Goldenbush blooms in a meadow below
the Hualapai Mountains as storm
clouds gather overhead.
© Robert G. McDonald
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Roads. Now in its fifth
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Hualapai Mountain RoadKingman is known to Arizonans as the last “big city” along the road to Vegas, but just outside the city, there’s an unexpected mountain retreat that begs to be explored.
By Kelly Kramer
The next time you're on your way to Las Vegas, you might want to stop for a breath of fresh air in the mountains near Kingman. That's not a slam against Sin City; it's just a suggestion, especially if you're planning to spend more than a few hours in front of a one-armed bandit.
The Hualapai Mountains, southeast of Kingman, are a great place to stretch your legs and fill your lungs with a big gulp of mountain air. It's also a perfect place to fill your eyes with a healthy helping of gorgeous scenery. Named for its former inhabitants, the Hualapai ("Pine Tree Folk") tribe, the Hualapai range varies in elevation from just shy of 5,000 feet to roughly 8,400 feet. The peaks and valleys are just part of what makes this scenic drive so unexpectedly spectacular.
Begin at Exit 51, off Interstate 40, in Kingman. Travel south on Stockton Hill Road, which becomes the paved Hualapai Mountain Road. After approximately 11 miles, you'll reach the headquarters and ranger station for Hualapai Mountain Park. Developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, the 2,300-acre park boasts 10 miles of developed hiking trails, recreation and picnic areas, as well as campsites, stone cabins and pavilions that are available for rent. There's even a teepee, which sleeps four, for rent.
The ranger station is stocked with information about the area, and if the air is brisk, you might consider stopping by just to see if there's a roaring fire, by which you can chat with the friendly park staff.
Leaving the ranger station, continue on Hualapai Mountain Road for approximately 1 mile, past the fire station, to a fork in the road. There, turn right onto Flag Mine Road, an unpaved, one-lane doozy of a stretch. This is not a route you'll want to travel in a Camaro, but a high-clearance vehicle will do.
The road climbs from high desert to pine forest, through eroded cliffs lined with exposed tree roots, past a subdivision. Then, as quickly as the houses come into focus, they're gone again as the road opens onto a spectacular view of the expansive valley below. Spruce, aspens and granite boulders as big as pickup trucks blanket the hillsides. Looking out, you'll feel as though you're staring at a layer cake of pine-covered hills. It's quiet along this road — a far cry from the Route 66 hoopla of Kingman and the ding-ding-ding of Vegas farther on — except for the rousting of a bluebird or the cry of one of the hundreds of other birds that populate the area.
Moving on, follow the signs toward the Wild Cow Springs Recreation Site, about 5 miles up Flag Mine Road. Approximately halfway to the turnoff for Wild Cow Springs, you'll come to the abandoned Flag Mine. More than a hundred years ago, this mine was responsible for most of the high-grade silver that came out of Mohave County.
Because Hualapai Mountain Park is so popular, Wild Cow Springs — easily accessible by following the signs along the road — is far less traveled.
Tour Guideclick to expand
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 17 miles one way (paved and rustic.)
Vehicle requirements: A high-clearance vehicle is recommended.
Warning: Back-road travel can be hazardous, so beware of weather and road conditions. Carry plenty of water. Don't travel alone, and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Information: Hualapai Mountain Park, 928-681-5700 or www.mcparks.com.
Travelers in Arizona can visit www.az511.gov or dial 511 to get information on road closures, construction, delays, weather and more.