Mount Bangs • Virgin Mountains
• Paiute Wilderness, Mohave County
• Vestigial County Highpoint: Pah-Ute County (1870-71)


Mount Bangs and the northern Virgin Range as seen from the NV-AZ state line near Mesquite, Nevada.
 

Looking into Elbow Canyon the day before our hike
 

Sunset over the Mojave
 

After three hours of hiking in darkness, we arrived to the pass at the headwall of Elbow Canyon. Looking north, Littlefield Reservoir sits in the low pass ahead
 

Now at Littlefield Reservoir, looking back at the pass whence we came
 

Mount Bangs from the saddle near Littlefield Reservoir
 

Hiking closer to it
 

Getting closer...
 

Now on the steep rocky sections
 

Almost there...
 

Made it!
 

South view into the Virgin Range
 

Montage of various summit shots and the benchmark
 

Hiking out, Mount Bangs is the whiter set of rocks partially hidden by foreground peaks
 

Elbow Canyon seen from a bend in the road up high
 

Looking back up Elbow Canyon, about halfway down
 

The best view all day: Scott's car after 19 miles of hiking!
 

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Date: October 7, 2012 • Elevation: 8,012 feet • Prominence: 2,892 feet • Distance: 19.4 miles • Time: 10 hours and 45 minutes • Gain: 5,700 feet • Conditions: Superb • Teammates: Scott Peavy

Mount Bangs is located in extreme northwest Arizona, tucked into the corner of the state near Mesquite, Nevada, and St. George, Utah. It is the highest point in the section of the Virgin Mountains that extend into Arizona from Nevada (the highest point in the Virgin Range is Virgin Peak, in Nevada). The Virgin Mountains form a formidable wall, effectively serving as a natural boundary between the Mojave Desert to the west, and the higher plateau country of the Arizona Strip lying east. To get here from Phoenix means driving through Las Vegas, then another hundred miles up Interstate-15 to the range, a four-hundred-mile-plus one-way journey. Largely for this reason, I had put off hiking Mount Bangs indefinitely.

Scott Peavy and I started talking about this peak a few months ago, but wanted to wait until summer was over before making the effort to get there and hike it. We decided early October offered a good chance of stable weather and pleasant conditions. Ultimately, there is no easy and convenient way to get to the Virgin Mountains for us Phoenicians. It would require a long drive and likely, a long hike. We allotted nearly the whole weekend for this attempt.

Scott drove, picking me up at my place at 9 a.m. on Saturday. The drive to Mesquite took about 5 hours. The day was bright and clear and still warm, with temperatures around 90 in the Vegas area. Other than a gas stop and another for food, we rolled into Mesquite around 3 p.m., then followed some local roads south and east, re-entering Arizona at the small community of Scenic. Mount Bangs rose impressively behind Scenic, 6,000 feet higher. Its rocky summit was evident even from our low position.

We followed some local paved roads to Red Hawk Road, which is also signed for Elbow Canyon. Red Hawk Road is a bladed dirt residential road for about a mile, then degenerates into a rugged desert track as it slowly climbs the slopes abutting the range. Scott eased his Subaru Forester up the road, and after about 15 minutes, we had arrived at a big corral at the mouth of Elbow Canyon. Here, I got out and walked the road as it dropped into and out of a drainage, then up a bend, inspecting it for rocks and quality. I motioned for him to come to me and he did, and we drove another few hundred yards to top out on a small knoll, elevation 3,000 feet. A cleared space beside the road looked like a good place to camp for the night.

It was almost 4 p.m. when we got situated. From our knoll, we could see more of Elbow Canyon and the road snaking up it. Naturally, we wondered about driving higher, so we walked up this road into the canyon about another mile. The road looked pretty good, but there were no good places to pull aside for a camp. We weighed our options and decided that it may not be worth the trouble to drive the road, and that our camp at the knoll was adequate. We sat around and had dinner, watching the sunset and looking at the lights of Mesquite, Nevada and of the vehicles on the interstate.

We were both up by 3 a.m. the next morning. The weather was cool and pleasant, temperature about 50 degrees, and mostly still. A waning gibbous moon had risen around midnight and would provide more than adequate light for our initial walk up the road into Elbow Canyon. We had almost six miles of walking to get to the pass at the head of Elbow Canyon. Given the tediousness of hiking a road, we felt that hiking it in darkness would help, not being distracted by the desire to look up all the time. We started walking at 3:55 a.m., and as such, we made excellent time and kept a steady pace. We could sense a transition from lower desert scrub to higher, more forested terrain, but not much else. We arrived at the pass at about 7 a.m. as the sun was rising.

At the pass (which is also a boundary for the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument), we could see our next objective, another pass in the mountains to the north, the map showing "Littlefield Reservoir" tucked in here. Scott's GPS measured our walking distance to the pass as 5.8 miles, with over 3,400 feet of gain. The road drops about 250 feet, angling north then east, then north again, coming to a lowpoint in a drainage near Cougar Spring. We took a food and water break here. Back in the shade of the range again, we quickly got chilled and kept our break short. From here, the hike to the Littlefield Reservoir pass took about 45 minutes, following a lesser road and a trail up the easy gradients. The rocky summit of Mount Bangs stood high above us, its white rocks nicely contrasting with the thick manzanita and scrub-oak hillsides.

We arrived at Littlefield Reservoir, amused to see it nothing more than a murky, shallow stock tank full of brown, muddy, fecal-tainted water. It was about 8:30 a.m., and to here we had covered slightly over 8 miles of walking and had gained nearly 4,000 feet exactly. But our job was not yet done. Mount Bangs now rose southwest of our position. We had "overshot" it slightly by hiking all the way to Littlefield Reservoir, but the thick, woody manzanita covering all the hillsides left us little option. After another short break, we started the last segment of our long hike, the final mile-plus hike to the top, with another thousand vertical feet.

From the reservoir, some wide paths start up the slopes, plainly obvious yet still marked liberally with cairns every few yards for some reason. In a few places, some side trails branched from the main trail, but keeping to the correct path was very simple. We kept at this for about forty-five minutes, slowly coming onto Mount Bangs' summit from the north. The nice footpath degenerated into scragglier paths, then disappeared completely as we came upon the base of the rocks. Still, plenty of cairns led the way. We still had about 250 vertical feet to the top.

We moved slowly through the lower rocks, our main concern being the looseness of the rocks on the steep slopes. Shortly, we came to the first "real" rocks. From here to the top, we worked our way up easy chutes and around other obstacles, sometimes battling the thick brush to bypass some iffy rock segments. The rock up here were large blocks of talus, generally about 4- to 8-feet long, set haphazardly. They'd form voids and other places where an ankle could get busted in no time. In some places we were poking our way up chutes that had direct exposure to the multi-thousand foot drop off the west face. However, actually falling would have taken deliberate effort. At no time did we ever feel exposure was a problem. Rather, the views in these spots were remarkable. Finally, after about another thirty minutes of slow movement through the top-most rocks, we had arrived on top of Bangs, its highest point a nice flat rock just perfect for sitting.


Panorama from the summit of Bangs Peak. Littlefield Reservoir is to the right,
and the plateaus of the Arizona Strip rise behind.

On top of Bangs, we took a well-deserved rest. The views in all directions were astounding. The steep cliffs of the west face gave way dramatically to the lower slopes and the Mojave Desert below us. Looking north and south, we had million-dollar views of the rugged Virgin Range. East we could see the big flat-topped mesas and peaks and land of the Shivwitz Plateau. Way off east, on some unnamed mountain, we saw a big plume of smoke. Back at Bangs, the USGS benchmark was set in a rock slightly lower than the summit, its name reported as Hancock Peak. In the log, the last visitors had been here in August, and before them, in March. It was just after 10 a.m. when we summitted, a six-hour one-way hike, with almost exactly 5,000 feet of net gain. Scott's trusty GPS said we had walked 9.7 miles one-way from his car. As good as it felt to be up top Mount Bangs, we knew that we had a long walk ahead of us. After about 20 minutes, we started the trek down.

Getting down off the rocks was easy, as was the walk back to Littlefield Reservoir. We stopped here briefly as I needed a drink-break. We were amused to ponder that at some point in the past, some rancher thought it worth his trouble to bring in some earthmovers all the way up here to build the berms that hem in the reservoir. It surely is not a municipal water supply for the community of Littlefield, Arizona ... at least we hope not. Once hydrated, we continued the walk out, coming back to the road where some guy was in his ATV, drinking a nice big liter of beer. He was surprised to see us, but friendly. We chatted, then continued our trek.

From the lowpoint near Cougar Spring, we had that 250-foot uphill segment waiting us before we were at the pass above Elbow Canyon. This segment was easy but tiring, as by now we had already climbed over 5,000 vertical feet and covered over 11 miles. Along this segment, a group of three ATVers rolled up. We talked to the couple in the lead unit. They were truly impressed we had walked all this way, and they were friendly, too. Impressed may not be quite the right word. They may have wondered about our sanity a little bit. The people in the other units were also cool, and we basically waved hi. In time, we were back to the pass above Elbow Canyon. Excellent, just a little under six miles to go.

The walk down Elbow Canyon went fast, but it was tiring. The first mile from the pass was steep and the rocks were fist-sized rubble that rolled with each step. The views were impressive from various vantage points. As we descended, we saw things we had not seen coming up, like nice big cliffs in some areas, streams and small pools in other areas, some corrals, a camping area, things like that. We just kept at the walking, stopping about every two miles for a quick rest and food-and-water break. Toward the end, my body just wanted to melt into the rocks, as tired as I was. It was very difficult to get back up and resume walking.

Closer to the bottom, Elbow Canyon widens and becomes much more desert-like. We spooked a herd of cattle slightly, and the beasts walked ahead of us for awhile instead of veering off the road. We still had about a mile and a half back to the car. Finally, cresting a rise, we could see Scott's vehicle off on that knoll, the best sight of the day! We were back to his car at about 2:45 p.m., an overall 10-hour and 45-minute day with 19.4 miles of walking and an accumulated gain of over 5,500 feet. I was absolutely beat, but very happy to have summitted Bangs and to have set my one-day hiking record of 19.4 miles (not including bicycles or other contraptions). Scott had a couple beers in a cooler, beers he brewed himself. They were still cool and they tasted wonderful. After changing, we started the drive down a little after 3 p.m.


Elbow Canyon Panorama, just before the walls close in.

We stopped briefly in Mesquite to clean out some garbage, then drove into Las Vegas, stopping at the Railroad Pass Casino (where highway 93-95 leaves Vegas/Henderson and comes down into Boulder City). At the casino, we had a buffet meal for about $10 each. It wasn't busy at all, and the food was very good. I had pork loin roast and some sliced beef, obviously desiring protein. I also had lots of other tasty food items and even then, barely felt like I had "gorged".

From here, we continued the long drive back to the Phoenix area, arriving back to my place around 11 p.m. After getting my stuff together, I shook hands with Scott and thanked him for the driving and company on the hike, he as pleased to have summitted as I was. I greeted my wife and showered, but didn't sleep well, given I was pretty sore by now. Actually, I was sore for about three days afterwards, and unbelievably hungry, too.

Looking back, we had perfect conditions for our marathon hike, but the logistics were very easy. I joked that it was like hiking 8 miles to do a one-mile hike. I wonder if we're the only people to have hiked the peak from where we started. Admittedly, had we a beefier vehicle, we would have driven farther up Elbow Canyon. To my eyes, the first couple miles past the initial corral is rough, but not too bad, and any stock 4-wheel drive high-clearance vehicle could have handled it. After that, the road gets rougher in spots, and steeper higher up. You'd want a Jeep or an ATV preferably, although trucks and SUVs do get up that road. But it will be slow-going in places. As is typical for roads like this, it's 90% smooth, barrier-free road, and 10% crappy rock and ruts.

Historical Note: Mount Bangs was a county highpoint for about a year, roughly 1870 and 1871, topping Pah-Ute County, Arizona's so-called "lost" county. Originally, Arizona's boundaries included both sides of present-day Lake Mead and extended farther west, and included lands that would eventually become Las Vegas. Pah-Ute County was created to encompass these lands, but when most of this land was given to the new state of Nevada, Mount Bangs then became the highest point of the smaller county. In 1871, Pah-Ute County was revoked by the Arizona Territorial legislature.

(c) 2012 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.