Relatively few people can picture a lush forested mountain environment existing just north of the Las Vegas city limits. Even fewer can imagine that Las Vegas actually has ski runs and a winter sports season.It takes less than one hour to drive from the Las Vegas Strip to the top of Mt Charleston, so this destination is perfect for a winter wonderland great escape from the big city!
Highway 95 runs north from Las Vegas to the two roads that run uphill to Mt Charleston. Kyle Canyon Road goes to the old historic town of Mt Charleston, Mary Jane Falls and Cathedral Rock. Lee Canyon Road runs directly up to the Las Vegas Ski Resort and the Bristlecone Pine Hiking Trail. There is a road close to the summit that connects Lee Canyon Road with Kyle Canyon Road and this is where Robber’s Roost can be found. There is wildlife everywhere in the Spring Mountains Recreation Area, so it pays to keep the eyes peeled when passing through.
A few years ago I did a trip up the mountain the day after the first snowstorm of the winter season. A record amount of snow was dumped overnight and the local news stations were publicizing the official start of the Las Vegas Ski Resort season. This happened on a weekday, so the traffic going up the mountain was expected to be minimal and this created an opportunity to take some good photos.
I decided to take the Lee Canyon Road route up the mountain directly to the Las Vegas Ski Resort, so I could gather photos for a winter sports destination article. The sun was shining for the most of the way uphill through the lower elevations, then suddenly near the mile high level the skies started to look ominously gray. The weather can change quickly on Mt Charleston, so it is best to expect the worse when the skies start to look forbidding. From the look of things, I had about a one hour opportunity to take pictures, before the approaching snowstorm set in.
After arriving at the Las Vegas Ski Resort, I was surprised to see how much snow landed on the ground the night before. The snow pack was more than one foot deep, so winter surely had arrived. A light sprinkle of snow was falling when I arrived at the summit, so I knew time was limited, but I did accomplish photographing the first snow on the mountain ski slopes.
On the way downhill from the Ski Resort through the Ponderosa Pine forest, I spotted a few Mule Deer, so I pulled off the road to take a look. The ground was covered with the first snow of the season, so the setting was perfect for taking pictures. I spotted a few large bucks, then noticed a group of doe with fawns in tow. This turned out to be a large herd of Mule Deer traveling through the snow covered feeding grounds near the residential areas at about the 7,500 to 8,000 foot elevation.
The young Mule Deer were only about five or six months old, so these cute little critters had never seen snow before. The baby Mule Deer were having fun playing in the snow for the first time. The behavior of the little deer frolicking in the first snow was amusing and this truly was an interesting sight to see! The mature Mule Deer knew that I was no threat, so they continued babysitting the baby fawns as I watched. The mule deer were docile that day and they practically posed for pictures. It is rare to see full size bucks act so relaxed, so the first snow of the season definitely had a calming effect!
The weather can change by the minute up in the high elevations and while photographing the Mule Deer, the dark snow clouds started rolling overhead and butting up against the two mile high mountain peaks. It was then that I decided to take Deer Creek Road across the mountain to the town of Mt Charleston to get a bite to eat, but as I soon found out, I waited too long.
As soon as I turned onto Deer Creek Road, the light snow sprinkle turned into a full force blizzard. Visibility was practically zero and the temperature dropped well below freezing. A layer of slushy ice quickly covered the road and it only took a few minutes for the steep winding Deer Creek Road to become completely impassable. To make matters even worse, I was driving an R/T Hemi Challenger muscle car, so the rear wheels kept breaking loose on the icy road, which has no guard rails at all and the slopes go straight down. I got about one half mile into Deer Creek Road when the winds started howling and I saw a Port-A-Potty that was knocked over by a strong gust on the side of the road. I actually felt sorry for the poor soul that might have been trapped in that toppled portable toilet during the blizzard. I thought that would be the absolute worst way to die, so I heeded the warning sign and turned back in the direction I came from!
The weather on a mountain can change in minutes and this is important for travelers to remember. Driving a muscle car on slush covered mountain roads is like driving a Ferrari at an ice skating rink. Even while puttering along in low gear at less than ten miles per hour, my car kept breaking loose and it became far too easy to lose control. For this reason, I do recommend carrying snow chains in the trunk, just in case a situation arises like this when up in the mountains.
Since taking the shortcut to Kyle Canyon was impossible, I turned the car around and took the fairly dry Lee Canyon Road back down to the base of the mountain. From there, I took Kyle Canyon Road uphill, because the thought of getting something warm to eat sounded good after spending the day in icy cold weather. Originally I planned to go all the way to the top to get a meal at the lodge in the town of Mt Charleston, but that plan was vanquished when I saw the “Snow Chains Required” sign was lit up when I got to the mile high elevation. The Resort On Mt Charleston is located at this same elevation, so calling the trip short was no problem!
The Resort On Mount Charleston is located a little bit more than halfway up Kyle Canyon Road and this old fashioned western mountain resort is a cozy place to be when old man winter arrives! The Resort On Mt Charleston is a casual, friendly, traditional western mountain resort that offers old fashioned luxurious comfort. On that cold snowy evening, the Resort On Mt Charleston was pure paradise! A meal of traditional Mountain Meat Stew and Bread Pudding by a fireplace in a spacious dining room with a nice view certainly was a nice way to top off the long day. Better still, I actually hit a small jackpot while playing poker at the bar, so all of the expenses for the trip were covered. It sure is nice when Lady Luck is generous on an icy cold winter day!
The Resort On Mt Charleston is a great destination in itself and this place offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. The prices are reasonable and the traditional old west resort theme is as comfortable as can be. When an unexpected blizzard ends the day early on the mountain, this is a cozy spot to warm up from the cold before heading back to Las Vegas. The funny thing is, after watching baby deer play in the first snow all day, Las Vegas will seem like it is a million miles away!
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