Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Up on Mormon Mesa

As soon as you pass the exit for Glendale and Moapa (#90), heading north on Interstate 15, you immediately begin a steep ascent to the top of Mormon Mesa.

Climbing Mormon Mesa from the south.

For the next 25 miles the highway crosses a large flat topped mesa, some 1000 feet above the surrounding valley bottoms of the Muddy and Virgin Rivers located to the south and east. The landscape is classic Mojave desert country with dense stands of Joshua trees, scattered creosote bush and spiny cholla cactus. The critters who inhabit this harsh terrain range from the deadly Mojave Green rattlesnake and the Gila monster to coyotes, road runners and the endangered desert tortoise. Ravens are probably the most commonly observed animals along this stretch of highway, where they can often be seen picking at road-kill and the edible trash thrown from passing vehicles.

Mojave Green rattlesnake, the most poisonous snake in North America.

Rising abruptly from this level plain, to the west, are the Mormon Mountains, an extremely rugged and steep range which is also a designated wilderness area. From the interstate you can't help but notice this tall imposing uplifted block of limestone with high cliffs located just below the ridge line.

The Mormon Mountains as seen from I-15

One of the only things written about this obscure range is found in the Sierra Club guide book Hiking the Great Basin:

"At least 163,00 acres here are roadless, a huge knot of untouched ridges and valleys. The range is full of cliffs, some of them over 800 feet high. The area is also known for its caves; some are rich in stalactites and other curious formations. Maps show ruins scattered widely in the valleys; these are mescal pits, large circular holes in which Paiute Indians baked agave.

Pictographs near an agve pit in the Mormon Mountains.

The Mormon Mountains are critical bighorn sheep habitat. For the sake of the sheep a sizable area has been closed to oil and gas exploration. Wild horses and burros, competing here with the sheep are slated for removal. Rattlesnakes of several species are also common."

It has also been said by local cowpokes and hunters that this extremely dry range does not contain enough water to make a cup of coffee with. Immense and isolated, these mountains are still very wild and mostly unknown to the rest the world whizzing by at 75 miles per hour.

Descent of Mormon Mesa into Mesquite Valley.

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