Lake Mead National Recreation Area
By Noah Austin
It’s indisputable (in the opinion of one Arizona Highways writer, anyway) that I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is the best song U2 ever made. And maybe Bono and his buddies had a route like the one to Pearce Ferry — near the eastern bank of Lake Mead — in mind when they recorded 1987’s The Joshua Tree, where that song is found. You’ll climb a few mountains and run through some fields on this drive, but the real stars of the show are the Joshua trees. And there are a lot of them.
Your drive begins on Stockton Hill Road in Kingman, a place whose small-town charm is worth a stop the next time you pass through on Interstate 40. Heading north, you’ll leave the city, but not before seeing the road’s namesake, Stockton Hill (5,938 feet), on your left. Soon, you’ll enter the Hualapai Valley, and it’s here that Yucca brevifolia makes its first appearance. Joshua trees are one of the species predicted to be most imperiled by climate change, but you wouldn’t know it on this drive: There are vast swaths of the odd-looking plants, and in some places, they’re so densely packed that their limbs almost touch.
The Hualapai Valley is flanked by two mountain ranges that couldn’t be more different. To the west are the Cerbat Mountains, a rocky range that’s home to a herd of wild horses. To the east are the Grand Wash Cliffs, which bear a striking resemblance to the cliffs and buttes of the nearby Grand Canyon. There’s more of that to come, so keep heading north until you reach Pierce Ferry Road, which is spelled differently than Pearce Ferry, the ultimate destination. Then, hang a right.
The Joshua trees get even thicker as you continue, and you’ll soon reach Diamond Bar Road. This road leads to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a tourist attraction on Hualapai Tribe land. Today, though, continue on Pierce Ferry Road. The road leads into Lake Mead National Recreation Area, where the Joshua trees begin to thin as the moonscape of the Lake Mead area takes over.
The final 5 miles are the only unpaved portion of this drive, but the dirt road is well-maintained and smooth. It’s also dusty, so keep your distance if there’s another vehicle in front of you. You’ll know you’ve reached Pearce Ferry when you see a picnic area and restrooms on your right. You’ll also find information on the history of the area.
Pearce Ferry once was a popular destination for Hoover Dam tourists, and in the 1930s and ’40s, there were plans to build a resort there.
Today, there isn’t much left. But that’s OK. The scenery — Grand Canyon cliffs to the east and Lake Mead mountains to the west — is a worthy payoff after a 69-mile journey. It’s where you’ll find what you were looking for.
PHOTO: Joshua trees, one of Nature’s strangest-looking plants, crowd the landscape along Stockton Hill Road and Pierce Ferry Road. | Randy Prentice
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 69 miles one way
Directions: From the intersection of Interstate 40 and Stockton Hill Road in Kingman, go north on Stockton Hill Road for 41.5 miles to Pierce Ferry Road. Turn right onto Pierce Ferry Road and continue 27.5 miles to Pearce Ferry.
Vehicle requirements: None, but avoid Stockton Hill Road if rain is expected. The road crosses several washes, and you should not enter them if they’re flooded.
Information: Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 702-293-8906 or www.nps.gov/lake
Travelers in Arizona can visit www.az511.gov or dial 511 to get information on road closures, construction, delays, weather and more.