How you can protect Mount Charleston when you hike and off-road in Harris Springs Canyon after the Carpenter 1 Fire

Let’s go off-roading! The Spring Mountains National Recreation Area can be a great place to go off-roading. The Harris Springs and Harris Mountain Roads are now re-opened after a seven-year closure due to the Carpenter 1 Fire. In 2013, the Carpenter 1 Fire erupted on July 1 and over many weeks burned almost 28,000 acres of the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, otherwise known as Mount Charleston. Backroads in the Harris Springs Canyon were closed for safety.

Harris Springs Area encompasses the South side of HWY 157 starting at the Bureau of Land Management boundary and ends before the Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway. The lower portion managed by the Bureau of Land management is included in the Red Rock National Conservation Area. There are several roads for some scenic off-road use, check the motor vehicle use maps (see below) for more information.

These roads can be rough and narrow, take a friend in case you need help, and caution should be used as well as following Tread Lightly principals.
Get an off-roading map here!
• Forest Service Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) of the Spring Mountains Recreation Area Page 1 Page 2
• Forest Service Interactive Visitor Map
• Trails | OFF-ROAD Nevada

Harris Springs Road has an interesting history as to why it was built. From the US Forest Service:
“Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the development of public works projects nationwide in 1933 and the Spring Mountains became the home to the first Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in Southern Nevada in 1933. In 1934 an Economic Recovery Administration (ERA) camp was established in the Harris Spring area. The camp was taken over by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935. The work to build roads and remove beetle killed trees in the area around Griffith Peak was considered so important that plans were made to bring the President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt out on an inspection tour in 1936 after their visit to the dam project in Boulder City. However, no one told the project crew chief that the president was coming. When the president showed up on site and asked where the Harris Spring road was going, the crew chief was so shocked to find himself in conversation with the president that he was unable to explain the road would be used as a way to travel through the mountains. Since the crew chief didn’t seem to know where the road was going, the president ordered the project closed and the road remains incomplete. The CCC and the WPA built many of the trails, roads and facilities still in use on the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area today.”

a line of jeeps crawl along a snowy harris mtn rd in the spring mountainsTraveling on the Harris Springs Road these days brings travelers up to the narrow, rough Harris Mountain Road where you’ll reach the Griffith Peak Trailhead. For the drive, 4 wheel drive and high clearance is needed to ensure safe access across deep ruts and large outcroppings of exposed limestone. Griffith Peak Trail is a 12-mile round trip hike and is considered moderately strenuous. It climbs 2,660 feet in elevation from the trailhead to the peak. Spectacular views of the mountains in the distance can be seen all along the trail.

 

The Harris Springs Road and Harris Mountain Road were closed for 6 years, from 2013 to 2019, for the safety of recreationalists and visitors. After the Carpenter 1 Fire there was massive flooding which ruined the roads and swept away soil and fallen trees. Trees died from the burns and their roots are now rotted out leaving them ready to fall over, especially if disturbed. Be careful in these areas by staying on roads and designated hiking trails to avoid a tree fall.

Weeds also are a continued problem in the area. Crews work in the area each year to reduce weeds populations to allow for the native vegetation to regrow. A fire sweeps across a landscape burning the native plants leaving room for unwanted, invasive weeds to grow. Vehicles and humans are the main sources of new weed populations. If invasive weeds are left to grow they can take over, and permanently outcompete and damage the growth of native plants changing the landscape forever.

Invasive weed seeds are great at hitching rides, especially in mud. When your tires and undercarriage get covered in mud, weed seeds hitch a ride. Even if you don’t see them, if you have mud or dirt on your undercarriage and wheel wells, you’ve got seeds. Make sure to wash off your truck or OHV after each adventure. Underneath, on the sides, in the wheel wells, and everywhere. You’ll be surprised at how much seed filled mud plops off. Do the right thing after you go out, and make sure your rig is clean before coming up to the mountain. Plus, it will be more fun to get your OHV all dusty again.

Invasive weed seeds are also great at hitching rides on people, horses, and dogs. Some seeds are particularly good at sticking to clothing. Ever get an itchy weed in your sock? That’s how seeds hitch rides. Check your clothing and hiking shoes before going into the Harris Springs Canyon. Brush your boots off at home, or at a boot brushing station.

Informational signs are found along the way to the Griffith Peak Trailhead, providing hikers and off-roaders with valuable details about the area, history, nature, and more. These signs were installed along roads in the Harris Springs Canyon through a collaboration of Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Forest Service, and volunteers.

Good news! The closures and restoration efforts are working, and there is new life. Native plants are growing, and wildlife is returning. Deer, horses, and burros can be seen in the Harris Springs Canyon. Recreation options including off-roading on designated roads and hiking on trails are now open. As you drive through the mountains, you’ll see the landscape still has the visible burns, and will for many years. However, by following Tread Lightly principals we can all help the area's continued recovery.

 

Tips for off-roading in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area and how to Tread Lightly!
• Don’t give weeds a free ride! Make sure hiking boots, tires and undercarriages of OHVs are clean and seed free before heading out to the mountain.

• Get a map! Travel responsibly on designated roads, trails or areas:
• Forest Service Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) of the Spring Mountains Recreation Area Page 1 Page 2
• Forest Service Interactive Visitor Map
• Trails | OFF-ROAD Nevada

• Take a look! Read all the signs in the area then follow the signs important directions.

• Respect private property and turn around if you see private property and do not enter signs.

• Respect other trail users including hikers and campers so we all can enjoy our adventures.

• Check out additional Off-Roading Tips from Tread Lightly to protect your mountain! Tread Lightly | 4×4’ing

• There’s more! Nevada Off-Highway Vehicles Program for maps and off-road safety information

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