel floor makes for an easy hike, though you’ll have to hop up a few rock shelves and negotiate some boulders blocking the way; you may have to offer your hiking partner an occasional helping hand as well.
The Bowl of Fire
Well, that was — what — a scant 20 minutes or so? You came all the way out here for that? Oh, no. The best — and, yes, the toughest — is yet to come. The narrows will spit you out onto a broad, gravelly wash that makes for a leisurely stroll as it curves east to hug the ridge bordering the Bowl of Fire; but first, look back for a dramatic tableau of the Anniversary Narrows’ soaring canyon walls seeming to snap shut like castle doors. From here, the wash will fork; take the right path to begin scaling the ridge to see the Bowl of Fire. Be warned that this portion of the hike is decidedly more strenuous than the Anniversary Narrows — but the initial leg will have you tromping easily enough through soft scrubland, marked by occasional slabs of gypsum glittering in the dirt. Continuing up the ridge, you’ll appreciate good hiking shoes to stay yourself against the loose plates of rock breaking up beneath your feet. Thrillseekers who enjoy a good Raiders of the Lost Ark scare on their hikes will appreciate this.
With the path a mere memory, aim for the notch in the ridge, which may require some patience, determination and pathfinding ingenuity where the peak mushrooms out in a rocky blossom. When you reach the top, drink in the view to the east, where the Bowl of Fire rocks stun with their orange fire and gleam.
After the hike
East Lake Mead is dotted with little dives and chain bars; the clean and friendly PT’s Pub (6055 E. Lake Mead Blvd., 702-452-1737) on Lake Mead near Toiyabe Street offer plenty of draft-beer options and a decent bar-food menu to refuel.
Getting there: Take Lake Mead Boulevard east into Lake Mead National Recreation Area, then left on Northshore Road. At Mile Marker 16, Anniversary Mine Road will be on the left; non-four-wheel drive vehicles can drive a decent portion of the way in. Follow the signs to the Anniversary Narrows trailhead.
2 miles from
trailhead to ridge