Deep into the desert forest around Dayton

Wildflowers are beginning to bloom in the desert.

Wildflowers are beginning to bloom in the desert.

The forests of the desert are wild and have much to discover. It may sound weird to people that there’s a forest in the desert, but high in those mountains in the distance, there are trees, brush and wildlife. All of the mountains always have canyons that always provide an adventure.

In Dayton, the sagebrush stretches along the desert until it reaches the mountains in the distance. On the south side of U.S. 50, Rawe Peak towers in the distance as a small mountain range. There are a few roads that travel all over the mountain, but unfortunately some of us don’t have off-road capabilities. While it would be easy to drive as far as you can and then hike, it’s still possible to enjoy the area by foot with a little effort.

The window of opportunity is short to explore places like this. With the snow staying in the highest places, it’s hard to explore until things start melting. By the time everything melts, the summer heat creeps in. Not only does it make it hotter and more uncomfortable, but there’s also a bigger possibility of encountering a snake.

The hike started at the end of Dayton Valley Road. There’s a gate at the end that leads into the backcountry (the fence is there to keep the wild horses over that way). People usually come here for target practice, so it’s not the cleanest area in the beginning. As you follow the road, it will come to a Y. The road continues if you go left, but on feet, it’s easier to go right to get into the mountains faster. As you go right, the road ends, but it’s easy to walk through the fields on the rocks.

It isn’t obvious which way to go, but you can sort of see roads leading into the canyon, and if you head in that direction, you’ll eventually meet up with a road again. Horses off in the distance are a common sight. There was a pack of at least eight and two foals kept the mothers moving them a safe distance away.

The hike took about 2 miles from the gate on Dayton Valley Road to the mouth of the canyon. On Google maps, this path crosses Rattlenake Spring, and leads into Cottonwood Spring.

There are remains of an old cabin before you get into the canyon. There are sheets of plywood knocked down around it, and the base is still in tact.

Beyond the cabin is when the feeling of discovery started to settle in. If there’s a cabin here, could there be more, or what was the significance of choosing this spot?

Going back farther and farther became more mysterious. The brush became thicker and the canyon got narrower. Larger trees are more common and there’s green everywhere with red and brown rocks poking out here and there.

It’s hard to turn around, when you just want to keep going and see more. So onward into the thick forest, the canyon was fairly easy to navigate. Water always helps carve a path, but the rocks on the edges sometimes seemed unnatural. Come to find out with some research, this route was used back in the day. According to Wikipedia, Cottonwood Spring was a watering place and camp site on the Old Spanish Trail and then later on the Mormon Road between Mountain Springs and Las Vegas Springs.

The creepiest part of the hike was some horse bones along the path. It’s a mystery to wonder what happened. The scat in the area showed plenty of horse activity and coyote. According to, larger species of wildlife include mountain lion, mule deer, pronghorn, wild horses, coyotes, bobcats and black bear.

As you keep going into the canyon, there was a nice spot to climb up high to get a view about a mile and a half into the canyon. While there was no designated trail, it was sort of a bushwack in what seemed to be trails that horses or other animals were using. The brush was easy to get through, although there were ticks present.

The estimated distance hiked was about 7 miles. It could be much easier to explore with an off-road vehicle, but it isn’t completely necessary. Always take safety precautions and bring plenty of water no matter what the season.

Kyler Klix is a designer and contributor at the Nevada Appeal. If you’d like to talk about the outdoors or upcoming concerts, email him at


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