A high point in one of the Basin and Range mountain ranges, Davidson Peak is a fun ridge scramble on ancient sea limestone with great views of eastern Nevada and western Arizona.
Approaching Davidson Peak from the south on Sheep Pens Road.
Overview: Observe in solitude the raw geologic events and forces that shaped the eastern Great Basin from the tilted limestone sediment summit of Davidson Peak. The fun, rocky scramble up its east ridge has a steep "limestone slickrock" section and circumvents the huge gulch stretching down from the peak. Pass over bryozoan and bright orange brachiopods on slopes with healthy Joshua trees and hedgehog cacti.
Location: East Mormon Mountains in Mormon Mountain Wilderness BLM, near Mesquite, Nevada.
Distance/Elevation: 5 miles round trip; 2,200' elevation gain. Start = 3,163', summit = 5,315'.
Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous Class 2 ridge hike.
Coordinates: Trailhead = Sheep Pens Road = 36°53'59.14" N 114°17'51.92" W. Summit = 36°53'45.36" N 114°19'27.51" W.
Navigational aids: Bureau of Land Management - Nevada/Overton topo map, Stav is Lost's trip report.
Date Hiked: 4/3/22
Geology: East-tilted Cambrian through Pennsylvanian block rooted to its Precambrian basement rocks.
“A million years is a short time - the shortest worth messing with for most problems. You begin tuning your mind to a time scale that is the planet's time scale. For me, it is almost unconscious now and is a kind of companionship with the earth.”
- John McPhee, Basin and Range
A high point to one of the many parallel Great Basin mountain ranges, the horn-shaped summit of Davidson Peak with its steep west-facing cliffs rises solitary over the expansive Mojave desert as you drive on I-15 heading north from Las Vegas. Formed during the time of shallow seas, when North America was closer to the equator, its rocks are 500 - 300 million years old and contain coral and brachiopod fossils. This hike is a ridge ramble for the entire 2.5 miles to the summit, gaining roughly 1,000 feet per mile, and is surprisingly scenic and full of intriguing sights, like bright orange fossils and a gaping, seemingly bottomless gulch.
Our goal this year is to hike to as many high points of the Great Basin mountain ranges as we can, and Davidson is our third. We hiked Wheeler Peak and Virgin Peak last autumn, both in the eastern-most Basin and Range region. From Davidson's summit, we could see another target summit, Mormon Peak, the highest point in the Mormon Mountain Wilderness, northwest of Mesquite, a town on the border of Nevada and Arizona. Nevada is the most mountainous state, so we have a lot of choices!
Another planned summit is North Schell Peak, a nearly 12,000-foot high point near Ely, Nevada.
The hike begins after a 12-mile drive north from I-15 that initially follows the Old Spanish Trail. It is a good gravel road but nevertheless slow-going. We parked on Sheep Pens Road just north of the radio towers. A short spur road takes you to the base of Davidson's east ridge. We walked to the end of this road and started up the ridge on the left side of a wide gulch; a few cairns were present. About 1/3 of the way up, we encountered large rocks, so we skirted the left side of the ridge.
After skirting the ridge top, enter a beautiful valley/saddle with great places to take a break and enjoy very healthy Joshua trees, red barrel and prickly pear cacti. Ahead, confront a steep climb to remain on the east ridge. On the way up, we circumvented the actual ridge top to the right, looking down into the deep and wide gulch coming from the peak. Davidson Peak is an easy scramble straight ahead. However, it is not too difficult to stay on top of the ridge, requiring some use of hands for hoisting and balance, but mostly a Class 2. The ridge to the summit is long and flat.
Mormon Peak is seen to the northwest, and the solitary hulk of Moapa Peak to the southwest. The west side drops almost straight down . We could see Virgin Peak to the southeast, an 8,000' summit we hiked last autumn, out of the Gold Butte National Monument.
On the way down, we stayed on top of the ridge all the way to the saddle, hiking over a fun, steep, smooth and relatively rockless limestone slab which elevated us high above steep drops on both sides. We stayed for the most part on the ridge the rest of the way down and then descended through a shallow canyon to arrive at the spur road lined with yellow poppies.
The ancient Basin and Range mountain ranges rise above a stark and dusty desert; it appears as if there is not much there to discover. But when you get into the "heart" of them, walk over their scratchy limestone and volcanic rocks, circumvent sharp yucca leaves and cactus spines, catch the sudden crimson blooms of a claret cup hedgehog, and feel the desert space you know you are in a special, unique and maybe even spiritual place.
Keep On Exploring!
From Davidson Peak summit; looking at the ridge we ascended and Moapa Peak in the distance.
I'm not sure what this is - appears to be a fossil that has been exposed to a lot of iron - maybe a brachiopod? If anyone knows what this may be, please let me know!
Start of hike; we parked on Sheep Pens Road before it ascended to communication towers and walked cross-country to a spur road from Sheep Pens that led to the base of Davidson's east ridge (right on photo). Davidson Peak is highest point on the right.
At end of spur road, we hiked up this east ridge with the large gulch to the right. Stay on ridge to the top.
On the ridge
On the ridge, gulch below - summit far right
Skirting top of ridge cliffs by hiking on the left side of it ~ 1/3 of the way up.
After skirting to the left side of cliffs, regain the ridge to arrive at beautiful saddle.
On saddle looking back at ridge on the right and large gully - approach road faintly seen on desert floor.
Taking a break on the saddle; Joshua tree, hedgehog cactus, and prickly pear.
Some cool stuff on the trail:
Fishhook cactus, Indian Paintbrush on the summit, two photos of fossils (corals?), Joshua tree bloom, red barrel cactus.
The climb from the saddle up to the summit - about one mile to go! Note limestone with brown chert (microcrystalline quartz) nodules.
A good look at the summit - easy enough to stay on ridge.
Sue on fun "slickrock" section on ridge - Moapa Peak in background.
Fun walking on ridge line
Summit ridge - summit at right
Indian paintbrush on summit. looking northwest to the Mormon Mountains.
Fred on Davidson Peak summit - what better way to spend Sunday afternoon than summit a Basin and Range peak?
A very patriotic and organized peak register.
On summit looking north at the East Mormon Mountains ridge.
On summit looking at Moapa Peak to the southwest, south of Mormon Mountains.
(looks like a fun peak to climb).
Descending from the summit to follow the ridge back down.
Limestone "slickrock" section!
Back to the Joshua trees in the saddle or flat part of the ridge. We went around to the right.
Looking back - we came down the small gulley just off the ridge instead of following ridge to toe.
Parting shot of Davidson Peak.
Our tracks - South direction at top of map. The road we started at is Sheep Pens Road; there is a spur road off of Sheep Pen that a good 4-WD vehicle could drive to the base of Davidson's east ridge.
GPS tracks and profile.
Axen, G.J. , Wernicke, B.P., Skelly, M.F., Taylor, W.J. 1990. Mesozoic and Cenozoic tectonics of the Sevier thrust belt in the Virgin River Valley area, southern Nevada. Geological Society of America - Memoir 176. In the book, Basin and Range Extensional Tectonics near the latitude of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Simplified geologic map of the Mormon Mountains - Tule Springs Hills - Beaver Dam Mountains transect. Uploaded by Gary Axen. www.ResearchGate.net.
About this blog
Exploration documentaries – "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west. I hope to hear about your adventures!
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