Saturday, June 9, 2012

Offroad: Mormon Mesa-St. Thomas

This ride was a good days outing from Mesquite Nevada in a mini-van around the historic Mormon Mesa and St. Thomas overlook. The ride was 125 miles around some breath-taking overlooks and red rocks with a thousand feet change in altitude. At the time of the ride the dirt roads were dry and fairly well maintained. Lake Mead was still below the historic town of St. Thomas and hiking trails were being well used.

Seeing the Virgin River Valley from the top of Mormon Mesa with Gordon and Hugh wasn't enough for me. Even though they were dirt, the roads seem to look like they'd been scraped in the not to distant past so we decided to try to get the family van up the mesa from the Overton side so Mom and Dad could see it too.   [A free Google Earth file of this route is available at: Google Earth Trail FileOffroading Home.]

The road which runs right by the small airport in Overton is the one which continues up to the top of the Mesa and it's well traveled. There are a couple or two trails leading to the right (south) but, not being sure, we continued on to the far side of the Mesa and turned along the east rim like I had been on before.

Taking it fairly slow in our low-slung vehicle, we didn't encounter hardly anything more than mildly-annoying bumps or roughness and the views were well worth the drive. The seven hundred foot difference in elevation to the river bottom below makes for superb views all along the rim.

There are several aspects which provide reasons for the grandeur. The muddy virgin river makes a dizzying path back and forth and around the river bottoms which give high contrast due to being full of grasses and the invasive Tamerisk bushes – something the Feds and Parks people have been fighting for years.

The mountains in the distance, the color of the rock, the intricately eroded cliff sides and expansive vistas of Lake Mead continually produce involuntary "Oohs" and "Aahs" and "look-at-that's" around every bend in the road.

And what was really interesting for me was to see the entire area we've been loving to ride in these past four years from a viewpoint that I've never seen them before. From the point of the mesa you can look directly at the Clive's Landing Road leading to Fisherman's Cove.

In the distance are the read rocks of Whitney Pockets and Whitney Junction and slightly south is what is known as "the Narrows" leading into the middle Gold Butte riding area and the red rocks of Devil's Fire. We spent close to thirty minutes with binoculars just admiring Gold Butte and "finding things."

Down below to the south, on the shore of the lake, we could see rectangular areas which we thought might be the old streets and buildings of St. Thomas, probably once the most active town in the whole area due to mining. Progress, in the form of Lake Mead, destroyed the town as it's waters rose; but, ironically now due to a series of dry winters and the gluttonous and insatiable Southern California quest for water rights, many people are thinking the lake will never fill that high again.

We decided to take a run out that way to see what there was. None of us had ever been that far toward the lake on that side. Getting there turned out to be easier said than done.

The road along the west rim of the mesa didn't look too bad from the point so we decided to take that and weren't disappointed. It was a bit more rutted than the east rim but still not so bad that it took the fun out of it. That, it seems, was the easy part.

We drove on paved road through Overton and toward the back entrance of the Valley of Fire. We went what seemed like a long, long ways – too long not to have already missed the turn off. So we turned around and meticulously watched for the turnoff we had missed. Right, we were back to Overton and still hadn't seen the turnoff.

So, back around we went figuring this time that we really must have not gone far enough. Still no turnoff and we had gone up the bluff and past the wide-spot where snowbird trailers like to park in droves. Although we had seen the turnoff before and knew it WAS there… somewhere, it had alluded us again and we decided that it must be fate we abandon the effort.

When we got to Overton however, my OC disorder kicked in and I decided to stop and ask in a convenience store. A mistake, because it turned out to be staffed by kids which acted like they'd not been raised in Nevada. As a parting shot, one told me that he'd seen a T-shirt once with "St. Thomas" on it up in the antique shop.

Now you'd think I could be able to leave it alone, but not me – I just had to go back to that store and see if I could find someone over 18 to talk to that might have heard of the thing. It's now a recreation area overlook for crying out loud! Fortunately, the lady in that store told me right were to go – it was completely PAST the turn off to Valley of Fire!

Back around we went now for the third time and easily found the turn-off; but, it is now on the other side of the new toll booth they are building (not yet open at the time). It is a short drive from the Lake Shore Drive down to the overlook and the two parking lots with their no-flush "rest"rooms – believe me, "rest" isn't the word I'd use in that kind of smell.

There are some interesting information kiosks, although they really didn't explain much. You can see several foundations of buildings in the distance and there are a couple of trails which wind down the bank and toward the former town. Not being able to hike like that, it's not something that we get to see; but, I'm sure it's worth it if you've got even a little bit of stamina and the joints to match.

All in all, it was a great day-trip from Mesquite and every bit enjoyable as a "cabin fever" respite. It wasn't open the day we went but an additional activity would be to stop in at the Lost City Museum on the southern outskirts of Overton. They have much more information on the area and the historic city's of the area.

Additionally, there is Sugar's Cafe to stop and eat at. And, as long as you are out at the back entrance, the Valley of Fire road is there to take as an alternative route back to the freeway if you don't mind a road with a fairly hefty toll.

Learn A Little More

I've posted a few video clips before of one of my favorite pianists, Victor Borge. A favorite probably because he just didn't play the piano, he made you chuckle.

In these days of "Everyone's Got Talent" I suppose that it was inevitable I would eventually find a more youthful version of the piano master. Here is Kieran Norman and Owen Elsley who give their apologies to his memory.

Apologies to Victor Borge


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