Daytrip – Lava Butte and Rainbow Gardens

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Destination: Lava Butte and Rainbow Gardens
Distance from Point of Origin: 21.4 miles.
Estimated (One Way) Travel Time: 40 minutes.
Directions: From the Stratosphere Casino head southwest for 0.3 miles on S. Las Vegas Blvd toward W. Baltimore Ave. Turn right onto W Sahara Ave for 0.7 miles and merge onto I-15 North via the ramp to Salt Lake City. Travel 3.9 miles and take exit 45 for Lake Mead Blvd, then turn right onto NV-147 E/E Lake Mead South Blvd. Travel 13.4 miles, past the base of the Sunrise and Frenchman Mountains, and turn right onto a gravel road. Go 1.3 miles and turn left and travel 85 feet and turn left again. Go 0.7 miles and turn left and go 0.9 miles. All told you will drive approximately 2.9 miles from the initial turn off to the parking area, which is beneath some power lines. The road will fork on occasion, but has markers that say Lava Butte along the way, take note because if you see a marker for Rainbow Gardens you will know you are off course.

General Description: Composed of Dacite, an igneous volcanic rock, Lava Butte is part of a geologic wonder called Frenchman’s block that may have been a volcanic dome formed over 13 million years ago. Geologists are still arguing about this. The dark outer coating on these iron oxide rocks is desert varnish. The many smaller hills and peaks in the area composed of limestone that are much easier to climb. Lava Butte rewards nice summit views of the surrounding mountainous areas, as well as Lake Mead, the City of Las Vegas, and Lake Las Vegas.
Special Attraction or Points of Interest: The area call Rainbow Gardens and the many surrounding hills have coral and shell fossils from the Paleozoic era along with crystalline gypsum, quartz and many other minerals. The ravines and washes hold many fossils too washed down from the surrounding hills. When hiking Rainbow Gardens, look for Pinnacle Butte (also known locally as "Hitchhiker's Butte") and Red Needle. Depending upon the time of year, keep your eyes open for rattlesnakes. Other animals you may encounter wile hiking this area include desert tortoise, lizards, the cotton tale, the burrowing owl, Big Horn Sheep, wild donkeys, coyote, badgers, chip monks and raptors.
Primary Activity: Hiking and Rock-hounding
Secondary Activities: Photography

Elevation: 2,871 feet.
Best Time To Visit: The best times to hike the area in the summer are in the early morning and dusk. However, be forewarned; hiking during these periods you are more likely to encounter the diamondback rattle snake and the sidewinder, both of which are poisonous.
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult due to the steepness and some bouldering near the top. A hike to the summit takes and back takes several hours depending on your physical shape. The summit rises 2,831 feet above sea level and the trails to the summit are not defined.
Facilities: None.
Estimated Round-trip Time: Four to five hours if you include some hiking in the Rainbow Gardens area.
More Info On Lava Butte & Rainbow Gardens:
Lava Butte Map-2
02/02/2012 Trip Notes: Today’s rock hound trip from the Henderson Heritage Park Senior Facility was to Lava Butte and the Rainbow Gardens. Even through the drive (yellow dashed line on the above map) in was a little rough in spots, we made it to the base of Lava Butte’s northwest face. While the majority of our group hiked the power line rode that ran along the length of the butte and around towards its south face, two of our members actually climbed and hiked its entire ridgeline from north to south. Their performance was actually an encouragement for the rest of us to give it a try on our next visit. On our way out from Lava Butte, we took one of roads marked ‘Rainbow Gardens’ (oraange dashed line on the above map), however, it did not lead to the main area that we were looking for. As we ran out of time to explore the other road that led to this area, we were forced to leave it for another trip. The picture below was taken at the beginning of the road that winds its way to Lava Butte.
A washout in the road caused us to park our van (visible in the center of the picture) near the base of the butte’s northern end. We then hiked the power line road up hill for nearly a mile along its west face before it eventually turned and reached the butte’s southern exposure (shown in the picture below). With a view of the Las Vegas valley, I continued on about another three-quarters of a mile before heading back.
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On the left is Bill, our driver, looking for signs of the last five hikers that had yet to return. On the right is Albert Ramos, another longtime member of our group, taking in some final sights before boarding the van for our return trip.
The four pictures below were captured along the road that we followed around the base of the butte. I believe the two bird pictures are of a house finch. If anyone knows the name of the plant on the bottom left, email me at
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Rainbow Gardens Road
Again, due to a wash out, we had to park our van several miles short of our destination point along this road. The pictures below are some of the views that Blake (my hiking partner) and I shared while hiking this two mile stretch (green dashed line noted as Rainbow Garden Rd. on the map above. The first picture below is of a small pass that we hiked thru that led to a wide valley between two long ridges. The last picture in this series was taken on our return while standing in the center of the picture below, looking in the opposite direction. If you click the last picture to enlarge it, you can see Lake Mead in the upper right-hand corner.
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